At once baroque in detail and sparely plotted: a pleasurable fantasy that knows what to leave in mystery.

ALVA & IRVA

THE TWINS WHO SAVED A CITY

Always-together twins build their doomed city in miniature.

After getting nearly buried with acclaim for his first novel (Observatory Mansions, 2001), British playwright Carey follows up with another odd story, this set in the fictitious town of Entralla. The twins are the granddaughters of the city’s postmaster, an obsessive fellow who spent too much of his time creating miniature buildings (usually of the Central Post Office) out of matchsticks. Alva and Irva’s mother could charitably be called a hermit, and the girls themselves are far from normal. Like some twins, they speak their own language and keep almost completely to themselves, but they also have a private obsession, perhaps inherited from their grandfather: in their dark house, they are constructing a painstakingly detailed model of the entire city. Like many imaginary cities, Entralla is almost more of a character in the story than the people living in it. Each chapter has a tour-book opening, full of ingratiating detail about different Entralla landmarks (and constant reminders that visitors bringing a copy of “this book” into many establishments will receive a ten percent discount). Narrator Alva (who appears to be slightly more socially integrated than Irva) is forever describing this part of the city or that. So obsessed is Alva with maps that she has one of the world tattooed over her entire body. It’s difficult at first to understand how the author’s subtitle could be applied to individuals so troubled and insular, but as the model Entralla becomes more complete and the narrative speaks more and more of earthquakes, it becomes clear what their role will become. That Carey is able to render such a hermetic tale in the bright, vivid colors that splash across its pages is a feat in itself, the fact that he knows when to stop an even bigger one.

At once baroque in detail and sparely plotted: a pleasurable fantasy that knows what to leave in mystery.

Pub Date: March 24, 2003

ISBN: 0-15-100782-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2003

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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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