A skillful example of hard sci-fi that boldly considers outer-space life and an Islamic state.

The Starchild Compact

From the Starchild Series series , Vol. 2

In Williscroft’s (Operation Ivy Bells, 2014, etc.) latest novel, a journey into space arrives at the crossroads of extraterrestrial life and jihad.

Aboard the Cassini II spacecraft, U.S. Navy Capt. Jon Stock and his crew embark on a historic voyage to Saturn’s moon Iapetus, which may be an artifact. At the helm of a multicultural team of engineers, communications officers, and one Barbarella-esque second officer (“by any measure,” writes the author, Ginger Steele “was a beauty”), Stock and company travel 1.5 billion kilometers from Earth. Complicating matters, a stowaway named Saeed Esmail, a fanatical Shia, is bent upon preventing the Cassini II from reaching its destination by any means necessary. Acting on behalf of Caliph Ayatollah Khomeini’s proclamation that the voyage to Iapetus poses a threat to Allah as “master of Heaven and Earth,” Esmail’s mission is swiftly derailed after he’s poisoned by radiation. Now he’s in the care of medical officer Carmen Bhuta, and Stock must decide what to do with him, knowing full well that Esmail’s death could cause the caliphate “to launch a nuclear attack on Israel, or even Europe, Asia, or the U.S.” The story’s parallel between Esmail and Stock is suspenseful and intelligent. It’s preoccupied by the clash, rather than peaceful alliance, of civilizations, and the contrast between Islamic fundamentalism and American pluck is unmistakable. For example, Saeed is introduced lying prostrate, his face toward Mecca “nearly 400 million kilometers back in the direction of the Sun,” as he vomits blood on his prayer mat and wonders why Allah has abandoned him. Jon, meanwhile, is described as a steely-eyed pragmatist with “a craggy, clean shaven face that testified to his fifty years.” The author also shows how the difficulty of space travel and a revelation about Iapetus overwhelms Esmail; Stock, on the other hand, is “cool and collected—unaffected” by any challenges that come his way.     

A skillful example of hard sci-fi that boldly considers outer-space life and an Islamic state.  

Pub Date: Dec. 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-9821662-9-1

Page Count: 396

Publisher: Starman Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 16, 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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