A thoughtfully written, rewarding read.

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ANGEL FALLS

A spunky ballet teacher has to choose between her small-town sweetheart and a suave, Scottish newcomer.

After her New York City dance career fell flat, Casey Alexander came home to open a studio in Angel Falls, Alabama, a “dinky little deep-south town on the backside of nowhere.” To add insult to injury, she has to face Ben, the high school sweetheart who promised to follow her to New York but knocked up her best friend Melody instead. Three kids later, Melody is living the happily-ever-after life that should have been Casey’s. After a reconciliatory shopping trip ends in a freak car accident, Melody’s dying wish is that Casey take Ben back, and it looks like Casey could get that perfect-seeming life after all. However, Ian Buchanan, a newspaper mogul who has just bought the Angel Falls Informer and the building that houses Casey’s studio, has also put in a bid for Casey’s heart. Steamy nights with Ian, blissfully domestic moments with Ben, and bouts of survivor guilt result in a cocktail of emotions “as heady and confusing as Long Island Iced Tea.” Both prospects are not without their flaws. Ben’s version of caring for his kids—Jake, Maryann, and Amy—consists of foisting them on Casey at a moment’s notice. Ian is so surly that Casey initially nicknamed him the Newspaper Nazi, and he still bears the scars from a tragic first marriage. But when it comes to Ben and the kids, Casey will always be second best. De Jongh’s debut novel hits all its marks and blends romantic comedy, drama, and suspense. The characters are well-crafted—there’s no perfect Prince Charming—and Ben’s kids make for a compelling complication to the love triangle. Three-year-old Amy amplifies Casey’s guilt, and Jake’s rebellious preteen antics create opportunities for Ian to come to the rescue, though middle-child Maryann feels underdeveloped. Nevertheless, this is a lovely story about the intersections of love, friendship, duty, and self-care.

A thoughtfully written, rewarding read.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9979398-1-1

Page Count: 332

Publisher: Tranquil Dragonfly Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 22, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 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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