Superb characters and alluring prose make for a truly exceptional read.


In Hugg’s (Song of the Tree Hollow, 2018) novel, a Polish-born Parisian in financial distress sells an unusual plant’s blooms to very dangerous people.

The death of Alain Tolbert, a possible suicide, greatly saddens his neighbor Renia Baranczka, as he’d been her only friend in Paris. He was also the best customer at Le Sanctuaire, the flower shop that Renia manages. Its owner, Valentina Palomer, regularly dips into the shop’s emergency funds, and the business is perpetually in debt. To solve her problems, Renia turns to an enigmatic plant that her twin sister, Estera, calls “Violet Smoke.” Inhaling the fragrance from its flowers can make a person forget certain events; Estera calls it a “memory trim.” Indeed, the Violet Smoke may be the reason for the siblings’ current estrangement. The plant can be addictive, and Renia fears that it may somehow have led to Alain’s death. But Estera’s unsavory ex-boyfriend, Zbigniew “Zbiggy” Wójcik, is willing to pay handsomely for the flowers. This affords Renia some much-needed funds, but it becomes clear that Zbiggy wants the entire plant for himself. Hugg’s absorbing tale features understated traits from multiple genres. A mystery, for example, plays in the background as periodic flashbacks involving Renia and Estera, who’s not in Paris, gradually explain the twins’ falling-out. In similar fashion, Renia’s increasing involvement with Zbiggy’s unnerving comrades slowly escalates the suspense. The characters are as bold as the flowers adorning Le Sanctuaire; police officer Kateb is oddly elusive on specifics regarding Alain’s death while Valentina’s impudence is almost comical. The author’s sublime descriptions further enrich the story: Despite the supernatural Violet Smoke’s apparent unattractiveness, Hugg endearingly notes its “velvety petals” and how its leaves make the mature plant “seem newly born”; at another point, she equates its twisty branches with “a lanky teenager dancing, bending its arms this way and that.”

Superb characters and alluring prose make for a truly exceptional read.

Pub Date: June 18, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-578-48407-5

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Magnolia Press

Review Posted Online: July 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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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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