A slyly subversive and nimble exploration of identity and love.

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THE PROSTITUTES OF LAKE WIISHKOBAN

A young woman embarks on an odyssey of self-discovery when she takes a job at a library that offers a unique service.

Alexis Tove, a quiet, reserved woman in Monroe, North Dakota, lives with her parents and works at the local library. Although her family hopes that she will marry and start a family, she longs to escape the confines of her small town, and one evening, she decides to pack up, get behind the wheel of her car, and leave for good. After she arrives in the town of Lake Wiishkoban, Minnesota, she notices a sign offering an apartment for rent. On impulse, she rents it and settles into a new life on her own. After losing a series of dead-end jobs, including a position as a vacuum-cleaner salesperson, she becomes desperate for work. Then she notices a help-wanted ad for a librarian position. With her past library experience, the job sounds ideal—until she learns the Lake Wiishkoban library is also a brothel and that the librarians there double as sex workers. However, despite her initial hesitation, she decides to accept the position, and she soon discovers a world that she never knew existed. As Alexis gains confidence working with her clients, she begins exploring her own sexuality and her new friendship with co-worker Vanessa, which soon turns romantic. Alexis comes to believe that she may have finally found love and acceptance, until a crisis threatens to expose the library’s secret. Shannon’s (50 Critical Thinking Exercises for Humanities Classes 2, 2018, etc.) fiction debut is an entertaining, provocative bildungsroman that successfully turns an unconventional premise into a thoughtful exploration of freedom and identity. Alexis is a dynamic protagonist whose quest to find herself drives the narrative. When she’s introduced, she’s a shy and introspective bookworm who has a propensity for going along with things because she doesn’t want to disappoint anybody. For example, she was initially only planning to look at the apartment in Lake Wiishkoban, but she ends up renting it because the landlady was helpful to her; Alexis feels like she would “have that on my conscience” if she didn’t rent the place. Once she begins sex work, however, she’s forced to question her passivity. The author establishes this transition in a particularly powerful scene in which Alexis practices bondage techniques with Vanessa: “why bother fighting it?” Alexis’ discovery that she’s a lesbian unfolds at a thoughtful, methodical pace as her feelings for Vanessa go beyond mere friendship. Shannon’s supporting characters are also well-drawn—especially Vanessa, a librarian and aspiring fashion designer who feels conflicted about sex work, and Chet, who believes that he’s a bunny trapped in the body of a man. The sex scenes, while explicit, never seem gratuitous and are often about self-discovery. That said, there are some elements of the story that are slightly underdeveloped; for example, a woman named Greta Best first organizes the brothel, but her motivations remain somewhat mysterious.

A slyly subversive and nimble exploration of identity and love.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5202-5802-7

Page Count: 340

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 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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