A relatable account of a shameful episode in American history, although its sensibility seems overly modern at times.

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CONDEMN ME NOT

ACCUSED OF WITCHCRAFT

This historical novel tells the story of Moore’s (An Ocean Away, 2017, etc.) ancestor, who was hanged for witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts, in the 17th century.

Susannah Martin (nee North, 1621–1692) was one of the 20 people, including 14 women, who were executed in the infamous Salem witchcraft trials. This novel begins in 1692 as she, along with others awaiting trial—including a 4-year-old girl—languish uncomfortably for three months in Salem Jail. In flashbacks, Susannah remembers her past, beginning in 1646. She was 25 then, living in Salisbury, Massachusetts, still a spinster, and looking to stay that way—until a handsome young widower, George Martin, moved to a neighboring farm. He flirted with her, but she didn’t believe that he was truly interested, because she considered herself “plain, short, and too round.” As the novel traces their courtship, Susannah’s early rebuffs of George’s flirtations reveal her prickly, stubborn personality, a lifelong characteristic: “Calling me a troublemaker is highly accurate,” she notes. “I’ve never been one to keep my opinions to myself.” She was first accused of witchcraft in 1669 (the charges were dropped, but Susannah’s reputation was damaged); later, she and George became embroiled in several lawsuits and court battles with the local Putnam family, losing many decisions. After her husband’s death, Susannah was impoverished, leaving her vulnerable, and on July 19, 1692, she and four others were executed by hanging. Moore does a good job of illustrating her ancestor’s predicament. Susannah’s own words, from real-life trial records, are especially affecting, such as when she laughs at the fits of her accusers, who were young girls: “Well I may at such folly.” However, the couple’s many scenes of courtship become repetitive, smacking of high school dating with its jealousies and snits. Although the book appears well-researched, for the most part, its version of Puritanism can seem ahistorical, allowing such things as loose hair and dancing. And although Moore calls out the issues that led to the accusations, such as the Putnam family’s money, power, and greed for land, she pays little attention to the accusers themselves, and what, besides their parents’ political interests, led to their mass hysteria.

A relatable account of a shameful episode in American history, although its sensibility seems overly modern at times.

Pub Date: March 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-941145-95-1

Page Count: -

Publisher: Mirror Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 30, 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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