A charming and sometimes frightening ghost story.

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CLAIRE

THE TUTOR'S GHOST STORIES

An apparition remains trapped in a house where a tragic crime occurred.

The novel opens with Max, a young boy, asking his tutor, Claire Harvey, to tell him a tale. She spins a moving ghost story about a young girl whose family plans to move far away. Her distraught boyfriend kills her and then himself so they can always be together. The twist is that Claire is that girl, and she’s a spirit stuck in the house where she was murdered. That first chapter could stand alone as a short story, but the rest of the book builds off of that, showing Claire’s afterlife in the house and the various people who reside there, ending with a battle that involves ghost hunters. She feels a special affinity for Max, who falls in love with her. It affects him later in life when he tries to date and then start a family. There is also a backstory about Claire’s confusion when she first woke up and didn’t realize she was a phantom. She thought her family had abandoned her and had to figure out what happened, which provides some sad and intriguing moments. Half the fun of reading ghost stories is in the rules authors create for their universes, and Galindo (The Tesla Project, 2016, etc.) has made his enjoyable and slightly complicated. Only people who believe in ghosts can spot Claire, but she has trouble seeing some of the living souls who don’t believe in spirits. This becomes poignant when a nonbeliever dies and can suddenly spy her, and she watches him move on while she can’t. In this entertaining story, Claire is an appealing character. Galindo has added some superb twists to her world, and the timeline allows him to show her perspective as technology and trends advance. But the novel isn’t faultless. Despite her comments about strange devices, Claire feels more modern in her dialogue and action than she should be—at one point, she craves a hamburger, recalling what it smelled like in real life. But she died in 1899, before the item became popular in America. And one philosophical battle toward the end between Max and a ghost hunter appears suddenly enough that it feels more like a plot device than a natural, story-driven occurrence. Still, none of these quibbles should wreck this tale for fans of the supernatural.

A charming and sometimes frightening ghost story.

Pub Date: Jan. 30, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-946921-00-0

Page Count: 298

Publisher: Tin Can

Review Posted Online: March 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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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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