Avoids the obvious clichés, while harkening pleasantly back to ’50s-era motherhood humor classics like Jean Kerr’s Please...

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EVERYONE IS BEAUTIFUL

In Center’s lighthearted latest (The Bright Side of Disaster, 2007), a young mother yearns for self-realization while wrangling three boisterous preschoolers and a distracted husband.

Lanie Coates’ introduction to Cambridge, Mass., where her composer husband Peter has begun graduate studies, is a local park, where she hopes to find other mothers to befriend. The Coateses, including three boys, Alexander, Toby and Baby Sam, all under the age of five, moved from Lanie’s close-knit Houston neighborhood, leaving her supportive parents behind. At the park, the mothers recoil in shock when Toby bites another child. All, that is, but one woman, who asks Lanie when she’s due. But Lanie isn’t pregnant—she hopes. Just as she’s about to demure, Amanda, Lanie’s cheerleader high-school classmate, appears out of nowhere and offers to organize a shower. Determined to drop postpartum pounds, Lanie signs up with a local gym. Every weeknight, after the kids are in bed, Lanie works out on the treadmill, ignoring glances from a middle-aged fellow exerciser with Ted Koppel hair. Peter, busy with his piano, mostly leaves Lanie to single-handedly supervise the boys. Hoping to revive her artistic career, former painter Lanie takes up photography and finds that she’s a natural despite having to fend off her instructor, the very same Ted Koppel look-alike. When Peter, on the eve of a career-making trip, catches “Ted” kissing Lanie, a communication impasse ensues, not helped by Lanie’s tendency to mislay cell phones. Amanda, mother of preternaturally docile Gracin, tries to mentor Lanie’s makeover, but tempers her beauty and sex tips with disillusion. (Amanda’s wealthy but homely husband has decamped, bursting her Martha Stewart bubble.) In less deft hands, the horrors of the out-of-control Coates toddlers would resemble bad reality television, but Center’s breezy style invites the reader to commiserate, laughing all the way, with Lanie’s plight.

Avoids the obvious clichés, while harkening pleasantly back to ’50s-era motherhood humor classics like Jean Kerr’s Please Don’t Eat the Daisies.

Pub Date: March 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6643-8

Page Count: 242

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2009

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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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