Impressively researched, persuasively detailed: a first novel destined to become a reading club favorite.


Two women of different generations—and worlds—find both fulfillment and disenchantment on “the world’s most remote island.”

In 1913, Englishwoman Elsa Pendleton Beazley, having put behind her a career as a governess and an unresolved relationship with her German employer, embarks with her much older husband Edward, a research scientist, on a journey to the eponymous South Pacific island. The couple are accompanied by Elsa’s mentally disabled, volatile younger sister Alice, to whom Elsa is both sibling and de facto mother. In parallel narratives, Vanderbes describes the movements of a German naval fleet pursued by British warships, which anchored off (and perhaps visited) Easter Island—and also the 1973 journey of Dr. Greer Faraday, whose mission is to study the island’s ecosystem in hopes of determining how plant life came to a seemingly barren island “Fifteen hundred miles from another landmass.” Vanderbes painstakingly fills in details of former experiences that have shaped her characters’ attitudes—notably (and a bit turgidly) Greer’s estrangement from her late husband Thomas, following allegations of academic fraud. The heart of the story, though, is the island’s impenetrable mysteriousness, and Vanderbes extracts considerable drama and tension from questions not susceptible to final answers. What is the meaning of the fabled stone statues (moai), relics of an earlier age, that face inland toward what was once a wilderness? And of the stone tablets containing undecipherable pictographic writing (rongorongo)? Is there a recorded history that mocks its pursuers, or only mute ruined evidence of an island paradise destroyed by its contact with “superior” civilizations? A most satisfying partial resolution is given in the closing pages, focused on the fates of Alice and of the German fleet, as well as on the answers for which Greer Faraday eventually settles.

Impressively researched, persuasively detailed: a first novel destined to become a reading club favorite.

Pub Date: June 3, 2003

ISBN: 0-385-33673-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2003

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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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