Simmering with tension, this tragic, albeit imperfect, mystery is sure to keep readers inching off their seats.

SWIMMING LESSONS

A forsaken family bound by grief still struggles to pick up the pieces 12 years after their mother’s death.

When famous author Gil Coleman sees “his dead wife standing on the pavement below” from a bookshop window in a small town on the southern coast of England, he follows her, but to no avail, and takes a near-fatal fall off a walkway on the beach. As soon as they hear word of his accident, Gil’s grown daughters, Nan and Flora, drop everything and return to their seaside family home in Spanish Green. Though her father’s health is dire, Flora, Gil’s youngest, can’t help but be consumed by the thought that her mother, Ingrid—who went missing and presumably drowned (though the body was never found) off the coast more than a decade ago—could be alive, wandering the streets of their town. British author Fuller’s second novel (Our Endless Numbered Days, 2015) is nimbly told from two alternating perspectives: Flora’s, as she re-evaluates the loose ends of her mother’s ambiguous disappearance; and Ingrid’s, through a series of candid letters she writes, but never delivers, to Gil in the month leading up to the day she vanishes. The most compelling parts of this novel unfold in Ingrid’s letters, in which she chronicles the dissolution of her 16-year marriage to Gil, beginning when they first meet in 1976: Gil is her alluring professor, they engage in a furtive love affair, and fall into a hasty union precipitated by an unexpected pregnancy; Gil gains literary fame, and Ingrid is left to tackle motherhood alone (including two miscarriages); and it all bitterly culminates in the discovery of an irrevocable betrayal. Unbeknownst to Gil and his daughters, these letters remain hidden, neglected, in troves of books throughout the house, and the truth lies seductively within reach. Fuller’s tale is eloquent, harrowing, and raw, but it’s often muddled by tired, cloying dialogue. And whereas Ingrid shines as a protagonist at large, the supporting characters are lacking in depth.

Simmering with tension, this tragic, albeit imperfect, mystery is sure to keep readers inching off their seats.

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-941040-51-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Tin House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2016

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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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