A laudable story with robust female characters and skillfully woven themes of race and gender.

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CITY IN A FOREST

Two women with strong ties to historic land in Atlanta fight to prevent a developer from building luxury condos on the site in this debut drama.

Arden Collier lives in Silver Park, which her grandfather set up years ago. Due to its significance to the African American community, the land has been designated for historic preservation. Regardless, Buddy Caldwell, a developer, plans to build a six-story condominium complex in Silver Park. Not surprisingly, Arden refuses to sell her property to Caldwell, who tries to convince the county to seize it under eminent domain. But 52-year-old Parker Gozer owns much of the land in Silver Lake, as her father, Foster, who “built half of Atlanta,” left it to her. She’s a public relations director for a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., but is currently in Atlanta on business. She likewise has no interest in selling to Caldwell or even being in his company. He once worked for her father and, 10 years Parker’s senior, took advantage of her when she was barely a teen. Arden will get her chance to argue against the condo development at an upcoming summons hearing. But it will be a battle to keep her home, even with her childhood friend Parker on her side. Pinholster steeps her novel in absorbing subplots. Arden, for example, is an artist struggling financially, as critics tore apart her last show, while Parker works long hours to support her family, putting a strain on her marriage to Beamer. Instances of sexism and racism are apparent but not blatantly so. Caldwell is guilty of both, as it seems he wants the advocacy of the summons hearing chairperson solely because she’s a woman of color. Many of the men are unfortunately one-dimensional, including Parker’s relentlessly condescending boss, who calls her “Parky,” and likable but flighty Beamer, whose phone is typically off despite his wife’s hours-long daily commute. On the other hand, Arden and Parker are astute and tenacious, aided by an often witty narrative. Parker resists the urge to fingernail-slash Caldwell in order to retain “a perfectly good manicure.”

A laudable story with robust female characters and skillfully woven themes of race and gender.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-68433-318-9

Page Count: 210

Publisher: Black Rose Writing

Review Posted Online: July 9, 2019

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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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