Pathos plus characters who are puppets of fate equals a pleasant melodrama.

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Warren Lane

In Diamond’s debut, a random series of events leads to five adrift people tangled up in each other’s lives, with sometimes-disastrous consequences.

Susan Moore, Will Moore, Mark Ready, and Ella Weyland are all lost. Susan suspects that her husband is cheating on her. Will’s a philanderer all right and engaged in some very dirty business dealings besides. Mark is 28 and rudderless, seeing only his way to the next drink or fix. Ella can’t hold down a job so instead turns to men. Their lives collide when Susan decides to hire Warren Lane, a sleazy private detective who divides his time equally between blackmailing and investigating. When a mix-up leads Susan to accidentally hire Mark to investigate her husband instead of Warren, events begin a downward spiral. Suddenly Mark is sleeping with both Will’s mistress and his wife. Instead of going back home to try to restart her modeling career, Ella is staying put, trying yet again to find herself in a relationship. Will has no idea how to extricate himself from shady deals that have gotten to be far more complicated than he can handle. And everyone thinks it’s Warren’s fault. These encounters with pain, hope, and loss make the book engaging. Almost every reader will relate in some way to the protagonists’ sense of being adrift and unsure of where to go. Ella sums up this universal feeling when she tells Mark that he is, “A kind person, with a good heart. Who’s a little lost. Like me.” When books tap into themes like this, however, there is an expectation that they will offer up insight about how we detangle ourselves from such situations, or even how we don’t. It’s a bit of a letdown, then, when the characters don’t actually deal with their problems, which are, for the most part, magically solved. Not quite deus ex machina but close. It makes for a story that is sweet but not necessarily satisfying.

Pathos plus characters who are puppets of fate equals a pleasant melodrama.

Pub Date: May 29, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9963507-0-9

Page Count: 254

Publisher: Stolen Time Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2015

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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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