A sophisticated tale that should whet audiences’ appetites for further historical and religious reading.


The Raven Watched

This fantasy novel from Weiss (The Goddess Wheel, 2003, etc.) follows a trio of young sisters as they’re initiated into the world of Italian witchcraft.

In the spring of 1970, Sophia, the Priestess of the Rimini witch clan, dies without any daughters to carry on the family’s Stregheria tradition. She bequeaths her villa in the Tuscan mountains to her nieces, Gina and Barbara, the latter of whom is visiting Italy from New York. Barbara brings three daughters—Mimi, 9, Kara, 14, and Joanne, 17—and her husband, John, a strident Catholic, with her. While the girls explore the villa and countryside, John casts a disapproving eye upon all things pagan, including the idea that his impressionable daughters might enjoy witchcraft. Gina and others in the Rimini clan warn Barbara that “a strong anti-pagan faction has been building propaganda against us for several years now.” The girls, however, each have magical adventures that prove the beauty of Stregheria; all the while, a raven keeps close watch, particularly on Kara. As Beltane (May 1) approaches, the sisters realize that their family could tear apart if a battle occurs between the healing magic of the Benandanti clan and the black magic of the Malandanti. Weiss’ debut novel may star three youngsters, but its larger themes of dogmatic Catholicism and its maternal predecessor, paganism, may be better appreciated by older teens and adults. Nevertheless, playful characters abound, include a fairy named Tinkle and Sophia’s familiar, a cat named Toby. Frequently, the author’s depictions of nature are gorgeous, as when “Mimi sat down on a fallen log, inhaling the salty breeze and listening to the sounds of a timeless world.” These moments are in tune with the history lessons that are revealed to the girls, most of which bolster the idea that “the rules and trappings of formalized religions were only added on as men tried to take control of Nature.” An action-packed finale stirs in wizardry and gunplay to chilling effect, and the choosing of the new Priestess is a joy to behold.

A sophisticated tale that should whet audiences’ appetites for further historical and religious reading.

Pub Date: Oct. 24, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4699-2507-3

Page Count: 428

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 11, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 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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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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