Honest and entertaining.



A successful PR associate must come to terms with resurrected high school demons.

On the surface, Olivia Morten’s life seems perfect: she has a rewarding career in which she finely orchestrates celebrities’ public images; an attractive, successful neurosurgeon husband; a dream house; and of course, a flawless body. It’s evident from the beginning of Palmer's (Girl Before a Mirror, 2015, etc.) latest, though, that a shameful secret lurks under this veneer: the memory of what she terms Fat Me, the “forever alone, overly emotional, out-of-control” embodiment of her high school self. Olivia has hidden her past so well that even her husband knows only bits and pieces of the truth, and in the image-obsessed Hollywood bubble in which Olivia works, it’s vital that she never let herself slip. But a chance encounter with her high school crush (and tormentor), Ben Dunn, at a coffee shop inconveniently brings Fat Me to the forefront of her consciousness. And when the perfect volunteer opportunity for salvaging a celebrity client’s reputation arises—at a Halloween Fair for foster children in the high school at which Ben is now principal—Olivia’s forced deeper yet into her own personal time machine. As the Halloween plans progress (as does the sexual tension with Ben) and her marriage and personal life begin to fracture around her, Olivia is finally compelled to take a hard look at Fat Me and the person she’s become in order to hide her. This leads to an arc of self-realization that’s satisfying but somewhat oversimplified, implying that one can lay years of restrictive eating patterns by the wayside in one sudden burst of self-acceptance. Nonetheless, Palmer develops her characters well—Olivia is complicated, flawed, and reflective, transforming what could have been a flat, superficial novel into one that’s by turns funny, painfully honest, and hard to put down (though descending periodically into clichéd territory). Palmer uses a light touch to broach the subject of female body image, both in Olivia’s mind and as a constant societal background hum—from the crusty baguette eaten only by the men at a dinner party to the way Olivia’s celebrity client must be seated with her back to the restaurant, “to lower the risk of a photo of her putting food in her mouth.” It’s vindicating, then, to watch Olivia rise above the noise, even when it’s as simple as asking for the bread to be passed to her at a dinner party.

Honest and entertaining.

Pub Date: April 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-250-08347-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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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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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