A methodically paced but wholly engaging literary tale that revels in its dreamlike plot.

WHEN A STRANGER COMES...

In this psychological thriller, an author hoping to match her bestselling debut’s success signs a lucrative contract that nudges her into a nightmarish world.

Alexa Wainwright has written quite a few novels since her first book. But while A Foregone Conclusion stayed at No. 1 for a year, her subsequent works haven’t cracked the top 10. Her chance to be a winner again comes from her copy editor, Margaret Hathaway, who introduces Alexa to Alex. His last name is eerily Wainwright, and he is a dead ringer for Foregone character Rick. Alex wants to make Alexa’s not-yet-completed trilogy into a film, but she resists, as the movie adaptation of her debut bombed. The full offer from the company Alex represents, Trinity of Sixes, is unbelievable, promising millions for movies and future books. Reluctant, Alexa meets CEO/Chairman King Blakemore, a surreal encounter in which the novelist is disoriented and sees others resembling characters from her stories. She’s later shocked to learn she has evidently signed a contract with the company. As Trinity slowly turns her newest psychological tale into an erotica piece for mass appeal, Alexa is stuck; the contract language keeps inexplicably changing, closing off potential loopholes. She’s soon certain the company name is a sign: Alexa has made a deal with the devil. Bell’s (Sunspots, 2012, etc.) novel is a sometimes-convoluted but riveting story. Readers, for example, will be just as startled as Alexa by plot twists: her apparent doppelgänger; the suddenly appearing basement door in her home; and a surprising death or two. Answers aren’t easy to come by, which is befitting of the protagonist, who entertains notions that she’s being drugged, hallucinating, or perhaps losing her mind. Regardless, her plight is grounded by her parallel, Jodie, her more relatable literary character drawn to abusive relationships, akin to Alexa’s inability to escape the ruthless contract. The final act addresses various mysteries, including Alexa’s murky history (she isn’t sure of her mother’s birth date), while the ending is appropriately—and smartly—open to interpretation.

A methodically paced but wholly engaging literary tale that revels in its dreamlike plot.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5497-7232-0

Page Count: 222

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2018

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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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