Blunt though quick-paced, this book sends a likable hero through an oddball tunnel of religion and money.

In The Year Of Our Lord

A debut satirical novel focuses on a young preacher and the world’s temptations.

With his 12-year-old pickup and his job at a grocery store, Sylvester “Sly” Smith may not seem destined for greatness. Many believers, however, are likely to disagree. Having started a successful prayer chain on the Internet to bring down the price of gasoline, Sly has managed to gain a following as a preacher. He may not be ordained, but he draws an impressive crowd to a sermon at the University of Texas at Austin. Attracting “students, middle-class couples, kids, whites, African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, along with the unwashed and unprofiled,” the diverse gathering shows that Sly clearly has a gift for spreading the Lord’s message. The question, though, is how will he be able to continue his work considering the large amount of money that’s required. The event at the University of Texas cost some $9,000, the reader learns, and to someone like Sly that “might as well be nine billion.” Enter Michael “Ponzi” McGee. A dubious investment professional if there ever was one, Ponzi offers to manage the finances for Sly’s operation. Desperate for cash, Sly sees no alternative but to accept Ponzi’s services. What could possibly go wrong with trusting financial matters to such a man? Obviously something has to, and it is just this sort of on-the-nose sentiment that may frustrate some readers. From the obese woman in an investment club who is constantly eating (she even manages to consume an “industrial-size bag of microwaved popcorn” during a meeting) to the aptly named Reverend Holyworth (a man with a strong distaste for Sly the “acne-laced bumpkin”), aspects of the story tend to lean toward the expected. The narrative does eventually venture to strange places, but the reader is most likely to be hooked by Sly himself. It is not difficult to root for such a protagonist. Though he is foolish enough to trust someone whose nickname is taken from a well-known scam, he does so with noble intentions. At less than 300 pages, the tale of Sly’s troubles moves quickly, and while it is clear from the outset what they will likely entail, finding out how they dissipate remains surprising.

Blunt though quick-paced, this book sends a likable hero through an oddball tunnel of religion and money.

Pub Date: March 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5233-2120-9

Page Count: 236

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 9, 2016

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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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