A likable, family-oriented fantasy tale, defined by the warmth of its plot and character-building messages.

SNOW IN APRIL

A STORY OF CONCORDIA

New friends, a snowstorm, and an impending rift between kingdoms lead an overlooked young prince to find his voice in this third installment of a middle-grade series. 

In this latest fantasy novel revolving around the inhabitants of the Kingdom of Concordia, awkward, resentful Prince Jasper in the neighboring realm of Thisley is tired of being treated like a child by his coddling mother and his father, whom the teenager “secretly” feels sees him as “insignificant.” Punishment for Jasper’s thoughtless ridicule of a member of the court, a week working in the stables, gives the 15-year-old prince the beginnings of a new perspective. His efforts earn respect and camaraderie from the stable hands and master. Jasper’s understanding of himself and others evolves further when he accompanies his mother to Concordia, where his older sister, the realm’s queen, is expecting her second child. In snowy Concordia , Jasper’s strength of character gradually emerges with the help of new friends Olive, the “Honorary Princess,” and Toby Tatter, the Concordia  king’s page; a life-threatening avalanche; the secret of a missing map; and the prince’s earned self-confidence. If readers expect supernatural happenings or magic in what is essentially the story of misunderstandings among a well-meaning, extended family and those closest to them, they will be disappointed. Even the crises that arise are only mildly suspenseful. The book’s strengths are its well-defined, sympathetic characters; its colorful kingdom settings in olden times; and Jasper’s relatable journey toward self-discovery. Still, those familiar with the previous installments in Mager’s (Under the Summer Sun, 2017, etc.) pleasant series are best served here. The otherwise well-conceived narrative would benefit from fewer explanatory asides to inform new readers about what has occurred before in Concordia. Conversely, the author’s lessons in understanding and empathy, delivered through the experiences of Jasper and virtually all of the main characters, are threaded throughout the story with an admirably smooth touch.

A likable, family-oriented fantasy tale, defined by the warmth of its plot and character-building messages.

Pub Date: April 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-985758-24-7

Page Count: 182

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 24, 2018

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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

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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