Debates about empires and lavish depictions of culture bring moments of relief in a haunting drama that reflects a Federico...

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WHEN SHADOWS COME HOME

A historical novel continues the story of Col. Alejandro Luis De La Voca Rivera, a swashbuckling military hero stationed in colonial New Spain.

The time frame for Diaz’s (Shadows Under the Sun, 2016) sequel is never specifically stated, but the action takes place during the period of Spain’s rule over what is today Mexico and New Mexico. Albuquerque and Santa Fe are already established outposts, governed by an elite class that traces its roots to the Iberian Peninsula. As the tale opens, Alejandro has just arrived in the Yucatán town of Campeche, having traveled from Santa Fe in part to deliver a package of correspondence to the beautiful young widow Maria Angela Alvarez Candelaria from her brother. Alejandro and Angela were once engaged; now their romance is rekindled. The story follows the couple during their first few years of marriage while they are living in Mexico and on their subsequent journey back to Spain to spend time at Alejandro’s ancestral home. In Madrid, Angela is presented to the king and queen and learns that her husband is a marquis, quite popular with the royal family (“Her mind raced with the day’s wonderful memories. There was the grand palace with servants everywhere…lunch and countless hours of discourse with the most noble of nobles. She had also discovered that she was a noble woman by marriage and now felt silly at having repeated over and over during the walk back, ‘Marquesa de Carzola’ ”). Unfortunately, she becomes so enchanted with frivolous palace life that she is diminished as a three-dimensional character, losing the depth and compassion that made her so charming in the first volume and the earlier half of this one. Diaz also introduces an element of mysticism to this installment. Alejandro’s adopted daughter delivers a grim prophecy, resulting in a pervasive sense of melancholy that leaches joy from the second half of the narrative. As he did in his earlier work, the author frequently juxtaposes the colonel’s fierceness in combat with his innate tenderness, sense of justice, loyalty toward his men, deep religious convictions, and concern for the poor and needy. Diaz fills the adventure with bloody battles, political intrigue, schemes, and revenge.

Debates about empires and lavish depictions of culture bring moments of relief in a haunting drama that reflects a Federico García Lorca-esque focus on life’s inevitable tragedies.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5246-4800-8

Page Count: 328

Publisher: AuthorHouse

Review Posted Online: Dec. 30, 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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