A moody gothic tale that deftly explores gender fluidity in a genre setting.

CONCESSION STREET SECRETS

In this historical mystery, an intersex detective attempts to save her unrequited love from execution.

Canada, 1868. Alex O’Shea really wants to be a detective but instead works as a journalist and novelist, authoring mysteries to satisfy his crime-solving urges. While on assignment in Ottawa, he encounters a woman dressed in black who seems not to know where she is despite having lived all her life in the town. Mary Baker is kept as a veritable prisoner in her house by her own relatives, and the smitten Alex feels compelled to discover more about her. Eliza Malkins works as a printer for a Kingston newspaper, where her male co-workers ridicule her large size and resent her for doing “a job that rightfully belonged to a man.” She has feelings for Alex but fears to act on them due to her secret: She has both male and female sexual organs. When the death of her mother finally allows her the opportunity to try something new, Eliza decides to live as a man named Timothy Fairlight. As Tim, she aids Alex in his ever-more-obsessive investigation into the lives of the Bakers until, in an ironic twist of events, Alex becomes the suspect in a murder. Now Eliza—or rather, Tim—must assume the role of sleuth to prove Alex’s innocence. Smith’s (Deep Bright, 2013) prose is delightfully ominous, creating a gothic atmosphere that adeptly recalls the novel’s Victorian setting: “The street was deserted. The tall houses seemed to be leaning over to conspire with each other. He stepped in horse manure and used a pocket handkerchief to wipe it off. He risked walking under a streetlight to read his pocket watch, 11:58.” The identity-shifting Eliza makes for an intriguing hero with desires that are simultaneously familiar and complex. While the other characters mostly hew closely to their archetypes, the story is satisfying in the heightened way of a good whodunit. In the author’s capable hands, Ottawa and Kingston have never seemed so mysterious.

A moody gothic tale that deftly explores gender fluidity in a genre setting.

Pub Date: April 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5255-4754-6

Page Count: 300

Publisher: FriesenPress

Review Posted Online: July 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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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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