One wishes Ballard Godspeed in his wisely chosen new career. This is a fine beginning to it.

WHERE I’M BOUND

The experiences of black soldiers during the Civil War, and the ordeal of a family victimized and fragmented by slavery, are the subjects in this well-researched and solidly written debut novel, by a respected teacher and historian (One More Day’s Journey, not reviewed, etc.).

As the War draws to its close, runaway slave Joe Duckett escapes from a Confederate prison camp and joins the Union Army as a scout, then is soon made sergeant in a Colored Cavalry troop. Meanwhile (and in parallel chapters throughout), Joe’s wife Zenobia, left behind on the Kenworthy plantation in Mississippi, plans to escape to freedom with her youngest children (the two eldest having been sold to another owner), aided by black field-boss Drayton, who not-so-secretly loves her. Ballard leans rather too heavily on melodramatic coincidence: people who in real life doubtless would never have seen one another again manage to keep meeting on various estates and battlefields (the most egregious such examples are Joe’s chance reunion with his oldest son Luke and his man-to-man combat with Colonel Richard Kenworthy). But the story is swiftly paced and filled with vivid incidents, many of which, as an Author’s Note explains, are indeed historical: the court-martial aboard ship (a steamboat carrying cotton to Vicksburg) of a racist civilian who had interfered with a black soldier on sentry duty; Zenobia’s flight by raft in pursuit of a Yankee boat, and her capture by “deserters and irregulars”; and a horrific scene in which the Union Army unleashes maddened bloodhounds against its foe. The narrative is further distinguished by crisp, credible dialogue and scrupulously fair and fascinating portrayals of the wide spectrum of relationships—many of them genuinely loving ones—between embattled, indignant Southerners and “their” blacks. And you won’t soon forget the haunting final scene.

One wishes Ballard Godspeed in his wisely chosen new career. This is a fine beginning to it.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2000

ISBN: 0-684-87031-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2000

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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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