Spiritual fiction is a byway little traveled by mainstream authors, but Merullo has grown so persuasive over the course of...

BREAKFAST WITH BUDDHA

Merullo again takes on religion, but this time he makes it a lot more accessible than in Golfing with God (2005, etc.).

Eschewing the previous novel’s flat-out fantasy (setting: heaven; narrator: dead), the author here provides a realistic framework that plays to his strengths as an astute observer of society and sympathetic analyst of individual psyches. Otto Ringling, a senior editor at a New York publishing house, likes his job, loves his wife and two teenage children and takes pride in the comfortable life he’s built. But he’s been shaken by the recent death of his parents in a car crash: “All these joys and miseries, all this busyness, all this stuff…I started to ask myself, leads exactly where?” He’s not looking forward to a long drive to North Dakota with his sister Cecelia to sort through their parents’ possessions. And he’s infuriated when Cecelia informs him she’s not going after all, but sending instead her “guru,” Volya Rinpoche, to whom she intends to donate the family farmhouse and her share of the land for a retreat in North Dakota. Otto’s not happy to be traveling with a man in a maroon robe who seems almost a buffoon, with his broken English and tendency to talk in riddles. Slowly, as Merullo sends this odd couple down rural back roads through beautifully described landscapes, we see Otto’s defenses dropping as Volya’s quiet wisdom becomes apparent. The lessons imparted are neither new nor startling (live fully in the moment, etc.), but the author eloquently conveys their simple power to ease Otto’s mind and heart. Volya makes no claim to be “the incarnation of the Buddha” others have called him, but this low-key novel movingly shows him to be a tender lover of humanity.

Spiritual fiction is a byway little traveled by mainstream authors, but Merullo has grown so persuasive over the course of two luminous little novels that readers might well follow him even if he turned next to, say, Mornings with Mohammed.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-56512-522-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2007

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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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