An appealing couple in a well-intentioned but messy love story.

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SOPHIE Lost and Found

From the THE ENGLANDS series , Vol. 1

This debut novel, the first installment of a trilogy, revolves around a woman with a keen intuition, a dark past, and a bright future.

After her husband, Brian, is killed in a car crash, Sophie Winters is a widow at age 25. With no spouse, no parents, and only two friends in the world—Martin and Kathy Bowman—life looks bleak. Enter country music star Jamie England—Sophie feels a strange pull to him at Brian’s funeral (“She could sense his concern...and somehow feeling connected to him took all her pain away”). Later when they cross paths at a club (“Her mind swirled to the past, back to the present, into the future...she knew him. They were a couple in love”). Unfortunately, she has already arranged to move to Amalfi, Italy, her birthplace, hoping to find a new start. On her arrival, she finds the town intoxicating (“Nothing prepared her for its magnificence…her heart swelled in her chest, stirred by the scents of the sea air, bougainvillea, and hibiscus growing below her window”). There, she comes to terms with her family secrets and builds a glamorous life (aided by a hefty inheritance). Then Jamie resurfaces, along with a shady character from her childhood who could threaten everything she’s accomplished. For all its heart, Winkler’s novel suffers some pitfalls. Plot points and character descriptions are often woven into the dialogue, which results in conversations sounding more informative than colloquial, as when Sophie describes her head of security to Kathy: “He’s tall, exudes power, dark brown hair and dark, intense eyes, which always roam on guard.” The narrative gets bogged down in logistical details, with events being relayed several times. The characters depend on recycled traits: Sophie has an endless supply of tears, Kathy addresses her as “sweetie” in most lines, Martin is perpetually “in the doghouse,” and Jamie uses “Dear God” to express nearly every emotion. Despite its challenges, the tale includes elements that should appeal to most readers: steamy scenes for erotica fans, sweet moments for die-hard romantics, and a suspenseful finish for thrill junkies. For those who become attached to Sophie and Jamie, the book is a gold mine after they’re reunited a third of the way through. There’s ample time for ups and downs, the luxuries of being über-wealthy, and general bliss.

An appealing couple in a well-intentioned but messy love story.

Pub Date: Dec. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5201-6725-1

Page Count: 499

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 3, 2017

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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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