In this collection of (in fact) more than ten stories noted Scottish writer Alasdair Gray (Poor Things, 1993) again displays both his artistic talents—the illustrations are his own—and his sometimes quirky, but always original storytelling gifts. Many of these stories have previously appeared in British journals like The Independent and The Glasgow Herald; with a few exceptions, the most notable being a deceptively quiet horror story of rail travel in the future (``Near the Driver''), they are set in present-day Scotland. For Gray, the region is as different from England as Faulkner's Mississippi is from the rest of the US. It's a hard place of implacable pieties, rigid class structures, and an undercurrent of resentment of Tories, Toffs, and Thatcherites. But Gray is too much the artist to limit himself to bitter polemics. Humor and empathy are his preferred tools. In ``Houses and Small Labor Parties,'' the youngest member of a crew of unskilled workers poignantly confronts the realities of class and aging when he agrees to work with old Joe one Sunday on the boss's garden. An older woman who ``has no pity for men and enjoys destroying them, especially smart manipulators,'' woos her lover back because she doesn't want ``to be lonely'' (``Homeward Bound''); at a wedding, a young Glasgow woman, who deliberately dressed down knowing that her best dress would look cheap beside the English groom's relatives, is taken up and then dropped by a smug Englishman far too obsessed with the ragged jeans she wears (``You''); and a married woman, searching for her long lost faith, reads her Bible in a local pub, the only quiet place she can find, but is evicted because ``we cannot have a woman weeping in the corner of the bar. It spoils people's pleasure'' (``Are You A Lesbian?''). A remarkably unpretentious mix of wit and wisdom infused with a palpable delight in telling stories that will never turn stale.

Pub Date: March 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-15-100090-5

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1994

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.


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.


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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