An observant comedy with a dose of heart.



In this novel, a California screenwriter attempts to turn his life into a romantic comedy.

Five years after his divorce and deep into middle age, Nate Evans is standing among the wreckage of his former life. Literally. The Air Force just accidentally bombed his trailer—which sat on a grassy hill overlooking Santa Barbara and the Pacific Ocean—to smithereens. With his best years behind him, the washed-up Hollywood screenwriter wishes he could have a do-over, just like in the movies. To go back to high school when life made sense and he had the affection of sweet Julie Cooper: “If he only wished for it hard enough, he might transport himself back in time. Raw desire with a tremendous imagination was a powerful thing.” Very powerful, in fact. Nate soon finds himself living back at his parents’ house and taking a temporary position at his old high school, Mt. Hamilton in San Jose, where that same Julie Cooper (now a widow and grandmother) is the assistant principal. Even after all these years, Nate detects a spark still flickering between them. With everything in place, he decides to literally relive his high school experience, using his abilities as a screenwriter to compose his plans beforehand and put them into action. Can he fix his mistakes from the first time, opening up a new future for himself in the process? (“Maybe he would get an honest-to-God usable script from it, send it to his agent or anyone else who might be interested in something like Grumpy Old Men meets Back to the Future—minus the Delorean time-travel hot rod. Well, maybe not.”) Will a bit of Hollywood-style drama liven things up, or is he setting himself up for an even grander failure than before? Brill’s (The Patterer, 2013, etc.) prose is punchy and packed with colorful imagery that communicates the angst and literary inclinations of his protagonist: “The sun lingered over the Pacific’s horizon like a rubbernecking tourist trying to get one last look at the horrific scene of an accident.” The California setting is well-drawn, and Nate’s history as a screenwriter allows him to reflexively leap to movie references without taking readers out of the narrative. In his pursuit of drugs, sex, and his lost youth, Nate exhibits quite a bit of off-putting immaturity, but that’s kind of the point. He’s balanced out by the character of Julie, who, having survived a more traditionally challenging (i.e., adult) experience, is more relatable in her desire to revisit an earlier point in her life. Brill has managed to craft a satire that both skewers and celebrates the often myopic nostalgia of baby boomers and their attempts to replicate the thrills of their youth. Younger readers may roll their eyes at some of the humor, but the author’s target audience will likely find a great deal to laugh and cry over in this accessibly shrewd portrait.

An observant comedy with a dose of heart.

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9960834-1-6

Page Count: 362

Publisher: Black Tie Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 28, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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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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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.


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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