A complex and intensely cinematic fantasy debut.

THE WITCHES' HOLLOW

A man wrestles with his past while attempting to free a village of an evil entity in this debut paranormal thriller. 

Scarlet’s novel focuses on Arthur Montesque, a downtrodden alcoholic and former professional investigator who’s seen happier days. However, one fateful day, he receives a mysterious letter requesting his assistance on a life-changing assignment. The sender, an antiques collector named L.A. Calesanti, wants Montesque to conduct business on his behalf in the small, heavily forested hamlet of Lost Hollow, which, he writes, will feel like “stepping through a portal to the past.” With lucrative compensation provided in advance, Montesque jumps at the opportunity and soon arrives at a forest’s edge after days of traveling on foot and horseback; meanwhile, back at home, his abode mysteriously bursts into flames and burns to the ground. Montesque finally arrives in the town, which features ominous caves, black “Shadowspire” mountains, and superstitious citizens who are terrified of the path into the woods that borders their home. The strange new surroundings seem to play with the investigator’s sense of reality, but they’re also where he discovers that he has hidden powers of his own. In the town, he meets a local barmaid named Vanessa, whom he instantly lusts after, and Scarlet’s heavily detailed descriptions of Montesque’s sexual dalliances (with Vanessa and others) add zest and spice to the novel. In a series of cryptic letters, Montesque is charged with looking into the disappearance of Calesanti’s assistant, who went missing after attempting to locate and purchase an ancient relic. While in the tiny hamlet, Montesque also wants to investigate a vicious forest “beast” called the Morrowen, which he saw during his ride into Lost Hollow. As he and Vanessa become closer, she explains to him that the town is powered by magic, which she calls the “one thing that science will never be able to explain”—and which made the path that he followed into the town suddenly disappear. Banding together with Briar, a local huntsman, they set out to conquer the terrible evil that lives in the woods. However, Scarlet proves to be a highly imaginative author and has much more in store for readers of this serpentine tale of sorcery and wizardry. In one memorable scene, for example, demons reveal a “spectral lens” conduit that they use for transportation, as crackles of black energy snap across Montesque’s vision. Slowly but surely, the protagonist draws closer to solving the mystery of the missing assistant while also fiercely battling creatures lurking in the forest’s shadows—including an enemy that no one saw coming. The author fills this novel’s energetic plot with unexpected twists, and it’s clearly written with seasoned horror-fantasy fans in mind. Scarlet is also quite adept at characterization and ably conjures occult elements as part of the overall worldbuilding. One notable scene involving demons battling a surprisingly powerful Montesque in a dream realm and another involving Calesanti and his daughter are rendered in an especially vivid manner.

A complex and intensely cinematic fantasy debut. 

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-951237-00-4

Page Count: 358

Publisher: Lonely Lighthouse Publications

Review Posted Online: Dec. 13, 2019

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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