A meandering, unrelentingly bleak read but one which rewards patient readers with an authentic slice of the hard life.

LITTLE MOCOS

A collection of tough fiction set in the poverty-stricken streets of southern Colorado.

Relles “Manito” Ortiz (“the only Ortiz worth a damn”) is one of a crew of “little mocos” in foster care, living in Huerfano County, Colorado, and intermittently earning their keep in the onion fields of New Mexico. Manito’s journey from ragamuffin street kid to damaged adult is peppered with digressions into the lives of others in the ragtag community: his cousin Bea, who, in the words of her aunt, will likely end up either “dead or pregnant”; Ray “Cornbread” Vigil, Bea’s estranged father, a career criminal and local legend; Neto, Manito’s alcoholic wastrel of an uncle; and Manito’s grandfather Santiago, whose determination to hold his extended family together is threatened when he beats down a razor-packing drunk. Their stories interweave over decades: there are births, backyard weddings, and deaths from natural and unnatural causes. Grinding poverty, stretches in prison, and military service are perennial events, and the struggle to rise above the poverty line is more often than not stymied by circumstance and self-destructive behavior, with happy endings defined more by stability than status. Jaramillo’s (The House of Order, 2011) second novel in stories builds on his debut collection, and fans of that work will likely find much to enjoy here. His writing is crisp, concise, and realistic, with a gimlet eye for the details of his characters’ grim existences. This sense of focus doesn’t extend to the wider structure, however; overall, the work feels less like a novel in stories than it does a collection of flash fiction, prone to digressions without resolution. Some readers may struggle to see beyond its litany of misery and abuse or pine for a novel in which Manito and Bea are the focal characters instead of lost in a sea of other stories. Then again, its sprawling, excursive style, similar to that of the raconteurs it portrays, may be entirely the point.

A meandering, unrelentingly bleak read but one which rewards patient readers with an authentic slice of the hard life.

Pub Date: June 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9987057-1-2

Page Count: 179

Publisher: Twelve Winters Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 26, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2017

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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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