Dreamy, savagely romantic Canadian fiction.

THE HOLDING

The story of a 19th-century family of Scottish emigrants to Canada’s Madawaska region, and of a modern couple inhabiting the same land in the 1990s.

This first novel from Simonds (The Lion in the Room Next Door, stories, 2002, etc.) opens with Margaret MacBayne, who lives with her two older brothers in a homestead they cleared and claimed upon arriving, in 1859, from Fife, on Scotland’s east coast. Their mother and father died shortly after their arrival in the new land, so Margaret is largely left to herself to explore the woods in the winter months. She eventually learns about the medicinal powers of herbs from an Indian neighbor who cares for her when Margaret’s betrothed, a young man who returned with her brothers one spring, dies during a tree-felling competition. In alternating chapters, we learn of Alyson Thomson’s idyllic existence on the same farm in the early 1990s. Alyson cultivates her herbs for sale in teas and spices alongside Walker, a moody, antisocial artist with whom she bought the land ten years before. After several discouraging miscarriages, Alyson finds herself pregnant. Walker has left for the season to make money, and Alyson must deliver the baby herself in a perilous emergency. Inconsolable and estranged from Walker after the infant’s death, she unearths a diary that reveals the sad tale of Margaret’s lost love and subsequent revenge on her brothers. Alyson also discovers damning evidence against her secretive husband, who changed his name after running away from home as a boy. Simonds concocts a portentous mix in this atmospheric novel.

Dreamy, savagely romantic Canadian fiction.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-393-06061-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2005

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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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