An engaging and readable work of women’s fiction set in contemporary Florence.

FIND ME IN FLORENCE

An American woman searches for her mother—and herself—in Florence in this novel.

Author Lyn Bennet is off to spend a month in Florence as part of an annual writers’ seminar, though her journey is dampened by the last-minute news that her husband, Stan, won’t be joining her due to a “big deal at the office.” As a result, she’s forced to celebrate her 35th birthday alone. Her trip this year has extra significance because she’s working on a book about her recently deceased mother, Jennifer, who came to Florence as one of the Mud Angels in 1966 to help salvage the city’s works of art following the destructive flooding of the Arno. Armed with her mother’s journal, Lyn wishes to find someone who would have worked with her back then in order to fill in the gaps in the story. She meets Matteo by chance when the Florentine happens to find and return Lyn’s scarf. He works as one of the acquisition directors at the Uffizi, and Lyn is instantly enamored of him. Matteo is working to cement his father’s legacy by securing a specific—though mysterious—piece for the museum. Soon, Stan arrives in Florence, but not with good news. He and his wife’s best friend, Susie, have both come to tell the author about the affair they’ve been having—a devastating revelation that ruins Lyn’s two closest relationships. “Love is selfish,” Stan tells her glibly. “You know that. You fall in love. It’s about seizing it. It’s just—you know you gotta seize it. No one wants to hurt anyone.” With her life crumbling around her, Lyn has no choice but to dig deeper into her project; the writings of her colorful group of students; and the beauty of Florence itself, which her mother worked so hard to preserve. Selbo’s (Dreams of Discovery, 2018, etc.) prose is breezy, and she takes great pleasure in describing the picturesque features of the book’s eponymous city: “Soon the street opens into the Piazza di San Lorenzo and there’s the basilica, standing grand and venerable. Technically it’s incomplete—because Michelangelo’s design for a Carrara marble façade was never realized. I always marvel at how gorgeous I find it; its unfinished rawness.” Her characters are well-drawn—particularly the goofs that Lyn instructs as part of the writing seminar—though they do slip occasionally into clichés. Matteo has a bit of the flatness of a fantasy partner, saying things like “We Italians cherish the past. It is still alive with us. Americans are always busy with the present.” The author does an admirable job weaving in the artistic history of Florence, especially the tragic flood that almost erased so much of it. Novels like this one peddle a bit in escapism. But Lyn and Jennifer help to convince readers that Florence isn’t simply a beautiful place to run away to, but also a fragile place that must be cherished—akin, perhaps, to the human heart.

An engaging and readable work of women’s fiction set in contemporary Florence.

Pub Date: Oct. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-950627-23-3

Page Count: 260

Publisher: Pandamoon Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 10, 2019

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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