A sweeping historical epic anchored by a compelling heroine, finely honed historical detail and a fully realized setting.

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THE FIG ORCHARD

In Fiske’s debut novel, a young peasant woman fights to keep her family together and embarks on a journey of discovery and empowerment.

Nisrina Huniah’s childhood is filled with tragedy and hardship. Born in a remote Palestinian village called Beit el Jebel near the turn of the 20th century, Nisrina’s mother died in childbirth, leaving her father, Isa, a grieving widower. She grows up with a loving stepmother, but her emotionally distant father wants her to marry rather than attend school with her best friend, Lamia. Despite her misgivings, she finds happiness and contentment with her husband, Jabran Yusef, a kind man who works in his family’s orchards. Prior to the birth of Nisrina’s third child, however, her world is shattered when Jabran is kidnapped by Turkish soldiers and forced to serve in their army. With his fate uncertain, Nisrina is left with a difficult choice: leave her children with the Yusef family and marry another man, or find a way to support herself and her children alone. She decides to attend a Catholic university and become a midwife, and this decision marks a pivotal turning point in her life; afterward, she struggles to keep her children and establish an independent identity in a tradition-bound society, while also holding out hope her beloved husband will one day return. Fiske’s ambitious novel successfully weaves several subplots into a single, emotionally rich tapestry. Nisrina’s story, particularly her education as a midwife, serves as the heart of the novel, but Jabran’s experiences as a conscript in the Turkish army are just as dynamic. These two characters are surrounded by a well-developed cast of supporting players, including members of Jabran’s extended family and the nuns at the university. The setting also plays an important role in the lives and fates of Fiske’s characters (“[T]he change in seasons…signaled the start of the sacred olive harvest, a month long event that brought together the young and the old, the strong and the weak”), and the author does a fine job of depicting daily life in a Middle Eastern village.

A sweeping historical epic anchored by a compelling heroine, finely honed historical detail and a fully realized setting.

Pub Date: July 2, 2013

ISBN: 978-0989455404

Page Count: 450

Publisher: Rancho Publishing, LLC

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2014

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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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