Short and compelling, Dunning’s book is an explosion of passion that will satisfy many, but people of faith, particularly...


A brooding novella of love, evil and tragedy set in the early 1970s within the religious community of a small town outside Chicago.

Dunning’s debut centers on Sister Anthony and Father Francis, who aren’t your average nun and priest. The story begins with a sexual encounter—neither their first nor last—beneath an old oak tree by the river. Anthony pines for the privileges she’s heard other nuns have post–Vatican II, and Francis is expecting an unwelcome houseguest in Bishop Burns, an old teacher avoiding his own sexual indiscretions. It’s during one of their meetings beneath the tree that Anthony and Francis glimpse a hysterical man struggling to carry a large, unwieldy bundle to the river. Soon they find themselves caught up in the bishop’s latest misadventure. Readers won’t be surprised at the ensuing blackmail and the eventual destruction of the small church community. The author is a powerful writer, despite occasional lapses in consistency and usage. The setting is engaging, the descriptions lovely and the dialogue sharp, but the characters aren’t fully developed. It’s hard to root for, or even like, Francis and Anthony, while the bishop—a genial but flawed man—devolves into a stereotypical monster whose actions sometimes don’t make sense. Only Mother Agnes—whom the sisters refer to as a “preening peacock” and “Hitler in a Habit”—is a happy surprise, showing a love and consideration for others that have never been granted to her. From a slow-moving but thoughtful beginning, the story careens to a conclusion that’s melodramatic and almost unbelievable; Dunning would do well to reconsider what makes the most sense in a carefully constructed plotline.

Short and compelling, Dunning’s book is an explosion of passion that will satisfy many, but people of faith, particularly Catholics, may find it too uncomfortable to read for pleasure.

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 2012

ISBN: 978-0985038113

Page Count: 68

Publisher: Amazon Digital Services

Review Posted Online: March 22, 2012

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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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