Another pleasant jaunt down a genealogical rabbit hole.



From the The Seven Sisters series , Vol. 3

Third in Riley’s Seven Sisters series (The Storm Sister, 2016, etc.) about adopted daughters in search of their ancestry.

Star, real name Asterope after one of the “seven sisters” of the Pleiades star cluster, has, upon the recent death of her adoptive father, a wealthy Swiss seafarer, returned to her childhood chateau on Lake Geneva to retrieve his legacy to her: a figurine of a black panther, the address of a bookshop in London, and a name, Flora MacNichol. Star has given up dreams of academe to stay close to sister CeCe in London—so symbiotic is their relationship that Star has always been known as CeCe’s shadow. Star visits the bookshop, whose eccentric proprietor, Orlando Forbes, comes from impoverished nobility. When she learns that Flora, her presumed ancestor, may be related to Orlando, she accompanies him to the family seat, High Weald, in Kent, where she meets Orlando’s truculent brother Mouse, their cousin Marguerite Vaughan, and her young son Rory, heir to the estate. Star is immediately drawn to the crumbling hall and the surrounding flora and fauna. She consults journals she finds in the mansion and learns that in 1909, Flora gave up her true love, Archie, Lord Vaughan, to her younger sister Aurelia. For reasons not immediately revealed, Aurelia is the repository of her landed but cash-poor family’s hopes and limited resources, while Flora is treated like a stepchild despite her beauty and talent. (Flora is an animal lover and budding naturalist who will later become a protégé of Beatrix Potter.) After her parents sell their beloved country home to fund Aurelia’s dowry, Flora is sent to live with Mrs. Keppel, a society grand dame rumored to be King Edward’s mistress. With Mrs. Keppel’s help, Flora seems slated for an advantageous but loveless match to a drunken earl. The frame story structure serves this installment well—the past and present narratives are equally engaging. The storytelling is leisurely, almost to excess, then suddenly the stakes heighten as the Forbes-Vaughan connection is illuminated and Star discovers her true heritage and destiny.

Another pleasant jaunt down a genealogical rabbit hole.

Pub Date: April 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4767-5994-4

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Atria

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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