Well-intentioned but flawed ensemble drama.

IN THE HEART OF THE CANYON

A neophyte crew of amateur adventurers embarks on a perilous rafting trip through the Grand Canyon.

Hyde (The Abortionist’s Daughter, 2006, etc.) applies her flair for creating fully realized characters and adds a dash of invigorating peril set in a striking landscape. Unfortunately, what starts as a fast-paced, highly readable consideration of travelers facing a hostile environment is derailed by an overabundance of players and one very dubious plot device. The book chronicles the 13-day Colorado River passage led by JT Maroney, a laconic whitewater guide with 125 successful trips under his belt. JT senses trouble from the beginning, mostly due to the diversity of his charges. The especially inadequate rafters include Peter Kramer, an unemployed lecher with the hots for Dixie Ann Gillis, JT’s fellow river guide; a septuagenarian couple masking injury and Alzheimer’s; and Amy Van Doren, a seriously obese teenager whose shrill diary entries (“OMG!!!!”) disrupt the flow of the story instead of punctuating it. Hyde does a terrific job of crafting her characters; even the less flamboyant of the dozen guests seem very real, if superfluous. The mechanics of whitewater rafting and the challenges faced by seasoned guides are also well drawn, as the petulant clients face heatstroke, emotional conflicts and the constant test of big rapids. So far, so good, until a bewildering medical emergency sends the story tumbling off on a wildly improbable tangent. It’s a jarring diversion that threatens to turn a thoughtful portrait of humanity at odds with nature into a Lifetime movie-of-the-week.

Well-intentioned but flawed ensemble drama.

Pub Date: July 20, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-307-26367-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2009

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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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