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

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 32

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2020

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

more