A tightly written treat for spy-novel fans.

THE BLACK FREIGHTER

A CARIBBEAN SPY THRILLER

In Baker’s (Desert Sanctuary, 2019, etc.) thriller, a spy attempts to thwart a coup in a Caribbean nation.

Posing as a journalist, American secret agent Robert Wilson embarks on an assignment in Grenada. His mission, which he has only one week to accomplish, is to stop a plot to upend the national election and overthrow the government. Wilson doesn’t know who’s behind it, nor how or exactly when it’s supposed to happen. Baker masterfully offers readers a number of possible villains as the twisty plot cast suspicion upon one character after another. High on the list of culprits are the governments of China and Russia, which have separately posted people on the island for reasons that aren’t immediately clear. Then operatives from Venezuela and Cuba get into the mix, and Wilson meets a Venezuelan woman named Tori Vargas. She soon cozies up to him, and the spy can’t decide if she’s really an unwilling pawn of the Venezuelan government, as she claims. Baker deftly increases the time pressure by making each chapter title a consecutive day of the week. Throughout the book, Wilson is fixated on a black freighter, the Shanghai Maiden, moored just a half-mile offshore, which has suspicious-looking containers on its deck. The ship effectively becomes a character all its own, taunting the protagonist to uncover what, if anything, it has to do with the revolutionary plot. Early chapters unwind slowly as Wilson bolsters his cover as a journalist, but from there, the pacing escalates in a breathless manner. Also, everything happens in real time, and only on the island, which makes the suspenseful plot easy to follow. Baker’s fluid, cinematic prose style makes reading the novel feel like watching an entertaining movie—and, indeed, the action seems tailor-made for the big screen.

A tightly written treat for spy-novel fans.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-1-949336-14-6

Page Count: 204

Publisher: Other Voices Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2019

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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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