A sophisticated, satisfying treat.

DANCING ON THORNS

A grand, ambitious debut, set in the elegantly volatile world of professional ballet.

At 16, Jean-Baptiste St. Michel is almost finished as a classical dancer. His teachers have lost faith in him—and he’s given up on himself—but one aged prima donna sees promise in the awkward, beautiful boy. She whisks him away from the Académie in Paris, gives him a place in her small English ballet company and turns him over to a daring, mercurial and brilliant choreographer. Years of total dedication and unrelenting work transform Michel into a star. Jonni Kendal is a fledgling actress, in London for her first professional role, but her interest in her career fades when she meets Michel. It takes just one night for her to become completely captivated by this gorgeous, graceful and serenely confident young man and his beguiling circle of friends. As for Michel, he’s quite taken with Jonni’s sweet face and generous backside, but he saves all his emotion for the stage. The evolution of this tragically flawed relationship is just one facet of Horsfall’s epic first novel. This big, rich, romantic saga, peopled with a full cast of appealing characters, and their complex, compelling stories, are allowed to develop over the course of several years. Comparisons to Barbara Taylor Bradford and Maeve Binchy are easy, but Horsfall has her own style and her own sensibility. Although she gives her audience plenty of sentimentality and spectacle, she writes with a cool, dry—occasionally wry—voice that’s the perfect complement to her combustible subjects. The narrative sparkles with love and lust and intrigue and betrayals and breakdowns, but the drama never seems contrived; instead, it’s just a natural by-product of ballet, the inevitable outpouring of devoted young artists working and living together in a rarefied, insulated and high-pressure world. Horsfall is also able to relate a great deal of information about dance without ever becoming didactic, which makes her book as edifying as it is entertaining.

A sophisticated, satisfying treat.

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2005

ISBN: 0-345-47978-5

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2005

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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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