A provocative and sensitive portrait of love developing in the most unexpected of places.

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Hard Road Home

A chance encounter leads to an unexpected connection for a young receptionist and a reserved trucker in this contemporary romance.

Amanda Swenson’s life is primarily defined by the expectations of her family and the demands of her job as a receptionist for a small medical practice in western North Dakota. Shy and introverted, she’d like to be more confident and assertive, particularly at work. Her mother wants her to meet people and start dating, but she’s had little success with relationships. Her luck begins to change the night her older brother, Mark, invites her to dinner. Mark, an oil company employee, brings along a friend, trucker Clayton Sloan from Kansas. She is immediately drawn to Clayton, who’s friendly but reticent (“Amanda had never met anyone from Kansas. She began to appreciate the state in a whole new way….When she felt herself leaning toward him like a daisy to the sun, she straightened up immediately”). Clayton is not looking for love. A tragedy and untenable bank loan have threatened the family farm. Determined to help his parents save it, his sole focus is earning enough money to pay off the loan and launch an organic wheat venture. He’s attracted to Amanda but feels he has nothing to offer her. Despite his reservations, a relationship slowly blossoms that raises Amanda’s confidence and opens Clayton’s heart to the possibility of love. Dopson’s (The Light at the End of the World, 2002, etc.) novel successfully combines the sensitivity and insight of a character study with a slow-burning, provocative romance. The exceptionally well-developed protagonists are bolstered by realistic settings and a dynamic and multilayered supporting cast. The strongest elements of the story are the leads, Clayton and Amanda. Their situations are relatable thanks to Dopson’s carefully crafted prose and naturalistic dialogue. While Clayton and Amanda’s relationship anchors the story, the secondary characters are more than just set decoration; they are equally vital parts of the narrative. Two of the most compelling supporting players are Mark and his long-term girlfriend, Jessica. The Bakken oil boom in North Dakota is vividly rendered and allows the author the opportunity to explore the effect the long hours and dangerous work conditions have on individuals and families.

A provocative and sensitive portrait of love developing in the most unexpected of places.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9712123-5-0

Page Count: 426

Publisher: Angelfire Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 9, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 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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