A captivating story of one dog’s experience of crisis and healing, illustrated with the author’s evocative portraits of...

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Punitive Damages

A kindhearted couple rescues a down-on-her-luck Weimaraner, but now all parties must face a five-day trial period.

Stories of animal-human bonding are not uncommon, but what sets Lively’s (The Puzzle Aesthetic, 2012) novella apart is the fact that the story is told from the point of view of a dog. When readers first meet the story’s protagonist, a Weimaraner, she is on a hospital bed being treated for injuries from an accident she can’t remember. As her mind clears, she realizes that she has no recollection of anything from her previous life, not even her name. But she becomes ever more certain that she “must be of aristocratic stock,” as she is all too aware of the indignities of institutional life in the animal hospital as she heals from her fractured leg and broken teeth. She is eventually adopted by a “grumpy guy” and his “kinder and gentler” female partner, who give her the name PJ. As the three get to know each other, PJ teaches her new owners about her needs by using her wits and dexterity to escape from every restraint and enclosure, often with hilariously destructive results. Although the man becomes increasingly irritated with each new transgression, his essential good nature, coupled with the patient and perceptive influence of the woman, leads to eventual understanding and true friendship between dog and human. Lively’s writing is vivid and engaging, and he creates three believable and memorable characters. His detailed description of PJ’s perspective on the trial period of her adoption may offer important insights to help new pet owners understand the emotional needs that lie behind destructive behavior. The author skillfully introduces PJ’s point of view, with a focus on scent that makes it realistically doglike. But developing such an alternative narration becomes complex, and Lively never makes it clear how PJ can understand the couple’s English conversations perfectly, yet she seems unable to communicate directly with the other dogs she encounters. Such inconsistencies jar a little, and a reader is left feeling that PJ’s existence must be a little lonely with so much knowledge and so few ways to express herself. Perhaps a series of PJ books is in order to allow the further exploration of the inner world of dogs.

A captivating story of one dog’s experience of crisis and healing, illustrated with the author’s evocative portraits of Weimaraners.

Pub Date: June 30, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-939166-97-5

Page Count: 174

Publisher: Merrimack Media

Review Posted Online: Sept. 9, 2016

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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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