Ray takes her time establishing her characters, including the bad guys, and with a rousing, indelible payoff, it’s well...

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Dangerous Denial

In Ray’s debut thriller, lives converge at a charity ball, where someone has planned a deadly act of vengeance.

Beatrice Karen “BK” Hartshaw and Trevor Mayhew have both endured troubling childhoods. BK’s mother blamed her for her father leaving; BK’s uncaring stepfather sent her and her older sister to live with their aunt, and afterward, to a private school. Trevor was beaten on a regular basis by his father, Lenny; he and his grandmother, Beverly, tried to escape the cruel man, but Lenny came looking for them. Years later, BK, working at a PR firm, has organized a charity ball and auction sponsored by her (recently) ex-boyfriend, Max, CEO of his own company. But BK is worried: Her best friend, Shelby, has been stalked by a young man who happens to be named Trevor, who, having been jailed for harassing Shelby, is currently roaming free. And BK is completely unaware of another looming danger: Lenny, methodically plotting his revenge against the son who long ago escaped his wrath. The first half of the novel is a series of shorter stories, focusing first on Lenny in high school as he manipulates a pregnant schoolmate, Gail, into marrying him, and then providing the perspectives of a young BK and Trevor. In the prologue, however, Ray wisely opens her bookat the charity ball, where BK is staring at an armed Lenny. The prologue adds suspense to the story as it slowly builds, particularly in the latter half, to this scene and even includes a bit of mystery, when BK considers what a psychic, hired for the event, has warned her of regarding both herself and Shelby. Though Trevor eventually seems to be the villain, readers will find it difficult not to sympathize with him; his abuse at the hands of Lenny is vicious, and Trevor’s mother is helpless, the narrative insinuating that Lenny keeps her docile with drugs. Shelby is equally sympathetic—she is being stalked, after all—and though BK’s life is bearable when compared with Trevor’s, she suffers from anorexia, courtesy of her mother’s degrading remarks about her weight. The romance between BK and Max, even if it starts late in the story, is convincing and captivating, because the young lady’s eating disorder may have an impact on the relationship.

Ray takes her time establishing her characters, including the bad guys, and with a rousing, indelible payoff, it’s well worth it.

Pub Date: April 9, 2014

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Barking Rain Press

Review Posted Online: June 13, 2014

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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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