An intriguing but uneven tale about two significant historical figures.


A Texas homestead inspires a debut historical romance about the interracial couple who originally settled there in the 1800s.

Sylvia Hector is born in Africa, the daughter of a queen and king, marked with an auspicious symbol of a blessing on her head. Shortly afterward, her parents are kidnapped by Portuguese “stealers” who transport them to America on a slave ship. Neither parent survives the voyage, but Koko, a mother onboard, adopts Sylvia and raises her as her own. Sylvia leads a relatively stable life since Koko is purchased for domestic work in Albany, New York. Sylvia is even educated alongside the family’s son. Meanwhile, John F. Webber of Vermont is working as a sales representative for “Debtor Furniture,” which is manufactured at the state’s debtor prison, when he travels to Albany to purchase lumber. He is taken with Sylvia’s beauty and intelligence, and they quickly begin courting. When he seeks to return to Vermont with her, the community brands their interracial relationship as an “immoral dalliance” involving a woman whose social status is that of a slave. Once Sylvia becomes pregnant, the couple decide to move somewhere they can be together without judgment, which means relocating outside the borders of the United States to the Texas Territory and building a home and settlement on what will become known as Webber’s Prairie. They will have 11 children and eventually wed in a ceremony, marking the first 19th-century mixed marriage. As the Texas Territory changes hands and wars are fought, the family survives and prospers. Kemp is the pen name of a husband-and-wife writing team. The authors drew inspiration from their Texas property’s notable history to create the novel’s promising premise. The opening passages recounting Sylvia’s birth and her parents’ deaths are emotionally powerful. And the book delivers rich details about the Webber family’s involvement in key historical events. But the tale sometimes reads more like a history lesson than a sweeping literary drama. The Webbers’ movements would be easier to follow with the inclusion of maps. In addition, the dialogue is often wooden and frequently utilizes distracting dialects. At one point, Koko tells Sylvia: “Oh, chil’, your mama was like da queen a’ Sheba. She loved ev’erbody an’ ev’erbody love her. But mos’ of all, she loved you more than anythin’ or anybody in the whole world.”

An intriguing but uneven tale about two significant historical figures.

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-63363-349-0

Page Count: 264

Publisher: White Bird Publications

Review Posted Online: Nov. 28, 2018

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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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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