As this story’s heroine evolves from being merely boring to fundamentally loathsome, so too does her tale.


In her second novel (Glorie, 1998), a New York Times culture critic travels back to the 1920s to tell a story of uptown society and the downtown art scene.

Caroline Stephens is an heiress and socialite, married to a rich but unexciting man. She feels stifled by her privileged existence, and she has nothing but scorn for the “self-important businessmen” and “interchangeable wives” who inhabit her circle. Then she discovers art, and she becomes a collector and patron. When one of the artists she supports, Nick Leone, shows a portrait of her—quite naked and clearly aroused—at a gallery opening, she’s devastated by the scandal. What follows is much less interesting than one might expect. Part of the problem is Caroline herself: It’s not easy to feel much sympathy for a woman with enough power and money to destroy a man for sullying her reputation. And part of the problem is structural. James has chosen to have Caroline tell her story in the form of reminiscence. It’s inevitable that even the most tireless soliloquist will leave things out, but Caroline leaves out too much. She tells a great deal more than she shows. For instance, there are no scenes of Caroline’s education as a connoisseur; instead, there are lists of the painters and sculptors whose work she buys. The New York art world of the ’20s was a fascinating place, but you’d never know it from reading this novel. Of course, some of Caroline’s self-editing is strategic, particularly when it comes to her relationship with Nick. The author makes the question of Nick’s motivation the central mystery. Was it malice—as Caroline assumes—or something else altogether? Unfortunately, the reader has few clues from which to draw any solid conclusions. Instead, James slowly reveals that her protagonist is not just a spoiled, pretentious dilettante, but also a rather cold-hearted fraud. The true scandal here is not a racy painting, but Caroline’s monumental and destructive dishonesty.

As this story’s heroine evolves from being merely boring to fundamentally loathsome, so too does her tale.

Pub Date: March 7, 2006

ISBN: 0-312-34312-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2006

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...


Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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Thoroughbreds and Virginia blue-bloods cavort, commit murder, and fall in love in Roberts's (Hidden Riches, 1994, etc.) latest romantic thriller — this one set in the world of championship horse racing. Rich, sheltered Kelsey Byden is recovering from a recent divorce when she receives a letter from her mother, Naomi, a woman she has believed dead for over 20 years. When Kelsey confronts her genteel English professor father, though, he sheepishly confesses that, no, her mother isn't dead; throughout Kelsey's childhood, she was doing time for the murder of her lover. Kelsey meets with Naomi and not only finds her quite charming, but the owner of Three Willows, one of the most splendid horse farms in Virginia. Kelsey is further intrigued when she meets Gabe Slater, a blue-eyed gambling man who owns a neighboring horse farm; when one of Gabe's horses is mated with Naomi's, nostrils flare, flanks quiver, and the romance is on. Since both Naomi and Gabe have horses entered in the Kentucky Derby, Kelsey is soon swept into the whirlwind of the Triple Crown, in spite of her family's objections to her reconciliation with the notorious Naomi. The rivalry between the two horse farms remains friendly, but other competitors — one of them is Gabe's father, a vicious alcoholic who resents his son's success — prove less scrupulous. Bodies, horse and human, start piling up, just as Kelsey decides to investigate the murky details of her mother's crime. Is it possible she was framed? The ground is thick with no-goods, including haughty patricians, disgruntled grooms, and jockeys with tragic pasts, but despite all the distractions, the identity of the true culprit behind the mayhem — past and present — remains fairly obvious. The plot lopes rather than races to the finish. Gambling metaphors abound, and sexual doings have a distinctly equine tone. But Roberts's style has a fresh, contemporary snap that gets the story past its own worst excesses.

Pub Date: June 13, 1995

ISBN: 0-399-14059-X

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1995

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