An expertly paced, moving exploration of grief and responsibility and an eloquent portrait of a small town struggling with...

THE PROMISE OF PIERSON ORCHARD

A small-town family, torn apart by tragedy, must find a way to overcome their grievances when they face a common threat in Brandes’ debut novel.

Long before fracking ever came to Minden, Pennsylvania, the fissures in the Pierson family were developing into major fault lines. Brothers Jack and Wade were very young when their mother, Stella, abandoned them and never returned. Their stern father, Steve, is all they have—until Wade shoots him in a freak accident. After a frantic effort to reach out to his mother proves fruitless, Wade leaves town, carrying an understandably heavy burden of remorse. Twenty years on, Jack, who recently separated from his wife, LeeAnn, is an orchardist tending to acres of apple trees and making do in his economically depressed hometown. What the townspeople don’t know is that they could be sitting on vast reserves of Marcellus shale, an abundant source of natural gas. Before long, Green Energy, a fracking company, comes calling and sends in a star salesman with a few local connections: Wade. In response, Jack reaches out to their mom, now called Stella Brantley, who’s an established environmental lawyer, and convinces her that Minden should be the next battleground for pro bono activist work. The scene is set for confrontation: between the two siblings, between them and their mother, and between the small town and a large corporation. Brandes checks off all the boxes for quality fiction: the characters are well-rounded, the settings, such as the apple orchards, the crisp Silver Creek, and the rocky outcrops, are vividly described, and the plot is well-organized and crisply paced. The tension between the characters satisfyingly rises to a crescendo that’s in sync with the larger environmental crisis that threatens the town, although some of the drama feels contrived at times. Readers will hear echoes of author Richard Russo’s small-town stories here, although Brandes works on a smaller, less complex canvas.  

An expertly paced, moving exploration of grief and responsibility and an eloquent portrait of a small town struggling with compromise.

Pub Date: April 22, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-942545-51-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2016

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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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