A thrilling and historically astute drama.

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WHAT PRICE FREEDOM

A debut autobiographical novel chronicles a woman’s perilous escape from Communist Russia with her son.

Victoria “Vica” Guidar was born in Leningrad and was blessed with a happy home life and a comfortable existence. While life behind the Iron Curtain was economically punishing for some, Vica’s family largely eluded the worst of the hardships. After studying graphic design for five years at an art academy in the Estonian Republic, she returns to Leningrad and falls in love with Gennady “Genka” Rosenberg, a dashingly handsome man who works in the film industry. After a torrid romance, they marry, and Vica has a son, Arthur. But Genka is a disinterested father and husband as well as an incompetent provider, buried under debt. Vica divorces him and eventually meets Dima, an engineer, and while there is no romantic electricity between them, he opens her eyes to the possibility of immigrating to another country and starting a new life. She worries that there is no future for her and her son in Russia and becomes disenchanted by the failure of Communism to deliver on its lofty promises. In addition, she is repulsed by the brutal discrimination of Jews. Vica hatches a complex plan to escape to Israel that involves remarrying Genka—as a Jew, he is given more freedom to leave the country than most. The risks, though, are great, especially since her family angrily opposes her designs—her brother even confiscates her passport to thwart them. Evangelista explains in a prefatory note that this is not a memoir, though it is inspired by her own life. The stirring plot is immersive, and the author vividly depicts the climate of fear and Orwellian propaganda perpetrated by a regime anxious to maintain its grip on the levers of power. The author delivers incisive historical details throughout the work. But the prose is wooden and even cliché-ridden—Vica describes herself as “a bird that was born to fly and doesn’t have the air to breathe and space to spread my wings.” Furthermore, the book includes old photographs of the author and her family, which confusedly blur the already fuzzy line between factual remembrance and creative invention.

A thrilling and historically astute drama.

Pub Date: Oct. 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9981731-1-5

Page Count: 344

Publisher: Empire Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 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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