There’s not much meat in this carefully garnished offering.

A SOUND LIKE THUNDER

Brewer’s second novel (after The Poet of Tolstoy Park, 2005) is a problematic coming-of-age story.

The setting is the same: Fairhope, Ala., on Mobile Bay. It’s November 1941, and our narrator, 16-year-old Rove McNee, is growing apart from his father, Captain Dominus McNee, a schoonerman who does commercial runs in the Delta. Everything was fine when the Captain taught Rove sailing and woodworking, but lately the old salt has turned into a mean drunk who patronizes brothels. Rove dreads his returns to their bayfront home, where he lives with his mother, Lillian, kid brother Julian and Granny Wooten, who is dying. Rove’s outsize love for his grandmother blends with his love of books, which she inspired. The novel is festooned with references to Emerson, Thoreau, Yeats, et al., but their presence deprives the characters of oxygen. The other important adult is Josef Unruh, a German neighbor, who generously gave Rove his damaged sloop and helped him repair it. But how seriously can you take someone who speaks comic-book English (“Vat is ze value of . . . zees and zat”)? The plot pivots on the Captain’s behavior at Granny Wooten’s wake. Believing, ludicrously, that Josef is a spy, and suspecting, less ludicrously, that Josef has eyes for his wife, he shoots at the German and then slashes him before being jailed, briefly. Bail? Criminal charges? Not in this jurisdiction. His father’s rampage is the last straw for Rove, who holes up on his sloop. We learn a lot about the boat and Rove’s fishing skills (he uses hand-cast nets), more congenial territory for Brewer, evidently, than the angst-ridden McNee household. He touches lightly on Rove’s emergence into manhood, as he faces down his father and exchanges demure kisses with a potential girlfriend, but then loses control of his material in a final flurry that involves a death, a vigilante ultimatum and a family scattered to the winds.

There’s not much meat in this carefully garnished offering.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-345-47633-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2006

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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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