So robust and resilient are Bauermeister’s characters that readers may wish she had challenged them with thornier dilemmas.


A Seattle chef and her circle of friends cope with life’s pivotal moments.

In this follow-up to The School of Essential Ingredients (2009), Chef Lillian continues to run her small restaurant, which has become a hub for people in transition. In what is essentially a collection of linked stories, the following characters have their say: Al, Lillian's accountant; her sous-chef, Chloe; Isabelle, an elderly woman with whom Chloe is staying; the lanky and taciturn dishwasher, Finnegan; Louise, Al's tightly wound wife; Lillian’s new boyfriend, widower Tom; and Isabelle’s daughter Abby, a stickler for order. Chance dictates these characters’ interactions, as does mutual attraction or dislike. Miscommunication is a major theme, at times blunted by almost farcical misunderstandings, as when Louise assumes Al is having an affair with Chloe, while Al assumes Louise no longer wants his affection. Lillian has just discovered she is pregnant and cannot bring herself to tell Tom, who later will take offense that Isabelle found out before he did. Isabelle knows that she is sliding into possible Alzheimer’s, and Abby (one of the more realistic portrayals) is exasperated that her younger siblings aren’t joining her in pressuring their mother to sell the family cabin to pay for her long-term care. At Isabelle’s behest (when she’s not forgetting things, she’s a wise woman), Chloe goes out with Finnegan, who encourages her to keep a notebook. She’s beginning to think he might be soul-mate material until she sees his trunk full of notebooks by other girlfriends, a disturbing find that Finnegan must explain in his own chapter. Lush descriptions of food, including the smells that provoke Lillian’s telltale morning sickness, tie it all together. Although the art of uncrossing all these mixed signals (a bit too neatly) is not lost on Bauermeister, the narrative, carried by so many disparate points of view, never quite comes into focus.

So robust and resilient are Bauermeister’s characters that readers may wish she had challenged them with thornier dilemmas.

Pub Date: Jan. 24, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-399-16211-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2012

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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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