Who knows what? Whom can we trust? Like David Mitchell’s Ghostwritten, Cleave’s provocative debut will make readers a little...

INCENDIARY

A grieving widow and mother composes a letter to Osama Bin Laden.

At points, Cleave’s oddly elegant debut novel about the soul-corroding effects of modern terrorism seems like something George Orwell might have written during the Blitz, had he been a little less concerned with the niceties of punctuation. Cleave opens with a high-wire burst of stream-of-consciousness grief on the part of a youngish but now careworn woman whose husband and son have been killed in a horrific suicide attack on the Arsenal football stadium: “I saw the video you made Osama where you said the West was decadent. Maybe you mean the West End? We aren’t all like that. London is a smiling liar his front teeth are very nice but you can smell his back teeth rotten and stinking.” Sinking into her mourning, she attempts to comfort herself with the thought that at least her son died in the company of his beloved father. It is not enough; sadness gives way to denial, and denial gives way to fury as the bereaved of London begin to suspect that the government knew something about the impending carnage and did nothing to stop it. Our narrator falls in with a fiercely ambitious columnist and an investigative journalist, with whom she had a brief, formless affair before the attack. Working as a civilian in an antiterrorist police unit at Scotland Yard, and urged on by her confidants, she discovers bits and pieces of information that, just in time for a new attack, collectively do much to slip the tether off whatever small mooring she has left in the world: “It is Christmas Eve Osama and this morning I decided you were right after all. . . . Some people are cruel and selfish and the world would be better off without them.”

Who knows what? Whom can we trust? Like David Mitchell’s Ghostwritten, Cleave’s provocative debut will make readers a little uneasy—and that’s okay.

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2005

ISBN: 0-307-26282-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2005

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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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