While portions fall victim to bland violence, this thriller explores a variety of intriguing topics.

THE DREAMACHINE

A sci-fi novel examines a web developer’s bizarre past and dangerous future.

When readers first meet Jasper Keepnews, he is awakening from a bad dream. Although Jasper later considers the dream “ominous,” his waking life is fairly normal. He is a Seattle-based web developer who enjoys drinking instant coffee and driving his Kawasaki Eliminator motorcycle. Jasper also has diabetes that requires a regular dose of insulin, a routine that his dutiful, bookish wife, Paige, helps him with. One day at work, Jasper’s interest is piqued by something called a Dreamachine. The device, which William S. Burroughs, among others, championed, is essentially a spinning cylinder that flickers. The flickering is meant to sync with users’ alpha waves and give them access to their dreams while they are awake. Jasper decides to build a Dreamachine, but once he tests it, things get strange. Not only is Jasper catapulted back into his terrible dream, but he also sees a woman being murdered in it. When Jasper tells Paige about the experience, she attempts to kill him. And so launches a tale that quickly becomes rife with battles and secret revelations. Readers learn much about Jasper’s past as he embarks on a quest that proves much more action-packed than the creation of a website. Weapons, ranging from guns to shuriken, are incorporated and blood certainly spills. The problem with Dickerson’s (Detour, 2015, etc.) fast-paced plot involves the characterization of Jasper and a woman he later encounters. Rooting for a man with diabetes and an affection for instant coffee is one thing, but Jasper’s true identity makes him just another action star. Not much is done in the text to make him likable or particularly memorable. What gives the book its power is its incorporation of many astute details. Plenty of sci-fi action scenes reference Koga-ryu but how many delve into the relationship of Beat writers and Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring? Certain passages wind up making some heady points even if much of the fighting remains mundane. As the death toll mounts, there is still much for readers to learn.   

While portions fall victim to bland violence, this thriller explores a variety of intriguing topics.

Pub Date: May 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9851886-5-8

Page Count: 220

Publisher: Kettle of Letters Press

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2018

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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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