A novel of war and recovery from a consummate storyteller at the height of his powers.

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A thriller follows a family living near Richmond during the Civil War.

It’s September 1862 in this historical novel, and the Confederate and Union armies have all of Richmond on edge. Following Gen. Robert E. Lee’s advance north, a father and daughter of the Richmond gentry open their doors to care for a Southern officer badly wounded by Union foragers near Mechanicsville. Capt. John S. Holland, scion of a wealthy family allied with Jefferson Davis, took a ball in the leg that shattered his femur in two places. He convalesces in a newfangled contraption designed to spare him amputation while Anna Van Meer reads aloud to keep his spirits up. In Anna’s opinion, “Those who want the war should have it in abundance and leave the rest of us alone.” Her father hates slavery, and before the conflict broke out she assisted him in the operation of a station on the Underground Railroad. She suspects he has kept that station going all this while. After he accepts the captain, Anna wonders why her father is striving “to create the illusion they were supporters of the Southern cause,” recalling that “they’d never gone to such lengths before.” But the war closes in, and before long Anna finds herself in flight, away from the comfort she’s known and with the principal folks in her heart put to a test. Holland, for whom she’s fallen, works valiantly to protect her, though he knows himself to be “a diminished man.” Wallace (The Man Who Walked out of the Jungle, 2017, etc.) is a serious artist who never fails to attend to his audience’s needs, providing fast-moving action and characters of real depth. Though they might have come across as implausible clichés, both Anna and Holland strike the reader as complex and credible, and their early courtship (during which “his presence was like a noxious smell that rendered her life wretched”) convinces in an accomplished, fresh, and indirect style. The author understands the period well. The intricacy with which he layers his characters’ historical imaginations can only enrich any reader’s understanding of the tensions of the 1860s and the tangled hearts of men and women.

A novel of war and recovery from a consummate storyteller at the height of his powers.

Pub Date: Aug. 10, 2017

ISBN: 970-0-9983291-5-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 31, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2018

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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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