Wholesome but unfulfilling.

GOING THE DISTANCE

In this debut romance, a middle-aged woman and a much younger playboy gain physical and mental health on a bike ride across the U.S.

Disappointed in love, 56-year-old virgin Martha Murphy decides to attempt a cross-country ride through every continental state as a way to heal (and lose weight) after her suicide attempt. Playboy journalist Jake Mason is, much to his distress, assigned to cover the story; he’s to find out what’s driving this overweight woman, ride with her and report what his editors assume will be failure. It’s also a change of scenery for depressed, suicidal Jake, who’s estranged from his coldhearted parents. The first night, they meet Barry, a Basalt Campground desk clerk and the first of many men and women (in addition to Jake) who begin to follow Martha’s blog. As their travels continue, they visit major tourist attractions (Little Bighorn Battlefield, etc.), meet mean bikers, work potato fields and find a dog. She and Jake become friends, share uncomfortable truths—“now that our secrets are no longer secret, their power over us will diminish”—and find true love (not with each other). After a disastrous accident almost kills Jake, he and Martha take out new leases on life. Finley’s heart is in the right place: Strong Christian faith and hard work help generous characters overcome obstacles, assist others and meet exercise goals. Unfortunately, insignificant details—a receptionist’s name, almost every meal, routine shopping trips, etc.—drag down the narrative. Meanwhile, nature’s force is mentioned but not felt; there’s little of what actually riding a bike cross-country would entail (i.e., sweat, muscle cramps, strains). And what about their poor adopted dog, who must run 20 or more miles a day? How do their electronic devices get power? Too conveniently, money problems are solved by rich relatives or new loves. Perhaps the sequel will right some wrongs and take the story to the next level.

Wholesome but unfulfilling.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-1500552602

Page Count: 346

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

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

SUMMER ISLAND

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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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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