A sophisticated, comic novel that brilliantly captures the triumph and folly of art, media, and publishing.

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The Dead of August

A London obituary writer is called to the home of a reclusive artist with a mysterious agenda in Cacoyannis’ debut novel.

James Linthwaite works for the Herald, a London tabloid that’s gaining popularity because of his innovative, witty obituaries. He’s become semifamous around town, but his notoriety is nothing compared with his wife June’s. She’s the author of “posh porn” books, including a bestseller called Susan’s Phallacy that’s flying off the shelves. Although James and June consider her writing to be a radical feminist take on erotic fiction, everyone else simply considers it fairly well-written smut. The Linthwaites have a teenage son named Josh who’s just beginning to have some sexual adventures of his own. Amid success at work and at home, James nonetheless finds his life to be inwardly and outwardly in turmoil, as suggestions of affairs, fears about his marriage’s longevity, and a few alcohol-poisoned nights lead him down some seriously confused paths. Then James’ editor asks him to go on a particularly odd assignment to meet an artist in the south of England. A recluse named Max has invited three writers to his home, each instructed to spend time with him and then write his 900-word obituary. The purpose of the exercise will be revealed later, during an art event, and its consequences will affect James and his career in numerous ways. Cacoyannis writes in a breezy yet erudite way, with eloquent language and insight sharing space with truly funny running jokes. James’ life is at once complicated and complete, imperfect and scary, but somehow just as it should be. The depiction of James and June’s marriage is particularly impressive; the author writes with such passion about insecurities, lust, violence, and love that the characters’ faults and flaws only make them more vivid. The Linthwaites are intellectual but not always politically correct, and they love Pedro Almodóvar films and good wine with venison steaks. They live in a London that’s suitably fast-paced and cutting-edge, and Cacoyannis has a firm yet humorous grasp of the vernacular and culture of personal and professional worlds ranging from Fleet Street to Soho and beyond. James has a kind of fame that’s fairly risky: one daring obituary that goes too far could make the industry and the public turn their backs on him. Indeed, all of the characters take risks, and it’s to the author’s credit that this madcap, smart story has an introspective protagonist whose dedication to his rebellious family is so well-imagined.

A sophisticated, comic novel that brilliantly captures the triumph and folly of art, media, and publishing.

Pub Date: Dec. 28, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-5190-5692-4

Page Count: 371

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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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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