This thrilling book delivers a violent tale that is ultimately as surprising as it is gruesome.

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RAGE AND MERCY

PART ONE

A debut novel, the first installment of a series, focuses on one man’s quest for retribution.

Los Angeles in 2002 is plagued by drug fiends. More than mere addicts, these thugs are a particularly vicious and pathetic group. Readers are told: “There’s nothing a fiend wouldn’t do for the next high.” While such a statement would seem to apply to substance abusers of many eras, these creatures terrorizing the city are more akin to zombies than Alcoholics Anonymous attendees. A case in point comes with the brutal murder of Diana Westcherry, daughter of a wealthy shipping magnate named Vlad. Shortly after she gives a fiend a brownie, she is bludgeoned to death for her kindness. If that were not enough, passing fiends further disgrace her body in ways that are better left unmentioned. What is one to do with such a tragic and disgusting situation? Once he gets wind of what has happened, Diana’s chauffer, a former Marine named Sayer, decides he will take matters into his own hands. He begins killing the fiends with gusto, taking care to carve Diana’s name into their cadavers so that she will be remembered. It would be a dangerous vocation under normal circumstances, but with Vlad’s blessing and financing, it becomes a profitable enterprise. So the stage is set for a story that turns even stranger and grislier as it progresses. Interspersed with grand statements (the idea that “fiends spread their belief in annihilation through their worship of chaos”), it is truly a dark tale from start to finish. Although long conversations can stymie some of the intensity (do not get Diana started on the concept of “self-soothing” or Vlad on the discipline required for love), the reader can never be quite sure what horrific scene lies just around the corner or what new character may surface next. Dresden’s late addition of an attractive, born-again schoolteacher named Amanda offers new opportunities in what would otherwise be a story of frenzied revenge. Of course, if what happened to Diana is any indication, the beautiful certainly fare the worst in a world populated with so many twisted individuals.

This thrilling book delivers a violent tale that is ultimately as surprising as it is gruesome.

Pub Date: March 21, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5442-3637-7

Page Count: 182

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: April 24, 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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