A story of grit and perseverance that will appeal to readers interested in the history of women in journalism.

THE GIRL PUZZLE

A historical novel about the 10 days that famed newspaper journalist Nellie Bly posed as a patient in a mental hospital.

The story opens in 1919 as narrator Beatrice Alexander performs menial tasks as Bly’s assistant at the McAlpin Hotel in Manhattan. Now in her 50s, Bly maintains a makeshift office in a suite at the hotel, where she writes articles and arranges adoptions. She gives Beatrice some handwritten notes to type—pages that recount Bly’s undercover stint in a mental institution decades before. As Beatrice works through these notes, third-person narration takes readers 30 years into the past. Desperate for her first break as a journalist, young Bly found work at a newspaper by agreeing to do an exposé on a women’s asylum. After convincing medical professionals that she was mentally unstable, she was taken to Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum for Women, in the East River, where she was instantly subjected to miserable treatment. The conditions at Blackwell’s Island couldn’t have been worse, with its rancid food, “filthy bathwater,” and abusive medical staff. Bly found only one genuinely altruistic doctor there, and his efforts had minimal impact on patient conditions. As Bly waited for her publisher to rescue her from the asylum, she worried that her suffering might cause her to lose her grip on reality. Novelist Braithwaite (The Road to Newgate, 2018, etc.) delivers a well-researched and engrossing tale that focuses on female empowerment. It’s full of intriguing historical details about past medical practices and the abuses that wards of the state endured; it also features many real-life characters, including patients and doctors that Bly met in the asylum. Indeed, the scenes in the so-called “madhouse” are significantly more compelling than those set years later, but the latter-day happenings do serve to show how successful Bly became after her first assignment. Although readers know from the start that Bly escaped Blackwell’s Island, the descriptions of her harrowing experiences remain captivating.

A story of grit and perseverance that will appeal to readers interested in the history of women in journalism.

Pub Date: March 6, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-79893-638-2

Page Count: 261

Publisher: Crooked Cat Books

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

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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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