A well-written, surprisingly straightforward account of a not-so-straightforward war.

WE PIERCE

Second outing from Huebner (American by Blood, 2000) is pitched as a fictionalized version of the author’s relationship with his Gulf War veteran brother.

Sergeant E-5 Smith Huebner is trained to shoot the big gun in an M-1 A-1 Heavy Armor tank. He can kill with his hands or his weapon, and he knows that “the same firepower that guarded his life could kill him in an instant.” When he arrives with his group in Kuwait, tensions rise in an encounter with some Bedouins, but it will be a while before the war begins—and at least a month before anyone gets used to the heat. Back in the States, meanwhile, younger brother Sam, whom Smith had taught to smoke pot and who’s moved to New York to struggle as a writer, begins protesting the war and cultivating a drug habit. And Smith’s wife turns up pregnant. Smith is thrilled, but all he can do is document the army equipment and stare out into the desert. When the war finally begins, there’s no small amount of patriotic fanfare as a CO walks past the troops to ask what they’re fighting for and “the names, places and pledges filled the air.” Good thing, too, for it’s not long before Smith is putting tank shells through the chests of Iraqi officers. His crew feels bad about this, sure, but they’ll be fine, the reasoning goes, as long as they imagine themselves as the De Niro character in The Deer Hunter. Huebner (the author) has the banter of tank battles down and doesn’t approach war entirely without irony, but the very excitement of some sequences here feels celebratory. At end, Johnny comes marching home, and if there’s tension between the soldier and his peacenik brother it soon evaporates, and peace settles softly over the republic.

A well-written, surprisingly straightforward account of a not-so-straightforward war.

Pub Date: May 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-7432-1277-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2003

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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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