A successful portrayal of the complex psychology of an abuse victim and a gripping story of a love gone sour.

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Love Sick

Debut novelist Bright impresses with a nuanced tale of a woman who can’t break free of an abusive relationship.

DJ Toni Jones may be a rising star on Charleston, South Carolina, radio, but her cool, professional exterior masks a troubled personal life. She and her suave husband, Marvin, are the ultimate power couple—she has a show on radio station Q101.5, and he’s part owner of the city’s hottest nightclub. But when Marvin’s dreams of a music production career collapse amid legal troubles, he turns violent, resentful of his wife’s success and jealous of the attention that she receives from other men. One of his vicious attacks nearly kills Toni, but she refuses to press charges and takes him back, much to her family’s dismay. Marvin cleans up his act (and skeptical readers may raise an eyebrow at this about-face), but the resulting period of domestic bliss is only temporary. His new job as a trucker keeps him away from home for days at a time, and soon, he’s romancing a sexy stripper named Angela. However, Marvin hasn’t lost his violent tendencies, and, eventually, Toni is forced to make a decision that will change her life forever. Bright’s fast-moving, engaging novel shows how even a strong, successful woman can find herself a victim of domestic violence. Subtle hints about Toni’s past illustrate how she learned to accept and justify violent behavior from men, and her rationalizations for taking Marvin back, though infuriating, make sense in the context of her character: “In the end, love and my determination to help him always overpowered me.” Marvin, for his part, is equal parts despicable and attractive; when he’s on his best behavior, it’s easy to see why Toni might be lulled into a false sense of security. He also has his own demons that help explain, but not justify, his behavior. The dialogue is spirited, and although some situations are overly dramatic, they never cross the line into unbelievability.

A successful portrayal of the complex psychology of an abuse victim and a gripping story of a love gone sour.

Pub Date: June 5, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9861923-1-9

Page Count: 380

Publisher: A Light Bulb Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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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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