HOW TO EAT A CUPCAKE

A little friendship, a little wit and a little mystery make for a charming debut about two old friends reconciled after starting a cupcakery (a bakery specializing in cupcakes).

Annie Quintana and Julia St. Claire have an unusual relationship. Raised like sisters, there is a gulf between them—Annie’s mother Lucia was nanny and cook to the St. Clair family. The distance between the Pacific Heights carriage house and the mansion may be measured in yards, but as the girls entered high school, it became an impossible distance. Ten years after graduation (which coincided with a prep-school scandal and Lucia’s untimely death), Annie and Julia meet again at a St. Claire fundraiser. Annie, now a talented pastry chef, is catering and surprised to see a subdued Julia, who has quit her job in finance and moved back into the manse to plan her wedding. Annie hasn’t forgiven Julia for her past transgressions, and Julia has conveniently forgotten all about them, which makes for some awkwardness when Julia offers to finance Annie’s cupcake shop. As Julia promises to bow out after her wedding, Annie agrees to a business partnership, but every meeting is colored by her anger and Julia’s nonchalance. What Annie doesn’t know: Julia is depressed, recovering from a serious trauma and unsure if she should marry Wes, who may be too good for her. And what Julia doesn’t know about Annie: she’s dating her high school sweetheart and knows the truth about what Julia did to destroy her reputation. In the meantime, their cupcakery is a grand success—except for the frequent vandalism, notes telling them to get out and a frightening man in a hoodie who is always lurking in the shadows. When the truth is finally revealed, it brings real danger to Julia and Annie, who have finally learned to be the sisters they were meant to be.    Despite the sugary title, Donohue has written a sharp little novel featuring the subtle characterizations of two appealingly flawed young women.    

 

Pub Date: March 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-206928-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2012

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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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