An unreliable narrator maintains a dubious tone that still manages to electrify.

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I Am Your New Poison

From the Poison Fury Death series , Vol. 1

James’ psychological thriller debut offers the tale of a young woman in an interrogation room, recapping a drug-fueled crime spree spanning nine U.S. states.

Texas cops have a disheveled, bloody girl at the station for questioning. The unnamed girl’s been eluding the law for quite some time with her sometimes-lover Noah. The couple steal liquor and boost cars, criminal acts that ultimately escalate into bank robberies and burning down a church. These deeds lead to a death or two, including an accidental shooting in the course of a robbery. The girl’s probably being insincere in her statement, as it’s clearly a chore for her not to laugh when Officer Gibson treats her like the victim. But authorities really want to know where still-on-the-lam Noah is, and a fed known only as the Agent (or simply Agent) isn’t as easy for the girl to toy with as Gibson. He’s blunt and to the point: is Noah even alive? Alcohol and LSD, however, may have muddled the girl’s memories, as she debates whether she’s remembering certain events or if they’re only in her mind. Agent’s simultaneously working the case of a serial killer calling himself Alighieri; his method is decapitation. But before Agent can reach the truth, Alighieri’s and the girl’s paths intersect in a frightening and unexpected way. The purposefully ambiguous narrative complements the girl’s hazy recollections. Seeing her green-eyed, “grimacing twin” in a bathroom, for example, could be an acid trip, and the first-person perspective makes it clear that at least her confusion’s genuine. At the same time, additional points of view ground the story, like Alighieri on the hunt or Agent at different murder scenes. James’ frenzied writing style is staggering. The girl’s downtime at a quarry, for one, is just as exhilarating as the couple fleeing cops: “My limbs were pulled apart with violent force from the churning water as it surged from my intrusion.” Readers hoping for a nice, clean wrap-up to explain everything may be disappointed. Regardless, it’s a suitable ending for Agent, Alighieri, and the girl, despite not having all the answers when the story’s over.

An unreliable narrator maintains a dubious tone that still manages to electrify.

Pub Date: Dec. 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5197-2926-2

Page Count: 346

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 15, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2016

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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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