A religious-themed comedy of errors that presents a wry yet ultimately affectionate look at the state of godliness today.

The Freedom of Will

A gentle satire about one young man’s quest to find his spiritual identity.

When readers first meet teenager William James Tillit, the unlikely but good-hearted hero of Clatterbaugh’s debut novel, he’s in his bedroom in his aunt and uncle’s house, talking with God. But in Will’s case, God talks back to him directly—and often sarcastically. Will has been living with his aunt and uncle for most of his 19 years, but now, after obtaining a deferred admission to Tulane University, he’ll be traveling from Louisiana to East Texas to take a job working at the Galilee Theme Park run by the Rev. Shister. The prospect of the road trip excites him, although God is more phlegmatic about the whole idea, because Will is eager to experience the larger outside world. But his trip turns out to be far more adventurous than his highest hopes. Clatterbaugh expertly orchestrates a set of sometimes-funny, sometimes-touching, and always thought-provoking predicaments for Will, from attending a glitzy “mega-megachurch” whose motto is “Trust in the Lord—Guaranteed” (God himself is less than impressed) to meeting an agnostic hamster named Ham. Before Will can reach his theme park destination, he’s confronted by ultrazealous, psychotic doomsday preppers and captured by a fundamentalist militia group. As God puts it, the trip “sets a new standard in the broadening horizons department.” Along the way and seamlessly worked into the narrative, Will and his new friends and enemies manage to discuss many debate topics of current Christian theology, always in an energetic, approachable way. Clatterbaugh draws even the most outrageous characters with believable humanity, including God, whose running commentary on Will’s life is the comedic highlight of the book. Christians will love the strange concoction he serves up in these pages, and non-Christians will appreciate the evenhandedness of the many spiritual discussions.

A religious-themed comedy of errors that presents a wry yet ultimately affectionate look at the state of godliness today.

Pub Date: June 24, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4602-8302-8

Page Count: 318

Publisher: FriesenPress

Review Posted Online: Aug. 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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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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