A shaky start to an already threatened series that can only improve.

VENUSIA

Narcotic flowers keep the masses placated in a decaying, dystopian, extraterrestrial colony in this ambitious but marginal sci-fi fantasy.

Debut novelist von Schlegell concocts a post-Earth benevolent dictatorship where, centuries after the home planet is rendered inhabitable, the population gathers en masse daily for “Feed.” Writes von Schlegell: “Like a castaway’s calendar carved in a piece of driftwood, Feed was a communal marking away of days.” Then a junk purveyor named Rogers Collectibles comes across a book of the colony’s secret early history, a time when humans did more than count the seconds until extinction. Soon Collectibles and his sort-of psychiatrist Sylvia Yang are skipping Feed and seeing their world as it really is. The expected run-in with authority ensues, involving a dwarf named Niftus Norrington, journalist Martha, funny-talking lizards and sentient (and sexy) plants. Von Schlegell’s kitchen-sink approach evokes the works of Neal Stephenson, Williams Burroughs and William Gibson—and, alas, much that feels snatched from a slush pile. The author has a knack for seeing profundity in the thunderously meaningless (“Homo Sapiens sees its real in the emptiness that its ‘real’ implies”). Disorientation may well be his aim, but it does not make for a satisfying narrative, as fidelity to storytelling gets lost in the muddle.

A shaky start to an already threatened series that can only improve.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2005

ISBN: 1-58435-026-1

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Semiotext(e)

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2005

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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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