Not exactly a big romantic finish, but those who appreciate clear-eyed, unsentimental fiction will find its realism fresh...

THE SAINT OF LOST THINGS

The heroine of A Kiss for Maddalena (2003) grows up a lot in Castellani’s second novel.

Seven years after she came to Wilmington, Delaware, with her brand-new husband Antonio Grasso, Maddalena still badly misses her native village, and the family she left behind in war-devastated Italy. But she’s learned to love Antonio, and as the story begins in 1953, she’s finally pregnant for the first time. Antonio flies into a jealous rage; he only half-believes that his beautiful wife has cheated on him with her boss at the clothing factory, but it provides a good excuse to punish her with months of silence for the fact that he’s always found her “unreachable.” Antonio also seethes because, though he yearns to leave the Ford factory and start his own restaurant, he can’t muster the courage to pool his savings with either younger brother Mario or best friend Renato, who both go ahead without him. Castellani makes neither of his principals entirely likable. Maddalena remains annoyingly passive, and Antonio is amazingly self-centered, yet they learn to accommodate each other in a marriage neither would dream of ending. Counterpointing their troubled intimacy is the story of Giulio Fabbri, desperately lonely after the deaths of his parents and, at age 40, still lacking either a job or a wife to cushion the blow. The author excels at capturing the quiet yet absorbing texture of everyday life, the intricate maneuvering among people who love each other but who all have their own agendas. There are a few big events: Renato and his girlfriend (with Antonio’s reluctant help) cruelly harass a black family that dared to move into their Italian neighborhood; Maddalena falls into a coma after her daughter is born prematurely. But the real drama lies in the slow accretion of changes that forge the Grassos into an enduring couple, mostly happy and more or less fulfilled by their far from perfect union.

Not exactly a big romantic finish, but those who appreciate clear-eyed, unsentimental fiction will find its realism fresh and moving.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2005

ISBN: 1-56512-433-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 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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