Perhaps the most frighteningly plausible doomsday scenario yet to appear in fictional treatments of this seemingly insoluble...

THE SIRENS OF BAGHDAD

The logic of terrorism is taken to a virtually ultimate extent in this bloodcurdling successor to the pseudonymous author’s highly praised novels (The Attack, 2006, etc.).

It opens in Beirut, with its unnamed narrator’s emotional condemnation of this polyglot metropolis corroded by contact with Western values. His conversations with Dr. Jalal, a renegade Arab critic of jihad “rehabilitated” as an enemy of the West, circle around the subject of the narrator’s mission—which has brought him to Lebanon from Baghdad, whence he had moved from his native Bedouin village (Kafr Karam). The story thus told as an extended flashback embraces his experiences as the son of a disabled well-digger, a hopeful university student whose future plans were casualties of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and his own “re-education” as a victim of foreign invasion. Khadra skillfully solicits our identification with him by creating a persuasively detailed picture of nearly idyllic village life, then he shreds it. The narrator observes the horrific killing of a mentally retarded neighbor whose unstable behavior is misinterpreted by American G.I.s patrolling a highway checkpoint, learns of a missile strike that decimates a wedding party and seethes during a violent search that “shames” his father and his innocent family—and sets him on a vengeful course which is planned to end in a catastrophe “more awesome” than the events of 9/11. This potent novel’s major weakness is its frequent recourse to redundant discursive religious and political argument. Its compensatory strength is in what might be called the anecdotal evidence of injustices and atrocities that motivate its protagonist’s lethal momentum. And when Khadra discloses specific details of his “mission,” the effect strikes like a thunderbolt; your hands all but turn to stone as you turn the pages.

Perhaps the most frighteningly plausible doomsday scenario yet to appear in fictional treatments of this seemingly insoluble crisis. And if it doesn’t scare the hell out of you, you’re not paying enough attention.

Pub Date: May 8, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-385-52174-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 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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