An entertaining biographical novel rich in action and period details.




An Italian-born adventurer battles Austrians, Russians, Confederates, and anti-immigrant bigotry in this fictionalized saga of a real-life American hero.

Lamphier (The Great Show, 2017, etc.) novelizes the outlines of Louis Palma di Cesnola’s busy life while imaginatively fleshing out scenes of romance, combat, and trauma. The second son of an Italian count, Cesnola bitterly ships out to military school at the age of 14 in 1846 after his true love marries his older brother, the heir to the family title. His timing is great: He soon enlists in the Sardinian army to join Italy’s war of liberation against the Austrian Empire; he weathers endless boredom in camp punctuated by extreme panic in a saber melee, for which he wins promotion to lieutenant. Cashiered after getting caught in bed with a general’s wife, he finds his way to the Crimean War, where he again sits around in squalid camps but gets in a few wild hours slaughtering Russian soldiers. Then he’s off to New York under the Americanized name Louis P. di Cesnola to wed heiress Mary Reid and join the Union Army as a cavalry colonel in the Civil War. Many battles with Confederate cavalry genius Jeb Stuart ensue until Cesnola is captured. His story turns dark and harrowing as he and his fellow POWs face death from disease and semistarvation in harsh Confederate camps. Cesnola survives and, after the war, serves as U.S. consul in Cyprus, where he turns his hand to archaeology and excavates many ancient artifacts; that new profession eventually lands him the directorship of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. The real Cesnola led an iconic 19th-century life, and Lamphier’s energetic novel deftly conveys the dizzying self-reinventions he undertook in that bustling age. Her rousing narrative features much engrossing military and archaeological lore, generous helpings of mayhem (“Parnell slashed at his opponent, sinking his saber deep in the man’s neck”), and a piquant love story, as Cesnola and Mary’s initially pragmatic relationship—she’s lonely; he’s broke—deepens into profound affection. The story’s Italian-American pride theme is sometimes intrusive, with Cesnola quick to blame slights and reversals on anti-Italian prejudice among the WASP establishment. Still, when his blood is up, he’s a plucky, appealing hero.

An entertaining biographical novel rich in action and period details.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-947431-06-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Barbera Foundation

Review Posted Online: May 7, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 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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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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