A peculiar but engrossing family drama, elevated by truly rich characters.

THE LIGHTHOUSE

After 10 years away, a 26-year-old woman returns home to confront her past and rediscover her family in Kozak’s (Root Causes, 2013) novel. 

While in a coffee shop, Leah Larsen does an online search for her parents—as she’s done every so often since running away from home at 16—and discovers that her mother has died. Using what little money she has left, Leah travels to Taos, New Mexico, returning to the family ranch and the prestigious resort that her late grandfather designed, the Lighthouse. There, she finds her beloved aunt and uncle; her father, who greets her with expected “condemnation and contempt”; and Niels, the son whom she’d abandoned after her teenage pregnancy. Another figure, who’s unfamiliar to Leah, is Theo Wilde, her older cousin who tends to the stables. He’s a bit of a black sheep, as she is—a handsome artist who leaves the care of his own young son mostly to his uncle. He immediately feels connected to Leah, the cousin he barely knew, and encourages her to stay. When Theo’s brother Ben also feels compelled to come home to help get the resort’s struggling finances in order, the entire family is together for the first time in a decade. Leah finds herself on a path to uncover deep truths about her own past and her family’s complicated history, all while experiencing motherhood and a surprising new romance. Throughout this novel, Kozak pays particular attention to setting, surrounding her characters with gorgeous mountain scenery and a ranch that’s layered with memories of departed family members; Leah can feel her grandfather’s presence, for instance, “rippling” beneath the walls. The family’s extensive wealth and privilege lowers the stakes, at times—there’s an embezzlement subplot, but there’s little worry that they’ll run out of money—and the book’s unexpected romantic connection may raise eyebrows. But Kozak has crafted warm, inviting, and thoughtful characters here; there’s family bickering, of course, but they mostly speak to one another with fierce intelligence and admirable honesty. Even in dark moments, it’s a pleasure to spend time with them.  

A peculiar but engrossing family drama, elevated by truly rich characters.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-0-228-81055-1

Page Count: 355

Publisher: Tellwell Talent

Review Posted Online: Nov. 12, 2019

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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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