An entertaining story that doesn’t quite meet the challenge posed by its narrative structure.

PALS FOREVER

MEMOIRS OF A LABRADOR IN HIS OWN WORDS

Hamilton (Shiloh to Durham Station, 2011, etc.) teams up with his artistic grandson to deliver a fictionalized account of the life and times of the family’s beloved dog, Spade.

A family adopts and brings to its Michigan farm an 8-week-old black Labrador retriever, Sir Spade of Hamilton. Father trains Spade in basic obedience, teaching him to fetch and retrieve downed birds. But the playful young pup doesn’t always follow the rules: Spade’s first misadventure sees him sneaking off the farm to the local schoolyard, where he’s captured by the dogcatcher. Subsequent exploits include accidentally eating a whole baseball (requiring an unhappy visit to the vet), defending his property from intruding dogs, a smelly encounter with a skunk and spending an entire summer hostage to a local hermit. At one point, Spade even manages to subdue a troublesome motorcycle gang, holding the ringleader down until the sheriff arrives. As he grows from puppy to seasoned canine, Spade spends less time tearing around the property with the three Hamilton sons and more time lying on the porch beside Father’s chair. His love for the family, however, never falters. The author tells the story of Spade’s life in a series of vignettes that offer brief glimpses into the dog’s mind. This narrative technique will, obviously, require readers to suspend their disbelief, although the story doesn’t do much to assist. Extremely anthropocentric turns of phrase often knock readers out of the book’s conceit. Additionally, rambling descriptions of events detract from the story. Illustrator Hamilton’s artwork is inconsistent in quality; some drawings are detailed and realistic, others struggle with perspective. However, they enliven this amusing if uneven tale.

An entertaining story that doesn’t quite meet the challenge posed by its narrative structure.

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2012

ISBN: 978-1467919647

Page Count: 142

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2012

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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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