A light and amusing whodunit that proves time spent in the company of the heroine is time well spent indeed.

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THE BIG OVERNIGHT

From the Stella Reynolds Mystery series , Vol. 3

Stella Reynolds investigates a pair of murders in this latest installment of Kirsch’s (The Big Interview, 2016, etc.) chick-lit mystery series.  

Book 3 finds the intrepid reporter and amateur detective on the trail of a major drug ring in Knoxville, Tennessee. Stella has moved up the journalism food chain, enjoying a good job in a larger market. She doesn’t have to carry her own TV equipment, and she is far more comfortable with those tricky live shots. Outside of work, Stella is living with her old friend Janet Black, across town from ex-boyfriend John, and still considering her options with former flame and NASCAR driver Lucky Haskins. When Stella covers an overnight shift that morphs from a house fire to a murder, she soon finds herself on a complicated and dangerous case. Two homicides in one night appear to be connected, and the suspect who’s in jail may not be the guilty party. An anonymous tipster pushes Stella to look deeper at the killings, and it becomes apparent that Knoxville’s low crime rates are an illusion. Widespread drug and gang problems lie just below the surface, and government officials, detectives, and leading business owners are all on the take. Kirsch’s third Stella Reynolds mystery still feels fresh and fun. Though the narrative follows a predictable format—what seems to be a straightforward crime is a coverup with larger ramifications—it is still enjoyable to watch the mystery unravel. Kirsch’s leading lady remains a funny and relatable heroine. Her plucky attitude and aptitude for stumbling into sticky situations are pleasantly reminiscent of Janet Evanovich’s popular Stephanie Plum character. Roommate Janet provides an amusing, if somewhat clichéd, tough-nut foil to Stella’s optimism and do-gooder spirit. Stella’s love life is relevant but on the periphery, allowing the focus to remain on the case. One of the strongest facets of Kirsch’s series is her insider knowledge of journalism and TV reporting, which lends a feeling of authenticity to the plot and puts a unique spin on the cozy mystery genre.

A light and amusing whodunit that proves time spent in the company of the heroine is time well spent indeed. 

Pub Date: Oct. 30, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9969350-3-6

Page Count: 300

Publisher: Sunnyside Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2017

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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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