BEACH MUSIC

The latest in Conroy's output of overwrought, overwritten family sagas (Prince of Tides, 1986, etc.): a sprawling, oversized beach read with the loftiest of intentions. Jack McCall is a wisecracking but tenderhearted travel/food writer with a painful past. After his beloved wife and high-school sweetheart Shyla leaps to her death from a bridge, he flees to Rome with their infant daughter, determined to raise her free from his and Shyla's oppressive southern heritage. You name it, Jack is running from it: a brutal, alcoholic father; an emotionally distant mother; four overbearing brothers (including a schizophrenic); boyhood friends turned enemies; and Shyla's parents, Holocaust survivors who never accepted their Catholic son-in-law and even blamed him for Shyla's suicide, though they desperately want to get to know their granddaughter. When Jack learns of his mother's impending death from leukemia, he returns to South Carolina for the first time in seven years, plunging nine-year-old Leah into a world she has known only through her father's eyes and stories, and finally forcing himself to wrestle with his own numerous demons. With zeal like that of his now-familiar swaggering protagonists, Conroy spins out of control once Jack and Leah leave Romehis all- encompassing sweep of the Holocaust, the Vietnam War, international terrorism, politics, religion, and the evils of Hollywood leaves little time for the bones of Jack's family drama or his sketchy romance with Ledare, another figure from his past. A real gift for storytelling emerges in spots, especially when Conroy sticks close to home, but eventually the overwhelming ``themes'' and cloying prose (hazelnut ice cream reminds Jack of ``smoke and ice and darkness'') sink the story like a ton of concrete. The Prince of Tides goes to EuropeConroy promises untold horrors and ecstasies, but delivers refractory, predictable, and occasionally entertaining southern fluff. (First printing of 750,000; Literary Guild selection; author tour)

Pub Date: June 28, 1995

ISBN: 0-385-41304-1

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1995

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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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