The message is good, but the writing is not.

AMERICA LIBRE

Cautionary debut novel imagines a chain of events in the Latin American community that causes one man to go to extreme measures to protect his family.

In El Paso, Texas, police shoot a young Latina in the streets, prompting riots throughout the community. The National Guard is called in and, fearing attack, they open fire on a crowd, killing 23 and inciting a dangerous backlash in Latino communities across the country. In Los Angeles, Mano Suarez is trying to ignore the chaos outside his home while he looks for a job. He is a decorated veteran and a trained mechanic, but the deep recession has made it impossible for him to find work and provide for his family. Mano happens on a bookstore that claims to be a front for a recycling company, and the owner, feisty Uruguayan-born, Stanford-educated Jo Herrera, offers him a job driving for her. He soon finds out that the recycling company is also a front, for a radical Hispanic liberation group; Mano has been hired not as a driver, but as a bodyguard. A self-proclaimed apolitical patriot, he’s wary of the job. But his family needs the money, and as he spends more time with Jo and her followers, he comes to realize that they need the protection. Suddenly, Mano is working until the middle of the night; his kids are running wild; and his beloved wife doesn’t understand what he’s doing—particularly not with a beautiful, blonde boss like Jo. As Mano becomes further entrenched in the movement, he has to decide what is helping the community, and what is doing more harm. Regrettably, these interesting issues are stuck in a narrative that reads like a parable more than a novel, with hollow characters playing out circumstances orchestrated to make a political point.

The message is good, but the writing is not.

Pub Date: July 29, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-446-50775-2

Page Count: 374

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2009

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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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