An often good read, particularly for Civil War enthusiasts.

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'290' - A Novel of the American Civil War

VOLUME II: THE LAIRD GUNBOAT

From the Blockade Runner series

Political intrigue in Britain threatens to scupper Trenton Grey’s plans to continue as a Confederate blockade runner in Wonnell’s (‘290’: Volume I: Blockade Runner, 2015) sequel.

Grey is in Liverpool, England, supervising the construction of a new ship to replace his, which was commandeered by the Confederate navy, as well as another, called 290, whose owner intends to use it to disrupt Union shipping. Grey is lonely and longs for his cousin Joanna, who is waiting for him in the Bahamas. To circumvent a law against “equipping and arming” ships in England to use against countries with which Britain is not at war, the shipyard is relying on a legal opinion that distinguishes “equipping and arming” from basic construction. The U.S. Consul in Liverpool, Thomas Dudley, gets wind of this, and the American minister in London, Charles Adams, convinces the authorities to adopt a more expansive reading of the law. Despite the sharpest maneuverings of the British system by Confederate sympathizer Austen Layard, undersecretary to the British Foreign Minister, an official order to seize the 290 slowly wends its way through the British legal system. Layard connives to warn Grey, but will the 290 be able to flee Liverpool before the American steamship Tuscarora arrives to shut it down? As with the previous volume, this novel is rife with authentic detail and period language. Wonnell’s knowledge of the British governmental structure rivals his impressive knowledge of sailing ships and Civil War history. The result, again, is a book of impressive authenticity with a compelling plot and diverse characters. It starts off a bit slowly, but once the intrigue starts, it’s gripping. However, the author might have given more depth to the female characters and expanded on the social activity in Liverpool and New Providence, which is important to the plot but given short shrift. The romance between Trent and Joanna is also a bit melodramatic, and a few action scenes early on could have made some of the extensive background information on British law and politics a bit easier to digest.

An often good read, particularly for Civil War enthusiasts.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-0-692-42260-1

Page Count: 386

Publisher: Brail Books LLC

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2015

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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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