A steamy tale and beguiling thriller, with plenty of local color and some provocative twists.

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Riverside

A young landscaper gets caught up in the drug trade in this debut novel.

Bobby Patrick is a 24-year-old in Austin, Texas, whose days are spent getting high, swimming in the lake, and dreaming about how to get ahead. A dyslexic, he failed to get through college, as words on a page “ran every which direction, as if something big was chasing them.” He has a new girlfriend, Katherine “Katie” Ann Smith, a waitress at a local diner, and the two are getting serious and talking marriage. Within their relatively small social universe, which is largely made up of marijuana dealers and thieves who have wealthy parents, Bobby and Katie navigate through various personal dramas. Katie’s not-so-nice best friend, Sara, slept with Bobby once. Katie doesn’t know about it, and Sara is holding it over Bobby’s head. Katie harbors a skeleton or two in her closet as well. While Bobby struggles to save money as a landscaper, he and Katie plan to open a restaurant. Katie has an affluent lawyer father, but there is a complication. Sara gets arrested and wants Bobby to bail her out and pay for an attorney. Just as Bobby realizes Sara may have gotten mixed up with the wrong people in the drug trade, he faces an uncertain future as he is drawn further into a mess that may have more to do with Katie than he could ever have imagined. Burlison sets his story in the heady days of the early 1990s in Austin, though his characters are perhaps more aloof than one would expect of the Generation X social scene. But they are certainly Texans. Bobby, an East Texan, is a scrappy self-starter and problem solver, while Katie and Sara are forthright and controlling, but still looking to daddy to bail them out. Burlison manages to make Bobby a sympathetic protagonist, even though the characters here are involved with drugs by their own choice. The winding and increasingly sinister plot holds some exciting scenes. But the author relies too much on small talk and continual dialogue, and he takes his time shaping the storyline.

A steamy tale and beguiling thriller, with plenty of local color and some provocative twists.

Pub Date: Jan. 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9969696-0-4

Page Count: 348

Publisher: Barton Creek Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 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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