An enthralling, cozy tale set in an era when folklore reigned over science.

THE WINTER SISTERS

A historical novel spins a yarn of a skeptical doctor and a trio of folk healers who team up to try to save a Georgia town from a deadly disease.

North Georgia, 1822. Savannah doctor Aubrey Waycross has been invited to the remote town of Lawrenceville to provide the locals with proper medical care—and, in his mind, to dispel some of their backward superstitions, such as a ghost panther stalking the hills. But the citizens of Lawrenceville already know where to get their healing. A few miles outside of town in Hope Hollow, three sisters—Rebecca, Sarah, and Effie Winter—are renowned for their cures for everything from sneezes to rheumatism. Some regard the sisters as witches—Pastor Boatwright insists the panther is their familiar—but Waycross assumes they are merely frauds. Charlatans, of course, can still be dangerous. “What if this supposed panther…put its teeth into human flesh?” worries Waycross. “What if, in their benightedness, the afflicted went to the Winter sisters for treatment? These so-called witches might spread the contagion with some superstition about pouring out blood at a crossroads.” Yet Waycross must admit that the Winters have a knack for unexplained healings, and there does seem to be some sort of big cat in the woods. The physician can’t help but become increasingly fascinated by the sisters, whose ways are as old as the mountains. As Waycross contends with his own ether addiction, Lawrenceville is in danger of a rabies outbreak, and the doctor alone may not be enough to save it. As the pastor preaches his own brand of unscientific cures, Waycross will have to rely on these mysterious “colleagues” if he wants to save the people of Lawrenceville from a terrible fate. Westover’s (The Old Weird South, 2012, etc.) prose is wonderfully detailed, capturing the lushness and grit of his superstition-ruled setting: “The odor was not pleasant. It smelled of too many herbs all at once, basil and rosemary mixed with an overpowering lavender, as well as the spiciness of rhododendron, the sharp tang of pine, and the musk of something decocted from a toadstool.” Readers will be intrigued right from the book’s atmospheric opening, when Waycross’ reluctant carriage driver warns him of all the dangers that haunt Lawrenceville. The story is ultimately less of a gothic fantasy than a slow-moving, slightly magical realist novel that takes as its subject the denizens of a colorful little town. The time and place—antebellum rural Georgia, equally distant from the Revolutionary and Civil wars—feel refreshingly unexplored. There are moments when the story dawdles, but the author has created such an attractive world to inhabit that its conservative pace is not much cause for concern. Westover manages to stick the landing, bringing his doctor’s unlikely investigation into miracles to a wise and affecting conclusion. Solid writing and strong characters buoy this examination of a captivating moment in American history when old beliefs encountered the new.

An enthralling, cozy tale set in an era when folklore reigned over science.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9849748-9-4

Page Count: 322

Publisher: QW Publishers

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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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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