The charm and quirkiness of its predecessor are spread far too thin in this superficial follow-up.

HEART’S DESIRE

Soapy sequel to Beginner’s Luck (2003) brings back 17-year-old Hallie Palmer, home for the summer and trying to lose her virginity.

After her freshman year at college, Hallie returns to bucolic Cosgrove County, Ohio. But she doesn’t go back to her family’s overcrowded house, moving in instead with the eccentric crowd at the Stockton estate: mother Olivia, son Bernard, his lover Gil and an alcoholic chimp named Rocky. In three short months, Hallie solves everyone’s problems. First on her list is reconciling the boyfriends. To everyone’s shock, Gil is now dating women; Bernard wallows in grief while staging a Dark Victory marathon. Next in line is reforming Hallie’s little sister Louise, who’s running with a fast crowd, wearing black eye shadow and flunking high school. Our heroine also strives to stave off the imminent bankruptcy of Herb the pharmacist, who’s being undercut by the evil Valueland. And Hallie has problems of her own. She needs to raise thousands for next year’s tuition, and she’s trying to decide whether to have sex for the first time. After all, how does she know he’s the one? (This whole subplot is handled in a manner more appropriate for a juvenile audience.) The plot and the laughably tidy resolution are predictable, but the real failing lies with the all-too-familiar personalities. Instead of developing her secondary characters, Pederson reverts to types: Cappy the rascally bookmaker, Olivia the bohemian matriarch, Ottavio the passionate Italian, Bernard the gay cliché. (He’s an antiques dealer, a gourmand and loves Ethel Merman show tunes.) Apparently she doesn’t think her readers are smart enough for anything subtler; every time someone makes an obvious allusion, the author feels obliged to explain: Hegel is a German philosopher; “Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night” is from an old Bette Davis flick, etc.

The charm and quirkiness of its predecessor are spread far too thin in this superficial follow-up.

Pub Date: July 26, 2005

ISBN: 0-345-47955-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 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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