A funny, bawdy, occasionally gruesome, and decidedly adult collection that celebrates small cultural variations amid large...

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PEARLS ON A BRANCH

Khoury originally published these 30 tales in Arabic in 2014, having collected them as she traveled through Lebanon with a puppet troupe during the country’s civil war from 1975 to 1990.

The storytellers shared tales from their oral tradition with Khoury. Instead of a Western fairy tale’s promise of “Once upon a time,” these Arab tales begin with the charming, more realistic equivocation, “There was or there was not.” Yet Western readers will recognize the wicked stepmothers, princes in love with poor girls, plucky unloved children, sorcerers and talking animals. Rapunzel-like heroines grow up locked away from the world in stories like “The Girl Who Had No Name” and “Thuraya with the Long, Long Hair.” A huntsman substitutes animal blood for the blood of the Snow White–like damsel he’s hired to kill in both “Lady Tanageesh and the Eggs of the Tawawees” and “O Palace Beautiful! O Fancy Friend!” whose heroine sets up household with Ali Baba’s 40 thieves (instead of seven dwarfs) until an old woman shows up with a deadly apple. There’s an Aesop ring to animal fables like “Abu Ali the Fox,” about a fox taking birds under his protection until he gets hungry. However, the attention paid to bodily functions may startle Western readers. “A Cow Called Joukha” centers on farting, while a sweet romance centers on “The Singing Turd.” According to Khoury, in the oral tradition, “certain stories told by women were for women only.” Both proto-feminist innuendo—crafty women outwitting men—and sexual double-entendres abound. So “Jubayne the Fair” agrees to let an old man suck her finger whenever he wants until she wises up and runs away. And in the complex title story, a king rejects his only daughter because he mistakenly thinks she’s tried to trick him into bringing her a husband when he travels to Mecca; she seeks revenge on the young man who caused this disgrace through overt sexual trickery and bed-swapping.

A funny, bawdy, occasionally gruesome, and decidedly adult collection that celebrates small cultural variations amid large universal values.

Pub Date: March 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-914671-96-1

Page Count: 282

Publisher: Archipelago

Review Posted Online: Dec. 12, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2018

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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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