Reduces one of history’s most important scientific discoveries to a mediocre whodunit.

THE DARWIN CONSPIRACY

Darwin’s big secret, finally revealed!

It’s surprising that someone with as impressive a pedigree as the New York Times’ Pulitzer-winning reporter Darnton, who also has a respectable track record in commercial fiction (Mind Catcher, 2002, etc.), didn’t do a better job with this novel about Darwin and evolution. The story moves along several parallel lines. The first involves anthropologist Hugh Kellum and toothsome academic Beth Dulcimer, both obsessed with figuring out the central mysteries of Darwin’s life. (Why did he wait more than two decades to publish Origin of the Species? Why he was so depressed and guilty-seeming? And so on.) The second narrative follows Darwin himself as he travels on the Beagle and formulates his thesis regarding evolution. A third strand is introduced when Hugh stumbles across a secret diary kept by Darwin’s daughter Elizabeth; it helps him and Beth fill in some of the blanks in the naturalist’s life. The novel’s most riveting pages show the timid Darwin braving the seas, discovering new-found confidence on distant shores and fending off competition from a cartoonishly drawn nemesis who seeks to be the first to popularize the evolution theory. Present-day plot developments are less than enthralling, and Darnton scarcely bothers to develop his characters beyond the barest of sketches. The book bumbles along, hardly exciting but moving speedily enough, until it comes at last to the revelation of the dark secret that has lurked in Darwin’s papers…until now. Darnton’s not-quite-pulp scientific adventure has the ring of early Michael Crichton, but the final sections are just plain silly, right down to the clichéd struggle on a ledge over an active volcano.

Reduces one of history’s most important scientific discoveries to a mediocre whodunit.

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-4137-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2005

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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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