A satisfying introduction to a new series, featuring relatable characters and an engaging storyline.

Leaving Oxford

From the Southern Hearts Series series , Vol. 1

A relationship between an ad executive and a football coach changes them both in ways neither could have imagined in this debut romance.

Sarah Beth LeClair teaches an advertising class at the University of Mississippi, but with a degree of trepidation. She’s a specialist in her field, and she enjoyed a successful career with a prestigious agency in Los Angeles until a tragic loss prompted her to return to the safety of her family home in Oxford, Mississippi. Sarah Beth drifted away from the church after the deaths of her parents, but then she renewed her commitment to her Christian faith. Although teaching is rewarding for her, it can’t quell her constant anxiety. One afternoon, football coach Jess McCoy stops by her office to discuss one of his players taking her class, and they begin a casual, if cautious, friendship. Despite his reputation as a ladies’ man, the nonreligious Jess finds himself drawn to both Sarah Beth and her faith. As their friendship deepens, she opens up to him about her tumultuous past, her tragic losses, and her anxiety. He resolves to help her overcome the latter, and their friendship turns into a romance. But after Jess receives an offer to coach a professional team, he wonders whether he should stay with the woman he loves or leave Oxford to pursue his dream. This first novel in Ferguson’s Southern Hearts series offers strong, well-developed characters and a nuanced narrative that never strikes a false note. Sarah Beth and Jess are appealing protagonists with complicated, painful pasts who draw strength from their growing friendship. Ferguson handles the subplot about Sarah Beth’s anxiety with great compassion and sensitivity. Subtle foreshadowing hints at the cause of Sarah Beth’s unease, while extended flashbacks expand her back story and offer insight into the importance of religion in her life. Ferguson builds Sarah Beth and Jess’ relationship slowly and methodically, and the story is particularly effective at conveying the positive effect that she has on him. The well-rounded cast of supporting players includes Jess’ best friend, Nick Russo; Nick’s young daughter, Katie; Sarah Beth’s brother, Mark; and her colleague, Jill Martin.

A satisfying introduction to a new series, featuring relatable characters and an engaging storyline.

Pub Date: April 22, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9974822-0-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Southern Sun Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 8, 2016

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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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