An unnerving but memorable tale that leaves myriad lingering questions for a prospective sequel.




A move from the city to a new home in the snowy mountains becomes a fight for survival for an Oregon family in this thriller.

Seventeen years of hard work at the tech company Portland Micro has earned Ken Carroll a sabbatical. For his four months of paid vacation, he and his family move to their newly constructed home on Cedar Mountain. It’s especially taxing for Ken’s wife, Amanda, who will miss her city restaurants and yoga classes. But twin teens Kristi and Reed have an easier time adjusting. Olympic hopeful Kristi excels at nearly every sport, but she has plenty of space in the mountains to focus on cross-country skiing, marksmanship, and fencing. And though nerdish Reed would have preferred staying in public school with proximity to female peers, he has ready access to a cherished online game, “Mythykal.” Unfortunately, a blizzard hits, seemingly stranding Amanda in the storm, while danger lurks for the others at home. Wolves in the area often have their eyes firmly on the human “intruders,” and Reed should probably avoid following the Hispanic girl he continually sees in the nearby woods. An attack of some kind is imminent, forcing the Carrolls into a violent confrontation. Much of Zell’s (Running Cold, 2017, etc.) novel thrives on retaining an aura of mystery. Amanda’s fate, for one, isn’t immediately revealed, and there’s a definite menace in the forest, exemplified by unmistakable leeriness from the family’s chocolate Lab, Dog. The author often works this to great effect; in a chilling scene, Reed spots something in an icy creek that apparently rolls over (presumably for a better look at him). Alternating perspectives expand the narrative, eventually including Cedar locals like the sheriff. The twins, however, are the standouts: Kristi displays her prowess in the feverish denouement while Reed, about halfway through, commits an act that will shatter much reader sympathy. But that’s the story’s essence: shocking turns in abundance and generally disturbing.

An unnerving but memorable tale that leaves myriad lingering questions for a prospective sequel.

Pub Date: June 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9847468-4-2

Page Count: 408

Publisher: Tales From Zell, Incorporated

Review Posted Online: March 6, 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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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.


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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