An exciting, if at times confusing, start to a saga.

Yaqteenya: The Old World

The intrepid protagonist of Bahjatt’s (Somewhere!, 2014) novel races to end the civil war in his Islamic homeland—even if it means breaking its biggest rule.

After ruling the territory of Al-Andalus (now modern-day Spain and Portugal) for hundreds of years, the Moors’ reign came to an end with the 1492 fall of Granada. According to Bahjatt’s alternative history, the Moors fled Al-Andalus and came upon the warring tribes of Yaqteenya, whom they joined under the “unifying flag of Islam.” Claiming to be the last surviving Muslims, the Moors made a deal: they would help build Yaqteenya into a great civilization as long as nobody there returned to the old world and told Allah’s enemies about Yaqteenya’s existence. This agreement resulted in nearly 300 years of isolation and peace. Now, five chieftains deny the existence of the old world, question the veracity of Islam, and issue an ultimatum: the Moors and their followers must leave Yaqteenya or die. After a grueling year of bloodshed, Al-Baz Al-Monqad, the son of a chieftain who supports the Moors, decides to defy his father’s wishes and venture beyond Yaqteenya’s borders to determine whether the Moors have been telling the truth. Bahjatt delivers a novel with sci-fi– and fantasy-tinged elements. He effectively divides the novel into two distinct stories: half the novel chronicles Al-Baz’s journey to Granada, which finds him shipwrecked, captured by the Ottoman army, evading a mysterious group called the covenant, and mistaken for the son of a renowned Quran scholar. The other half explores Al-Baz’s life before this voyage, including the beginning of the civil war; Al-Baz’s friendship with Fida, the son of Yaqteenya’s leader; and the nonhuman entities (including mountains and eagles) with whom he can communicate. At times, however, the many intersecting storylines can be difficult to follow, and Bahjatt assembles far more elements than he has time to resolve (although a sequel is forthcoming). While the big picture remains blurry, Bahjatt keeps readers invested with enormous empathy for his main characters.

An exciting, if at times confusing, start to a saga.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-9-94-818097-5

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Yatakhayaloon

Review Posted Online: Oct. 20, 2015

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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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