A gentle tale of an island buffeted by wild winds and imbued with melancholy.

THE VALLEY AT THE CENTRE OF THE WORLD

A tender evocation of a sheltered valley.

In his delicately wrought debut novel, journalist, songwriter, and nonfiction writer Tallack (The Undiscovered Islands:An Archipelago of Myths and Mysteries, Phantoms and Fakes, 2017, etc.) explores the meaning of place, freedom, and community to residents of a remote Scottish island. Like Anne Tyler’s Baltimore or Jane Smiley’s Iowa, Tallack’s Shetland valley, a landscape that he knows intimately, is integral to the lives of his characters, who seek solace and communion there: emotionally wounded Sandy, for one; Alice, a mystery writer grieving after her husband’s sudden death; and Terry, escaping loneliness in alcohol. For Sandy, who lives in one of the island’s larger towns, the valley insulates him “from the fractured world that once had seemed so threatening,” making him feel “absorbed by the place, without being destroyed by it.” He came with his girlfriend, Emma, whose parents are crofters, a way of life her father inherited without question: “both a gift and a choice.” Emma, though, feeling smothered by the valley, has left, suddenly, to make other choices. When her father offers Sandy work and a place to live, the young man decides to stay. Also escaping a fractured world is Alice, who has returned to the island that enchanted her on her honeymoon. Now she plans to write about it, “to contain it in words and in thoughts, to describe the place and to encompass it.” Provisionally titled The Valley at the Centre of the World, the book project, she hopes, will give her a sense of belonging. But learning about hedgehogs, sheep, and hares leaves Alice longing to know more about her elusive, reticent neighbors. After an elderly woman dies, her journals, diaries, and letters are passed on to Alice. But neither the writings nor the woman’s house, which Sandy moves into, reveal Maggie’s inner life. Indeed, Tallack’s gentle, compassionate portrayal of his characters leaves their hearts and minds inviolable: “Sometimes,” one woman remarks to Terry, “things lose their magic when you know how to take them apart.”

A gentle tale of an island buffeted by wild winds and imbued with melancholy.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-78689-230-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Canongate

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2018

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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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