A suspenseful cautionary tale: Don’t play games with strangers.

THE MAGIC CIRCLE

Role-playing games take over New York City’s Morningside Park with calamitous consequences in Davidson’s (Invisible Things, 2010, etc.) latest novel.

Lucy, a poet and MFA graduate student, shares an apartment with Ruth, a postdoc in game theory and design. Their Swedish neighbor, Anna, has garnered a Fulbright scholarship to study the urban culture of outdoor gaming. Yet each woman harbors a secret weakness. Lucy’s tenuous, almost ghostly connection to life and Ruth’s eating disorder, however, pale in comparison to Anna’s past as a neglected child consigned to a psychiatric hospital. Both Lucy and Anna assist Ruth in constructing her latest game, Trapped in the Asylum, which uses contemporary technologies (GPS, smartphones) to recreate an 1890s community for the insane. Anna is soon inspired to develop her own, darker game that imagines evil forces impinging on the city itself. Players must—weirdly and erotically—reinforce the magical protective wards first set into the gardens and buildings designed by Olmstead and architectural giants McKim, Mead and White. The arrival of Anna’s charismatic brother, Anders, catalyzes a dangerous game, indeed. Based upon The Bacchae—Euripides’ unsettling dramatization of the tensions between the rational and the irrational, between reason and passion—this game employs live-action role playing. Casting Ruth as the logical Pentheus, Anna as the irrational Dionysus, the game is replete with maenads and enforcers recruited and mobilized via Gchats, text messages and blog posts. As the players take their roles more and more seriously, the game becomes disturbingly unpredictable. Despite some stilted dialogue, Davidson deftly orchestrates a startling collision between the classical and the contemporary, reality and play.

A suspenseful cautionary tale: Don’t play games with strangers.

Pub Date: March 26, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-544-02809-8

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Amazon/New Harvest

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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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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