An intriguing, if sometimes confusing, sideways glance at historical elements, such as Kindertransport, immigration via...


Cuckoo Clock - New York

From the Unbroken Bonds series

In this third volume of her Unbroken Bonds series, Marrion (Liverpool Connection, 2014, etc.) again uses fictionalized family history as a window onto major events surrounding World War II.

A prologue set in 1998 has Elisabeth and David—versions of the author and her husband—finding a cuckoo clock in a Florida antiques shop. Noticing it was made in Hildesheim, Germany, where she was born, they muse: “Wouldn’t it be strange if the watchmaker and Elisabeth’s family had crossed paths at some time?” What follows is, presumably, a blend of documented history, family lore, and novelistic license. The narrative quickly zeroes in on Dr. Esther Rosenthal, daughter of the cuckoo clock’s creator, Mordechai Goldstein. The morning after Kristallnacht, they flee Germany, traveling via the Netherlands to England—where they promised Esther’s husband, Ibrahim, before he was taken away by the SA, that they would wait for him. By chance, they accompany some Jewish children on the voyage, seeing them safely to their English destination. Esther is now so fond of three siblings in the group that she adopts them. The two youngest sail with her and Mordechai to New York to deliver several children to Brooklyn relatives, allowing for a different take on the quintessential immigrant arrival. When Esther learns that her eldest son has been caught up in the bombing in Coventry, however, she rushes back to England to find him. There are perhaps too many locations and subplots in play here; streamlining the history could have made the novel more focused and less perplexing. But Marrion writes in snappy chapters. Switching between England, Germany, and America, she presents a broad range of wartime experiences. Best of all are the sections tracing Ibrahim’s struggles in Dachau, especially an ironic scene where he finds a cellmate dead as “Silent Night” drifts in from the officers’ quarters. Characters from the previous books make cameo appearances, creating a cleverly interlocking story.

An intriguing, if sometimes confusing, sideways glance at historical elements, such as Kindertransport, immigration via Ellis Island, and the bombardment of England.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-78132-405-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: SilverWood Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 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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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.


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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