A light bit of comfort reading for those looking for a fond, if sometimes-irreverent, look back at a bygone era.



Duclon’s debut novel follows the all-American Duncan family over two very memorable weeks in 1961.

It’s Christmastime in Rockford, Illinois, and 11-year-old David Duncan doesn’t have too much on his personal wish list: he wants a fancy new go-kart and the chance to go on a date with his crush, Susie Sweeney. There are a couple of complications, though: he can’t help but blurt out his feelings around Susie, and, more pressingly, she’s more into his best friend, Veto Santello. Meanwhile, his parents—the strict yet gregarious Duke and the kindhearted Phyllis—aren’t onboard with the go-kart idea. Add in a mischievous little sister and a principal with a predilection for corporal punishment, and there’s a lot for David to navigate. By his side is the family dog, Rags, who, when he’s not “jumpin’ and humpin’ ” someone’s leg, is loyal to a fault. The narrative follows David from misadventure to misadventure, whether they involve sophomoric pranks at school, an ill-advised sled trip down “Suicide Hill,” or a dramatic episode at the town’s outdoor skating rink. Duclon, a former executive producer for such TV sitcoms as Family Matters and the creator of Punky Brewster, hits familiar sitcom beats, always looking for the next joke while also showing nostalgia for the time period. He often contrasts moments of genuine Yuletide joy with the particularities of real life, such as a beautifully decorated Christmas tree repeatedly pulled down by a dog or a man in a Santa Claus suit sky-diving with a faulty parachute. Although the characters are somewhat archetypal—the wisecracking protagonist, the Everyman dad, the beautiful girl next door—Duclon puts them into inventive situations throughout, and the plot zips along, never lingering too long on one scene. This is just the first installment of a planned series, but the protagonist is still neatly and tidily developed over the course of the novel, becoming braver and more generous despite the many obstacles in his path. The fact that most of David’s obstacles are self-inflicted merely adds to the fun.

A light bit of comfort reading for those looking for a fond, if sometimes-irreverent, look back at a bygone era.

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5488-3074-8

Page Count: 160

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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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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