Not nearly as romantic as its Casablanca namesake, Akley’s eponymous St. Louis dive bar is a sousing place for poignant...


The lives of three barflies intertwine in Akley’s (Crossroads from Damascus, 2011, etc.) latest novel.

Not nearly as romantic as its Casablanca namesake, Akley’s eponymous St. Louis dive bar is a sousing place for poignant losers with vague, purposeless anecdotes to tell. Among the regulars are Angela, a bartender whose heart was broken by her lover’s suicide; Jim, a man who suffered brain damage when he crashed his car after a girlfriend slipped him a dose of Percocet; and Sam, a struggling writer whose troubled life—marital problems, suicide attempts—forms the central thread in a tangle of intersecting character sketches. Framed by a bar-back mirror that comments on the people reflected in it, the storyline drifts among the interchangeable first-person broodings of the characters, gradually filling in details of their lives and snagging occasionally on desultory conversations and japes. Sprinkled in are some of Sam’s writings, including lyric poems—“bird flower come home! / and rest inside the holes / of my wood”—and a children’s story, as well as a random news article about homelessness in post-Katrina New Orleans. It’s hard to tell what is happening to whom in this braided, rambling picaresque, but that hardly matters since the uninvolving narrative mainly serves as a peg on which to hang hazy, abstract reflections on the meaning of life, a single paragraph of which can go on for 16 pages. Akley has a good feel for bar-room atmospherics and dialogue, but, unfortunately, the unfocused booziness spills over into his authorial voice. His stammering, sentimental pensées—“What you do doesn’t matter, and your reaction to this becomes either one of hope or despair, hope or despair in what happens after, after your life and what you’ve done with it”—go on endlessly; reading them feels like being trapped with a long-winded tavern philosopher.

Pub Date: April 28, 2011

ISBN: 978-1432774080

Page Count: 364

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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