If the Aztecs are enraged, it’s because one of them read this improbable mess.

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GARY JENNINGS’ AZTEC RAGE

Answer “no” immediately if someone asks, “Would you like to know . . . about the men I have killed, the women I have loved, the fortunes I have made . . . and stolen?”

There’s a certain misguided bravado to opening a historical novel with the hoary equivalent of a movie voiceover, compounded by the fact that the voiceover is voiced by a wannabe Zorro—or maybe the Cisco Kid. Don Juan de Zavala, though a Spaniard in Mexico, finds that the other Spaniards in Mexico just plain don’t like him. Narrowly avoiding the priesthood by virtue of an unfortunate incident—“I horsewhipped a fellow seminarian who branded me a sodomite after I described my lurid deflowering of a servant girl”—the resonantly named Don Juan becomes a champion of sword-and-dagger action, leading a revolt against the oppressive gachupines on behalf of the noble indios and criollo rebels who have decided that Don Juan is a pretty good guy, even though he’s foppish and educated and all that, because he’s a tad on the dark side and was called El Azteca Chico, the Little Aztec, as a lad, and because he's good in a fight. You can guess what Don Juan learns about why he’s thus complected, but no matter; he’s already torn off across the sea to sign up for action in the Napoleonic Wars, but not before having a minor epiphany or two: “Immersion in the ancient indio culture was slowly transforming me.” Creaky plot points and sneering villains notwithstanding, though, this franchised novel (“Gary Jennings’ Aztec Rage”) is soft porn wrapped in swashbuckling garb, and Zavala is frequently seen unbuckling his swash and piercing the waiting maids and maidens of New and Old Spain with various body parts, all in prose guaranteed to thrill the 13-year-old boy who stumbles upon this book at a garage sale.

If the Aztecs are enraged, it’s because one of them read this improbable mess.

Pub Date: May 16, 2006

ISBN: 0-765-31014-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Forge

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2006

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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