Thoughtfully written but emotionally distant and overly cerebral.


Hamilton (Staircase of a Thousand Steps, 2003) tracks an American journalist in the Middle East.

Outside Beirut, on the way to interview a Lebanese crime kingpin with terrorist ties, reporter Caddie Blair survives an ambush that kills British photographer Marcus. Recovering in a dingy hospital, Caddie realizes that she has no one to notify. Marcus was her lover; her grandmother and mother are long dead, and she has few friends in Jerusalem, where she lives. If she ever had a home, it was with Marcus—he’d understood her passion for her work, and she’d admired his: he’d had an uncommon talent for capturing moments that defined the grinding conflict between Israel and the countries that surround it. But his fame was no protection against his fate—and his unknown murderers will go unpunished. Desiring a revenge she can’t take, Caddie plunges back into reporting, maintaining a careful distance, yet drawn to scenes of violence as she reflects on Marcus’s meaningless death, her parents’ long-ago abandonment of her, and her own taste for life on the razor’s edge. Fluent in Arabic, she talks to a Palestinian woman seeking treatment for her mortally injured daughter, knowing that the woman’s young son built the bomb that burned his little sister to the bone. Before the doctors realize that Caddie is American, she learns the hideous truth: there isn’t enough morphine to go around and not enough penicillin. In a restless quest to get a story—any story—she interviews Moshe Bar Lev, a militant settler. A firebomb destroys the bus they’re riding, and the settlers retaliate with gunfire, hoping to kill as many Arabs as possible. All in a day’s work . . . . Moshe returns home to dinner with his family and Caddie tags along. There’s no peace to be found—though she does find love again with a fellow journalist, himself a survivor of tragic violence.

Thoughtfully written but emotionally distant and overly cerebral.

Pub Date: Nov. 20, 2004

ISBN: 1-932961-02-X

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Unbridled Books

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2004

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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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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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