An engaging, if somewhat facile, novel of wartime.

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Save Me Twice

BASED ON A TRUE STORY

Dustin tells the story of two brothers caught in the horrors of World War II in this debut novel.

When Nazi SS officers show up at his mother’s house in the middle of the night, 16-year-old Karl Elheusch knows they’ve come for him and his brothers. It’s October 1944, and Germany’s defenses are collapsing on all fronts. Hitler has ordered that all German boys over the age of 12 be pressed into military service to bolster the nation’s depleted armed forces. Sixty years later, Karl’s daughter, Ellie, waits at Washington Dulles International Airport to pick him up; it’s his first trip to the United States from Germany. But the elderly Karl suffers from chest pains soon after he arrives, so Ellie takes him to a hospital, where she learns that his heart is enlarged and will require a stent. While dozing, Karl remembers his time during the war. He and his brother, Hans, were forced to man the eastern front and were eventually captured by the Russians—an enemy that was much feared for its callous treatment of prisoners. Karl became separated from Hans and managed to escape, only to fall into the hands of American forces. As a prisoner of war, he was forced to assist in the cleanup of the Mauthausen concentration camp, where he confronted German atrocities against people he once knew. Concerned for Hans’ safety and unsure of his own fate, Karl underwent psychological torments that stayed with him for decades to come. Dustin writes in a plain but effective prose, communicating the details of Karl’s life in grim simplicity: “Prepare yourselves,” another POW warns Karl at one point. “They took a few of us to Mauthausen yesterday morning. I saw piles and piles of skeletons, dead after dead.” In an afterword, the author reveals that the novel was based on a true story, and it reads as such. This isn’t always for the best, however, as the larger themes of trauma and regret get somewhat lost in the particulars of Karl’s biography, and the serendipitous way that Karl’s past merges with his present feels almost jokey in tone. Even so, readers who are interested in semihistorical World War II stories will likely enjoy Karl’s tale.

An engaging, if somewhat facile, novel of wartime.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5374-7507-3

Page Count: 266

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 28, 2016

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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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