Charlie eventually gets his shot in the ring, but the selfless, obstinate protagonist is already a champ.

North Beach

In the fourth of Arceneaux’s (Ransom Island, 2014, etc.) Gulf Coast thriller series, a 15-year-old athlete hopes to clear his professional boxing pal of a murder charge.

1962 is a year of change for both Charlie Sweetwater and his home country of America. While the Cuban missile crisis has citizens fearing nuclear war, he revels in young love, courtesy of Carmen Delfín. But Charlie confronts his share of challenges, too. Stubby Hunsacker, owner of the Texas boxing gym where Charlie and older brother Johnny regularly train, turns up dead, apparently murdered. Cops arrest Cuban boxer Jesse Martel, Carmen’s uncle. For some people, the case is cut and dried—it’s seemingly evident that a person of color has killed a white man. At the same time, agents from an (initially) unnamed organization question Jesse’s loyalty to the U.S. But Charlie and Johnny believe in Jesse’s innocence. There’s no shortage of others who may have killed Stubby, including thuggish Miami promoters wanting to sponsor Jesse, as well as Jesse’s shady friend, Ramón Cruz, who the brothers suspect is a spy for Cuba. And to make certain Jesse steers clear of death row, Charlie and Johnny may have to find the murderer themselves. Arceneaux’s story is a smashing blend of a coming-of-age tale and a suspenseful thriller. Charlie may say goodbye to his virginity, and the high school sophomore makes the varsity football team. Ominous events, however, occur simultaneously: before the murder even happens, the gym gets hit with a break-in, an office is trashed, and there’s an explosion. The author can take readers from Charlie’s teenage perspective to a state of panic with ease: the brothers’ worry that they’re late to an early-morning workout is quickly offset when they spot Mafioso types roughing up Stubby. Sure, Charlie earns reader sympathy right away when he suffers the brunt of Karl McDevitt’s bullying at the gym. But it’s his actions that make him laudable and not just his tireless support of Jesse. When he stands up to Carmen’s mom, who clearly disapproves of her daughter’s palurdo (hick) boyfriend, it’s something to be admired.

Charlie eventually gets his shot in the ring, but the selfless, obstinate protagonist is already a champ.

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9968797-1-2

Page Count: 270

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2016

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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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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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