A rollicking adventure that sends up and pays homage.

NOBBY'S DIARY

In this short novel set in 1980s London, a boy becomes involved with an underground newspaper operation run by a group of homeless people.

Walker’s tale begins with an unusual premise. It’s 1985, and the city’s major newspapers are relocating their presses from Fleet Street to locations outside the city limits; the cost-cutting measure has dire consequences for the area’s homeless people, who rely on the warmth from the presses in winter. Speaking fondly of the warm air piped up to street level, the titular Nobby, an elder of the community, says, “It’s like having our own central heating system, only it’s outside. Lovely! Snug as a bug in a rug, even on the coldest nights.” However, Spencer Sweetnum, the 10-year-old son of a newspaperman, is the novel’s central character.When he discovers Nobby living in his parents’ shed, the two strike up an immediate friendship, and the elder man lets him in on a grand secret: the forsaken people of the city have come together to create their own paper to get heat flowing through the grates again. They’ve been stealing hardware from other papers’ presses and reassembling it in an abandoned tube station. To help his new comrades, Spencer must sneak around his father, who works in the circulation department at The Scribe. Meanwhile, the shadowy media baron who runs that newspaper, known only as the Proprietor, makes ready to crush his unlikely opposition. In one of several villainous speeches, he exclaims, “We seem to have been victimized by—indeed, have been outsmarted by—no less than four bums and a boy!”

Walker builds a colorful cast of characters in this novel. Like many child protagonists, Spencer doesn’t offer much beyond a sunny, energetic disposition, but Nobby and his friends’ characterizations more than make up for it. There’s Caractacus, who has an eye patch with “an eye crudely drawn on it,” and the enigmatic Kipper, who strikes quite a figure—although the author pays closer attention to his odor, which brings to mind “a touch of something recently deceased.” Mavis, the newspaper’s fashion editor, stylishly dresses in clipped-together plastic bags. And there’s the charismatic Nobby, a talkative old schemer with a big heart. Walker brings this crew to life as well as their unlikely iconoclastic newspaper, The Daily Bread, ostensibly founded just to keep them all warm. However, implausibilities abound: Kipper, for instance, happens to be an engineering genius who’s able to reassemble an entire press from purloined parts, and Spencer’s parents conveniently forget about him for long periods of time as he hangs out underground. But this is a heightened world of slapstick antics, and a few gaps of logic don’t stop the author from having fun, which makes for an enjoyable read. In one memorable scene, for example, a group is cornered by heavies working for the Proprietor. Kipper, like a malodorous superhero, flaps his lapels to waft a “greenish fog” at their pursuers.

A rollicking adventure that sends up and pays homage.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-69229-516-5

Page Count: 147

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Aug. 15, 2020

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If novelists are auditioning to play God, Hilderbrand gets the part.

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GOLDEN GIRL

From the greenroom of the afterlife—make that Benjamin Moore "Parsley Snips" green—a newly dead Nantucket novelist watches life unfold without her.

In her 27th novel, Hilderbrand gives herself an alter ego—beloved beach-novel author Vivian Howe—sends her out for a morning jog, and immediately kills her off. A hit-and-run driver leaves Vivi dead by the side of the road, where her son's best friend discovers her body—or was he responsible for the accident? Vivi doesn't know, nor does she know yet that her daughter Willa is pregnant, or that her daughter Carson is having a terribly ill-advised affair, or that her son, Leo, has a gnawing secret, or that her ex is getting tired of the girl he dumped her for. She will discover all this and more as she watches one last summer on Nantucket play out under the tutelage of Martha, her "Person," who receives her in the boho-chic waiting room of the Beyond. Hermès-scarved Martha explains that Vivi will have three nudges—three chances to change the course of events on Earth and prevent her bereaved loved ones from making life-altering mistakes. She will also get to watch the publication of what will be her last novel, titled Golden Girl, natch, and learn the answers to two questions: Will the secret about her own life she buried in this novel come to light (who cares, really—she's dead now), and will it hit No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list (now there's an interesting question). She'll also get to see that one of her biggest wrongs is posthumously righted and that her kids have learned her most important lesson. As Willa says to Carson, "You know how she treats the characters in her books? She gives them flaws, she portrays them doing horrible things—but the reader loves them anyway. Because Mom loves them. Because they’re human.”

If novelists are auditioning to play God, Hilderbrand gets the part.

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-31642008-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021

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Unlike baseball, basketball has contributed little to world literature. Call this Exhibit A.

SOOLEY

Legal eagle and mystery maven Grisham shifts gears with a novel about roundball.

What possessed Grisham to stop writing about murder in the Spanish moss–dripping milieus of the Deep South is anyone’s guess, and why he elected to write about basketball, one might imagine, speaks to some deep passion for the game. The depth of that love doesn’t quite emerge in these pages, flat of affect, told almost as if a by-the-numbers biography of an actual player. As it is, Grisham invents an all-too-believable hero in Samuel Sooleymon, who plays his way out of South Sudan, a nation wrought by sectarian violence—Sooley is a Dinka, Grisham instructs, of “the largest ethnic class in the country,” pitted against other ethnic groups—and mired in poverty despite the relative opulence of the capital city of Juba, with its “tall buildings, vibrancy, and well-dressed people.” A hard-charging but heart-of-gold coach changes his life when he arrives at the university there, having been dismissed earlier as a “nonshooting guard.” Soon enough Sooley is sinking three-pointers with alarming precision, which lands him a spot on an American college team. Much of the later portion of Grisham’s novel bounces between Sooley’s on-court exploits, jaw-dropping as they are, and his efforts to bring his embattled family, now refugees from civil war, to join him in the U.S.; explains Grisham, again, “Beatrice and her children were Dinka, the largest tribe in South Sudan, and their strongman was supposedly in control of most of the country,” though evidently not the part where they lived. Alas, Sooley, beloved of all, bound for a glorious career in the NBA, falls into the bad company that sudden wealth and fame can bring, and it all comes crashing down in a morality play that has only the virtue of bringing this tired narrative to an end.

Unlike baseball, basketball has contributed little to world literature. Call this Exhibit A.

Pub Date: April 27, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-385-54768-0

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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