An engagingly twisted family saga that begins with a unique premise but later relies on familiar thriller tropes.


Tea Cups & Tiger Claws

Three sisters battle one another for social and economic supremacy in Patrick’s debut novel.

The luxurious hillside city of Prospect Park, Calif., is known for its old money, glamorous parties and esteemed residents. In 1916, however, the eyes of America are on Ermel Sue Railer, a 16-year-old girl from the city’s most impoverished neighborhood, Yucatan Downs, better known as “Yucky D.” When Ermel gives birth to Abigail, Judith and Dorthea—the first identical triplets ever born in the United States—the national media floods into the neighborhood, and the reports catch the eye of Prospect Park’s lauded Duchess of Sarlione. The duchess goes to Yucky D to visit the babies; she becomes so enamored with them that she strikes a deal with Ermel’s husband, Jeb, to purchase the girls for herself. Although Ermel initially resists, she signs away her rights to Abigail and Judith but keeps Dorthea at the last moment, foiling Jeb’s arrangement and forfeiting the money. As the poor Dorthea grows up, the only thing she inherits from Ermel is her contentious nature. Patrick effectively uses his fiery characters to explore class mobility, whether morality and wealth can coexist, and the lengths to which people will go to spite others. “Look around, every minute of the day, every day of the year, and you’ll see the world is full of nothin’ but givers and takers,” Jeb later tells 12-year-old Dorthea. As she stares night after night at the exquisite mansions that top Prospect Park’s hill, she decides that nothing will keep her from attaining the same prestige and power as her sisters. Dorthea’s quest for power begins as petty sibling jealousy but quickly escalates into calculated sabotage, blackmail, manipulation and worse. Most of the characters’ redeeming qualities are so negligible that even when their compassion is meant to be genuine, it often feels contrived. The various mysteries that arise throughout the story are initially intriguing, but readers may find that they lack the desired shocks when finally revealed.

An engagingly twisted family saga that begins with a unique premise but later relies on familiar thriller tropes.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2013

ISBN: 978-0989354400

Page Count: 446

Publisher: Country Scribbler

Review Posted Online: July 11, 2014

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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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