A superb thriller, thanks to tenacious characters and an unyielding pace.

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DÉJÀ-BOOM!

From the Hamlin Park Irregulars series , Vol. 2

A former investigative journalist tries to stop two men, each with vengeance on his mind and access to bombs, in this sequel.

Tina Thomas is shaken by the news of an abortion clinic’s recent bombing a mere 30 minutes from her Chicago suburb. She nearly died in a similar blast five years ago in Arlington, Virginia, during her days of investigative reporting. Tina’s internet search and footwork reveal not only another nearby abortion clinic bombing, but also that the detonation originated in the men’s bathroom in both recent cases. Because that location was the Arlington bomber’s signature, Tina believes he may be out for revenge, as she, attempting to stop him years ago, shot him. But Tina has another equally pressing concern: the “remaining bad guy” from a case she helped the FBI resolve much more recently. Said baddie isn’t behind bars, and Tina suspects he likewise craves vengeance against her as well as her neighborhood chums: Linda, Molly, and Cassandra (aka the Hamlin Park Irregulars). Each member of the group brings a particular skill set, like Molly, an ex-model who worked for the CIA. And joining them is a new neighbor, David John, who’s trained in threat assessments. While trying to locate the FBI-released bad guy, Tina discovers that he has gotten his hands on C4. And finding the Arlington bomber will prove to be extremely complicated. His target isn’t easy to pinpoint, as it could be Tina, additional abortion clinics, or the assassination of a significant political figure. As in his preceding thriller, Duff (boom-BOOM!, 2017) aptly fuses exhilarating scenes of action and suspense with the more down-to-earth challenges of a stay-at-home mom. Though the Hamlin Park Irregulars stress they’re not superheroes, they’re all exceedingly capable. Linda, for example, with degrees in computer science, accounting, and law, is a former attorney, an exceptional hacker, and an expectant mother. These returning characters are indicative of the consistency between the series’ first two books (less than a week has passed between the stories). The FBI-related case and residual baddie are direct links to the earlier novel. Throughout both installments, Tina has been steadfast in continually potty-training her 2-year-old daughter, Kerry —with only moderate success. As the menaces in this volume are pre-existing (from Tina’s past), tension is established from the beginning and rarely lets up. This is especially true in the latter half, once Tina verifies that someone is watching, tracking, and/or listening to her. Violence, though restrained, also increases and prompts arresting images; one brutal encounter ends with Tina noting “clotted blood on my shorts” and “dried blood under my fingernails.” Nevertheless, there are a couple of notable plot twists that most readers will likely predict, though that doesn’t dampen the inevitable peril in which Tina and others find themselves. Duff weaves a few intriguing themes into the narrative, namely old media vs. new media: Tina scoffs at a reporter who tweets her story and follows up with photographs on Facebook and Instagram.

A superb thriller, thanks to tenacious characters and an unyielding pace.

Pub Date: July 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-73246-520-6

Page Count: 408

Publisher: K, M & N Publishers, Inc.

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 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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