An engrossing tale of a fictional star’s memoir and her puzzling fate.


In this historical mystery, a Hollywood screenwriter digs into the past of a relative—a silent-era movie star whose disappearance nearly a century ago remains unexplained.

In 2014, writer Elliott Farr, who’s still fairly new to Hollywood, agrees to research early, influential personalities of the silver screen for a film producer. He quickly zeroes in on Catherine Farr, his great-great-aunt, a movie actress who was famous in the 1910s, when many filmmakers were producing pictures in Chicago. Catherine’s life is a mystery; she vanished in 1920, and her lover, movie director Toby Swanney, claimed that he killed her accidentally. But authorities never found a body or officially charged Swanney, who later recanted. Catherine was a striking actress who first appeared onscreen in 1912, and she quickly proved to be an inspired writer and director as well. She constantly challenged people with her movies, tackling such topical issues as women’s suffrage and racism in America. But although Catherine monetarily supported her family, who lived on a Palatine, Illinois, farm, she and her “judgmental and envious” Uncle Aran often clashed. While investigating his ancestor’s fate, Elliott finds a few surprises, including a woman who died in the late 1950s who may have been Catherine, though using an alias. Smith’s tale oscillates between various moments in Catherine’s life and Elliott’s present. Much of Catherine’s story resembles a formal, generally neutral biography, often simply detailing plots of her extensive filmography. However, as the narrative progresses and Catherine’s work becomes more political, Smith, the author of Robert E. Howard (2018), effectively and appropriately dramatizes the struggles that she faces, both as a woman and as a filmmaker. The early-20th-century time period is particularly vivid in its historical details, which include real-life films and stars as well as a reference to the 1918 influenza pandemic. The mystery, meanwhile, is sound, particularly in the novel’s latter half, which offers readers more than one well-earned shock.

An engrossing tale of a fictional star’s memoir and her puzzling fate.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-68390-240-9

Page Count: 354

Publisher: Pulp Hero Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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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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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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