A more robust comic sense might have redeemed this plotless work; no such luck.

BACK IN THE GAME

Here’s another happy-go-lucky loser to join the protagonists of Apology for Big Rod (1997) and Nice (2001); Holdefer’s fourth novel is less inventive than its predecessors. 

Stanley Mercer is the product of a small-town American childhood; he’s back in the U.S. after a 14-year absence. His career in minor league baseball had taken him to Latin America and eventually France, where he’d lived for four years until his French girlfriend dumped him and his French boss fired him. Now he’s staying with his brother in Chicago without a clue what to do next, until his sister-in-law points out an ad. An elementary school in the small town of Legion, Iowa, is looking for a substitute teacher. Stan’s the man. You might think his colorful past would fill out his character, but no. He’s a blank, and a blank he remains. Holdefer casts around for items of interest in this dull town. Stanley is renting a farmhouse that used to be a meth lab until the cops closed it. He finds $640 in an old jacket; in a wasted opportunity, no tweaker returns to claim his stash. There’s a huge hog farm nearby which poses an excremental threat, fulfilled when raw sewage spills into the river. As for Stanley’s sex life, it’s unproductive. A Chicago nurse’s email suggestion that they sleep together meant literally that: no sex, as Stanley finds out too late. This leaves Amy Rawlings, the mother of one of Stanley’s students. She’s off-limits, a gut feeling tells Stanley, but when did he pay attention to them? Amy has a stormy marriage to a realtor who’s also a tweaker (no avoiding that meth) and a wild man. The only drama in the novel flows from that marriage, leaving Stanley on the periphery. The jig is up for him when the principal discovers he’s been teaching without a degree.

A more robust comic sense might have redeemed this plotless work; no such luck.

Pub Date: June 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-57962-265-7

Page Count: 206

Publisher: Permanent Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2012

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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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