A light and breezy encapsulation of a small community.



Callen (Words in Rows, 2016) gives a tour of a seemingly bucolic planned neighborhood in a series of vignettes. 

Readers are introduced, house by house, to the inhabitants of Heavenly Heights, a small development on a “slight elevation relative to the rest of the town,” which the omniscient narrator calls “an ideal stage for the comedy and drama of human life to unfold.” First off, there’s Reuben and Wendy Moreland, who amiably live on separate floors of their house to make their differing personalities work together. Wendy gave up a daughter to adoption before their marriage, and hopes to one day track her down. Across the street are the somewhat odd Tom and Georgiana Nickerson; Georgiana is known for her compulsion to quantify things, such as the number of squirrels in town, and Tom is rarely seen at all. Down the street are empty nesters Sonia and Mark Bittlemeier; Mark continues to work, but Sonia dreams of putting together a writing project to corral all the quotes and allusions running through her head. Margaret Sneed, a psychoanalyst, lives alone at the end of the block, and in another house, Susan Cochran raises dachshunds. When Susan suffers a stroke, it unexpectedly brings together even the most reticent members of the neighborhood. In straightforward prose, Callen ably balances comedy and drama, never allowing the narrative to tip too far in one direction, and shows a light touch in her transitions. As a result, the characters’ stories all weave together nicely, and the author is able to work some surprises into what initially seems to be a simple narrative. The neighborhood feels lived-in and true to life, and Callen pays close attention to all of its—and its inhabitants’—quirks. Those readers seeking a grand culmination to all these plot threads, however, may come away dissatisfied; the stakes remain low throughout, and the overall effect of the collection is pleasant but not weighty.

A light and breezy encapsulation of a small community.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-0-9884716-2-7

Page Count: 182

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: July 24, 2018

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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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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.


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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