Always a pleasure to watch a pro at work, but Lively has done better than this.

THE PHOTOGRAPH

A beautiful woman continues beyond death to fascinate her survivors, in this 16th novel from the Booker-winning British author (Spiderweb, 1999, etc.) also well known for her children’s fantasy fiction.

The neatly turned plot is initiated by 60ish landscape historian Glyn Peters’s discovery (in an envelope marked “don’t open—destroy”) of a photograph showing his late wife Kath in a pose of obvious intimacy with her brother-in-law. Glyn, accustomed to “excavating” the truth about people from structures they leave behind, shares this unwelcome information, producing seismic tremors in several interlocking relationships. Kath’s older sister Elaine, a sophisticated “garden designer,” abruptly dismisses the errant Nick, a vagrant freelance journalist and lifelong underachiever, from their home, and their marriage. Their single daughter Polly, a distracted Web designer, tries and fails to make her parents reconcile. Glyn, meanwhile, questions old friends who might also have been Kath’s lovers, including arts festival exec Peter Claverdon (who’s gay) and publisher Oliver Watson (who took the offending photograph, but is otherwise innocent). Eventually, reclusive potter Mary Packard, who appears to have known the willful, probably unstable Kath better than any of them, arrives as a dea ex machina to reveal the motives behind Kath’s partially secret life. Lively handles this oddly unremarkable story skillfully, building a teasing fragmentary portrait of Kath from others’ memories of her—while clearly developing her manifest theme: the unknowability and mystery of other people’s lives. Only in the characterization of Elaine, a confident and capable woman sentient enough to understand and accept her own limitations, do the wit, constructive skill, and verbal facility lavished on what’s really a very slight story bear significant fruit.

Always a pleasure to watch a pro at work, but Lively has done better than this.

Pub Date: June 9, 2003

ISBN: 0-670-03205-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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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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