Art history buffs will be elated with this gem, but the bold prose and devotion to the genre is all-inclusive.

THE LOST BOTTICELLI

As an art curator gets close to finally proving the existence of a long-lost painting, he must fend off accusations of theft and a greedy, dangerous man in Stephano’s debut historical mystery.

Daniel Bradley, curator at the Pitman Art Museum, is traveling to Italy as courier for the Donatello’s Christus, a $50-million statue being loaned for a Donatello exhibit. Daniel is also meeting with his old art history professor, Paolo Bertolini, who relays shocking news—two German brothers claim to have a tondo (circular painting) from Botticelli, one that Daniel, who’d written a book on the artist, surmised was lost more than 500 years ago. But Daniel’s troubles have already started: The Christus is gone from its crate upon arrival in Milan, replaced by a cheap bronze statue, and someone may be framing him for the hefty loss. His situation worsens when Werner, one of the brothers, who’s incurred gambling debts, enters the picture. Werner wants to sell the Botticelli painting for personal gain, and that means threatening Daniel, Paolo and art restorer (and Daniel’s old flame) Laura to expedite the authentication process. The novel brims with art history, including details of Botticelli’s past, and hops back in time to the late 15th century, prior to the tondo’s creation, and its history beyond the artist’s death. But the rich historical background never overwhelms the story, thanks to a remarkable mystery, including damning evidence found on Daniel’s computer; comic relief from Daniel’s cynical and flamboyant friend (and fellow art curator) Jeremy; and a startling death, as well as a kidnapping. Pictures of Botticelli’s art are inserted into the book, which should help readers visualize or remember his paintings. Similarly, Daniel’s metaphors are appropriately (and amusingly) art-inspired; some may be lost on the average reader, but most are literarily visual: Sleep eludes Daniel “like a nymph fleeing a satyr in a Renaissance painting.” The novel’s latter pages are noticeably more intense; thugs are actively looking for Daniel and others, and Stephano neatly resolves both the Christus and Botticelli storylines. There are elements, however, left open; Daniel’s relationship with his minister brother, given only a few details, begs for a sequel, while the unsettling ending stands on its own.

Art history buffs will be elated with this gem, but the bold prose and devotion to the genre is all-inclusive.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2014

ISBN: 978-1926847504

Page Count: 352

Publisher: High Interest Publishing

Review Posted Online: Sept. 27, 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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