An inoffensive, lightweight Christian parable.

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THE MUSIC BOX BY THE SEASHORE

Stewart tells the story of a globe-trotting music box in this debut spiritual novel.

Retired sea captain James Calloway is dozing on the beach near his Alabama home when something unusual appears in the water: “As the sun set with reds and burnt orange, in the distance, a wooden box rode the waves.” Calloway inspects the container after it washes ashore: it holds seven antique rum bottles, a Hebrew scroll, and a music box made of gopher wood. What’s more, it’s accompanied by an honor guard of different types of birds that don’t normally flock together. Calloway brings the box home for his wife’s inspection, and she thinks the objects must have survived from biblical times. Each night, when his work is done, Calloway takes the music box and one of the bottles down to the beach. He drinks the heavenly liquid, which allows him to hear the otherworldly music that the box plays. Then he drifts off to sleep, and in his dreams, he travels with the floating box around the world, which washes up on different shores to answer the prayers of people who most need its spiritual power, such as a boy taken from his parents by pirates and a girl suffering from polio. Stewart’s prose manages to capture some of the fairy-tale magic of its story. However, he often repeats words and phrases in a way that robs the narrative of its poetry: “Unlike his father before him, he became cold-hearted over the years. He was not generous with his wealth over the years. He was not passionate about sharing his wealth with his fellow man in need or even helping the poor or indigent who lived in the lower portside of Italy.” The individual stories in the dreams, too, are not always as well-crafted as they could have been, often relying on simplistic narratives and stock characters. However, the novel’s overall structure—with its soothing Gulf Coast framing device and vignettes set in different ports across the globe—is pleasant and compelling enough to keep the reader moving forward.

An inoffensive, lightweight Christian parable.

Pub Date: March 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5127-7791-8

Page Count: 260

Publisher: Westbow Press

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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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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