A remarkable marriage of historical scholarship and creative fiction captured in stirring prose.

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BEYOND

POPHAM COLONY: THE FIRST ENGLISH COLONY IN NEW ENGLAND

A debut historical novel imagines the fate of a little-known, 17th-century English settlement in the New World.

In this tale, Chief Justice Sir John Popham, a powerful adviser to King James, organizes an expedition to the New World for the sake of establishing two settlements: one named Fort St. George, a project of the Northern Virginia Company, and the other Jamestown. He recruits Richard Seymour, a student of Francis Bacon and a Montaigne enthusiast, to accompany the Fort St. George group as chaplain. Richard takes with him Skidwarres, a Native American from the Mawooshen tribe from the same area to be colonized: a land that is now Maine. Skidwarres was kidnapped and taken back to England and spent the last two years being tutored in English by Richard; now he’ll be a valuable translator and diplomat. Popham chooses that particular place to settle because of its geographical advantages—drinkable water and a river that provides convenient access into the interior—but Skidwarres cautions him that the region is populated by multiple tribes with a history of intramural war and that the expedition members might not be received hospitably. When they finally arrive, they try to forge a peaceable relationship with Nahanada, the Mawooshen leader, but it’s always a strained détente, especially after some of his braves murder five of Popham’s sailors and then a band of English soldiers rapes and murders a native girl. Richard does his best to advocate for diplomatic solutions, but Adm. Raleigh Gilbert prefers shows of force to achieve his ends. Author Seymour—a distant relation to Richard Seymour—does a masterful job of filling in the historical blanks with dramatic invention. Almost nothing is known about the disappearance of Fort St. George—records only exist for the first two months of its 14-month existence—an opportunity for blending fact and fiction the author artfully takes advantage of in his rousing narrative. He details the building of the fort, which many of the men, settling this “raw land,” see “as a sign of long overdue prosperity, or at least potentially so.” Seymour supplies plenty of intriguing personal drama as well: Richard is engaged to Margaret Throckmorton back home, but he begins a torrid sexual relationship abroad with young Lilly, who made the trip disguised as a boy.

A remarkable marriage of historical scholarship and creative fiction captured in stirring prose.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-1-938883-51-4

Page Count: 453

Publisher: Maine Authors Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2017

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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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