Enjoyable, imaginative retellings of classic tales—not for the nursery.

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Wildwood: fairy tales and fables re-imagined

Fourteen fairy tales reworked for adults, by novelist Kasten.

Children are nightly lulled to sleep with fairy tales and fables in the hopes that the lessons imparted won’t fade with the dawn. Lessons about caution and selfishness but also self-preservation, revenge, insanity, patricide, incineration—all your basic kid stuff. This book revisits 14 such tales, giving each a fresh spin. The boy who cried wolf is now a grown man, a one-armed shepherd dealing with the consequences of his youthful transgressions. Close to madness from abandonment and starvation after their original tale, Hansel and Gretel plot to avoid future mistreatment by their soon-to-be stepmother. Beauty loves her Beast in spite of appearances, but she may find he can’t reciprocate when circumstances are reversed. Curious Baby Bear bites off more than he can chew when he removes a gun from his parents’ closet. Little Red Riding Hood sets out for grandmother’s house, but, distracted by the sensual pleasures of a secret meadow, she fails to reach the intended destination. This sharp yet charming collection of tales takes dead aim at human foibles and follies. Romantics beware: The ideal of eternal love is herein skewered, and the bloom quickly comes off the rose more than once. In dealings with the fairer sex, men behave cruelly, stupidly and only occasionally kindly. On a brighter note, a mistreated wife, once a virtual prisoner in her own home, becomes (post-husband) an empowered, enterprising businesswoman. Often the path in Wildwood winds unpredictably. One of the strongest stories, “The Magic Looking Glass,” explores the Evil Queen’s upbringing, pre–Snow White, and her fascination with a magic looking glass; its real-life, videolike scenes, rivaling those of satellite TV, induce a moral and spiritual catatonia as she becomes obsessed with beauty. Conversely, however, a lesser entry contrasting the perspectives of a duck and a swan misses the mark.

Enjoyable, imaginative retellings of classic tales—not for the nursery. 

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-0983195955

Page Count: 198

Publisher: Kate Kasten

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2013

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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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