History remade as action screenplay. You can smell the popcorn.

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THE ROMANOV PROPHECY

The fate of Mother Russia ups the ante for Berry’s formula: historically based international intrigue, swashbuckling action, indestructible hero from the American South (The Amber Room, 2003).

Now that they’ve tried Bolshevism, Communism, the New World Order, and de facto rule by the mafiya, the Russians are ready for—what else?—a new tsar. Miles Lord has been sent to Moscow with Taylor Hayes, a senior partner from his Atlanta law firm, to serve as a member of the commission charged with picking the best candidate and to confirm the Romanov credentials of Stefan Baklanov. An assassination attempt doesn’t alert Lord to the danger that obviously awaits him, but the same two functionaries keep on trying to kill him so often, and with such a uniform lack of success, that eventually he realizes his problems run deeper than Russians’ suspicious condescension toward African-Americans. What he doesn’t realize is that Hayes is in on the plot to catapult Baklanov over the competition by bribing the commission members, insuring his own secret cabal’s control over the pliant new tsar. After calling Hayes to report every failed attempt on his life, Lord finally picks up the trail of a story so big he can’t even phone home to discuss it: the existence of a direct descendant of Nicholas II, a son of one of the tsar’s children whose bones were missing from the collective 1991 exhumation because the family wasn’t all killed in Ekaterinburg after all. Joining forces with a lovely Russian acrobat—fated, according to the murdered Gregorii Rasputin’s prophecy, to become his partner in the search—Lord takes off on a wild hunt for the true heir, pursued closely by the same ineffectual killers. The sanguinary finale, in which Hayes exhorts his hapless henchmen to “do what you do best,” is not to be missed.

History remade as action screenplay. You can smell the popcorn.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-345-46005-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2004

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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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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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