A promising debut that could find success beyond the YA market.

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The Threat Below

From the A Brathius History series , Vol. 1

This hefty sci-fi novel features dangerous treks, tortured relationships, and hidden histories.

Debut novelist Latshaw creates a split world, with the Kith (remnants of the Apriori, i.e., humans) literally at the top—in this case, atop a mountain—and down below, past the Cloudline, the beastly, much feared Croathus, aka the Threatbelow. Centuries before, the Kith fled for their lives from the Croathus and sought safety on Mountaintop, where the Croathus cannot live due to the thin air. But it is a pinched existence, and now the Kith’s water supply, which originates down below, is being poisoned. A few characters push the story forward, including Tranton, the evil and ambitious Kith counselor; Icelyn Brathius, the young heroine who carries most of the story; Adorane, her childhood friend; and Eveshone, her beautiful Croathus ally. Icelyn, Adorane, and a small band go below to stop the poisoning and save the Kith. But only Icelyn, Adorane, and a few others make it through Cloudline alive, and things get much worse as the heroes push further. A small band of the Croathus is loyal to these Apriori, but thousands more are sworn enemies, and the Croathus are incredible killing machines. Revelations come thick and fast, and it turns out that the Kith are far from the innocent victims that they seemed. Eventually, the return to Mountaintop does not go well, though it does set the stage for a sequel. The characters—especially Icelyn—are well-drawn, as are their tortuous relationships. This isn’t just about saving the world—it’s about a teenager coming to know herself, a task almost as daunting. Serious ideas about morality and even godhood are grist for the mill. On the other hand, passages involving a teacher named Belubus and a hokey interlude in the Mines are dead ends that could have been discarded. And a few questions remain: why did it take so long for the Croathus to poison the water supply? Did Tranton have something to do with it?

A promising debut that could find success beyond the YA market.

Pub Date: July 29, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-943846-78-8

Page Count: 504

Publisher: Fernweh Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2015

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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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