A marvelous collection that can only help make reading westerns respectable once again.

WESTWARD

A FICTIONAL HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN WEST

Solid writing and richly varied subject matter make something special out of this anthology of 28 original stories, produced for the 50th anniversary of the Western Writers of America.

Noting recent momentum toward “more authentic backdrops and more realistic plots and character” in traditional western tales, editor Walker (author of such expert popular histories as Bear Flag Rising, 1999, and Eldorado, 2002) has elicited from his contributors impressive reworkings of familiar material. The Lewis and Clark expeditions, for example, are the subject of Walker’s own “York’s Story” (about the expedition’s lone black member: “ . . . one who journeyed to the Western Sea and saw things no man of my color before me saw.” The Civil War adventures of Confederate troops are depicted in Michelle Black’s accusatory “The Hundred Day Men” and James Reasoner’s blistering “Dead Man’s Hollow”; the siege of the Alamo in John V. Breen’s “A Man Alone”; Custer’s Last Stand and after (as reported by the General’s widow) in Susan K. Salzer’s “Miss Libbie Tells All.” Legendary figures make memorably vivid appearances: Oglala chieftain Crazy Horse (Janet E. Graebner’s “The Whispering”); doomed gunslinger “Doc” Holliday (Arthur Winfield Knight’s superb “The Big Die-Up”); and “mountain man” Jedediah Smith (Win Blevins’s “Melodies the Song Dogs Sing”) and Rocky Mountain trapper Jim Bridger (Richard C. House’s splendid tall tale “Gabe and the Doctor”). A few stylistically undistinguished stories bespeak this hardy genre’s pulp origins. But most are simply, starkly written and several have the heft and tang of classics-to-be: Don Coldsmith’s wistful vignette (“First Horse”), about a young Indian “Dreamer’s” first sighting of an “elk-dog” (i.e., a horse) that prophesies his culture’s altering future; Ivon B. Blum’s fictionalization of a notorious wagon-train massacre spearheaded by Mormon settlers (“Inquest in Zion”); and Richard S. Wheeler’s dazzling reimagining of the life of pseudonymous frontier journalist “Dan DeQuille” (“The Square Reporter”).

A marvelous collection that can only help make reading westerns respectable once again.

Pub Date: June 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-765-30451-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Forge

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2003

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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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