A slow-building romantic novel that focuses on the vital bond between lovers.

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THE LAST ENCORE

In Butler’s debut novel, a pianist meets the love of her life but must let him go.

In California, aging actress Lily attends a performance of the talented pianist Katherine Konova, and reflects upon her connection to this red-haired beauty. Decades ago in Russia, Katherine’s poverty-stricken parents, Irina and Maxim, were deeply in love, and both had jobs at a factory where Yazov (nicknamed “The Bull”) was foreman. Irina and Max were convinced that they couldn’t have children, but when Irina falls ill on the job, it’s discovered that she’s pregnant. A few months after Max’s death in a freak accident, Irina marries Yazov, although she doesn’t love him. The child, Katherine, shows a talent for the piano; at 17, she’s accepted at the Moscow Conservatory where she meets Vitaly Prohorov, a married professor whose instruction wasn’t confined to music. After a romantic relationship, the two eventually separate, and Katherine marries and has children. In the present day, writer Daniel Adler has mystical visions of a girl with fiery red hair, and knows he must find her. He has a strained relationship with his mother, feeling much closer to his stepfather, Hans. Daniel attends Goethe University in Frankfurt and embarks on a disastrous relationship with a suicidal woman named Sophie, which doesn’t feed his soul. Impressed by Daniel’s blog, Lily writes Daniel and invites him to America, where he will meet and attempt to win the woman of his dreams. This novel tells a mellow, unassuming story of almost-instantaneous passion between a mature woman and a younger man. The story engagingly reveals layers of information, past and present, amidst a recurring melody of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” It also provides a sense of life in Russia under the shadow of the KGB: At any moment, an innocent citizen could be snatched and accused of wrongdoing, an ordeal that Katherine at one point experiences. Her present-day affair in California plays out against a backdrop of family secrets, which generates suspense throughout. The narrative ends on a dissonant yet hopeful note, with potential for a sequel.

A slow-building romantic novel that focuses on the vital bond between lovers.

Pub Date: May 9, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-9911509-1-5

Page Count: 230

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 4, 2014

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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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