Nick is an action fan’s dream, with the smarts and charm of an exemplary character who warrants a third installment of the...

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The Long Squeeze

A NICK SANDERS THRILLER

From the A Nick Sanders Thriller series

A forensics accountant and former fed looking into the death of an FBI pal may have exposed an imminent terrorist attack in the second in Stam’s (The Trust Company, 2012) thriller series.

When venture fund Phoenix Holdings loses three employees, including undercover fed Chuck Engler, in an unexplained plane crash, the FBI calls in Nick Sanders as a consultant. Nick, who’d previously worked in the bureau’s financial crimes unit, joins his girlfriend, Special Agent Lisa Velasquez, in investigating his friend’s involvement in Phoenix. The two initially suspect that Chuck had been on the take, but the agent’s posthumous message for Nick—“follow the money”—points toward a broader conspiracy. Phoenix’s higher-ups dispatch men to follow Nick and Lisa, and soon the couple finds possible links between the company and a planned terrorist strike on the U.S. Despite the protagonist’s white-collar profession (Nick opens the story having just finished auditing a shipping company’s books), Stam’s novel has a staggering amount of action. Nick and Lisa, for one, wind up in the midst of multiple gunfights. Suspense-laden plot points include a mysterious key Chuck leaves for Nick; baddies with the ability to sever communications (i.e., cellphones); and an unexpected ally for the investigating duo. The financial storyline sparks curiosity, especially narrator Nick’s thorough explanation of unfamiliar terms, like shorting stocks. It’s likewise refreshing that the nerdish Nick, an ex-Marine, is physically adept and funny (he left the Marines because his next promotion would make him Lt. Col. Sanders). It’s understandable that the final act focuses on deaths, near deaths, and dodging bullets—particularly with a potential bomb in the equation—but it’s unfortunate that it sidelines Nick’s brainy half. Stam drops in a few twists before the ending; some are predictable, others shocking, but none of them slows down the gleefully rapid pace.

Nick is an action fan’s dream, with the smarts and charm of an exemplary character who warrants a third installment of the series. 

Pub Date: July 11, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9848174-1-2

Page Count: 386

Publisher: Langford Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 10, 2015

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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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