A slow cooker with an unpromising title offers satisfying, intellectual storytelling.

LOVE, WORK, CHILDREN

From the Morningside Heights series , Vol. 2

Mendelson proves she has staying power with this subtly drawn second novel.

The author revisits the territory of Morningside Heights (2003): a staid, hyper-professional Columbia University neighborhood of long-married couples and the chronically single. Likable corporate lawyer Peter Frankl and his prickly artist wife Lesley are terribly mismatched, but have endured 30 years together at 444 Riverside Drive for the sake of the children—handsome, happy-go-lucky MBA Louis and sensible, highly intellectual Susan, finishing her doctorate in musicology and already spinsterish though not quite 30. Lesley has essentially harnessed Peter into a moneymaking career and spendthrift lifestyle that are deeply repugnant to him. When she falls into a long coma after a car accident, he feels emotionally released to pursue more academic and artistic pleasures, such as meetings at the dotty, philanthropic Devereaux Foundation, of which he is a member. Manipulative, self-absorbed Lesley’s removal from the family orbit also seems to loosen her offspring’s emotional stays. Susan takes up with a snide, unappreciative Yale playwright she meets at a party thrown by her best friend, journalist Mallory Holmes. Louis, proving his mettle, pursues pretty, intelligent Mallory, whose parents live in the same building as the Frankls. In fact, the whole neighborhood begins to crawl with significant neighbors, such as the creepy, sadistic critic Edmond Lockhart, who invites Peter over for dinner in order to insult him, and timorous, hysterical fellow Devereaux member Hilda Hughes, who develops a poignant crush on Peter that enables her finally to quit a near-lifetime course of psychotherapy. Mendelson effectively narrates Peter’s emotional frustration vis-à-vis his wife, but somewhat derails the story by dabbling in the petty concerns of younger, tertiary characters. However, the author certainly knows her neighborhood, and she has polished an elegant, omniscient prose style modeled on the finest English novelists.

A slow cooker with an unpromising title offers satisfying, intellectual storytelling.

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 2005

ISBN: 0-375-50837-6

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2005

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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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