Space-bear storm troopers, star pirates, femme fatale cyborgs, and lost princes and princesses add up to fun for genre...

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THE BURNING SON

From the Burning Son series , Vol. 1

Rendered fugitives after religious fanatics bent on conquest attack their planet, a brother and sister join a motley band of interstellar smugglers in this sci-fi series opener.

In the spacegoing future, Earth’s empire (aka the Terran Confederation) competes against two principal races, the amphibious and psychic Dru and the foxlike engineering geniuses the Muscat. Mutual suspicion and rivalry have prevented these three mighty forces from forging an effective, united front against the new bad guys on the scene: the bullying Erethizon, descriptively nicknamed “Porcu-bears,” hairy near barbarians (barbearians?) who are driven by a jihadlike religious crusade to seize control over every world they can get their claws on. Nonallied, independent planets are the easiest pickings, and an Erethizon fleet blitzkriegs the human settlement of Yale. The act makes refugees out of two citizens who would have been prize hostages for the invaders: navigator Mark Martin and his medic sister, Sophia, both military-trained progeny of a popular Yale senator. In desperation, the siblings bunk aboard the Leonard Fox, a tricked-out freighter that is really a pirate vessel (more of a smuggler ship, actually), making shadowy cargo runs for a galactic crime kingpin under the businesslike command of Capt. Jennifer Houston. Equality between the sexes, for the most part, is a sidelight of the universe Leatherman (Marque of the Son, 2017) builds. The newcomers integrate with the diverse crew even as continual harassment by dogged Erethizon pursuers strongly suggests there is something onboard the Leo that the conquerors desperately want—and that there may be a traitor in the crew helping them. The author begins a multivolume space-opera saga in breezy, rousing fashion. The novel is an enjoyable setup, lean in prose, pithy in dialogue (“We rely on blockade runners like Captain Houston over there. They charge us like a bathroom call girl, but we gotta pay to dance”), and generous with action and motley characters delineated in sparse, broad strokes. (Even if protagonist Mark, through whose eyes the first-person narrative unfolds, could have used a bit more color.) Readers who want fuller details of the history, technology, cultures, and intrigues (particularly the late-appearing “bear zombies”) skillfully dreamed up by Leatherman will be strongly lured into charting a warp-speed course for the sequels.

Space-bear storm troopers, star pirates, femme fatale cyborgs, and lost princes and princesses add up to fun for genre readers in search of diversion.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9983002-1-4

Page Count: 260

Publisher: Fivefold Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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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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