An intriguing but uneven tale with heavy-handed references to Nazism and the Holocaust.


In this fantasy novel, Kessler (Gables Court, 2018) tells a story of an unpleasant world that’s only getting worse.

Mikkel lives a privileged life as the son of Deputy to the Secretary of the Party Otto. However, his dark complexion and aversion to killing pigs make him more like a despised group called Burners than the tall, blond members of the “master race,” led by a man called the Butcher. Mikkel has visions of creating a new civilization that doesn’t depend on pig slaughter or the subjugation of sun-worshipping Burners and other non-elites. At the same time, he also tries to fit into the existing system, rejecting lower-ranked friends and embracing, for a time, the cruelty of Ludolf, leader of the brutal Scouts. As Mikkel begins to break with the Butcher’s ways, flashback chapters reveal more of his backstory and how the persecution of the Burners began. Eventually, Otto and Mikkel decide that a plan to kill all Burners is a step too far, and Mikkel finds his place as a leader. This story can be confusing at times, and the similarity of Ludolf’s and Rudolf’s names doesn’t help matters. Familiar fantasy tropes abound, from an overabundance of capitalized nouns to Mikkel’s role as a chosen one. The Butcher is also given to highly dramatic pronouncements: “Burner death through Party innovation gives the faithful a glimpse of the purged world to come.” However, Kessler’s prose is generally strong, with occasional moments of dry humor amid the bleakness of the narrative. The heavy violence will not appeal to all readers, but some will find this book as a whole to be an enjoyable, multilayered fantasy. Its allusions are rarely subtle, though; Burners are trapped in a stockade and have numbers written on their arms, the Butcher calls them “diseased creatures more animal than human,” and the Secretary of the Party suggests disposing of them in “a large oven.”

An intriguing but uneven tale with heavy-handed references to Nazism and the Holocaust.

Pub Date: Jan. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-68433-220-5

Page Count: 206

Publisher: Black Rose Writing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 11, 2019

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...


Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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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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