If those who devour such novels are willing to laugh at them, Elliott might be a bigger hit on bookshelves than he’s been...


The mysteries of history—and the rash of bestselling novels they’ve spawned—inspire this slapstick satire that is more fun than the sum of its clichés.

While less literary than Steve Martin, comedian-actor-writer Elliott (star of TV’s Get a Life and the film Cabin Boy) offers more than the recycled monologue bits of most comedians-turned-authors. The patron saint of Elliott’s satiric sensibility here might well be Mel Brooks, for Elliott shows the same sort of gleeful relish in skewering the absurdities of the historical crime thriller genre that Brooks has in his big-screen parodies. After reading Elliott’s account of New York’s little-known 19th-century serial killer—Jack the Jolly Thwacker—it will be all the tougher to swallow the quasi-historical tone of The Historian, The Alienist, even The Da Vinci Code without gagging. Among those involved in the pursuit of Jolly Jack, who disembowels prostitutes after “thwacking” them, are a reporter named Liz Smith, a pre-presidential, genitally pierced and relentlessly flatulent Teddy Roosevelt and the time-traveling author himself. Along the way, they encounter the nefarious (and lisping) Boss Tweed, the mysterious Mummers and a marauding street gang of toddlers. The narrative leaps between present and past, with the author alternating between advancing the plot and addressing the reader, reinforcing his persona as a hapless buffoon in the process. The more convoluted the conspiracy surrounding the serial murders becomes, the more absurd the contrivances of this sort of historical fiction seem: According to 19th-century history as rewritten by Elliott, a history in which a calculating Yoko Ono and a perennially wrinkled Don Imus play roles, it was New York that actually sparked the Great Chicago Fire.

If those who devour such novels are willing to laugh at them, Elliott might be a bigger hit on bookshelves than he’s been onscreen.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2005

ISBN: 1-4013-5245-6

Page Count: 368

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2005

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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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