A subtly handled story of a saint’s life that offers some useful insights into both the era and the woman.


Lions and Souls

Loranger’s (The Odyssey of Art O’Hara, 2012) historical novel tells the tale of Mary, an Egyptian prostitute during the late Roman Empire who repents and becomes a Christian saint.

As a youth, Mary often dreams of a man named Charaxus, who her mother says is imaginary but whom her father describes as her guardian angel. Charaxus convinces Mary to leave home when she’s 12; she goes to Alexandria, where she’s soon working for a madam, Lady Danae. Seventeen years later, Mary is living with a rich man named Nobilius as his personal prostitute. He asks her to marry him but she declines; after the second rebuff, he commits suicide by hurling himself off the famous lighthouse at Pharos. Mary then joins a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, paying for her sea passage by providing her services to members of the crew. Onboard, she meets a man who looks like Charaxus, and they become lovers. In Jerusalem, Mary tries to enter the Great Church, which purportedly sits atop Jesus’ burial place, but some unseen force keeps her from going in. Then she hears the songs of an elderly flautist and finds that she can finally enter. She decides to devote her life to Jesus and crosses the Jordan River to live in the wilderness as a hermit. Charaxus shows up in her cave and argues against her religion, but Mary resists him. Years later, Mary meets a monk named Zosimus and tells him her story. Overall, this is a tightly written account of the life of an obscure saint, and it spins a credible yarn of what life might have been like in her time and place. Although the book contains many sexual interludes, they are rather chaste—perhaps too chaste for modern readers. Some lyrical passages hint at the beauty of the Bible, as when the flautist declares that “all mankind is grass.” But Mary’s motivations aren’t always entirely clear—especially those that led her to her ultimate conversion. She talks of doing “penance” for the “joys of sex,” but some readers may wonder whether Mary has truly changed her ways because of a deep religious revelation.

A subtly handled story of a saint’s life that offers some useful insights into both the era and the woman.

Pub Date: July 31, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5035-8940-7

Page Count: 180

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: Oct. 12, 2015

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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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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.


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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