An homage to Jane Austen written with great intelligence, but also a large measure of maudlin theatricality.

THE PORTRAIT

A young woman defiant of social conventions must quickly find a husband to preserve her mother’s aristocratic lineage in this debut 19th-century romance. 

When Lady Catherine Claverton is born, her father, the earl of Delamare, immediately despises her, incensed that she is not only a girl who cannot carry on the family name, but disabled as well. Exiled to a country estate and estranged from her father, she becomes a fiercely outspoken nonconformist despite being treated like a “weak-minded invalid.” When her father is on his deathbed, she learns an extraordinary secret: Her mother was the Countess St. Clair, a title she held before she married the earl. This was kept from Catherine for fear she would be exploited by others for the wealth and influence a marriage to her would promise. But now Catherine, just 24 years old, realizes that the title is really an earldom, which means she can continue her mother’s family line if she marries and births a son. She has only two eligible candidates: First, Sir Lyle Barrington, a passionate gentleman who is reputed to engage in nefarious business practices and may only be feigning interest in her opportunistically. And then there’s the handsome Capt. Avebury, a talented and well-heeled sailor. There’s a romantic spark between them, but unbeknown to Catherine, he’s on the run from the Admiralty, wanted for serious crimes, including murder. Meanwhile, Catherine is haunted by a past of her own—she imprudently allowed a young artist to paint a risqué portrait of her, a work he uses to threaten her for favors. Austen’s ambitious story is a vivid commentary on the rigid manners of the time. She is unabashedly inspired by her namesake Jane Austen. The protagonist is a remarkably independent woman for the period, and Catherine’s character is powerfully drawn by the author (Sir Lyle “treated her almost as if she were a young widow, not an unmarried woman. Perhaps that was a consequence of her refusal to conform to society’s expectations. She almost liked it. She certainly appreciated that he thought her smart and independent”). Unfortunately, the incessant reminders of Catherine’s autonomy finally become tediously heavy-handed. In addition, the author has none of Jane Austen’s mischievous wit—this is a well-crafted tale, but a humorlessly melodramatic one as well. 

An homage to Jane Austen written with great intelligence, but also a large measure of maudlin theatricality. 

Pub Date: Dec. 19, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-73251-580-2

Page Count: 340

Publisher: Apollo Grannus Books

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2019

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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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