Begins with promise, but characters are reduced to clichés by overly simplistic conflicts.

THE VOLUNTEER

A federal antipoverty worker finds his job on the line with the arrival of a new boss.

Michael Napolitano works as at the Survival Center, a service agency that provides food and goods to local low-income families in rural Massachusetts. Despite earning wages so low that he jokingly refers to himself as a volunteer, Napolitano enjoys his job and finds the work rewarding. With the arrival of new executive director Mr. Prince, however, Napolitano soon discovers an ugly side of the nonprofit world. In addition to being completely ambivalent to the center’s philanthropic goals, Prince reeks of cheap cologne and eagerly throws around racial slurs. When Prince refuses to give bread to an elderly woman who arrives after the official closing time, the situation sparks a heated confrontation between Prince and Napolitano that ultimately leads to the director firing Napolitano. Shocked by his rapid dismissal, Napolitano struggles to maintain normalcy by starting a new job, discussing politics with his friends and pursuing an unlikely romance with a beautiful woman. Finally he seeks the advice of Sarah, the beloved former director at the center, and discovers a nefarious secret about Prince’s past. While the book accurately depicts the disparities that can arise between nonprofit workers and the bureaucrats financing them, it reduces these characters to two-dimensional caricatures. As a sarcastic Italian-American with a stutter and a soft spot for doughnuts, Napolitano makes for a likable hero, but his inability to communicate reasonably with bosses and board members he dislikes is unrealistic and would result in any employee being fired. Similarly, the book contains cartoonishly evil villains who seem bent on closing or relocating the center for no apparent reason. By the time Napolitano enlists the help of a cowboy from the West Coast to rough up the director and restore order to the center, readers will have already drifted from the increasingly ridiculous plot.

Begins with promise, but characters are reduced to clichés by overly simplistic conflicts.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 2010

ISBN: 978-1452812427

Page Count: 162

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 12, 2011

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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

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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