MIDNIGHT IN MALAMULELE

In Bartos’ mystery debut, an American teacher staying at a South African convent uses her skills as a former crime reporter to solve the murder of a nun.
Annabelle Chase, when not teaching crime reporting in Denver, spends her summers in Malamulele, at a convent where her late aunt was a nun. The normally tranquil convent is thrown into disarray when Sister Valaria is found murdered, her head nearly severed. Annabelle’s pal, Sister Bridget, is a quick suspect; she’d had an argument with Valaria not long ago, culminating with a threat from Bridget. But Annabelle soon realizes that Bridget may have been the intended target, especially after someone tries to grab Bridget and the two friends share an unwelcome encounter with a cobra in Annabelle’s car. Annabelle investigates Valaria’s murder with handsome Detective Baloyi, and a series of ritual killings, similar to ones from a couple years prior, may have something to do with recent events. The novel establishes itself as a murder mystery right away, opening with a scream in the night. The story’s winsome amateur-sleuth protagonist is in perpetual interrogation mode; she asks Bridget, her closest chum at the convent, rather bluntly, “Did you kill Sister Valaria?” Even being kidnapped doesn’t stop Annabelle from drilling her captor(s) with questions. There are a number of genuinely unsettling moments, like a figure moving in a dark courtyard at the convent or simple accounts of the ritual murders. But the story also uses a subtle humor; e.g., Annabelle notes that nun Bridget’s not “in the habit of breaking her word.” The relationship and eventual intimacy between Annabelle and Baloyi is predictable, but the romance and ongoing murder case are well-balanced. Though it’s a treat to watch the mystery unravel and Annabelle work her way through the pieces, the revelations do rely a little too heavily on coincidence, particularly concerning character relations. This, however, doesn’t detract from Bartos’ bright depictions of South Africa’s skies.
Appealing characters and settings enhance this unnerving murder mystery.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2014

ISBN: 978-1502945044

Page Count: 300

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 11, 2014

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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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