An entertaining frontier shoot’em-up.

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REFLECTIONS IN A DISTANT MIRROR

Cattle drivers battle Native Americans, rustlers, and soreheaded farmers in this Western.

Morris’ (The Edge of Forever, 2010) rip-snortin’ sequel finds legendary Texas Ranger Raifford MacReynolds; his wife, Kathryn; his straight-shooting 15-year-old stepson, Tom McKlarren; and Tom’s sweetheart, Sara, back at their ranch on the Waco frontier in the turbulent aftermath of the Civil War. They finish old business when The Wolf, the Comanche chieftain who kidnapped Kathryn and Sara in The Edge of Forever, returns seeking vengeance and gets a bloody welcome. Then Raifford and Tom add their 1,000 cows to the 6,000 head that cattle baron Henry Kleyburn is driving north to the railroad at Sedalia, Missouri. Raifford heads a security detail featuring 20 heavily armed Rangers and a stone-faced Apache scout named Bad Thing, who wears a necklace of finger bones taken from vanquished foes. Raifford and his men have their work cut out for them as the cattlemen are assailed by another Comanche war party, a gang of bushwhackers, Kansas “regulators” running an extortion racket under threat of stampeding the herd, a posse trying to arrest two Mexican cowboys on false charges, and a band of varmints that includes Jesse James. There are also quieter wrangles with Cherokees seeking payment for safe passage across Indian Territory and Missouri farmers voicing concerns that the Texas longhorns will spread fever to their own cattle. As in his preceding book, Morris steeps readers in what is essentially a military campaign as Raifford and Tom constantly scan the horizon for concealed enemies and ambush sites, calculate rifle ranges and assault routes, and plan convoluted surprise attacks. The action is often gripping, as in a white-knuckle pursuit of The Wolf by Raifford and Tom through terrain dotted with hidden firing points. But Raifford and company so outclass the black hats that, with the body count surging into the triple digits, the violence doesn’t always feel sporting. Still, Morris’ mix of classic cowboy opera with well-observed period details, colorful characters, and sublime dialogue—“If you stop wiggling your head around, he’ll fix the noose so it’ll break your neck. Otherwise you’ll be dancing on thin air for a while”—makes for a savory read.

An entertaining frontier shoot’em-up.

Pub Date: July 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5442-3953-8

Page Count: 418

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 31, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 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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