A fun, fast read with some history and feminist themes thrown in.

TWILIGHT EMPRESS

A NOVEL OF IMPERIAL ROME

From the The Theodosian Women series

In her latest historical novel, Justice (Sword of the Gladiatrix, 2015, etc.) examines the life of little-known Roman empress Placidia.

In the fifth century, the Roman territory of Ravenna in northern Italy is sacked by the Goths. Young Princess Placidia is captured and held as a “guest” in the Goths’ royal court so that she can be used as a negotiation tool with the Romans. The author creates great tension as readers follow Placidia to the Gothic land, where she’s taken care of by Queen Gaatha, the wife of Alaric, king of the Goths. After a series of events that warms Placidia to the barbarian tribe, she finds herself falling for Ataulf, Gaatha’s brother, who takes control of the Goths after Alaric falls dead of a fever. Alaric’s and others’ demises come rather abruptly, but the book is an addictive read, as Justice chooses her key moments wisely, weaving a decadeslong narrative about Placidia’s layered life as she rises to eventual leadership. The opening scenes make clear that as a woman, Placidia’s bloodline is her most useful asset in ancient society. The author does a fine job of delicately underlining the limits of female governance during the period, creating sympathy for the heroine, whose only option is to rule through men. The sharp protagonist effectively navigates the politics surrounding her incapable brother, as well as conspirators, tragic deaths, and war, all while trying to save the nearly deflated Roman Empire. Justice shies away from in-depth political and geographical history, which keeps the novel from feeling like a historical lesson; however, at times, the text feels rushed, with myriad new names constantly appearing. If the author had allowed the various characters a little more room to breathe, it would have added more richness to the book. That said, the prose is tight and clean throughout, and the characters’ missions are always clear despite the complexities of the situations.

A fun, fast read with some history and feminist themes thrown in.

Pub Date: May 8, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-692-46051-1

Page Count: 392

Publisher: Raggedy Moon Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2017

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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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