An entertaining fantasy with a few missteps.



From the The Great American Destination Series series

In this novel, a dime-store cashier’s life overturns when she becomes an assistant to Marilyn Monroe for eight days.

It’s 1958, and Penny Parker, 20-something, is working the cash register at the Cornet Five & Dime when she gets the news: She’s won a random drawing to assist Marilyn Monroe, who’s in San Diego shooting Some Like It Hot at the city’s famous Hotel del Coronado. Penny loves the movies and their promise of adventure and glamor, but she doesn’t long for stardom or beauty. Penny criticizes herself for being fat and believes she’d be lucky to have an ordinary life, “a husband, a home and a family of my own making,” along with a “best, best, best girlfriend.” To her surprise, Penny hits it off well with the moody actress. They have many chats and several adventures off set: prepping Penny for a date with handsome widower Steele Wright, whose young son Penny saves from drowning; going on a cross-dressed night on the town with Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis; and facing down a psychotic stalker who’s after Marilyn—a story the public can never know. But supernatural help is on their side, including two ghosts, a Ouija board, and a fortuneteller. In between and afterward, Penny has revelations about herself, her often difficult family, and Frankie Holland, a childhood friend who works with her at the dime store. Lentz (Blossom on the Road of Dreams, 2017, etc.) offers a well-judged blend of romance, wish fulfillment, glamor, suspense, and the paranormal. It’s fun to see the filming of a classic movie from behind the scenes, and wisecracking, down-to-earth Penny is a good contrast to Marilyn’s sensitive fragility. The pacing is problematic, with a dangerous confrontation getting resolved long before the ending; the final chapters, important as they are to the story, feel somewhat anticlimactic. The text is generally well-researched, though dialogue can sound overly contemporary: “You know, karma’s only a bitch if you are.”

An entertaining fantasy with a few missteps.

Pub Date: May 29, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9962936-2-4

Page Count: 388

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 14, 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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