A story like wildfire—starts cool but only gets hotter.


Red Flag


In McManus’ debut thriller, a blogger whose writing has been tracking an arsonist-turned-killer may be so close to his subject that he becomes a target.

Blogger Danny Kasho is the one who gave the Angeles Arsonist his name, dubbing the unknown individual known for setting wildfires in California. After 10 months of idleness, the arsonist returns, but this time there are five bodies, and it’s clear the arsonist is also a killer, having used a flamethrower to trap the victims in a cave with his latest inferno. Danny may have a scoop when friend Mark Pavelko, a U.S. Forest Service special agent, enlists his help in questioning a person of interest, arson investigator Mike Cruz. As it turns out, Mike suggests that Mark is the arsonist. The killer, meanwhile, following Danny’s blog on CODA.com, may be going after the journalist next. McManus’ thriller keeps a leisurely but engaging pace. Danny, for example, in true-to-life form, has to wait for most of his information, like the fact that the vics were Pepperdine students and there may have been a sixth person, who survived. McManus slowly and deliberately builds suspense, providing readers with the killer’s perspective as he posts comments on Danny’s blog. Danny, who has good reason to suspect both Mark and Mike of being the Angeles Arsonist, has a delectably murky back story: he knows it’s only a matter of time before someone realizes he’s the son of “Killer Kasho,” a murderer who was imprisoned years ago. Details of Danny’s family, including his mother’s abandonment of her children, gradually come to light as the story progresses. The downtempo plot pays off, making unexpected moments all the more startling, particularly when Danny comes face to face with the arsonist, in full fireman regalia, aiming a homemade flamethrower right at him. On the lighter side, heated banter between Danny and rival blogger Ursula occasionally goes on for too long. But McManus scores with his satire; Danny’s video chat appearance on an overwrought cable show is especially hilarious.

A story like wildfire—starts cool but only gets hotter.

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9964485-0-5

Page Count: 452

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 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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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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