An armchair tour of complex Indonesian issues, incorporated in a readable thriller.

ASHES IN A COCONUT

In this debut novel, an American couple’s marriage becomes tested by a culture of corruption in 1980s Indonesia.

Jack Harrison is a handsome, self-made banker who worked hard to pull himself out of poverty in the South. His wife, Laura, is a compassionate redhead with a burgeoning career as a fashion designer in New York. She’s forced to leave her career behind when Jack’s boss offers to make him president of a bank in Jakarta. There, a sinking feeling haunts Laura when they move into the morbid home of the bank’s former president, who left in a hurry under mysterious circumstances. When Laura finds out that he departed because his wife committed suicide, she takes it as an ominous sign. Despite warnings that Jakarta is tough for rich expat wives, Laura tries to carve out a life for herself, getting involved in ecological activism, teaching children, and even attempting to start a small business. Jack, on the other hand, has a harder time adjusting. The bank he’s taken over is owed $1 million from a defaulted loan and a local judge refuses to help the institution’s legal proceedings without a bribe. As Jack tries to find more business for his bank, he realizes cutting corners is de rigueur in Indonesia. A particularly tempting offer comes from Johnny, the son of the president of Indonesia, whose charming demeanor masks shady rainforest lumber practices, among other things. With Jack hiding the complexities of the bank’s reality from Laura, a rift opens in their marriage. In this intricate tale, Kearns is skilled at building the stakes, but his treatment of local characters leaves much to be desired. The Asian women Jack meets are frequently described in exotified terms (“In the soft light from above, her dark hair shone like the luster of black satin”). “The husbands here go gaga over Asian women,” one expat wife says to Laura—a warning that echoes throughout the novel. But as Jack and Laura’s marriage slowly unravels, a taut plot thread that threatens his livelihood deftly comes into focus, pushing the heroine to the edge and turning the book into an intriguing page-turner.

An armchair tour of complex Indonesian issues, incorporated in a readable thriller.

Pub Date: May 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-945181-50-4

Page Count: 270

Publisher: Moonshine Cove Publishing

Review Posted Online: April 11, 2019

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

FLY AWAY

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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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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