Russian Woman, A Siberian in New York

Leblanc’s debut novel is the first of a trilogy revolving around a beautiful woman from Siberia trying to make her way in New York City.
Although she has a rich, albeit unattractive husband and a job as a server at the most renowned restaurant in the Siberian capital of Krasnoyarsk, Olga Kotova longs for more. When she waits on the striking, wealthy Svetlana, who tells her about the United States, Olga knows precisely what she wants—“a life of wealth in America.” After traversing a complex, expensive maze of bureaucratic red tape, Olga finally attains her U.S. visa and arrives in New York City. During her monthlong visit, she meets wealthy investment banker Robert Thompson at a glamorous party. Robert, although reeling from his ex-fiancee’s unfaithfulness, is taken with all the beautiful foreign women at the party, including Olga. The two don’t meet again, however, until Olga’s second trip to America. This time, her luck changes for the worse: Her cash is stolen; she must find work, and she doesn’t have a work visa. The only jobs available to a Russian woman with no papers are in the sex trade—a strip club, a “happy ending” spa and/or prostitution. Olga finally sees a way out with Robert. He pays for her to attend design school and seems to genuinely care about her. But when the financial crisis puts Robert’s firm in bankruptcy, things start to fall apart for both of them. Leblanc’s pace is lively, and he nimbly keeps his characters and plotlines clear. The dialogue, however, can be stiff. For example, after Olga has a passionate encounter with a lover, he tells her it was amazing. She replies, “Yes, it was. I like you.” Readers may find Leblanc’s depiction of the investment banking world distasteful. The fabulous soirees are often little more than glammed-up, orgiastic frat parties. Money is king in this universe; art, literature, creativity and culture are largely absent. Perhaps highlighting the excesses of Wall Street is Leblanc’s point, but that message may be lost in this world of privilege.
A somewhat bleak look into a realm of rich men and the women who love them.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-0692234396

Page Count: 236

Publisher: RW Publishers

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 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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