A dark, whimsical adventure that dog-lovers will enjoy.

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THE DOG WALKER

The life of a young, tormented dog-walker is changed by the people and pets he encounters.

Benny has always felt that he was different than the other residents of his small town of Mayfield, Md.; however, he feels a close connection to the loving, loyal canine members of the community. Becoming a dog-walker was just as much a natural choice for dog-loving Benny as it was a necessity for him as a high-school dropout who has been walked over by the people he has known throughout his young life. Alvarez entices readers to see the town of Mayfield through the eyes of Benny as he creates a kinship with the dogs he walks for his neighbors and takes uncharted paths, twists and turns that give way to new adventures. Through Benny, a lone wolf whose friends and family members cannot compare to his love interest, Laura—the forlorn, anorexic prostitute with the “Husky blue eyes”—Alvarez appealingly flaunts the charm, sincerity and patriotism that exists in the heart of the young man. Although Benny displays a subconscious loyalty to his new crush, there are disturbing problems that arise with courting her. Along with his sharply crafted witticisms and creative analogies, Alvarez creates compelling parallels between the relationships that Benny forges with the people of Mayfield and the ones he forges with the dogs that he walks for them. As Benny explores himself through the challenges he faces in each chapter, he meets new members of his small-town community, and, as he grows, he is increasingly able to lend a helping hand. There's Vanessa, the bold, resourceful owner of recalcitrant Ruckus; Gale, the buxom, beautiful owner of Remy and Shadow and girlfriend of a disrespectful brute; Larry, a war veteran with a wild imagination; and Mrs. McKenzie, the owner of toy poodles, with whom she enjoys drinking beer. And then there's Benny's friend Zach, the sneaky drug dealer, who introduces Benny to Laura. Alvarez expertly uses dark humor to mold Benny into an engaging character who works to save his employers and friends.

A dark, whimsical adventure that dog-lovers will enjoy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-1466319752

Page Count: -

Publisher: Bell Bridge

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2011

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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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