A heartfelt but uneven tale about age and loss.

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THROUGH A DREAM

In this inspirational debut novel, a man dreams that his dead mother comes back to spend a day with the family.

Family is incredibly important to Greg Peters. When he gets a call from his stepmother saying his father has had a heart attack, his world is thrown off its axis. Greg rushes to the hospital and waits for news, recalling all the memories he has of his father, mother, brothers, and grandparents and how these people shaped the man he has become. He learns his father will have to undergo a triple bypass. “With his years of smoking and his COPD,” a doctor tells Greg and the rest of the family, “there are a lot of risks and challenges ahead. It’s by no means going to be an easy procedure.” Though his father survives the surgery, complications force him to stay in the hospital for months. Greg continues to see him and to reflect on their time together. One day, while sleeping in his father’s hospital room, Greg has a dream in which he returns to the family cottage and sees his mother, who has been dead for 14 years. He asks: “How is it that I’m standing here looking and talking to my mom?” She replies: “I have no idea either, Greg. But here I am, and you have me for the day.” With the members of his family back together for one day, can Greg say all the things he wants to tell them? Howard’s prose is simple and sentimental, and he creates a warm sense of nostalgia with the numerous flashbacks to Greg’s youth. At one point, the protagonist recalls a valuable pep talk from his father: “Ever since you were fourteen years old, I watched you at trade shows, interacting with people, and I could tell back then that you have what it takes…I could see the drive and determination you had at everything you did. There’s no doubt you are one special kid.” But the flashbacks are sometimes too boilerplate to captivate, and they do little to invigorate the plodding frame of the narrative. By the time the dream begins (and the audience will be well aware that it is a dream), readers will likely have lost any investment they had in the novel’s outcome.

A heartfelt but uneven tale about age and loss.

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5255-2808-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: FriesenPress

Review Posted Online: Dec. 11, 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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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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