A lively, entertaining debut—chick lit with edge.

MOONLIGHT IN ODESSA

Ukrainian woman marries a much older American nearly sight unseen, but her husband and his drowsy corner of the United States are not what she expected.

Daria’s options in her native Odessa are grim. She’s a trained engineer, but the best job she can find is as secretary to a foreigner, Mr. Harmon, who blithely announces during her interview that her duties include sleeping with him. For months she staves him off with Penelope-like resourcefulness, but after a near-rape in the office she decides her only remaining defense is to play procurer, so she sets up Harmon with an old schoolmate. Calculating, money-hungry Olga first freezes out Daria, then tries to supplant her in the job. Meanwhile Daria is moonlighting at the matchmaking service Soviet Unions, acting as liaison/interpreter between male American lonely-hearts and women looking for a way out. Her beloved grandmother urges her to light out for America with an e-mail suitor, and with some trepidation Daria does so, choosing Tristan, a stolid Californian 20 years her elder, over Vlad, the charismatic local mobster who’s pursuing her. But “near San Francisco” means four hours away, and her jealous, controlling husband turns out to be a custodian rather than a schoolteacher. Charles paints a tender, bittersweet portrait of Ukraine and Odessa. Best of all, she doesn’t oversimplify difficult choices and hard decisions or resort to cardboard villains, although noncity dwellers figure here mainly as caricatures.

A lively, entertaining debut—chick lit with edge.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-59691-672-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2009

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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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