A marvelous, convincing feat.

FIRE FIRE

Lush novel by Australian Sallis (Mahjar, 2005, etc.) skillfully uses the deterioration of a sprawling house in the isolated bush to represent the collapse of a large German family of artists.

In the 1970s, the Houdini clan emigrates from Germany to settle in the Whispers, a large property in the hills near Toggenberg, Australia. The seclusion and untameable wildness of the place, strange and even terrifying to the children, is attractive to their world-weary parents, painter Acantia and renowned violist Pa. The couple is intent on leading a virtuous back-to-nature life, home-schooling their offspring and rejecting the “contaminants” of society. Over the years, each child adapts differently to the challenge of the increasingly decrepit house and overgrown, snake-infested grounds. Eldest daughter Beate, ten years old when they arrive, sees her parents’ mission as “the end”; she throws herself into playing the violin, becoming the family’s great hope and eventual tragedy. Ursula, fascinated by the locale’s dark associations, incorporates its mysteries into her games. Gotthilf, bookish but unwelcoming of his mother’s severe teaching methods, earns frequent beatings. Twins Siegfried and Helmut become goat-herders. As their kids move into adolescence, the eccentric parents blind themselves to the activities of a pedophilic family friend, Count Ugolini, who deflowers both Ursula and Gotthilf. The boy becomes a delinquent and runs away to create a new identity for himself as a writer. Ursula goes to university and helps remove younger siblings Lilo and Arno from the house. Appalled by her mother’s mania and her father’s deepening depression, Ursula forces herself to return and keep vigil at the crumbling structure. In deliberate, tactile prose, Sallis creates a chilling sense of physical decay and emotional corrosion.

A marvelous, convincing feat.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 1-74114-352-7

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2006

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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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