THIS YEAR IT WILL BE DIFFERENT

AND OTHER STORIES

A collection of Christmas-centered feel-good tales about love and family snarls in the season of comfort and joy. All are rendered in Binchy's popular unglossed style (The Glass Lake, 1995, etc.), and set in England, Ireland, and Australia. Some of the 15 tales have to do with unwise, innocent women carrying torches for the married lovers who take them for granted. Most eventually find the strength to douse the torch they've been carrying and let their own light shine—one is helped along by the plight of a loveless teenager and a sad gambler who's lost all. There are also abrasive relationships with children. In ``The First Step of Christmas,'' a resentful, neglected stepdaughter is lured home by a simple holiday tradition. Two single men with wayward adult children find mutual support and insight in ``A Typical Irish Christmas,'' and two singles in their 50s fly to Australia to meet their children's spouses for the first time—and discover each other along the way. Included as well are amusing tales about ditsy-to-just-plain-awful grannies. In ``A Season of Fuss,'' adult children foolishly try to curb their mother's towering nervous flights of preparation for the holidays. In ``The Best Inn in Town,'' two crazy grandmothers—one with ``a lip that curled all on its own,'' the other possessing ``a tinkling laugh that would freeze the blood''—are about to be dumped in a local inn. But the grandchildren, used to ``the natural order of things'' at Christmastime, have a better idea. There are marital reconciliations, too, and, in the sourly amusing title story, a long-suffering housewife, a good old reliable preparer and supplier of Christmas jollity, plans a surprise for her dense family that will resonate far beyond Christmas. In all, an appropriate gift for the casual reader—a bit of sentimentality and a touch of romance, along with humor and hopeful turns to treat those with cases of the holiday blues. (Literary Guild featured alternate selection)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-385-31503-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1996

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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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