High marks for adventure and romance in this Gothic historical thriller; a novel to make you swoon on a dark and stormy...

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THE MISTRESS OF CLIFFTOP MANOR

Hall picks up where Charlotte Brontë left off with a tale of murder, jealousy, class and forbidden love.

Hall follows the themes and motifs of the classic Gothic novel almost as meticulously as she weaves 19th century historical anecdotes into the plot. Both techniques serve to create a refreshing, exciting story in which the young, virtuous heroine, Lillie Lorimer, travels to America to seek refuge with an estranged relative following the death of her father and sole benefactor. Unfortunately, tragedy strikes again, and she is forced to seek her own means of supporting herself in the bustling, tenement-laden streets of New York City. As luck would have it, a job practically falls into Lillie’s lap, and all seems not lost. Yet her new job as governess to the children of devastatingly rich and handsome railroad magnate Jay Caldwell may not be such a dream. At Clifftop Manor, situated on the picturesque Long Island Sound, she has much to worry about, namely her dangerous attraction to her employer, shady figures traveling through secret tunnels and passages and the growing envy of Caldwell’s irrational wife. Though the plot seems byzantine in structure, it unfolds with great care and precision, solving mysteries as it creates new ones. Each chapter bounds well off the next and creates playful suspense. The juxtaposition of poverty and opulence in chapters one and two is especially artful, as it establishes the urban setting while building a tension that lasts throughout the novel. The book’s weakness lies with its protagonist; though it may have been the author’s intention to create a kind of 19th century everywoman that other women can relate to, it leaves Lillie without a distinctive voice. Luckily, the plot itself is grand and turbulent enough to carry the novel on its own.

High marks for adventure and romance in this Gothic historical thriller; a novel to make you swoon on a dark and stormy night.

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 2011

ISBN: 978-1463716295

Page Count: 452

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 3, 2011

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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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