An ambitious if uneven attempt to write passionately in a minor key about commonplace yet central life experiences.


Responsibility for a dying parent, taking pleasure in a first baby, marriage to a man with kids and an angry ex-wife. Despite her gift for gorgeous prose, Phillips (Shelter, 1994, etc.) is not entirely successful in breathing new life into this combination of domestic dramas so familiar in fiction and women's lives today.

Kate Tateman, a poet in Boston, is pregnant. Involved with the expectant father, Matt, for eight months, she cannot marry him until his divorce is final. Not that his first marriage's breakup was Kate's fault—the ex-wife left first—but Kate must deal with Matt's two young sons' difficulties adjusting to her. Meanwhile, in Virginia, Kate's mother, Katherine, has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Mother and daughter are close, with few frictions, and no one questions that Kate will be Katherine's primary caretaker when the time comes. As Kate's pregnancy progresses, so does Katherine's cancer, and she moves in with Kate and Matt in Boston. The baby is born, Matt and Kate marry, Matt's sons make noisy, sometimes heartbreaking demands, Katherine weakens. Kate feeds, launders, nurtures. Her often thought-provoking musings are refreshingly lacking in cynicism, although her interspersed memories of a visit to India the year before, when she was free of responsibility, seem a bit contrived. At her best, Phillips builds scenes through sensory details and sharp dialogue. Kate's passionate love for her infant son is particularly well rendered, as is her deep tenderness toward her mother. Unfortunately, though, the story itself drags, thanks in part to needlessly repetitive bits of basic information. Meanwhile, Kate's relationship with Matt, who lacks a defined personality, never rises above lukewarm. And because Phillips insulates Kate from any character flaws, anger, or even much regret, Kate feels a little too perfect, too smart, her righteousness somewhat off-putting. No Pampers for her baby.

An ambitious if uneven attempt to write passionately in a minor key about commonplace yet central life experiences.

Pub Date: May 3, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-40194-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2000

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.


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.


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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