A compelling story of a woman’s trauma and strength.

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A Sworn Virgin

BROKEN PROMISES

A young woman struggles against the strict social roles of 1910 Albania in Dukes’ debut historical novel.

In the mountain village where Diana Aganis lives with her father, Frenk, and stepmother, Mirlinda, society is governed by an ancient code known as “the Laws of Lekë Dukagjini.” Under the laws, a man’s honor is everything, revenge killings and blood feuds are commonplace, and women are little more than property, like “a sack, made to endure.” Diana has dreamed of escape since she was 5 years old, when a visiting foreign woman’s sketches sparked her interest in art and let her know that feminine existence could be more than drudgery. Luckily, her father encourages her creative endeavors, and they travel to the nearby city of Shkodra to meet a priest who can help her attend art school in Venice. Then Frenk is shot dead in the street, the apparent victim of an honor killing. Diana makes the only choice she can to protect herself and Mirlinda: she becomes a “sworn virgin,” taking a vow of chastity “in order to gain the right to live like a man…inherit property, earn a living, carry a gun, and kill for vengeance”—which she does, after tracking down her father’s killer. Then she falls in love, putting her vow and her life in danger. Overall, Dukes has chosen an engaging setting for this novel, with its mix of medieval and modern elements, and fleshes it out with vivid details, such as the simple meals of goat cheese, cornbread, and yogurt and the elaborate costumes that show clan affiliation and social status with different patterns (“Diana did not recognize the pattern of the braiding, so she was unsure what tribe they came from”). Diana herself is portrayed as plausibly independent-minded without feeling like a feminist anachronism; for example, at one point, she concludes that “Sheep had more freedom [than women], and were less likely to be hit by their owner.”

A compelling story of a woman’s trauma and strength.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5175-4736-3

Page Count: 292

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 7, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2016

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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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