An amusing, ultimately heartwarming romp through the ridiculousness of tabloid gossip and hometown comforts.

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SHE SINS AT MIDNIGHT

This whirlwind comedy/drama, Dineen’s debut, centers on Lila Montgomery and her high school crush, a hilarious cat fight with a Hollywood starlet and her award-winning romance novel nobody knows about.

Thirty-two-year-old Lila is single and bored, working as a personal assistant to a sex-crazed, crooked Hollywood agent. Fed up with her job and unfulfilled in her lonely, childless life, she spends her free time writing explicit romance fantasy stories under the pseudonym Jasmine Sheath. When an invitation to her 15-year high school reunion comes in the mail, she decides to leave California for three weeks and spend some time figuring her life out in the comfort of her Illinois hometown. Drama ensues when famous actress Melinda Forrester—recently nominated for an Oscar for her depiction of a drug-addicted hooker and college student who becomes an Olympic track star—sues Lila for spreading rumors about her promiscuity. To complicate matters further, Jasmine Sheath’s publisher is requiring her to do a book signing in her hometown, revealing her true identity to the world. On top of that, Melinda’s lawyer in the lawsuit is none other than Lila’s high school crush. Dineen’s novel is packed with campy twists that thicken the plot while propelling it into absurdity. Dineen splices Lila’s story with the fantasy she wrote as Jasmine Sheath, which, despite its being a comical allegory for the “real world” drama, can get confusing. However, if understood as a satire of romance novels and Hollywood drama, the ridiculousness becomes fairly intriguing as this fun, quick read examines the envies and dissatisfactions in women’s lives, reassuring readers that no one’s life is truly perfect.

An amusing, ultimately heartwarming romp through the ridiculousness of tabloid gossip and hometown comforts.

Pub Date: March 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-1496150455

Page Count: 292

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 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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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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