An intelligent homage short on effective narrative impetus.

THE SECRET PURPOSES

First novel from a popular English TV personality: a tale committed to uncovering an overlooked corner of WWII history: the treatment of Jewish refugees by the British.

Concerned to pay tribute to the experience of those who survived, as well as expose the dominant U.K. attitude to the suffering of the Jews, Baddiel (Time for Bed, 1996, etc.) does his best work in re-creating the atmosphere of the early war years in England. Isaac Fabian, his wife Lulu and daughter Rebekka find themselves in Cambridge in 1940, having managed to escape Hitler’s Germany. Isaac, the son of a rabbi, is an avowed communist who broke away from his family to marry an Aryan. That marriage is now tested by the privations of life as enemy aliens, forbidden to own maps or radios or to travel, and offered only menial work. As Britain’s war effort falters, the decision is made to remove the majority of German refugees to an internment camp on the Isle of Man. Isaac is sent, but not Lulu. Baddiel provides perspective on the establishment attitude—its innate anti-Semitism and belief that the Jews “brought a certain amount of their woe upon themselves”—via the character of June Murray, a translator working for Special Operations, who suspects the atrocities in Germany are far worse than commonly understood. June decides to visit the camp and interview its inmates, including Isaac, with whom she has a brief affair. Isaac’s guilt, after sleeping with June and involving himself in a failed attempt by a group of Jews to murder a Nazi in their midst, leads him to volunteer to be shipped to the colonies. The ship is sunk by a U-boat, but we learn, in an awkward final section at Auschwitz in 2000, that Isaac survived and returned, altered, to Lulu. His testimony to June, giving her exactly the details of imminent genocide she sought, was a lie, woven from other people’s experiences—but proved to be horribly prescient.

An intelligent homage short on effective narrative impetus.

Pub Date: July 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-06-076582-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 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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