Brilliant, at once dense and ethereal; rewards multiple readings.

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RADIAL BLOOM

Ratto Parks’ (Song of Days, Torn and Mended, 2015, etc.) mosaic novel pieces together the inner life of a woman through a succession of prose poems.

After alliteratively establishing her “normalcy” in the prologue—“Before you know the rest, you should know this: I live in a pleasant house on a quiet street in a modern-day Mayberry with mountains”—Ratto Parks’ protagonist proceeds to tell of her most irregular inner being in a series of poetic vignettes. The pieces focus on a man, perhaps a muse, perhaps a ghost, or maybe an adult version of an imaginary friend, a conjured personification of cravings, desires, and thwarted fulfillment; he is sometimes a lover, sometimes cruel, and sometimes just a friend playing catch with a baseball. Ratto Parks’ work is contemplative and original: “I sat at the end of the long hall of myself watching my life while I witnessed all of those sacred places invaded” or “the silent ghost of old traffic made every sound bright.” She augments her own polished verse with references, allusions, and outright quotes from a wide variety of people and sources: Dante, T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, R.M. Rilke, and even John Wayne. Hallucinatory and dreamlike, the author repeatedly considers themes of loss either in water (“Then we finally gave in to the stones in our pockets and we sank through the salt brine”) or simply into thin air (“off like kites blowing endless through the ether”). Throughout, her dream man and dream land prove as fickle as reality. He often comes and goes at whim; appearing and disappearing without warning: “He was there after the rain, in the night lawns, thick and arcing, and I could feel him leaving me, falling away from the fabric of human air.”

Brilliant, at once dense and ethereal; rewards multiple readings.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-61019-114-2

Page Count: 84

Publisher: Folded Word

Review Posted Online: Oct. 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

BAREFOOT

Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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