An exciting series starter, featuring an intriguing world with a breadth of characters and themes.

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BORN AND RAISED

From the Immediate Empire series , Vol. 1

Doty (The Last Cicada, 2018) presents a tale of a dystopian future society featuring inhabitants at the greatest extremes of class stratification: predators and prey.

At just 17 years of age, Calla is already heavily committed to serving her community in the island city of Ancada. She not only acts as a caretaker for livestock called nutrimen—the society’s most valuable food source—but she also documents her experiences for future generations. She seems to genuinely care for the apparently simple-minded, mute nutrimen, particularly one that she’s named April. However, it’s soon revealed that the nutrimen are “derived from [human] DNA.” As a result, readers will have a sense of cognitive dissonance from the very beginning, which continues throughout the story; Calla’s tone is often curious or matter-of-fact, but although her family’s life seems largely idyllic, it holds its own hidden horrors. Even harsher is the world outside, as seen through the eyes of Cole, a solitary figure living off the land; the Thorpe family, barely clinging to life and reduced to living in caves; and Thomas Steinberg, who’s hoping to trade his unscrupulous brilliance for a permanent place in Ancada. But it soon becomes clear that in the shadow of global famine, there’s no such thing as a stable society; as resentment and an urge for survival press the few remaining humans into action, they’re faced with jarring decisions and grim realities. Doty’s stark prose heightens the story’s tension and realism. The only real flaw of the book is the fact that the dialogue sometimes feels stilted and overly expository, as when Calla’s mother tells her, “It’s the way we live. When the sun begins to set we never wander from the safety of the city. That’s why the wall was built: to keep us safe.” Nevertheless, the author manages to make the reader empathize with both the perpetrators and the victims in this cruel world, whether they’re numbed by trauma or ignorant of the true horror that surrounds them. Readers will also likely consider what their own place would be in such a society.

An exciting series starter, featuring an intriguing world with a breadth of characters and themes.

Pub Date: Oct. 31, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-73275-452-2

Page Count: 289

Publisher: DayLew Publishing

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2018

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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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