A somber, atypical genre piece with resplendent prose.

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TORTUGA

A CONFECTION OF BLOOD AND GOLD

In the 17th century, a teenager in a pirate-infested island town becomes an apprentice to an old man who may hold the keys to wealth and abnormally prolonged life in Erikson’s debut fantasy adventure novel.

Jack Higgins and his friends spend much of their time robbing inebriated pirates and squandering the spoils on drinking or gambling. The small group of orphans lives in a trio of caves, collectively known as Under-the-Tree. One day, when a hurricane besieges their town of Cayona on the island of Tortuga, Jack rescues an elderly merchant known as Old Kit, who’s in danger of washing away in the flooding rain. Jack anticipates a monetary reward for saving the affluent Cayona resident, but Kit instead offers him an apprenticeship—the opportunity to learn about myriad cuts of gems and earn his own treasure. Jack’s ensuing busywork with Kit’s enterprises causes the teen’s pal, Will, to compare him to an indentured servant. But soon Jack is assigned an adventure: a search for a cave containing magic stones. Kit says that an Indian sorcerer gave him stones from that cave (“tears from the moon itself”) and that their magic has afforded him a lengthy life. But now the old man is dying and needs Jack to retrieve new stones, which leads him on a surprisingly macabre and perilous expedition. Erikson’s novel primarily depicts Jack as an observer, often listening to others’ tales at length. This suits the story, in which Kit is essentially passing the torch; along the way, Jack witnesses the dark side of business, as even local merchants are a threat as they covet Kit’s treasures. Hints of romance provide relief from the dark tone as Jack pursues Rebecca Van Duyn, a local woman whom he hardly knows. But much of the rest of the narrative is grim, particularly the hunt for magic stones in the final act, which gradually turns into a surreal, sometimes-grotesque ordeal. Erikson’s writing style, however, is persistently elegant, regardless of the content: “The rainbow gleam of dragonflies eddied in and out of the shadows where the trees overhung the slow current.”

A somber, atypical genre piece with resplendent prose.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-615-95764-7

Page Count: 310

Publisher: Cascade View Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 7, 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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