PORTOFINO

From the author of The Scapeweed Goat (1989): a pleasant, low- key comedy of manners about a family of fundamentalists and their hormone-driven son who vacation each year on the Italian Riviera. Calvin Becker, ten, has been vacationing at a pensione on the Riviera with his parents ever since he turned three. Reformed Protestants, his parents bicker ceaselessly with each other while they try to reform the European Roman Catholic world. Dad had ``a highly developed sense of personal grievance,'' and Calvin, along with his mother and two sisters, spends a good deal of time trying to gauge ``Dad's Moods.'' Set during 1962-65, the novel works largely as a picaresque as Calvin explores the town, makes friends, discovers the dual pleasures of drink and female companionship (mostly innocent), and walks a thin family line between sophistry and lying. The book is vivid with the things that Calvin sees and experiences: the yachts of the ``Very Wealthy,'' snorkeling (and, eventually, getting entangled by an octopus), the sights of the large hotels on the family's waterfront strolls, and, especially, the stories of the family's Prayer Charts and Sword Drills (the Bible is their sword) and long dining-room benedictions. Finally, Calvin rebels and refuses to carry his Gospel Walnut with him. He shoots a cat with his spear-gun, adopts a family of ``sadly lost Roman Catholics,'' and, reacting to love-interest Jennifer, begins to wonder how to hide his ``Little Thing'' when it gets hard—those tight Italian bathing suits, you know. Finally, though, after his parents discover his drinking, ``My wickedness brought the family back together.'' Sometimes contrived or predictable, but, overall, good-humored diversion: a wry coming-of-age tale with a few splendid laugh-out- loud moments.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-02-607051-0

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1992

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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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