An engaging showbiz and courtroom drama, hampered by underdeveloped characters.

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Waiting in the Wings

A debut historical novel details the life of an early 1920s vaudeville starlet whose career was tragically cut short.

Rees bases her story on the real-life tale of her great aunt, who was a big name in San Francisco’s vaudeville scene. Ruby Adams has a tough upbringing, living in a shantytown after the earthquake of 1906, but through pure charm and panache is able to build herself up into a local star, loved by San Franciscans as one of their own. At the outset of the novel, she’s in the middle of a successful run at the Strand Theater, set to marry the wealthy John Davis, a popular bootlegger, and about to make her move into the burgeoning film industry. One night, though, tragedy strikes, as a falling sandbag backstage strikes Ruby, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down. The rest of the tale follows the aftermath of the accident, as lawyer Charles Brennan constructs a case against the theater and its proprietors in order to recoup the potential income that Adams has lost. Arrayed against Adams and Brennan, though, are some sketchy characters—a few with connections to the city’s Mafia. Morris Markowitz and Moses “Moe” Lesser, the owners of the theater, hire the bombastic Col. Herbert Choynski to head up their defense team. Most of the latter half of the book focuses on Brennan’s and Choynski’s moves and countermoves before the trial. The tale eventually culminates in the dramatic courtroom finale. The work is clearly a labor of love, full of little historical details about the time and place that make it clear Rees has thoroughly researched her family’s story. The characterization and plot are somewhat simplistic, however—the players are either wholly admirable or malevolent, and readers rarely see the better or worse sides of them. This lack of nuance somewhat saps the yarn of suspense, as it seems impossible for Adams to lose a case against such monsters. But to Rees’ credit, the tale sticks to the history and delivers a murky and unexpected ending. Historical buffs and lovers of the stage should find something to like in this account.

An engaging showbiz and courtroom drama, hampered by underdeveloped characters.

Pub Date: July 28, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9976702-1-9

Page Count: -

Publisher: Regina Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 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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