An entertaining premise, growing heat, and skillful writing elevate this historical love story.

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THE PERFECT PARTNER

From the Love in New Orleans series

In this New Orleans-set, Victorian romance, a bluestocking and a rake uneasily join forces to write an advice column.

Readers first met Vespasian Colville, 21, in 2014’s The Willing Widow. Well-known throughout New Orleans as a reprobate who drinks, gambles, and dallies with married ladies (plus women who aren’t ladies), he’s a childhood friend of Carine Bouchard, 20. But that bond ended two years ago when Vespasian broke her best friend’s heart. As the story opens in May 1887, Carine’s editor at the Daily Picayune has unpleasant news for her: He wants Vespasian to be her writing partner for her advice column. “Men against women and so forth; it’ll sell newspapers,” he predicts. Carine, a serious writer trying to get a novel published, doesn’t appreciate Vespasian’s easy assumption of the role she’s worked hard to get. Nevertheless, she does her best, even appreciating his viewpoint at times. Vespasian finds the whole thing amusing, but his attention is chiefly focused on Suzette St. Aubin, now widowed. He’s been obsessed with and devoted to her, but she remains coldly indifferent. Desperate, Vespasian obtains a voodoo potion so powerful, it’ll affect him too: “The lady who drinks this will captivate your heart, your mind, your very soul.” Carine visits Vespasian to discuss an alarming letter from a young woman who believes she’s being poisoned for her inheritance—and while waiting, mistakenly drinks the potion, which is as potent as advertised. Though Carine doesn’t remember later the immediate aftereffects, she feels a growing attraction and gets a great idea: Vespasian can give her the erotic instruction she needs to give her novel more “dynamism,” as one publisher puts it after rejecting her manuscript. It won’t mean anything to him, and it’s just research…isn’t it? The couple’s mutual passion grows, in effective scenes of erotic exploration, but at the same time, their letter writer’s situation becomes more dire. Carine tracks down her poisoning victim, Giselle Levert, to a mountain resort where she’s been secreted. Though at first skeptical, Vespasian follows to help, ludicrously disguised in a wig and eye patch. As the two face danger and fight to save Giselle, they also realize they can no longer fight their feelings for each other. Every romance needs an obstacle, and LeCoeur (The Devious Debutante, 2015, etc.) uses the restrictions of Victorian society, manners, and dress to create a hot-then-hotter slow burn, while the voodoo potion provides a handy excuse for Carine’s boldness. A little too handy—it would be more satisfying to see the couple’s love arise without supernatural intervention. (And the idea that a realistic romance needs erotic experiences would be news to Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters.) In this fourth installment of her Love in New Orleans series, LeCoeur deftly brings out her characters’ shades of personality. Vespasian has more depth and Carine more earthiness than they at first give each other credit for. The book is well-researched, though a few anachronisms stick out: “agency” in the sense of intentional action; Carine going out in public without her corset.

An entertaining premise, growing heat, and skillful writing elevate this historical love story.

Pub Date: Aug. 29, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-692-90772-6

Page Count: 284

Publisher: Royal Street Publishing

Review Posted Online: March 19, 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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