Readers may wonder whether there’s anything the tenacious investigator can’t handle—while eagerly awaiting sequels.

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BURIED SECRETS

SEQUEL TO THE CAVANAUGH HOUSE

A schoolteacher takes a second stab at sleuthing when a possible ghostly presence at an all-girls academy is compounded by a definite murder in this mystery.

Jesse Graham’s understandably horrified when her precarious thunderstorm drive ends with a body in the road. Turns out it’s only a dummy with a dreadful but grammatically incorrect message, “Your next,” written on it, a potentially dangerous prank from one or more of the students at nearby St. Bartholomew’s. The next day is Jesse’s first day as the new English teacher, just three months after moving to Seneca Corners in upstate New York in the summer of 1968. Jesse suspects the school’s haunted, based on inexplicable sounds of drums in the locked basement, as well as a now-familiar sensation, having contended with a ghost in her own home. That spirit, however, was benevolent, whereas the one at school is, Jesse believes, more threatening. Looking for clarification regarding the prank and the basement gets Jesse nowhere, as it seems no one wants her snooping or making inquiries. The mystery deepens when, at a gathering, someone fires a shot at Jesse, and later there’s another body in the road—a human one this time. A missing student and a suspicious death subsequently confirm an unmistakable menace, who may next be targeting Jesse. As in Meyette’s (The Cavanaugh House, 2016, etc.) preceding novel, the likelihood of a phantom doesn’t unnerve as much as it augments the mystery. Learning who the ghost is, for example, takes precedence. The dense plot’s undeniably riveting, even its melodrama: Jesse, fresh from a horrid relationship, has two worthy suitors in affable construction worker/company owner Joe Riley and dashing equestrian coach Scott Stanton. She’s also determined to be self-reliant, despite her recent discovery that she’s heir to a fortune. Jesse’s an indelible protagonist, never afraid to say what she’s feeling but readily acknowledging when she may have hurt someone—like emphasizing Joe’s a friend in front of Scott. Unfortunately, though thriller components generate suspense (for example, what exactly is happening in the school’s tunnels?), an explanation near the end isn’t wholly satisfying and leaves behind quite a few questions.

Readers may wonder whether there’s anything the tenacious investigator can’t handle—while eagerly awaiting sequels.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9960965-2-2

Page Count: 324

Publisher: Boris Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 30, 2017

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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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