A well-intentioned but meandering novel that could have benefited from a tighter focus.

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FernMacht

A man discovers and explores strange powers in Lobban’s debut sci-fi novel.

John McAllen is born into an idyllic life: he’s well-off, extremely intelligent, strong, and curious about the world around him. What he’s most curious about, however, seems unattainable: telekinesis, or, as John comes to name it, “FernMacht” (from Spanish and German words meaning “far” and “power,” respectively). As he grows older, he begins to explore its possibility, eventually going to India to learn yoga and meditation, and in time he learns how to stretch his mind and apply its power to the physical world. He returns to the United States and meets a wonderful woman named Rachel and gets engaged to her; he reveals his power to her one night when someone tries to mug them. John soon teaches her FernMacht, and together the two embark upon a campaign to teach a trusted group of friends how to use this ability. FernMacht is eventually “disseminated” across the globe, and the novel describes its benefits at length. A wide range of other events occur, such as John and Rachel meeting someone else who knows about FernMacht and traveling to North Korea to prevent an execution; other people use the power to prevent a robbery, catch two serial killers, break up a kidnapping ring, perform private-eye work, and for border security, among many other things. McAllen’s enthusiasm for his subject matter is obvious, as when he depicts John experimenting with his powers: “Elated by my new knowledge, I came up with a comical idea. I knew that I had a bottle of tonic water….Could I find the bottle without opening the refrigerator door?” The prose can also be rather stiff, though, as when John notes, “Beauty and attractiveness have too many dimensions to them for it to be meaningful to say one woman has more of one of those qualities than another.” This book is a series of vignettes that extends over several hundred pages, but unfortunately, it never gels into a coherent plot with stakes, urgency, rising action, falling action, or denouement. There’s little to drive the novel forward, leaving it mired in the beginnings of an idea. That said, readers interested in the physics of telekinesis may enjoy this book.

A well-intentioned but meandering novel that could have benefited from a tighter focus.

Pub Date: June 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4961-6318-9

Page Count: 436

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 24, 2015

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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