An exceptionally erudite, if sometimes textbooklike, portrait of a key point in a region’s history.

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THE SACRED SANDS

A historical thriller about the turbulent politics of the Middle East and the oil industry.

As the war between Iraq and Iran finally comes to a close in the late 1980s, the region braces itself for a seismic shift of the old order. Iran is increasingly isolated, and a victorious Iraq is brokering a nonaggression pact with Saudi Arabia—a maneuver meant to contain whatever threat Iraq might pose to the OPEC oil cartel. Meanwhile, a secret supranational group that calls itself “The Symposium” works behind the scenes to protect the Persian Gulf area from political excesses and attempts to orchestrate the overthrow of King Fahd of Saudi Arabia. However, Israeli intelligence uncovers their existence, and Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein soon funnels that information to Fahd. At the heart of the chaos is Jim Blackburn, an American energy consultant with strong ties to the intelligence community, as his father worked for the CIA. He tries to disentangle the skein of Middle Eastern political alliances for his clients, but he realizes that he’s stumbled onto information of geopolitical significance when The Symposium takes him into their confidence. The global situation is further complicated when a consortia of public and private Japanese interests attempts to assert itself within the international oil industry. Author Zanoyan (The Doves of Ohanavank, 2014, etc.) was once a global energy consultant, like his protagonist, and his deep knowledge of the sector’s economics and Middle Eastern politics is breathtaking. For example, readers learn, through Jim’s gimlet-eyed wisdom, that any economic contest over petroleum is always much more that it seems: “It is a game to gain dominance over each other,” says Jim at one point. “It is a game to become economically more powerful—more powerful than not only our adversaries, but also our allies.” But although the story is relentlessly paced and brimming with historical insight, it’s also exasperatingly complex, and some readers will find the long dialogue exchanges about economic theory to be exhausting. Zanoyan does provide some respite with Jim’s romantic exploits, though, which are impressive and artfully chronicled. Overall, this will undoubtedly be a feast for anyone who’s hungry for knowledge about the Middle East, even though it sometimes feels less like a novel than it does an academic primer.

An exceptionally erudite, if sometimes textbooklike, portrait of a key point in a region’s history. 

Pub Date: Nov. 29, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9983924-0-0

Page Count: 370

Publisher: Gampr Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 2, 2017

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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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