Kwajalein Stories

An action-filled espionage novel set in the crucial years between World War II and the Korean War.
The hero here is a Polish-American combat veteran who fought with distinction in the U.S. Army during the second world war and continues his service in the postwar years as an intelligence operative. The operative—who uses the name Tony Williams along with other aliases—goes undercover in military facilities across the world to tangle with both Soviet spies and rogue Americans who abuse their power. Leptuch (James Hedges. Discreet Inquiries. Private Investigations., 2014, etc.) bookends his novel with Williams’ missions to the Kwajalein Atoll during the American testing of nuclear bombs in the area, but Williams also finds time for other adventures: skirmishing with FBI agents involved in the Roswell coverup, chasing spies at the Presidio in Monterey, flying stealth missions over the Soviet Union, and in the book’s most riveting section, Williams’ getting shot down near the Aral Sea. Leptuch demonstrates impressive knowledge of each location and historical situation. The skipping from mission to mission can feel episodic at times, but Williams’ tough, knowledgeable and clever first-person narration holds the novel together. As engaging as Williams’ voice is, though, secondary characters can feel a bit one-dimensional. Many seem to function as nothing more than straight men for William’s admittedly enjoyable banter, and the occasional third-person reporting of other characters’ perspectives is disorienting. Some readers may also be frustrated with the frequent, lengthy passages of exposition regarding historical, military or technical subjects, which can detract from the action’s pace; however, readers with interest in these subjects will appreciate the levels of research and detail. Leptuch’s attention to historical context enhances the story’s complexity, going beyond the significant pleasures of action and adventure. As readers follow Williams’ story, they’ll also be treated to a sophisticated understanding of the Cold War’s early escalation.

A well-researched adventure novel about an overlooked period in U.S. military history.

Pub Date: Feb. 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-0578071817

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Capotuttidecapo Publishing Company

Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

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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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