An epic novel that reads more like a narrated history than an immersive story with flesh-and-blood characters.

THE GUARDIANS OF ROME

In this historical novel set in the last days of Imperial Rome, a senator comes up with a bold plan to keep the barbarian hordes to the north at bay.

In the year 372, the Roman Empire is governed from its two capitals of Rome and Constantinople, and it’s under siege on all sides. Fifty-five-year-old senator Marcus Tarquinii, one of the wealthiest men in Rome, goes to co-emperor Valentinian with an ingenious plan to save the empire by creating an autonomous Roman Federation, which can wage war on the barbarians in the far north—the Vandals, Goths and Franks—and create fortified settlements there. Once the emperor approves this plan, Marcus’ son, Scipio Tarquinii, is declared the governor of the new province of Raetia on the Danube and given several Roman legions with which to implement the scheme. Marcus and Scipio push through their initiative, with allies as diverse as Gaius Drusus, commanding general of the Raetian legions, and Sheik Ali Mustapha, leader of the Saracens and trainer of spies and assassins. But when Valentinian dies, a cabal of generals led by the scheming Merobaudes plots to take the empire away from his heirs. In the end, it’s up to Maeve, a Vandal princess and Scipio’s mistress, to save the day. Overall, this debut novel is as well-researched as a historical work of fiction can possibly be. Unfortunately, its many discourses on the military strategies, politics and economics of the late Roman Empire often read like position papers written by a fourth-century policy wonk. To make matters worse, the novel places this information in the mouths of one-dimensional characters, many of whom are based on historical figures. Unlike Lindsey Davis’ Didius Falco mystery series, which manages to make ancient Rome come alive, this novel smothers its narrative under an avalanche of research.

An epic novel that reads more like a narrated history than an immersive story with flesh-and-blood characters.

Pub Date: March 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0990403838

Page Count: 434

Publisher: Guardian House Publishing

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2015

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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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