A beautifully drawn setting without much story behind it.

KEY WEST STORY

A destitute writer in the Florida Keys is visited by the reincarnation of Ernest Hemingway.

Con Martens may only be scraping by, but in sunny Key West that’s not so bad. With plenty to drink, a job as a writing coach and two women absolutely crazy for him, Con seems to have it made. But as a former best-selling author, he’s unfulfilled, wanting to not only reclaim his former glory, but surpass it. When a jealous girlfriend takes a shot at him, the near-death experience shakes Con from his contentment, forcing him shirtless and shoeless into a familiar watering hole where he meets the accommodating and impossible Nick Adams. Nick claims to be the reincarnation of Ernest Hemingway, sent to help Con beat his writer’s block. Whether Con believes his companion is really a young Hemingway or just a look-a-like, their partnership injects his life with the excitement particular to the Florida Straight, complete with women, rum, hurricanes and a clandestine mission to Havana. Skwiot’s (Flesh, 1998, etc.) novel is not unlike the work of Kem Nunn, though instead of “surf-noir,” “beach-noir” may be the better description. Babes, booze and plenty of dubious figures propagate the book’s tropical setting, where almost anything is possible, even the unexplainable or supernatural. Key West is beautifully captured in all its shallow, hedonistic glory, and Skwiot’s ability to reveal it and its citizens in subtle, amusing ways eases the reader into this unique world. The other characters aren’t as well drawn as the setting, save for Nick/Hemingway, whose adventurous spirit and trademark misogyny are consistently depicted throughout. The only dubious moments in his portrayal are when he appears a little too much like a mouthpiece for literary editorializing. Ultimately, the novel is a writer’s tale, detailing the fickleness of inspiration and the other hardships of the calling. It’s largely self-indulgent, and for those not interested in the craft, glimpses of Key West and Con’s sexual escapades aren’t going to make his toiling more palatable.  

A beautifully drawn setting without much story behind it.

Pub Date: Jan. 5, 2011

ISBN: 978-0983570509

Page Count: 210

Publisher: Antaeus Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 30, 2011

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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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