Though it abandons its initial intensity, this story showcases a welcome union of singular characters.

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AWAKENING OF THE TWELVE—PART 1

THE TORCH SERIES: TRILOGY OF THE TITAN TWELVE

An enigmatic and diabolical ancient cult pursues a group of exceptional, multiethnic teens around the globe in this second installment of a fantasy series.

Twelve teenagers, each born in 2070, form the U.S. Titan Twelve. The talented teens competed as a team in the International Titan Games and won numerous gold medals. Now they’re celebrating with a planned vacation of visiting their ancestral homelands, countries ranging from Ghana to Italy. Sadly, there’s trouble before they even leave Thessaloniki, Greece, where the games were held. Lalitha Alexandra Gupta awakens early in the morning to the realization that Helena Maria Martin didn’t return from her late-night walk with Kofi N’Kosi Mark Annan. Equally shocking are Helena’s pleas for help, which Lalitha hears in her head, as do the other four Titan girls: Abena Ashanti Marie Richardson, Immanuela Rachel Abravanel, Fredrika Kathleen Johansson, and Wei Susan Wang. The boys (Humberto Matthew Santiago Fernandez Ramirez, Petrov Robert Vasiliev, Olis Joseph Kaiser, Zeno Thomas Theophilus, and Omari Samuel Hassan) inform the girls that N’Kosi is also missing. Using the girls’ newfound telepathy, signified by white color patterns in front of their eyes, they track down their friends. The group confronts menacing hooded individuals and discovers additional powers, like generating a telekinetic energy field. Helena and N’Kosi are fine, and Ashanti surmises that the abductions were some type of warning, verified later when they receive a cryptic note. They begin their world-trekking vacation, but it’s soon clear the kidnappers, who decree themselves the Dark Acolytes, are stalking them. As the cult’s objective is unknown, the Titans decide to get answers by using their special abilities combatively rather than as mere defense. Porter’s (Rise of the Twelve, 2016) series is essentially an origin story for superpowered teens. It’s engrossing to watch them slowly acquire abilities, which include levitation and a distinctive color pattern for each (telekinesis is blood red). Likewise, the Titans are still learning, as powers seem to emerge under stress and aren’t readily accessible. Nevertheless, the novel’s genuine focus is its potpourri of characters, featuring diverse lineages. This makes for a culturally rich narrative, as the Titans travel to different countries and experience the nations’ food, histories, and landmarks. Furthermore, it’s an opportunity to display the story’s late-21st-century technology, like spaceports, with shuttles flying in the high end of the stratosphere. Porter molds the Titans individually, not just their backgrounds, but their personalities as well. Witty Ashanti, for example, upon arrival in Rome, claims that the Italian-speaking captain (an android-esque Humanoid Intelligence unit) asks if she is a movie star. The unfortunate downside to the extensive global tour is that it sidelines the book’s thriller aspects. The opening kidnapping is rife with anticipation, as the Titans race to save Helena and N’Kosi. But the Dark Acolytes subsequently make only sporadic appearances for much of the novel and rarely engage the Titans, so the suspense gradually wanes. There’s plenty left for the second part of Book 2, however, as the vacation is nowhere near completion and the cult’s eventually revealed sinister purposes will be an unmistakable threat.

Though it abandons its initial intensity, this story showcases a welcome union of singular characters.

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9911467-5-8

Page Count: 505

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 8, 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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