A dark, detailed tale about the making of a fearless woman.

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THE IMPALER'S WIFE

The spouse of Vlad the Impaler takes center stage in Bardot’s (Legends of Lust, 2019) novel.

There are abundant stories surrounding Vlad Dracula, the brutal, real-life prince of Wallachia who inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula. In a unique take on this well-known figure, Bardot depicts Vlad’s story through the eyes of his wife, Ilona, a courageous, intelligent young woman whose cousin is the king of Hungary. The narrative chronicles Vlad and Ilona’s marriage, a love match that’s also politically expedient. Their relationship is full of emotional extremes and constant maneuvering as Ilona struggles to stay in the mercurial prince’s good graces and keep his attention, both as a confidante and as a lover. Bardot does an excellent job of portraying Ilona’s metamorphosis from a naïve young maiden to a wife who’s determined to hold on to her husband even as their evolving relationship chips away at her beliefs, morals, religion, and identity: “I did not tame the beast,” she reflects, “far from it. My husband released the beast within me.” As Ilona comes to grips with her dark side, Bardot offers the reader an unflinching account of Vlad’s brutal past. Overall, Bardot’s novel is a complex work of historical fiction that touches on politics, religion, battle strategy, and cultural mores. It also doesn’t shy away from scenes of explicit violence and passion. The author mainly details Ilona’s present-day life while leaving her background largely unrevealed. However, the narrative also jumps around in time, piecing together Vlad’s history in a series of flashbacks; it’s a journey that began with an unsettled child who was held captive and ends with a fierce, unforgiving warrior prince who’s obsessed with power and revenge. In the end, although Vlad’s story is indeed interesting, it’s Ilona’s that will truly capture readers’ imaginations. A more detailed author’s note that separates fact from fiction would have been a helpful addition, though.

A dark, detailed tale about the making of a fearless woman.

Pub Date: March 27, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9882092-4-4

Page Count: 456

Publisher: Flores Publishing

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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