Contrived zaniness, short on plot and character.



In this fiction debut from Notaro (Autobiography of a Fat Bride, 2003, etc.), a quirky freelance writer from Arizona relocates to Spaulding, Wash., with her professor husband and enters the local “Sewer Pipe Queen” pageant to make friends.

It does not take long after arriving in her new town for Maye to realize she is not in Phoenix anymore. A lovely, liberal enclave with draconian recycling laws, cops hooked on organic donuts and a fitness-minded mailman who jogs his route, Spaulding is also, she realizes, difficult to penetrate for a newcomer who works from home. Friendly and full of good intentions, the chubby writer initially blows it with her husband Charlie’s colleagues after accidentally exposing herself at a party at the Dean’s house. Her subsequent efforts to meet people go awry as well. There is the band of wiccans who want to bathe her, a militant vegetarian who exiles her from his club after he catches her tucking into a juicy steak and a seemingly normal bookstore clerk who goes nuts after one glass of wine too many. Then Maye finds out about the Sewer Pipe Queen. An odd competition where “talent” and originality matter more than beauty, Maye decides that winning will boost her reputation, but only if she can find a former queen to sponsor her. Using her reporting skills, she tracks down the long-lost legendary queen of all Sewer Pipe Queens—Ruby Spicer. Now a crazy old bat raising dogs on the outskirts of town, the hard drinking Ruby is, to say the least, not a traditional mentor. But the two woman bond, with Maye helping to uncover the sad truth as to why Ruby left town. Ruby in turn coaches Maye on a showstopper of an act, in which Maye dances and lip-syncs to an 80s-era Pat Benatar song, accompanied on piano by her Australian Sheepdog Mickey. Really. The book has funny gags, but it feels more like a collection of silly situations that a cohesive novel.

Contrived zaniness, short on plot and character.

Pub Date: May 29, 2007

ISBN: 1-4000-6501-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2007

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.


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.


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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