A SOLDIER'S BOOK

A grim, terse, often moving first novel about a young Union soldier who comes of age in the waning days of the Civil War. Captured in 1864, Ira Stevens is sent to the South’s most notorious military prison, Andersonville. In a stockade enclosing some 20 acres, many thousands of ill and grotesquely undernourished prisoners struggle to maintain some sense of humanity and to preserve a fragile hope that they may be exchanged for Confederate p.o.w.’s before disease or starvation claims them. A few, including Ira and a small band of his friends, attempt repeatedly without success to tunnel beneath the stockade. The horrors of Andersonville have been depicted before, most notably in MacKinlay Kantor’s epic novel Andersonville. But Higgins (stories: The Importance of High Places, 1993) sets her story apart by offering a concentrated study of how the experience of captivity either corrodes or fosters character. Her portrait of Ira and his friends—the tough, soldierly Gus; the dour, brilliant Marinus; and the amoral Louis—is complex and penetrating. Without overplaying it, she demonstrates a convincing grasp of the language, attitudes, and morality of the period, and the emergence of Ira’s character and beliefs in the midst of degradation is both subtle and believable. The degradation, it should be noted, is considerable: The camp’s only drinking water is contaminated by human waste, starvation ravages bodies and minds, disease of every sort is rampant. Frantic to survive, some sink into violence. Ira tends the ill, watches his friends die, escapes only to be recaptured and tortured, and escapes again. An impressive debut, and a notable contribution to the recent flood of Civil War novels.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-57962-009-4

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Permanent Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1998

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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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