An adequate collection of short stories and poetry, but the author’s commentary doesn't connect the parts into a cohesive...



A compilation of genre-spanning short works with behind-the-scenes style nonfictional interludes that chronicle an author’s struggle with drugs, debt and family.

This uniquely structured collection attempts to pull back the curtain on the writing process, using the author’s real-life accounts of working on the individual pieces while dealing with square jobs, family troubles, self-doubt and other demons. In Akley’s (Sweet Pea and the Bumblebee, 2007) world, the biggest monkey on his back is marijuana, along with all the hassles that come with the habit, and his dependency has lead him to as many interesting tales and inconveniences as his other obsession—writing—has. In between children’s stories, miniplays, poetry and prose come glimpses of the numerous hardships, locations and characters that have influenced these works, the collected accounts of a freelance lab technician just trying to make an honest living while publishing his stories and trying to score his next ounce. The book suggests a larger narrative will appear where fact meets fiction, but this ultimately fails, leaving the reader with disparate stories loosely connected by bits of memoir. The short pieces stand fine on their own— “Sweet Pea and the Bumblebee” and “The Candlestick,” both children’s tales, explore similar questions of identity but in different ways—while the bulk of novel’s poetry captures a muted sense of longing, even when just engaging in simple, fun observations. Of the prose, “Repentance” is the standout; replete with vivid imagery, it’s most notable for the subdued, nonjudgmental way it depicts personal interactions, featuring people struggling to make bad decisions that regrettably might be the best ones they can make. Themes like relevance, selfishness and self-interest reoccur throughout, even in the nonfiction passages, but like the book’s multiple religious musings and pop culture references, these feel like window dressings, adding little and rarely explored or expounded upon, just filling space, or in the case of the poems, metered time.

An adequate collection of short stories and poetry, but the author’s commentary doesn't connect the parts into a cohesive narrative.

Pub Date: April 18, 2011

ISBN: 978-1432773533

Page Count: 376

Publisher: Outskirts

Review Posted Online: Jan. 3, 2012

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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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