An intoxicating variant of the afterlife through the eyes of auspicious characters.


The Pit

From the Watchmaker's Hell series , Vol. 1

Hell is split into two factions, with one side searching for redemption while both recruit the Newly Dead for an inevitable war in this debut supernatural thriller.

People condemned to hell enter through the Pit. These aren’t demons but rather the dead in shell bodies looking the same as when they perished on Earth. Marcus, a Roman dead some 2,000 years by 2011, has controlled hell almost the entire time he’s been there. He’s most often in the Pit to recruit people for what he calls his team. There are those working against Marcus, however, led by Deborah Molinksy, a Jewish woman who instills a belief in others that salvation is still possible. Four people arrive in hell around the same time: 17-year-old Allison Yates, Arab-Englishman Siddig El Tariq, widower Christoph Schmidt, and volunteer counselor Nadia Patel. They’ve each died in different ways but are all in hell for essentially the same reason, which they don’t immediately know. They ultimately must determine if they want to join Marcus’ team or follow Deborah, a decision that may hinge on The Gate above, where some of the dead go but which certainly isn’t the serene notion of heaven. Marcus would just as soon destroy bodies before losing recruits, but even a few on Deborah’s side believe that a violent confrontation seems unavoidable. This surprisingly insightful story zeroes in on its characters. Allison, for one, may be the reincarnation of Christoph’s wife, Sabine, allowing both (Allison with her new memories) to come to terms with Sabine’s death. Similarly, Heinrich von Helldorf, who perished during World War II, has become a self-hating Nazi and holds the magnanimous Deborah in reverence. Hell’s certainly a bleak place, and the fact that some characters who’ve reached The Gate have chosen hell instead makes the afterlife seem even darker. But hope shines bright throughout, epitomized by Nadia’s sanguine declaration: “This universe gave us a means of contrition, and we would feel inadequate if we ignored that.” There’s resolution regarding why characters, even the seemingly good ones, are in hell and how redemption is feasible, with an unmistakable open ending.

An intoxicating variant of the afterlife through the eyes of auspicious characters.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-68222-705-3

Page Count: 460

Publisher: BookBaby

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2016

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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.


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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