Cognoscenti will especially appreciate the musical references, but readers need not be opera buffs to enjoy this novel.

READ REVIEW

DON JUAN IN HANKEY, PA

In Gale’s humorous backstage novel, a small-town opera company stages Don Giovanni.

With revenues declining, putting on an opera anywhere these days is a difficult task—especially so in the fading Rust Belt town of Hankey, Pa. Although the opera’s new artistic director collapsed with a heart attack during his job interview, he teams up with the opera guild—led by energetic divorcee Deanna Lundquist—to ambitiously plan a production of Don Giovanni, technical challenges and all. Things start looking up when they snag rising star Leandro Vasquez for the lead. Discovered singing to his cattle, he’s a lusty, smoldering-hot Argentinian gaucho—someone sexy enough to bring a whole new audience to the opera. Unfortunately, he might lose himself in the role. Guild members include a retired dermatologist, a lovesick ingénue, a manic-depressive heiress to a condiment empire and an event planner who speaks to the dead. And then there are the ghosts. Packed with comic misadventures, mystery, intrigue and opera lore, the book rollicks along to a satisfying conclusion. In trying to give each point of view its due, Pushcart Prize–nominee Martin sometimes has difficulty wrangling her large cast, making it hard for readers to keep track of all the intersecting, overlapping agendas. A carefully staged farce in the lothario Leandro’s dressing room, for example, fizzles; there’s too much going on for too little payoff. One character, Jeannie Jacobs, overcomplicates things to little effect, and the book would be stronger without her. But the interplay among the cast is amusing; Vivian, the ketchup heiress, gets some especially good scenes. Though everyone’s easy acceptance of the supernatural can strain belief—one character levitates during a séance, exciting no comment—the generally operatic setting helps it all go down better. The details involved in putting on an important opera are fascinating and true, particularly the technical discussions about staging.

Cognoscenti will especially appreciate the musical references, but readers need not be opera buffs to enjoy this novel.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 2011

ISBN: 978-1935961406

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Booktrope Editions

Review Posted Online: April 24, 2012

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more