This tale should prove entertaining for readers who enjoy amusing characters and a less pulpy style of intrigue.

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WILDERHALL

A novel details the gossip and rumors surrounding a renowned theater family, as its would-be biographer searches for the truth.

The story is set in 1965 and most of it takes place in the quiet fictional town of Oldfield, Connecticut, not far from New York City. Jasper de Vole, columnist for the Scrutator, travels to Oldfield to conduct research for a biography on the Harts, a famous acting family that resided in the town. Rex and Dora Hart have died, and locals haven’t seen their daughter, Margot, for many years. But socialite Winifred “Freddie” Hart (who is not an actress) is agreeable and shows Jasper many artifacts in the family’s home of Coverdale, with the help of curmudgeonly housekeeper Mrs. Plunkett. Freddie even invites Jasper to take up residence at Coverdale, which he does. At first Jasper is taken in by the treasure trove of objects he is shown and the hospitality of Freddie, but he can’t shake the feeling that there is a bigger story to uncover and that the family is hiding something. He wonders about the disappearance of Margot, whom Freddie doesn’t mention. Living at Coverdale allows him to snoop around the house whenever he’s able to avoid Mrs. Plunkett. Meanwhile, Freddie’s property, Wilderhall, sits in disrepair, as she hasn’t used or maintained it for many years. And elsewhere in town, Margot’s old friend Whitty Daniels meets Mr. Moravec, a handsome Shakespeare scholar, who says he’s interested in purchasing Wilderhall. The story’s characters are likable and appealing, particularly Whitty, who loves the dilapidated Wilderhall (“There is a beauty in crumbling ruins, don’t you think? They engage the imagination: you have to complete them in your mind”). And Farewell’s (House Party, 2017, etc.) prose is bright and evocative. But it’s difficult to categorize this book—it lacks the fast pace and urgency of a thriller. It doesn’t always feel like a mystery either, because the knowledge that a character is missing is often imparted to readers first, and the players don’t have to expend death-defying efforts to learn crucial information. It’s a bit gentler than those genres while still remaining engaging for audiences that aren’t looking for heart-stopping suspense.

This tale should prove entertaining for readers who enjoy amusing characters and a less pulpy style of intrigue.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9778509-7-6

Page Count: 238

Publisher: Puddingdale Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 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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