Even as a spoof, which is how it reads, this lurid work is less than entertaining.

AMERICAN TROPIC

A Southern gothic with a pro-environment veneer. 

In the dead of night, in the waters off Key West, a pirate radio broadcaster rants, encouraging callers to “Show me your rage.” Cut to a house in town, where an early-rising woman fondles her lesbian partner before strapping on a loaded Glock. Cut to a corpse in the ocean, tied to a buoy, ears cut off, lips sewn together. Cut to a floating raft, bearing dead men, women and children. No one can accuse Sanchez (King Bongo, 2003, etc.) of being slow out of the gate in his sixth novel. The broadcaster, Noah Sax, is the novel’s flawed hero. The rum-sodden disbarred lawyer styles himself an “eco-shock jock,” railing against the destruction of the environment. The woman is Luz Zamora, a fifth-generation Cuban-American and a Key West detective. The bodies on the raft are Haitian refugees. And the mutilated corpse was a partner in a huge new resort development which will harm the environment. There will be five more murder victims, all of them doing really bad things to Mother Nature. So there’s a serial killer on the loose, and through a microdigital recorder left in the mouth of the second victim, he identifies himself as Bizango, the Haitian voodoo avenger who punishes wrongdoers. This latest incarnation wears a full-body rubber suit painted with skeleton bones; his weapon is a steel spear. The bumbling police department briefly (and ludicrously) eyes the lone Haitian survivor, a terrified teenager, as the killer, before charging Noah (another blooper). Bizango outdoes himself by killing the captain of a cruise ship in his cabin and then invading the town’s Halloween parade, spearing the last of the resort partners on his float. The environmental theme is the junior partner in a bad marriage, overwhelmed by the blood and guts. When the killer’s identity is finally revealed, it will be the most improbable detail of all.

Even as a spoof, which is how it reads, this lurid work is less than entertaining.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-400-04232-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 11, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2012

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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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