A tale with a realistic legal backdrop that spotlights the engrossing trials of a contentious mother-and-son relationship.

SON OF A BITCH

INSPIRED BY TRUE EVENTS

Caught in a sexually compromising position with one of her Mafioso clients, a bulldog attorney must call on her long-estranged, up-and-coming lawyer son to defend her at an ethics hearing in this debut novel.

Rising in the male-dominated legal world of Atlanta in the 1970s, Carter Scales earned her moniker of the “Dragon Lady” by being a force of nature in the courtroom and a stone wall against the constant misogyny she faced while defending some of the most notorious members of organized crime. This reputation follows her and her practice into the present day, but in a moment of emotional weakness, she jeopardizes it all and is caught performing oral sex on the head of the Salucci crime family in prison. Her one hope is her son, Benjamin, who struggled under her domineering influence and his own emotional immaturity yet still became a remarkably savvy and successful defense attorney himself. His contentious upbringing and deep familiarity with his mother’s history, from her divorce to the constant sexism she faced and the death of a judge she and her son wanted as part of their family, could save her career, though Ben’s interest is in getting something from Carter he’s never had before—an apology. Despite initial impressions, Sheffield’s book (inspired by real events) is no legal thriller, though the author does call on his own extensive background with the law to give readers a firsthand understanding of the wheeling, dealing, and grappling that go on among attorneys, clients, and judges. Instead of trading in empty suspense or surprise witnesses, the novel focuses on the dynamics between mother and son, the demands the former makes for her sacrifices and how the latter internalizes them, both blaming himself for what was missed and spiting her for putting her work over his happiness. As narrator, Ben is a joy, intolerably immature but well-balanced by his self-awareness and sense of humor, though it is, at times, a little odd how specific his knowledge of some of his mother’s more intimate moments is. The interactions between Ben and Carter, particularly their fights, are the novel’s strongest moments, so plausibly navigating between the hilarious and the heartbreaking in their arguments that their eventual détente feels truly hard-won.

A tale with a realistic legal backdrop that spotlights the engrossing trials of a contentious mother-and-son relationship.

Pub Date: July 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-9998366-1-0

Page Count: 394

Publisher: Michael Terence Publishing

Review Posted Online: Oct. 3, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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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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