A worthy first effort from a writer still developing.

SLEEP TOWARD HEAVEN

The lives of three women orbit a murder and the pending execution—in a debut effort that straddles literary and crime fiction.

Chapters alternate among the three. Karen is the murderer, stuck on death row, 62 days from her date with death, but serving as a kind of counselor to other women who find themselves in Texas’s penal system. When a new inmate, Satan Killer (a.k.a. Sharleen), arrives, “Karen thinks about things to say to Sharleen. She wants to tell her that she is not alone in knowing what it feels like to tear through human life.” Franny is a doctor on the spiritual outs, and as soon as she gets out of her engagement, she’ll be headed to new work at the prison, where she’ll encounter Karen. Celia, meanwhile, the wife of the man Karen murdered, is pondering how to deal with her loss (“Although my mother disagrees, I have moved forward with my life. For example, I’ve bought a new bikini”), and her grief takes the form of promiscuity. Winding up in a brief fling with a twentysomething wannabe novelist, she imagines she will make a great short story someday. Newcomer Ward hasn’t yet quite figured out how to blend the faceless prose of crime writing with the more literary impulse that she seems capable of. But the three women feel too much alike: Celia not quite sad enough, Franny remarkably composed as she realigns her life, and Karen, who will die either of HIV or a lethal injection—whichever comes first—is so normal it’s hard to imagine her shooting cashiers in the back and watching them die. Ward wants to write about lives changing but is stuck in a plot that must buckle when Celia finally, days before the execution, goes to see Karen and ask how her husband died. How could the peace they achieve not feel contrived?

A worthy first effort from a writer still developing.

Pub Date: March 19, 2003

ISBN: 1-931561-23-0

Page Count: 302

Publisher: MacAdam/Cage

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 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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