Just uneven enough to make seeking out its several gems an entertaining and rewarding reading experience.


Thematic imbalance and wan lyricism figure rather too prominently in this 24th installment of the annual series.

It’s understandable that the chaos wreaked by Hurricane Katrina continues to loom, like a buzzard hungrily circling overhead, in the contemporary Southern imagination. Nevertheless, with one exception, this volume’s several Katrina-inflected stories tell us little not already eloquently presented in news coverage and analysis of that horror. The exception is Katherine Karlin’s gritty “Muscle Memory,” in which a bereaved adult daughter honors her late father and the storm’s victims by learning her daddy’s signature skill—welding. This fine story’s detailed attention to the earthy business of living contrasts powerfully with too many flat, clichéd depictions of sexual experimentation, fraying relationships and failed marriages. That said, a generous amount of this volume’s contents is very much worth reading. Veteran authors Elizabeth Spencer and Kelly Cherry deftly identify the fallout from fallible parents’ misadventures (in “Banger Finds Out” and “Sightings,” respectively). The classic Southern emphasis on clannishness and its discontents is freshly portrayed in Michael Knight’s envisioning of a betrayed husband’s surprising encounter with his wife’s lover (“Grand Old Party”); Stephanie Powell Watt’s slyly understated account of an independent “maiden” aunt’s various effects on her semi-scandalized relations (“Family Museum of the Ancient Postcards”); and Cary Holladay’s lovely “Horse People,” which channels both Eudora Welty and Harper Lee to tell the life story of a gentle, reflective protagonist influenced in more ways than he can count by the character of his compassionate father, a respected Virginia judge. Best of all are Pinckney Benedict’s “The World, the Flesh, and the Devil,” about an American fighter pilot in Vietnam accidentally transformed from predator into “prey,” and Clinton J. Stewart’s “Bird Dog,” which illuminates with precise prose and savage irony the consequences of a well-meaning father’s attempt to make “a man” of his sensitive, musically gifted son.

Just uneven enough to make seeking out its several gems an entertaining and rewarding reading experience.

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-56512-674-9

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2009

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet