More melodramatic than taut noir but an engrossing read for fans of historical fiction.

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DEATH OF A DIVA

FROM BERLIN TO BROADWAY

The Jewish daughter of German refugees living in 1941 New York City goes from suspect to detective after her idol, a legendary German actress and outspoken scourge of the Nazis, is murdered.

College student Misia Safran is devastated by the brutal slaying of Stella Berger at the Broadway theater where Safran had a job in the ticket booth. Safran comes under suspicion after a street musician she allowed to enter the theater is seen by witnesses “running from the victim’s dressing room.” That man is Viktor Erdos, who knew Berger since she was a child in Vienna, encouraged her talent and became her lifelong (platonic) confidant before a mysterious falling out. Erdos is one of the memorably drawn characters looming large in Berger’s story. Others include Berger’s husband, Alexander Levary, a director and dandy; Ulla Scholz, Berger’s private secretary (or was she more?); Curtis Wolff, an aspiring lawyer and Safran’s boyfriend; and famed stage and screen actress Lotte Lenya. Each has a story to tell about Berger, each story a piece of the puzzle that will ultimately reveal all about Berger (and her killer). The weakest link in Goldstein’s (Dina’s Lost Tribe, 2010) period novel is Safran herself. For most of the narrative, her role is that of a transcriber of other characters’ versions of events. “I made myself invisible,” she notes at one point. “I withdrew into the background. All ears, I was a fly on the wall.” Only near the end of the book does she become actively involved in the investigation. Dialogue isn’t Goldstein’s strong suit, particularly in the case of two policeman—one German, the other Irish—who initially suspect her: “You mean to say a nice looking girl like you doesn’t have something romantic going on? No fiancé? Are you playing us for fools?” The book’s best passages insightfully deal with the German immigrant experience of the time, the guilt of having loved ones still in Hitler’s Germany—“Why didn’t we force her to leave,” Safran bemoans of her grandmother—and memories of “the magic, lost world of Weimar Belin,” where her parents were musical artists and entertainers.

More melodramatic than taut noir but an engrossing read for fans of historical fiction.

Pub Date: Sept. 23, 2014

ISBN: 978-0692246665

Page Count: 284

Publisher: Pierredor Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 12, 2014

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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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