The author sews her varied themes, characters, and surprises into a seamless narrative that is essential reading for anyone...

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THE DREAM STITCHER

A debut historical novel explores love, war, mystery, and magic.

Queen Mathilda of Flanders, dead since the Norman Conquest, is a spirit awaiting a new life. In 1923, she becomes Alenka Kaminski’s daughter. Unfortunately, she dies in childbirth, and Mathilda is forced to become Goldye Finkelstein, daughter of a woman no spirit would inhabit. So begins Gaal’s adult fairy tale. The action alternates between Nazi-occupied Warsaw, where Goldye works her magic, and modern-day California, where Maude Wasserman frets over her finances, aging mother, pregnant daughter, and life in general. Before the Nazi invasion, Goldye, a Jew living in the Warsaw ghetto, goes to widower Jan Kaminski’s (Alenka’s husband) shop for thread to sew the dreams of her imaginary friend, Mathilda. Jan, an Aryan Pole, befriends Goldye and they discover the dreams she sews come true after she embroiders a wedding dress. Her reputation grows and young Warsaw women flock to Jan’s shop for Goldye’s wedding gowns. Eventually, she falls in love with Lev, a Resistance fighter. She begins to sew hummingbirds that inspire people to aid the struggle, leading to a deadly cat-and-mouse game with the Nazis. Meanwhile, in California, Maude discovers that her mother, Bea, a woman lost to Alzheimer’s who never sewed in her life, has stitched a replica of the Bayeux Tapestry, a masterpiece from Mathilda’s time. Gaal’s delightfully sardonic and neuroses-filled portrait of Maude is in perfect counterpoint to the people of Goldye’s world. The author’s beautifully written narrative is filled with wit, action, mythical allusion (“She felt like Sisyphus”), and characters so real that readers will feel they know them personally. Gaal’s powers of description in this poignant tale are evidenced in her depiction of the Bayeux replica: “The needlework appeared to be a story told in wool. A hunter-green horse reared. A helmeted soldier—chestnut leggings and silver mail—sat atop a mauve horse, urging it forward and thrusting a glinting wool sword into an eggshell wooly sky.”

The author sews her varied themes, characters, and surprises into a seamless narrative that is essential reading for anyone who loves elegant writing.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-73258-960-5

Page Count: 372

Publisher: Anchor House Pubishing

Review Posted Online: Sept. 27, 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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