A rich, enjoyable historical novel with compelling themes.

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BLOOMSBURY'S LATE ROSE

Pearson (Poetry as Liturgy, 2010) imagines the life of the early-20th-century English poet Charlotte Mew in this novel.

Charlotte and her sister Anne have always been close. After their two siblings, Henry and Freda, were institutionalized for mental instability in 1894, the sisters swore to each other that they would never get married or have children in order to avoid passing on what they saw as a family curse. Now, in 1909, the nearly 40-year-old women are still single, living with their ailing mother, her maid, and other tenants in a modest house in the Bloomsbury area of London. Charlotte thinks back on her life over the past two decades, which has hardly been what she’d hoped for: “Her run as a fiction writer and essayist….That utter foolishness in Paris, not so long ago….It seemed now as if she were waiting, but for what?” She begins to express her rich interiority in her poetry. Sensing that Anne is attracted to a man at their church, she encourages her sister to rent a studio to pursue her painting while Charlotte begins to participate in the city’s salon scene, where other ambitious women discuss art and suffrage. She’s finally building the life that she always wanted as an independent, artistic woman—but things become complicated when she falls in love with a woman herself. Pearson writes in an elegant prose that summons the era of the novel in precise detail: “Gone were the full skirts and crinolines, fitted bodice, and stiff, upright collar of the Victorian era. Today the fashionable Edwardian woman wore the less confining shirtwaist and a more fitted, ankle-length skirt, which was slightly less cumbersome than its predecessor.” In its pacing and style, the novel earnestly evokes the works of Edith Wharton and other writers from the period without ever stumbling into parody or awkward pastiche. In Mew’s story, Pearson not only uncovers central questions of first-wave feminism, but also finds an opportunity to resurrect an intriguing and worthwhile real-life poet for posterity.

A rich, enjoyable historical novel with compelling themes.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-73291-394-3

Page Count: 358

Publisher: Chickadee Prince Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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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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