A hilariously funny, compact volume about a hotel’s denizens that delivers well-aimed zingers—a winner.

The Zonderling

In this comic novel, a young Midwestern woman moves to an eccentric residential hotel in New York City.

Heather Baumhauer, 27, fresh master’s degree in hand, has no intention of staying in her tiny hometown of Poubelle, Wisconsin: “I’m not going to spreadsheet my life away in snowmobile insurance.” She dreams of moving to New York, where she can meet people from other places and have exotic experiences like riding the subway, eating real bagels, and working in “Something just really international.” Desperate for affordable housing, Heather discovers The Zonderling, a residential hotel for women run by the Altruistic Army. The hotel bears some resemblance to the famous Barbizon (“In the world of New York boardinghouses, the Barbizon was an elegant, fashionable sorority house. The Zonderling was a scrappy Muppets’ Happiness Hotel”). Bathrooms are shared, electricity is sketchy, and few rooms have air conditioning—but the rent remains affordable, something of a miracle. A friendly resident named Jennifer Vang fills Heather and her new North Dakotan roommate, Emily, in on other Zonderling denizens: “Stinky Carrie and Porn Lisa, not to be confused with Normal Lisa,” for example, and the infamous Loretta, an elderly longtime resident who annoys everyone. Heather and Emily pursue employment and learn how to get along in New York, finally joining Jennifer to bring Loretta her richly deserved comeuppance. Niebruegge (Mistake, Wisconsin, 2014) is a gifted comedy writer, with the gems coming fast in this zippy novel. She deftly skewers New York types like “classic finance bros” or ventures like the Urban Woodsman Workshop, whose wooden toys are handcrafted upstate: “The toy manager called it ‘farm to playground.’ ” The novel explores the culture clash faced by Emily and Heather with insight as well as humor; it’s not that Midwesterners aren’t aggressive, but they “preferred hate-baking a cake without adding enough vanilla, and giving it to their nemesis with an I-hate-you smile.” Her portrait of The Zonderling, however zany, feels both affectionate and authentic, leaving readers wanting more.

A hilariously funny, compact volume about a hotel’s denizens that delivers well-aimed zingers—a winner.

Pub Date: Nov. 30, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9908710-3-3

Page Count: 170

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 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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