Something less than the definitive portrait of a frustratingly elusive great writer, but an agreeable read nonetheless, and...



Giardina turns from socially conscious historical novels (Fallam’s Secret, 2003, etc.) to a fictionalized biography of sui generis poet and novelist Emily Brontë.

It begins with a flash-forward in which Emily, anticipating her death from consumption, begins to read her masterpiece Wuthering Heights to her indulgent father Patrick, a venerable Yorkshire clergyman. The story then focuses on Emily’s childhood as one of five sisters, two of whom predecease her, and the bond of solidarity formed with siblings Anne and Charlotte, who will also live to write memorable fiction. Headstrong Emily incurs the displeasure of her masters at the Clergy Daughters’ School, to which the Brontë girls are sent to prepare for careers as governesses, and upon returning home scandalizes neighbors by roaming the moors unchaperoned, accompanied by her favorite dog and trained hawk. But her horizons expand significantly when handsome young curate William Weightman arrives to assist elderly Reverend Brontë. Weightman’s romantic imagination and passionate solidarity with exploited workers agitating for overdue reform attract Emily’s sympathetic attention and eventually her devotion. A catastrophic cholera outbreak destroys the incipient lovers’ dreams, and Emily retreats into the world of her teeming imagination, creating her passionate antagonist Heathcliff out of Weightman’s stoical decency and her own austere independence. Giardina’s research tends to occupy undue space and slacken the narrative pace. But the surpassingly strange Brontë family, which also includes surly ne’er-do-well brother Branwell, offers a fascinating spectacle, and the reader’s attention is held throughout several labored and redundant sequences. Most interesting, perhaps, is the pointed contrast Giardina presents between Emily’s untrammeled, indeed often admirable egoism and Charlotte’s emotional meanness and ruthless careerism.

Something less than the definitive portrait of a frustratingly elusive great writer, but an agreeable read nonetheless, and a good bet for reading groups.

Pub Date: July 27, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-393-06915-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2009

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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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