An intense peek into the last gasp of the Civil War as well as a thoughtful rendering of the Southern perspective.

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CALEDONIA LOST

THE FALL OF THE CONFEDERACY

A debut historical novel details the Civil War experiences of a Confederate soldier.

James Augustus McEachern was born in 1840 in Darlington, South Carolina, a small town that had been home to his family since his great-great-grandfather fled Scotland and settled there in the 1750s. He joined the Arlington, Virginia, militia in 1861, eager and proud to defend the Southern way of life that he felt was unjustly assailed by avaricious Northerners. James served as a member of the Hampton legion, part of the Texas Brigade. Wounded twice, he fought in many of the Civil War’s most pivotal battles, including those at Fort Sumter and Antietam, rising to the rank of second lieutenant. Author McEachern (Caledonia: A Song of Scotland, 2015) focuses on one 24-hour period, running from the early part of April 1, 1865, to April 2, during which more than 14,000 Union soldiers broke through the Confederate line of defense at Petersburg. This was the hinge moment in the war that sealed the fate of the Confederacy; a mere seven days later, James and his company surrendered at Appomattox. The engrossing narrative is told from James’ perspective, sometimes conveyed through correspondence to the woman who later became his wife, Victoria (“Vicee”). Three of those letters are authentic originals, and in one of them, he proposes to Vicee only days after the battle at Fort Sumter. James eventually returned to Vicee and helped her raise their only child, but he never fully recovered from the wounds he sustained in battle, dying at the age of 34. McEachern’s principal preoccupation seems to be historical fidelity, and his vivid, dramatized account stays closely hewn to fact. His research is impressive, and he writes with restrained elegance and poignancy, capturing poetically the brute horror of war: “Then, I heard thousands of feet running towards us. The dawn was just breaking, but we were still mired in mist. The grey, gloom of night still wrapped herself around us.” Furthermore, a moving love story, beautifully depicted, emerges out of the smoke and fire of the conflict.

An intense peek into the last gasp of the Civil War as well as a thoughtful rendering of the Southern perspective.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-64045-664-8

Page Count: 303

Publisher: LitFire Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 28, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 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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