A formulaic romance, yet undoubtedly destined for big things.

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FIREWORKS OVER TOCCOA

As World War II comes to a close, a young woman finds her soul mate, while waiting for the return of her husband from the front lines.

Stepakoff, a screenwriter and producer (The Wonder Years, Dawson’s Creek) brings his considerable polish to this debut novel of star-crossed lovers. It is 1945, the boys are coming home and Toccoa, Ga., is throwing a celebration party. Lily Davis Woodward is expecting her husband back, a husband she married at 17, lived with for two weeks, and has only honey-colored memories of. A Coca-Cola executive that worked under her father, Paul Woodward is just the kind of man Lily was expected to marry: handsome, traditional, dependable. But Lily has an interior life no one suspects—beneath the Southern manners and frozen smile Lily is an artist and free spirit, unsuited to the straight-laced company life she’ll soon lead with Paul. Into the picture comes Jake Russo, an Italian-American, just back from the war, and in Toccoa to set up the fireworks display for the town’s celebration. Lily and Jake meet by chance, share a meal in the field Jake is placing his fireworks in and experience the kind of connection neither expected. For Jake, the attraction is simple; for Lily it is life-shattering: reject a house, husband and respectable future for true love with Jake. After a torrid night of sex in a kudzu-covered cabin (the lengthy, puffed-up description of which will set many a teenage girls aflutter), Lily returns to the home she is preparing for Paul, unsure of who she is. The entire story of Jake and Lily is framed as a flashback—octogenarian Lily is subtly warning her granddaughter Colleen against the path of least resistance: Colleen’s rigid fiancé. Who did Lily choose? Did fate intervene in unexpected ways? Although there are surprises, too much relies on a predictable sentimentality and the ho-hum adage that hovers above the novel: Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

A formulaic romance, yet undoubtedly destined for big things.

Pub Date: April 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-312-58158-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 11, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2010

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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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