A worthy introduction to a young sleuth who would be welcome in future series installments.

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DISCOVERY ON SPIRIT MOUNTAIN

In West’s Christian-themed, debut YA novel, a teenage girl is determined to figure out who’s stealing Native American artifacts and trying to scare people away from a national monument.

It looks like 16-year-old high schooler Gwyn Lorne will be spending her spring break at Spirit Mountain. She, along with her twin, Chad, and their friends Alec and Brooke Walsh, has heard rumors of “spooky” occurrences there. Although the sheriff of nearby Pine Valley warns them to stay away from the landmark, adventure-seeking Gwyn convinces Alec, the oldest among them and the group’s driver, to check it out. The mountain belongs to the Seneca Nation, which has allowed the National Park Service to establish a new park and monument there. Some locals claim that Seneca spirits are angry over the “invasion”; later, Gwyn sees a seemingly ghostly Native American dancer there, and she deduces that it’s a flesh-and-blood person who’s hoping to frighten visitors away. The person may also be connected to the theft of relics from a local archaeological dig. As Gwyn gathers clues and compiles a list of suspects, she also struggles with her romantic feelings for Alec. Her investigation soon includes a search for legendary artifacts that’s arduous and exceedingly dangerous. West’s book has a profound religious theme; all four teens are Christians, but although Alec is devout, Gwyn occasionally questions her own beliefs. However, the mystery takes the foreground, and it entails genuine peril—someone gets shoved off a mountain trail at one point—but it’s all thoroughly wrapped up by the end. Gwyn’s primary motivation for solving the mystery, however, is unclear; at different times, she seems to be doing it because she’s attracted to its inherent danger, intent on completing a challenge, or wanting to prove her capability to Alec. Her tenacity, though, is without question, and West adds credibility to the story with familiar teenage traits, such as use of hyperbole; at one point, for instance, Gwyn is certain that the girl whom Alec may like “is a million times prettier” than her.

A worthy introduction to a young sleuth who would be welcome in future series installments.

Pub Date: March 23, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-77097-617-7

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Westbow Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 13, 2018

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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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