Pride & Prejudice for the CNN age.

THE HUSBAND HABIT

Talented chef with a lousy romantic history finds herself drawn to an Iraq war veteran with a troubled past.

For such a sensual and attractive woman, Vanessa Chavez has a real knack for attracting Mr. Wrong, specifically guys who conveniently forget to tell her they’re married before breaking her heart. So after a doomed entanglement with a pastry chef and his suicidal wife, this sous chef at one of Albuquerque’s hottest restaurants swears off men. Enter Paul, a strapping hunk newly sprung from the Air Force who’s staying with his mother, who conveniently lives next door to Vanessa’s parents. Brash and flirtatious, Paul sets about winning Vanessa, even though she initially rebuffs his overtures. He’s not her type, but she comes to realize that he’s far from the right-wing meathead she assumed him to be. In fact, he’s sophisticated, soulful and nearly as complex as he is hot. On the down side, Paul is psychologically burdened with what he saw—and did—as a pilot in the Middle East. The full extent of his wartime experience emerges slowly as the two grow closer. With Paul’s encouragement, Vanessa takes stock of her life and begins to stand up for herself. She starts with older sister Larissa, who almost seems to prefer her needy and unhappy, then moves on to her boss Hawk, a pompous celebrity chef who has long been taking credit for her work. Just as she feels herself on the verge of happily-ever-after, along comes a Paul-related bombshell that might indeed be a deal breaker for someone with Vanessa’s many trust issues. In spite of some overdescriptive passages and clunky narration, Valdes-Rodriguez’s latest benefits from deeper character development than some of her earlier works (Dirty Girls on Top, 2008, etc.). Paul and Vanessa’s messy lives make them a couple to root for.

Pride & Prejudice for the CNN age.

Pub Date: July 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-312-53704-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2009

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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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