A likable, if unevenly executed, coming-of-age story that sets grim history against carefree childhood days.



From the Katzenstein Kids series

Sullivan’s debut novel tells the story of four school friends’ summer adventure investigating a long-buried mystery.

In 1942, Nazi soldiers on patrol in Egypt uncover what they call a “Red Ruby”—code for an artifact of supernatural power—which officers commandeer. They task their prisoner, a Jewish comic-book artist named Herman Katzenstein—who studied under an Egyptologist—with translating the object’s hieroglyphs. If he can do so, his life will be spared and he’ll be reunited with his daughter. Fast-forward to 1979, and 13-year-old Will McMurphy and his best friends, Isaac and Dez, are gearing up for a summer of idling. All three boys have troubles at home, but in their treehouse, they’re able to relax, read comics, and listen to music. Their holidays take an adventurous turn when 13-year-old Amy Howard joins their group and they come into possession of a comic book from 1939—written by Katzenstein. But soon, the four friends find that a scary Russian woman in a black Mercedes is following them. What dangerous secrets does the comic book hold? And what happened to Katzenstein and his daughter? Sullivan writes in a workmanlike, unpolished manner, describing events in a fashion that feels more like a movie than a novel. This, combined with the book’s lengthy historical opening, makes for a slow beginning. After Will and his friends enter the story, though, the text comes alive, as the teens bring urgency and a bubbling liveliness to the proceedings; the appealing tone feels like a cross between Enid Blyton’s work and Stranger Things. With Amy’s inclusion, the others behave in a more mature manner. Ultimately, various narrative elements tie together to make the Katzenstein Kids’ first adventure a page-turner. (A smattering of black-and-white illustrations by debut artist Suarez add texture, but they’re too infrequent to do the book justice.)

A likable, if unevenly executed, coming-of-age story that sets grim history against carefree childhood days.

Pub Date: Nov. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-73424-431-1

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2020

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.


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.


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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