A sprightly plotted thriller and dynamic characters should leave readers eager for the sequel.

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SALVAGING TRUTH

From the Hunters & Seekers series , Vol. 1

A university professor hunts for her marine biologist mother’s enigmatic research, which dangerous individuals also want, in this series opener.

Professor Riley Rawlings’ late-night voicemail from her mother, Claudia, is obscure: “Don’t let them get my research.” Riley soon learns that the research vessel, on which Claudia was lead scientist, has sunk. The Coast Guard finds 16 passengers dead, but as Claudia is not among them, Riley initially believes her mother is still alive. Riley quickly offers her help to Hunters & Seekers, the salvage and investigation company the San Diego Police Department has contracted for assistance. Not only is she an experienced diver, but she’ll also be able to decipher any possible evidence her mother has left behind regarding her location or research. Riley doesn’t know any specifics about the research, but she’s able to follow a string of clues from Claudia, much like a scavenger hunt. Riley, along with Hunters & Seekers’ Dagger Eastin, Kaleb LaSalle, and Stone Garrison, all former SEALs, searches with caution, as it’s apparent that the sunken ship was no accident. Indeed, someone wants Claudia’s work, and a mysterious man is shadowing the group, hoping Riley will lead him to the research and seemingly waiting for his chance to strike. Jaytanie’s (Love, Take Two Collection, 2017, etc.) concise writing begets a swift narrative with no extraneous characters. For example, a woman from Dagger’s past is a dual threat—to Riley’s life as well as her blossoming relationship with the ex-SEAL. Riley, whom Dagger rightly dubs “fearless,” holds her own with her male comrades, and it’s gratifying to watch her decode Claudia’s cryptic clues. Unfortunately, the entertaining scavenger hunt ends a bit too soon, prior to the novel’s halfway point. But other mysteries ensue, including Claudia’s whereabouts, Dagger’s connection to the woman from his past, and the identity of the villainous mastermind. Although gradual details of the baddies’ plot become increasingly convoluted, the ultimate reveal is comprehensible and the story’s resolution is thorough.

A sprightly plotted thriller and dynamic characters should leave readers eager for the sequel.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-948170-04-8

Page Count: 276

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: April 26, 2019

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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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