A lightly fictionalized account of the first Jesuit in China that informs but fails to enthrall.

DEFYING DANGER

A NOVEL BASED ON THE LIFE OF FATHER MATTEO RICCI

A historical novel dramatizes the life and work of a Roman Catholic missionary.

Born in the mid-16th century to a wealthy family in the Italian town of Macerata, Matteo Ricci receives a classical education from his beloved tutor, Father Niccolò Bencivegni. One day, while still a boy, Matteo learns that the priest will be leaving Macerata for Rome in order to join an exciting new religious order: the Society of Jesus. “Just before you were born, Matteo,” Bencivegni explains of the order’s co-founder, “a Christian missionary from Spain named Francis Xavier wanted very much to show the people of China the virtues of becoming Christian. But he became sick and died before he could even try.” When he reaches adulthood, Matteo joins the society—also known as the Jesuits—himself, much to the consternation of his parents. Matteo develops a fascination for cartography and dreams of becoming a missionary in the still mysterious Far East. His wish is made a reality when the society sends him to India and eventually China, where he will attempt to fulfill the dream of Xavier. But to truly bring Christianity to China, Matteo will have to find a way to meet the emperor by gaining entrance to the Forbidden City—the imperial palace that no European has ever visited before. Gregory’s (God’s Messenger, 2017) narration possesses a fablelike quality that makes the whole novel feel like an elongated bedtime story: “Deep within the strange lands and customs of China, the Jesuits found comfort in their familiar routine of prayer and meditation. Naturally they spoke Italian among themselves and sang simple hymns in Latin.” By presenting Ricci’s work as a quest to realize the dream of Xavier, the author provides a simple but effective arc to the priest’s life. As is usual for the Mentoris Project series—which focuses on notable Italians and Italian Americans—the author takes a singularly positive view of her subject, which flattens Ricci a bit as a character. The book doesn’t quite satisfy as true fiction—at least not for adults—but the tale will teach readers a lot about Ricci and the Jesuit mission in China.

A lightly fictionalized account of the first Jesuit in China that informs but fails to enthrall.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-1-947431-23-2

Page Count: 178

Publisher: Barbera Foundation, Inc.

Review Posted Online: June 18, 2019

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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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