THE CONSTELLATIONS

The promised sequel to The Planets, Boylan's 1991 saga of the sociopathic human menagerie of Centralia, Pa.—the town that sits atop a mine fire that's smoldered out of control since 1962—is just as mad, though by no means as magical. ``I wish you wanted me,'' unlovely teen Phoebe Harrison tells her long-deserted mother in a typed note she forgetfully leaves behind en route to the tattoo parlor one summer day. In no time at all, both Phoebe's uncle, Patrick Flinch, and Isabelle Smuggs, an inventive sculptor staying at the Flinches' find the note—and each, naturally, assumes it's from the other. Complications ensue, distracting the characters so effectively they don't even notice when Phoebe's older sister Demmie and her gum-chewing boyfriend Billings break in and rob the house. Next thing you know, it's three months later, and Phoebe's back in the home of her father, Wedley, and her hated stepmother, Vicki, a beautician who's still carrying on the world's least clandestine affair with Wedley's next-door neighbor Dwayne—an affair that will have a sudden, decisive impact on Phoebe's coiffure. Then it's winter, the season when Phoebe is reunited with her mother, and Isabelle, whose sculptural work up until now has mostly been a meticulously correct set of innards, opens the exhibit she hopes will make her fortune- -grotesquely decapitated heads of famous folks from Amelia Earhart to Barton Sumac, the avant-garde painter who asked her to pose over a period of weeks before producing an enormous painting of her breasts—only to have the treacherous painter himself steal the exhibit, setting the stage for a monumentally loopy mass kidnapping, extortion, etc. The seasonal metaphor and the unfolding of his characters' peccadilloes give Boylan's story the centrifugal force of a runaway comet; but gorgeously shaggy episodes too often peter off into blackout sketches before the long-awaited finale kicks in.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-679-43021-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1994

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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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