Cross has made a solid start for continued exploration of this strange yet for many readers familiar world, one that might...

WILBERFORCE

This debut moves from the misadventures of several boys at a British public school in 1926 to a study of a particularly hapless young man and his possible redemption.

St. Stephen’s Academy, a so-so non-Eton, is muddling along when one malevolent lad arranges a subversive prank that sparks a disciplinary backlash. Within the communal crime and punishment, Cross zooms in on the trials of Morgan Wilberforce, a 17-year-old dealing with hormones, underage females, abusive seniors, constant caning, and a few well-meaning teachers. One of the latter is John Grieves, on whom Cross expends a good deal of ink only to fade him out in the book’s second half. Morgan gets tangled in an all-boy triangle that ends tragically (though not before Cross oozes a good deal of purple prose), yet he bounces back in the annual cricket match between students and Old Boys. Finally, one offense too many gets him exiled to the home of an intriguing bishop who combines prayer, poetry, and talking cure in ministrations with an unclear outcome thanks to the novel’s slyly ambiguous ending. The cleric is the father of the academy’s new headmaster and tied to a painful time in Grieves’ youth, but these connections aren’t developed. Indeed, the book has several significant and promising loose ends that support the publisher’s bruiting about of Cross’ Rowling-esque ambitions for more volumes on St. Stephen’s & Co., perhaps achieving “the Hogwarts of adult literary fiction.” Maybe: certainly the dollops of frank sexual action will keep this installment off the teen shelves, and the absence of a single substantial female character might have more than halved the younger audience anyway.

Cross has made a solid start for continued exploration of this strange yet for many readers familiar world, one that might well capture a libidinous P.G. Wodehouse crowd, if she can render her quirky setting, cast, and concerns less earnest and more amusing.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-374-29010-8

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015

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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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