A sweet, but not saccharine, comic novel.

Animal Cracker

Fed-up employees of a Boston pet-shelter network plot the comeuppance of their egomaniacal boss in this comic novel.

Diane Salvi, 25, the new communications director of the Animal Protection Organization, is a conscientious animal lover who wants to make a real contribution. But her boss, Hal Mason, keeps thwarting her best ideas in favor of his own vanity projects. Her co-workers—Hal’s assistant, Betty, and Southern belle fundraising director, Mary-Day—are smart women, dedicated to animal welfare. They sympathize with Diane, but Hal is the board of directors’ golden boy, despite his crudity and malapropisms. (At one point, Diane describes him as “Brad Pitt on the outside, Borat on the inside.”) When Hal finally overreaches, Diane and friends begin a covert investigation, aided by Diane’s friend and roommate Genie, a reporter for a local paper—but Diane’s relationship with Mark, Hal’s son, complicates things. A novel that features abandoned pets and animals could be heavy-handed, but Brown ((A)Musings, 2013, etc.) has a light touch, acknowledging sadness but avoiding gratuitous sentimentality. The characters’ well-developed back stories allow readers to make sense of their personalities and choices. Diane’s wry, comic voice is smart and enjoyable, and her romantic travails realistically lead her to greater self-knowledge. Hal’s well-drawn narcissism is funny and exasperating, and the excerpt from the book he’s “writing” is a dead-on portrayal of egotistical self-delusion. Brown’s exploration of Hal’s character also goes beneath the surface to look at the politics of Boston’s academic and Brahmin worlds. The author’s real-life experience with professional fundraising makes such concerns in the novel ring true. In the end, Diane and her friends cook up an extremely satisfying and well-timed showdown that will leave readers satisfied.

A sweet, but not saccharine, comic novel.

Pub Date: June 6, 2013

ISBN: 978-1484107607

Page Count: 254

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 11, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2013

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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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