A biographical novel with an overly reverential tone but filled with intriguing historical tidbits.

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AMERICA'S FORGOTTEN FOUNDING FATHER

A NOVEL BASED ON THE LIFE OF FILIPPO MAZZEI

Welch’s (Why the Monkees Matter, 2016, etc.) historical novel pays tribute to the real-life Filippo Mazzei, an Italian surgeon, merchant, revolutionary, and writer who was friends with Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.

Mazzei is born on Christmas Day, 1730, in the small Tuscan town of Poggio a Caiano, the third son of a mother whose love and devotion were reserved for her firstborn, Jacopo. Fortunately, Mazzei’s paternal grandfather is a kind, generous role model through his first seven years. And the sting of his mother’s favoritism for Jacopo, a manipulative thief, serves Mazzei well, propelling him into a life of adventure and accomplishment: “I will spend the rest of my life proving you have given all your love to the wrong son,” he tells his mother. He studies medicine in Florence, then moves to the port city of Livorno to practice. Even as a child, he’d begun questioning the injustices in life, but in Livorno, he begins interacting with a wide circle of intellectuals with whom he debates history and philosophy. Eventually, he moves to London and opens a shop in 1764, establishing himself as a successful importer. More critically, he meets Benjamin Franklin; it’s a connection that leads to Mazzei’s 1773 voyage to the American Colonies, where he builds his new home adjacent to that of Thomas Jefferson—just in time for the American Revolution. Welch’s volume rests somewhere between novel and biography, lacking the dramatic passion of the former and the cited source material of the latter. Still, she offers an unusual, if at times hagiographic, portrait of a man whose importance to the founding of the United States has indeed been generally overlooked. Most intriguing are the sections detailing Mazzei’s close friendship with Jefferson, which led the two to work together on the text of the Declaration of Independence. Their wide-ranging conversations, as depicted by Welch, reveal as much about Jefferson as they do about Mazzei; they include the latter’s long-held belief in equality and justice as well as their shared interests in agriculture, architecture, language, and religion.

A biographical novel with an overly reverential tone but filled with intriguing historical tidbits.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-947431-07-2

Page Count: 260

Publisher: Barbera Foundation

Review Posted Online: March 24, 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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