A patchy collection—sparse in places, repetitive in others.

CONCORD, VIRGINIA

A SOUTHERN TOWN IN ELEVEN STORIES

Uneven debut offers a nod to the Southern tradition of oral storytelling.

The main character in these 11 linked short stories is, without a doubt, the town of Concord, Va., which seems to protest the signs of encroaching modernity. In “The Vultures,” for instance, a grief-stricken man who has accidentally shot his wife to death on a hunting trip vows to give up his guns, lest something happen to his twin daughters. But when he arrives home, he finds an infestation of lecherous flying scavengers and has to make a difficult decision. Based loosely on the author’s native Lexington, Concord faces some very real problems. Intolerance runs rampant: In “The Botanist,” a young man literally must go on trial to defend his homosexuality, and “The Builders” opens with Ku Klux Klan members chaining a black man to a natural bridge formation in the Blue Ridge Mountains, leaving him dangling high above the Fork River. The latter tale also features the ghost of Thomas Jefferson, speaking through the hapless Klan victim. Many of these stories twist in such a subtle way that it’s difficult after a while to tell the supernatural from the real.

A patchy collection—sparse in places, repetitive in others.

Pub Date: July 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-312-53737-1

Page Count: 160

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2009

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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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