A warmly personal portrait of Joseph, earthly father of Jesus.

BEFORE BETHLEHEM

A historical novel set on the eve of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Set in early first-century Palestine, Flerlage’s historical fiction debut is narrated by James, the son of Nazarene carpenter Joseph, who, after his first wife died, went on to wed a young girl named Mary and have with her their more famous son, Jesus. Young James tells the story of normal small-town life spiked with social and political unrest simmering just under the surface. Tension among the Jewish people, their religious leaders and their imperial Roman overseers lurks behind the scenes Flerlage effectively dramatizes. Although many moments are quiet and quite evocative—“He swished some [water] around in his mouth to clean the raisins out of his teeth and spat it on the ground”—the larger-scope bitterness is never far away: “It seems that every time our people protest or revolt, the Romans end up crucifying, spearing, burning, boiling, and ultimately killing anyone in their way, including innocent people.” Joseph and James travel to the great Temple in Jerusalem, the heart of both Jewish faith and Jewish unrest, and all along, Joseph displays intelligence, impatience with Roman rule and a wry sense of humor. “How do you know if a man is really speaking on behalf of God?” James asks Joseph, to which he chuckles and replies, “I have no idea, but if you ever meet a prophet, would you introduce me?” Flerlage fleshes out the story with excellent pacing and dialogue, and he doesn’t fail to deliver what many readers will be expecting: Joseph’s meeting Mary—“Her voice was like the songs of birds in the morning, her words like cool winds on a sunny harvest day”—their marriage and the babyhood of James’ half brother, Jesus. Readers who’ve enjoyed religious fiction from Taylor Caldwell and Francine Rivers will particularly enjoy.

A warmly personal portrait of Joseph, earthly father of Jesus. 

Pub Date: Oct. 31, 2013

ISBN: 978-0989828109

Page Count: 292

Publisher: DreamScapes Publishing Ltd

Review Posted Online: Dec. 10, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2014

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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