An absorbing and suspenseful story of intergenerational family ties.


Armed with fortitude and a .357 Magnum, a California grandmother and her young grandson go up against a crooked corporation and big pharma in Ragano’s thriller.

Seventy-something retiree Stella Valentine is recovering from cancer. She’s now healthy thanks to her participation in a trial for Helixin, a new drug. But her troubles begin when Great American Superstore takes over Stella’s former employer, Caruso’s Supermarket. After the corporation cancels her pension plan, she can no longer afford the Helixin treatment. Neither Great American reps nor her doctor, Dr. Whittier, will help her, and Stella’s son, Frank, only makes things worse. He owes thuggish millionaire Lester Cummings after a failed real estate venture. To satisfy Lester’s demand for “escrow,” Frank puts his mother in Shady Palms, a Lester-owned retirement home. To escape, Stella gets assistance from her 11-year-old grandson (and Frank’s son), Johnny. The familial duo takes a stand against Shady Palms’ fixed bingo games before going after the free Helixin samples Dr. Whittier is stockpiling. They soon realize, however, they can help others by providing prescription drugs, which will require boosting the drugs from Great American delivery trucks. All of this, of course, incites menacing individuals, but Stella and Johnny pair their tenacity with Stella’s personal revolver. Notwithstanding the playful title, Ragano (The Voting Machine, 2012, etc.) generally takes the story seriously. Stella and Johnny, for example, are constantly under threat by men willing to harm them or worse. Nevertheless, the author wisely tones down the violence, as Stella never fires a gun with intent to kill. Dialogue is likewise relatively tame, as Stella, despite her “teeth clenched with rage,” drops a “Doggone it” in lieu of something harsher. Detective Rebecca Little is a laudable supporting character, sympathetic to the Valentines but also a reminder that they’re lawbreakers. At the same time, a transparent but still convincing anti-capitalism theme makes the villains apparent; prosperous Whittier’s racquetball tournament unquestionably takes precedence over Stella, his patient.

An absorbing and suspenseful story of intergenerational family ties.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4701-2537-0

Page Count: 386

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2019

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...


Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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