Contrived and sentimental, though Berg (True to Form, 2002, etc.) writes neatly packed and fluid prose.

SAY WHEN

Breaking up is hard to do, and breaking up with Santa almost impossible.

Frank Griffin has an inkling that his wife Ellen is fooling around with Peter, her basic auto mechanics course instructor. After ten years of marriage and the birth of their adorably precocious daughter Zoe, Ellen tells Frank she wants a divorce. She explains, coolly, that she never “believed in romantic love” until the ponytail-sporting mechanic came along and dazzled her. She asks Frank to move out, but he won’t budge. Problem is, he still loves her. They reluctantly agree to live as roommates, alternating nights out. In an effort to stifle the probing questions of her inquisitive eight-year-old, Ellen tells Zoe she’s taking a quilting class that often runs implausibly late. Frank throws out his wedding ring and tries directing his energies toward becoming a part-time mall Santa. More from spite than anything else, he begins dating the Christmas coordinator, Donna, a blond divorcée who is incredibly understanding of his needs. Most of the time, though, Frank sits around inventing nicknames for Peter (Oil Pan King, Mr. Points and Plugs), wallowing in the muck of his own unrequited desire for Ellen, and having exhaustive, watered-down-feminism chats with Zoe. Fed up with the fights and relentless sarcasm, Ellen decides to get her own apartment. What follows are fruitless yearnings, the immeasurable comfort of good ice-cream, overtly metaphorical dreams, bouts of self-help dating, and the limited strivings of Frank to understand where it all went wrong. The story, for all its nuances, hinges on just two questions: Will Ellen’s relationship with Peter last? Can Frank’s cunning use of passive aggression and belittling jabs lure Ellen home again? The answers arrive just in time for Christmas.

Contrived and sentimental, though Berg (True to Form, 2002, etc.) writes neatly packed and fluid prose.

Pub Date: June 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-7434-1136-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Atria

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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