A supernatural tale with a strong, engaging protagonist.

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SPOOKED

In Rosengard’s new-adult debut novel, a college student searches for the person responsible for her best friend’s death—with a little help from a familiar ghost.

Nineteen-year-old Callie McCayter escapes a gloomy life in Houston by attending Astoria College in the Pacific Northwest. She’s rooming with childhood friend Izzy Miller, whose parents took Callie in when it became clear her alcoholic father, a cop, was abusing her. But tragedy strikes during the friends’ sophomore year: Izzy is killed by a car in a hit-and-run as she’s walking home from a party in the middle of the night. Callie’s resultant despair causes her to miss numerous classes, and she may lose her scholarships, as a result. Then, one day, she sees the ghost of Izzy in their room. Her late friend doesn’t speak but instead uses lipstick to write a message on a mirror: “HELP ME.” Callie becomes determined to solve the mystery of what happened the night of Izzy’s death; she not only wants to find out the identity of the unknown driver, but also who’s to blame for the fact that Izzy was walking alone on a dark road. This entails interrogating four students who showed up to the party with Izzy and who apparently didn’t care that she was uncharacteristically drunk. Meanwhile, Callie, who normally abstains from dating, becomes attracted to two very different guys—seemingly meek Colin Turner and 20-something campus security officer Jay Houghten, an ex-Marine. Soon, she starts to experience Izzy’s memories, and, as a result, she starts to uncover quite a few secrets. Rosengard thoroughly develops her paranormal mystery plot, but the heart of the tale is Callie’s growing fortitude. She’s initially despondent after Izzy dies, but she eventually becomes determined to pinpoint every important detail of that fateful night. As the story progresses, readers learn of Callie’s other strengths, including her training in self-defense, stemming from her experiences with her dad. Much of the narrative centers on the aforementioned romantic triangle; both of the young men are enticing but flawed, making Callie’s choice understandably difficult. But they also have ties to the greater mystery—and they may be withholding important information from Callie about the party. Izzy’s ghostly appearances are sporadic and cryptic enough that Callie is left to unravel the whodunit mostly on her own. However, Callie’s memory-visions of Izzy’s experiences add a startling element, as they reveal a less-than-pleasant side of her friend. In one memory, for example, Izzy is irate when her mother gives Callie special attention. The mystery contains a handful of other shocking twists, although many readers will likely see a few of them coming. However, the author’s grasp of Callie’s first-person voice is sensational: The teenager endlessly debates with herself and harps on her own shortcomings, such as her tendency to distance herself from potential friends and romantic interests. She does acknowledge and work on overcoming her weaknesses, though—and readers will definitely see her virtues even when she doesn’t.

A supernatural tale with a strong, engaging protagonist.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5380-9012-1

Page Count: 510

Publisher: Horseshoes & Hand Grenades Publishing, LLC

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 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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