Smart characters of both genders, fast-paced plotting and a dash of self-conscious humor make this installment a winner.

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THE TEMPTATION OF THE NIGHT JASMINE

Honor and romance again take the lead in 19th-century England, as yet another flower-named spy continues this high-spirited and thoroughly enjoyable series (The Seduction of the Crimson Rose, 2008, etc.).

The beautiful but bookish Lady Charlotte is thrilled to welcome her cousin, the dashing Robert of Dovedale, home for Christmas to Girdings House. The year is 1803, and Charlotte is finishing her third season still unmarried. But her cousin, the hero of Charlotte’s lonely youth, seems distracted by the dissolute young “Eligibles” whom Charlotte’s grandmother has invited for the festivities—and a last chance at matrimony. Could Robert, the true heir of Girdings, be involved with that unseemly crew, or could something more be afoot? As fans of Willig’s series will immediately deduct, Duke Robert is as pure-hearted as they come, but the two protagonists will end up romantically confused even as they team up to uncover a plot to kidnap the mad King George III. The discovery of yet another relative involved in espionage could strain credibility, but Willig, a Harvard-educated historian, mixes pitch-perfect period details with lighthearted romance for a fresh take on the genre. If not caught up in the fashions and gossip, what else do patriotic young gentleman have to do, after all, besides defend the honor of their countries, or their more or less innocent female relatives? And, in a nod to modern sensibilities, what else do young noblewomen have to do but save them right back? In a witty acknowledgment of such far-fetched conventions, Willig’s modern heroine, narrator Eloise Kelly, finds herself wondering if her romantic mystery man, new boyfriend Colin Selwick, has continued his noble family’s tradition. That both stories will end happily is a given, but Willig’s lively writing and amiable young characters make the journey great fun.

Smart characters of both genders, fast-paced plotting and a dash of self-conscious humor make this installment a winner.

Pub Date: Jan. 22, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-525-95096-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2008

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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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