The one-dimensional portrait of Elizabeth as a none-too-bright harridan makes her an unsatisfying antagonist for vivacious...


Another historical entertainment from the prolific Erickson (The Tsarina’s Daughter, 2008, etc.).

This swift, spare account is told in the plangent voice of Mary Stuart (1542–87). She begins her diary at age 15 with her marriage to the French dauphin, soon to be King Francis II. Her sickly husband is never able to father the heir Mary needs to solidify her position at the French court, ruled over by ruthless Queen Mother Catherine de Medici. Catherine’s seer, Michel de Notredame, intones that despite her impeccable royal pedigree, Mary has been doomed from birth. After Francis dies, Mary leaves for Scotland to assume the throne she inherited from her father, James V. She’s accompanied by Jamie, Earl of Bothwell, a fierce, brawling Scotsman. Roman Catholic Mary is unable to quell the unrest fomented by fractious clan warlords and the Presbyterian movement led by John Knox. Matters aren’t helped by a disastrous marriage to her cousin Henry, Lord Darnley, who rapes her. The son of that union, the future James VI, will remain a stranger to his mother. After Mary and Bothwell conspire to have Henry killed, her cousin and rival, England’s Queen Elizabeth, takes advantage of her unpopularity in Scotland to have her placed under house arrest in London. Bothwell spirits Mary away to a Scottish isle where they marry in secret. Their (fictional) daughter is raised in Normandy by Mary’s French kin. The Queen of Scots inspires Pope Gregory and swashbuckling Italian admiral Don John to muster a fleet to invade England. This plan comes to naught, and rather than embrace safe obscurity in Normandy, Mary and Jamie seek to blackmail Queen Elizabeth. Such harebrained schemes inevitably render Nostradamus’ prediction self-fulfilling.

The one-dimensional portrait of Elizabeth as a none-too-bright harridan makes her an unsatisfying antagonist for vivacious Mary, but this is the only misstep in a fast-paced, lavishly detailed narrative.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-312-37973-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2009

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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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