Sentimental and rather slow.

THE PUZZLE KING

Successful American immigrants rescue hundreds of Jews from Nazi Germany in this latest from memoirist and novelist Carter (Swim to Me, 2007, etc.).

The bulk of the novel traces the pre-1930s history of Carter’s hero and heroine. In 1892, his mother sends nine-year-old Simon Phelps to America from Vilna, Lithuania. Despite years of searching, he never hears from her or the rest of his family again. A bright, artistic boy, he quickly becomes successful in lithography, window dressing and then in advertising. In 1909 he falls in love with Flora Grossman, who has come to America with her sister Seema. Unlike Simon, Flora remains in touch with her mother and younger sister in Germany. Flora and Simon marry and live happily; his thoughtful reserve and strong convictions compliment her more carefree, easygoing, conventional nature. They enjoy increasing financial success and contentment, marred only by their inability to have children. Meanwhile, sexy, complex Seema, who unlike Flora always felt rejected by their mother, breaks with tradition, allowing herself to be kept by a married non-Jew with anti-Semitic tendencies. When their mother dies in 1928, Flora and Seema return to Germany. Seema feels an unexpected connection to their homeland and decides to remain. She falls in love with a journalist who convinces her to convert to Catholicism to escape being branded a Jew. In the early ’30s, Simon and Flora go to Europe with money and documents he has prepared to get as many family members out of Germany as possible. Carter gives disappointingly short shrift to this final act of the drama.

Sentimental and rather slow.

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-56512-594-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 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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