Elias Abrams remains a cipher, easily upstaged by the real star here: New Orleans in all its fetid, polyglot glory.

LANDSMAN

Jewish fugitive from the Gangs of New Orleans fights the War between the States.

Elias Abrams, the illegitimate son of wealthy sugar planter I.J. Lieber, whom he meets exactly once—or maybe, fatefully, twice—is a denizen of the mean streets of New Orleans. He and his mother eke out a living growing and selling vegetables. In and out of orphanages after his mother dies of yellow fever, Abrams becomes the henchman of Silas Wolfe, the leader of one of the city’s fiercest gangs, the Cypress Stump Boys. Now Abrams, a Confederate soldier, slogs through mostly losing battles with his unlikely comrade-in arms, Mark-Twain–waggish classics professor Carlson. When his company commander asks Abrams to correspond with a respectable young lady of his faith whose rabbi has urged her to write to a soldier, Carlson offers editing help to his semi-literate friend. Soon a rose/talc-scented reply arrives from Nora Bloom, and Abrams is enchanted. But his dark past intrudes. Two thugs, Cobb and Petitgout, test his poker prowess, and Abrams fears they are agents of Wolfe, now his enemy. Challenging the duo, he nearly kills them. He and Carlson join a cavalry expedition to Arkansas, where Abrams is wounded in a skirmish with Union horsemen. Delirious, he reveals to Carlson that he and Wolfe might have murdered Lieber. Sent back to New Orleans to recuperate, he meets Nora. Despite the social gulf between them, she is intrigued. But Abrams can’t resist trying to settle his old score with Wolfe, who threatens reprisals against Nora if Abrams doesn’t dispatch Petitgout. Sexual encounters and carnage are described in lurid detail, and, throughout, the language is as lush and sometimes as tepid and leaden as a humid bayou day. The illusion that Abrams labors under for half the novel is revealed in a final cruel twist, but since Abrams never transcends his hardscrabble persona, readers won’t sympathize.

Elias Abrams remains a cipher, easily upstaged by the real star here: New Orleans in all its fetid, polyglot glory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-58243-367-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2007

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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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