A teacher champions women’s liberation in the ’60s by stepping into the role of detective with guile and efficacy.

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THE CAVANAUGH HOUSE

When a woman inherits a house, she must contend with both a ghost and a murder she’s determined to solve in this mystery.

Twentysomething Jesse Graham is ready to be independent. She’s moving to a small town in 1968 New York, where her inheritance from Aunt Helen awaits: an old, dilapidated home. It’s not ideal, but it’s a way to escape her indifferent mother and cheating ex-fiance, Robert Cronmiller. Jesse secures a teaching gig at St. Bartholomew’s, thanks to her nun friend Maggie, and sets about taking care of the house’s substantial mouse population. After befriending locals, including neighborly Joe Riley, Jesse’s shocked to learn that Helen’s death 20-plus years ago wasn’t an accident, but a suicide. She’s inclined to believe rumors of murder, however, once she suspects late-night noises in the house are Helen’s spirit asking for help. Jesse launches her own investigation, with assistance from cop Marty D’Amato, to prove someone killed her aunt. Her snooping and mingling with the townsfolk have made at least one individual skittish, as someone runs Jesse’s ’65 Beetle off the road and later leaves her a threatening note. She may be unfazed by the ghostly presence in her home, but an evil of the flesh-and-blood variety is something to fear, especially in light of a more recent murder. Meyette’s (Love’s Spirit, 2014, etc.) book starts as a ghost story but quickly becomes a mystery; any apprehension from the spooky dwelling, in fact, is immediately vanquished when Jesse declares herself unafraid. Nevertheless, a palpable menace generates suspense and a sense of urgency to track down Helen’s murderer(s). The protagonist’s desire to “depend solely on herself” isn’t entirely convincing, as she has a house, free and clear (with taxes paid by a trust), and a job Maggie practically hands to her. But her resolve as an amateur sleuth is admirable, and her reluctance to dive into a new relationship (considering how the last one ended) makes her wisely cautious. Jesse often subverts cynicism with humor: “It’s the living who haunt me,” she ominously asserts, before clarifying she means the house’s former rodent and arachnid residents.

A teacher champions women’s liberation in the ’60s by stepping into the role of detective with guile and efficacy.

Pub Date: May 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4935-3096-0

Page Count: 318

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 29, 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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