A morbidly eerie and artfully crafted psychological thriller.

A REAL DAUGHTER

A mother loses her infant child, and her grief haunts her attempts to start afresh in this novel.

Claire leaves Vermont and moves to Los Angeles, reinventing herself as a landscape gardener. She becomes romantically involved with a high school history teacher, Jake, but hides her past, neglecting to tell him about her baby Sarah’s mysterious death more than five years ago, or about her marriage that fell apart thereafter. Jake finally tells her about his own living 8-year-old daughter, Mandy, two years older than Sarah would have been, if the latter were still alive. Claire and Jake become closer as a couple, but Mandy’s ungovernably rambunctious behavior, and her father’s bottomless indulgence of it, becomes a sore spot between them. After Claire and Jake get engaged, Claire becomes pregnant, and she spontaneously reveals to Mandy that she once had a child who passed away. Mandy’s response is chilling: “Sarah was a spoiled baby….You hugged her too much….No wonder she died.” However, Mandy keeps the secret to herself, which Claire interprets as a tactical maneuver—a calculated ploy to maintain power over her. Claire also becomes plagued by emotionally wrenching memories of her late daughter, some which reduce her to sobs, and she seems increasingly unable to distinguish between imaginative reveries and lived reality. Then Claire’s vision of her child demands to meet Mandy, and Claire begins to feel that her pregnancy is somehow a betrayal of her lost daughter—a defiling of a womb that rightfully belongs to Sarah. Debut author McKelvey has a gift for conjuring and maintaining a sepulchral atmosphere of expectancy. As the plot progresses, the reader will become gradually and tantalizingly aware that he or she is being led to a dramatic crescendo. The author depicts Claire’s disconnectedness from reality with immersive effectiveness—it becomes hard, even for readers, to distinguish between her melancholic dreams and her dangerous hallucinations. A principal element of suspense fiction is the pace of disclosure, and the author manages this perfectly, effectively doling out enough information to keep the plot intelligible but not so much that it dispels the mounting sense of mystery. For example, Claire’s brother, Roger, is a pediatrician, and he’s still bewildered by his patient Sarah’s death, thinking that “There must have been something I missed.” Then Claire tells readers that she knows precisely why Sarah died—but reservedly leaves it an enigma. At times, Mandy’s character seems painted in overly rough strokes, as she’s not merely a spoiled brat but also cunning and darkly clever: a preteen monster. Also, there’s something vaguely but creepily sexual about the bond between Mandy and Jake, a distasteful aspect that’s emphasized when Mandy joins the newlyweds on their honeymoon. But such hyperbole also helps to amplify the fact that Claire and Jake share a grasping possessiveness about their respective daughters. Indeed, Claire’s territoriality is all the more unsettling because it extends to the dead—and even to her memories of the dead.

A morbidly eerie and artfully crafted psychological thriller.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9972472-5-1

Page Count: 316

Publisher: Savant Books and Publications

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2017

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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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