A breezy, engaging family saga about spirited women and their beloved horses.


A Texas matriarch and her nieces come of age Old West style in this debut novel.

Ginny Spangler’s father, a horse thief, is gunned down by Texas Rangers when she is 11 years old. Ginny escapes on a stolen Appaloosa and rides all the way to Oklahoma. There, she meets an aging widow and her gay farmhand and joins their motley family, growing up to marry a local Choctaw boy. But tragedy seems to follow Ginny: Not long after her marriage, she loses both her husband and their unborn baby. Even so, she finds a way to continue, helped in part by her deep love of horses. She later marries a New York businessman transplanted to Texas and has two sons. As the years pass, she takes her three nieces—the half-Choctaw daughters of her first husband’s sister—under her wing: Scottie, Rory, and Georgie O’Brien. The girls, who don’t get much attention from their parents, find role models in the figures of Ginny and the fictional detective Nancy Drew—going so far as to refer to themselves as the Drew Crew. Ginny’s son Sam is particularly taken by Georgie. Unfortunately, as the girls age—and especially after the deaths of their parents in a car accident—they begin to rebel against Ginny and her family’s attempts to help them. Even as they travel and find love, the big skies of Texas call them home, and the Drew Crew will have to work together when confronted with tragedies like rape, kidnapping, murder, and possibly even the loss of Ginny’s beloved ranch. “We’ll call this adventure, The Secret of the Old Ranch,” jokes Scottie. “What do you think?” Yet some adventures may be too big for even this unusual family.

Brenner’s prose is light and bouncy even when dealing with fairly difficult topics. She savors the folksy cant of her characters as much as they do: “During Ginny’s talk, Fitz sat very quietly, smiling at his wife. He loved to listen to her. She murdered the Queen’s English, but her philosophy of life, her salty language, and the use of Texas sayings never failed to enchant him. He could listen to Ginny talk all day.” The plot covers some 60 years and its tendrils snake out in many unexpected directions, but new characters are established economically, and the narrative speeds along. The story is essentially a soap opera, with mostly contrived problems emerging out of the blue. Even serious developments or horrific tragedies are not given much emotional weight. (“I guess my daddy’s most likely dead,” Ginny tells her horse in an early scene that sets the dramatic tone of the book, “so we might as well cross on over and see what we can find.”) The author clearly loves the milieu as well as the idea of prototypical strong Texas women. Readers who share such interests and ideals will likely enjoy this fast-but-not-deep river of a novel as it flows across the plains.

A breezy, engaging family saga about spirited women and their beloved horses.

Pub Date: Dec. 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-73433-681-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Brenner Pathways

Review Posted Online: Feb. 7, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.


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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