A winning trifecta for cozy enthusiasts: a ghost story, a murder mystery, and a fresh romance.

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HENNIKER SECRETS

A SAM AND MARTHA MYSTERY

A spirit supposedly haunts a run-down house in New Hampshire in this novel.

In Marini’s (Schmuel’s Journey, 2015, etc.) sequel, new couple Sam Miller and Martha Sanborn wonder why her brother, Bart, and his ne’er-do-well childhood friend Auggie Raymond bought the old “Ocean Born Mary House,” a firetrap in Henniker that has long stood vacant. The year is 1975, and the first-time homeowners explain they want to exploit the house’s alleged ghost, Mary Wilson Wallace, by offering tours and selling souvenirs to spirit hunters and academics interested in the occult. In 1720, Mary was born on an oceangoing ship off the coast of New England. Centuries later, people say her apparition inhabits the house. The storyline seesaws from 1975 to emerald-eyed Mary’s shipboard birth, her wedding, her death at age 94 in the Henniker house, and her descendants through three centuries. When a green-eyed woman claiming to be the secret illegitimate daughter of one of those descendants visits Bart, he fears his paranormal enterprise may experience a hiccup. Ghostly activity in the house causes nerves to jangle, but it’s the corpse in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor that produces true fear. Newborn Mary’s discovery on the ship by a pirate called Don Pedro, who allowed her and the others onboard to live as he and his men plundered the vessel, and various other past tales add richness to the story. But some historical accounts fall flat; when the elderly Don Pedro introduces himself to Mary when she is 68, there is little payoff. Italicizing is inconsistent—italics are used for internal monologues, emphasis, signage, correspondence, and event summaries. References to TV Detective Joe Friday working a case and the “aw-shucks grin” of actor Gary Cooper seem corny even in a book set in the mid-’70s, and the recap of the first installment of the series is clunky. But ghostly elements add shivers, and the reason for the murder provides a welcome twist. Another positive element: the realistic pains and promise of Martha and Sam’s new relationship.

A winning trifecta for cozy enthusiasts: a ghost story, a murder mystery, and a fresh romance.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-61950-312-0

Page Count: 191

Publisher: Gypsy Shadow Publishing

Review Posted Online: March 8, 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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