Poignant snapshots of a long-lost era and place: Widmer died last year at the age of 80.

UP FROM ORCHARD STREET

Posthumous first novel offers pungent, nostalgic vignettes of Jewish life on Manhattan’s Lower East Side over the early course of the 20th century.

Matriarch Manya Roth, the narrator’s Bubby, emigrates from Odessa. Her husband dies on the way over from a lung ailment, and she is left to bring up their precocious son, Jack, on slim wages at Greenspan’s bakery. Manya’s fame as a cook spreads. An admirer, a typesetter at the Jewish Forward, sets her up in her own restaurant at 12 Orchard Street, where Manya, Jack and, later, Jack’s wife and two children, will live for the next 30 years. Jack, a dandy with an eye for dressing women stylishly, marries teenaged beauty Lil. He revamps her to look like a fashion model, and Lil eventually gets work as a saleswoman at Saks, though her lungs are scarred fatally from childhood diseases. Life on Orchard Street centers around Yiddish Bubby Manya, with her white hair and fetchingly full figure squeezed into a corset; the narrator accompanies her shopping to gather ingredients for her famous dishes of pickled herring and strudel. The family adopts a young black boy who shows up half-starved one night. They call him Clayton because his real name (Carlton) is too hard to pronounce. Other characters making their way through the author’s childhood memories include beloved Dr. Koronovsky, who leaves the Lower East Side for a golden career uptown but doesn’t neglect to invite Manya and the young narrator to his wedding, and Jack’s friend Rocco, a shoeshiner who “owns” Little Italy and is consulted on the perfect shoes to wear. Eventually, a summer sojourn to the farmland of Connecticut opens the family’s eyes to another way of life, while the advent of the cafeteria on Canal Street forces Manya to alter her old-style restaurant.

Poignant snapshots of a long-lost era and place: Widmer died last year at the age of 80.

Pub Date: July 26, 2005

ISBN: 0-553-80400-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 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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