An overripe but still entertaining gay fantasia.

The Chronicles of Spartak

RISING SON

From the Chronicles of Spartak series

A multitalented, bisexual, teenage slave becomes a symbol of freedom in this debut sci-fi saga.

In the America of 2115, flying cars exist, society is divided between an elite of super-rich “barronials” and a seething mass of impoverished “downers,” the Supreme Court has ruled that parents can sell their children into slavery, 18th-century fashions have made a comeback, and, perhaps unlikeliest of all, “gymnastics outdraws football and sometimes rivals soccer” as a spectator sport. Spartak Jones’ talent in the latter, along with his long blond hair, gorgeous face and Olympian physique, has made the 16-year-old gymnastics prodigy a hero to his fellow downers. (He’s also a classical pianist and a math genius.) Spartak navigates between the San Francisco slums and the toney private school where he’s a scholarship student, bullied by mean rich kids; he also navigates the bedrooms of both sexes, but mainly those of other men. Eventually, he gets kidnapped and learns that his cash-strapped family was forced to sell him to the plutocratic McClain clan, who gift him to 18-year-old heir Zinc McClain as “a pretty bauble to enjoy and discard.” Spartak is initially upset by the annihilation of his autonomy and personhood and by the tracking device riveted to his ear; there are also many gratuitous scenes in which he’s ordered to undress while bystanders pretend not to ogle his chiseled abs and buttocks.  However, he seems to thrive, even in slavery: he wears sumptuous robes and lambskin slippers, starts to find Zinc’s crooked features and shy stutter endearing as their romance blossoms, and gets invited onto talk shows to pontificate about his status as the first bought slave since the Civil War. Best of all, he gets a high-tech sword and a body stocking that confers super-strength, which he uses to slaughter the attacking minions of an anti-barronial Christian cult. Coulter’s LGBT-themed yarn reprises the ubiquitous YA-fiction notion of a world that oppresses teens by making them celebrities, while also giving this narcissistic theme a prurient gloss. His characters often get on soapboxes as they relate the evils of inequality and involuntary servitude, drawing them as extensions of present-day American dysfunctions. However, these politics mainly serve as a pretext for lubricious domination-submission vignettes and revenge fantasies. The narrative does move along at a brisk pace, though, with energetic action scenes and sharply drawn characters, and the result is a vigorous tale.

An overripe but still entertaining gay fantasia.

Pub Date: May 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9966473-2-8

Page Count: 346

Publisher: Jubilation Media

Review Posted Online: April 21, 2016

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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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