To be sure, there’s gallantry in Mary Lincoln’s struggle against her demons. But 600-plus pages with a disagreeable woman...



A skilled historical novelist (Dead Water, 2004, etc.) limns an absolutely convincing portrait of Mary Todd Lincoln—and that’s the catch.

She’s so depressing. In Hambly’s evocation, her temper is execrable, her tongue venomous, her close relationships all problematical. With her husband, the legendary president, the descriptive word is strained; with her son Robert, it’s savage. She’s a grudge-holder and her enemies are forever, her friendships, for the most part, transitory. This is a woman who clings to paranoia as if it were her birthright. Hambly begins her story in 1875, ten years after that horrific night at the Ford Theater when John Wilkes Booth fired a bullet into the president’s head, drenching Mrs. Lincoln in his blood. Wintry, better say glacial, Robert, having decided magisterially that his mother is insane, has convened what amounts to a kangaroo court and brought her before it. Predictably, she’s judged to be as mentally incompetent as her son says she is and consigned to an asylum. Mrs. Lincoln does not go quietly, and while she rails against this latest betrayal, Hambly takes us back and forth in time to examine other betrayals. Even as an antebellum belle, she is tormented and tormenting. She meets Lincoln, is powerfully attracted, an attraction at first mutual. But he’s wary, senses danger, attempts to elude her. She traps him with a lie. As first lady, she’s a political cross for her husband to bear, which he does, patiently, even in the face of a hysterical demand that he fire—of all people—Ulysses S. Grant because she can’t abide his wife. Is she crazy? Everybody who knows her knows she is, says someone closer to her than most: “Crazy though not insane.”

To be sure, there’s gallantry in Mary Lincoln’s struggle against her demons. But 600-plus pages with a disagreeable woman tends to undercut empathy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-553-80301-8

Page Count: 624

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2004

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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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