A delightfully irreverent opera tale that should especially appeal to Mozart fans.



Murder and mayhem threaten to derail the premiere of The Marriage of Figaro in this mystery.

It is April 21, 1786, and the first stage rehearsal of Mozart’s Figaro is about to begin in Vienna’s Court Theater. The opera is based on Beaumarchais’ anti-royalist play written in 1778 and banned but widely read in Vienna. The room vibrates with excitement and more than a little salacious gossip. The melodramatic cast chatters away while assorted Viennese court luminaries indulge in contemptuous snickering. The composer, nervous but resplendently attired and meticulously coiffed, gives the signal to raise the curtain. A piercing scream rings out as a dangling body descends, entwined in the rigging. Herr von Haegelin, “the Imperial theatrical censor,” has evidently committed suicide—or was he murdered? So begins Larson’s (Sam, 2012) ribald, clever romp, a narrative brimming with lust, rivalry, deception, scandalous liaisons, and palace intrigue. The novel is written in the form of an opera, divided into Overtures, Acts, Scenes, and a concluding Stretto rather than chapters. Mozart’s friend and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte, “Court Poet to the Italian theater,” is arrested on trumped-up charges and eventually accused of killing von Haegelin. Mozart is distraught, obsessively concerned with the premiere of his opera on the Viennese stage. He passionately bemoans his fate to his wife, Constanze, saying of Da Ponte: “I need him desperately to do the mise-en-scène and general diva pacification and crowd control! Some devilish plot is being worked to spoil my play!” Together, they strive to uncover the truth behind von Haegelin’s death. It is not necessary to be well versed in opera to enjoy Larson’s scathing portrait of demanding divas, pompous tenors, and an emotionally overwrought, albeit genius, composer. But some familiarity helps. The frequent use of genre-specific terminology and untranslated pieces of dialogue in Italian and French are likely to frustrate many readers. Nonetheless, there is plenty to like in this rollicking, madcap story: historical details about the rebellious political forces sweeping the continent, vivid depictions of 18th-century styles and prejudices, and a naughty sense of humor.

A delightfully irreverent opera tale that should especially appeal to Mozart fans.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-939113-33-7

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Savvy Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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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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