The first fiction from Glaswegian journalist O'Hagan (The Missing, 1996) a muted, melancholy, and gently touching tale of a son who returns home for the death of his grandfather and finds both the private, and the public, dimensions of a changing Scotland. “Our fathers were made for grief . . . And all our lives we waited for sadness to happen,” observes Jamie Bawn, now in his early 30s. Growing up under Robert Bawn, a vicious, raging alcoholic, Jamie recounts his tortuous childhood, and his sustaining intimacy with his mother Alice, who suffered her husband for years. Finally, Jamie moved out, to live with his grandparents Hugh and Margaret. Hugh, Robert’s father, was a “visionary” urban planner who guided the construction of public-housing projects in 1970s Glasgow—high blocks of concrete and glass similar to those in the US from the era. Margaret was a good teacher, and Hugh was an energetic, ambitious father-figure for young Jamie, and years later, when Jamie receives word that Hugh is dying, he hurries from England to ease the way for both Hugh and Margaret. By now, Robert has disappeared, though Jamie is delighted to find Alice remarried and freshly independent. Hugh’s dying, though, is not untroubled: an investigation is probing the old man’s possible misappropriation of funds during his tenure as “Mr. Housing,” and his beloved structures are being torn down to make way for the new. Which, Jamie finds, includes glimpses of Trainspotting Scotland, a polluted, history-soaked, seemingly exhausted land. But at Hugh’s funeral, Robert turns up, then quickly disappears. Jamie follows and finds he’s sobered up and now contentedly, modestly drives a taxi. After a reconciliation of sorts, the tale closes on a cautiously hopeful note. A relatively simple story, written with an entrancing, gentle eloquence: O'Hagan offers a deeply moving meditation on losses, both personal and historical, and on the tide of time through generations.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-15-100494-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1999

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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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