A meticulously researched and stirringly executed blend of historical fact and fiction.

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THE CHATELAINE OF MONTAILLOU

A debut novel set in 14th-century France follows the plight of a woman accused of heresy by the Roman Catholic Church.

Bishop Jacques Fournier, notorious for his relentless persecution of suspected heretics, summons Béatrice de Lagleize for questioning. He’s convinced that she’s in some way involved with Cathars, a sect of heretics who don’t believe in sacramental transubstantiation and think that the devil created Earth and the bodies of human beings. Béatrice’s father was, in fact, a Cathar, and while she grew up in a noble family with the advantages that entails, she also matured under a cloud of suspicion. Terrified of Fournier after her first interrogation, she decides it’s best to flee rather than continue the inquisition, but she is arrested with her husband, Barthélemy. She’s thrown in a dungeon, her hair is forcibly shaved, and she’s subjected to seven more unyielding examinations, thrillingly rendered by Kaberry. In the meantime, Béatrice reflects deeply on the life she’s led and the way the stain of heresy has indelibly affected her. When only 16 years old, she was promised in marriage to Bérenger de Rocquefort, a much older man, because of his nobility and reputation for being a good Catholic. After she bears him five children in seven years and he dies, she remarries two more times. Yet the deaths of two husbands and a daughter exact a profound emotional toll on her and challenge her already beleaguered faith. She does her best to defend herself against Fournier’s accusations, but she’s been embedded in the Cathar world her whole life, sometimes as a distant sympathizer and sometimes as an accomplice. Kaberry seamlessly braids the historical and the dramatic, producing a work that is both scholarly and gripping. She paints a vividly grotesque picture of a monstrously corrupt Catholic Church, hated by many for its “greed, the extortionate taxes it demands, its debauched clergy.” However attractive or not Cathar doctrine is, it’s easy to see why subversive competitors of the church would arise. The author intelligently provokes questions about the relationship between authority and corruption—the Cathars, too, are capable of using theological doctrine as an instrument of self-aggrandizing dominion. Further, Béatrice is a beautifully drawn character—thoughtfully complex and deliciously enigmatic. While she is accused of doctrinal sedition, her real transgression is aching uncertainty about the details of her religion—and whether she can muster any faith at all: “She cannot hide her doubts and lies from herself or God, she can only be true to herself in her own mind. If there is a God, this most blasphemous of all thoughts worries her, can He see into her heart? Does He even care about her?” The plot’s pace can slow to a too leisurely amble, and the prose in some spots flirts with melodrama. Nonetheless, this is a captivating story, as emotionally moving as it is intellectually engaging.

A meticulously researched and stirringly executed blend of historical fact and fiction.

Pub Date: Jan. 25, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-78510-894-5

Page Count: 326

Publisher: FeedaRead.com

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 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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