FOREIGN MATTER

The high jinks of a lovable ne'er-do-well expatriate—in an old-fashioned but often very funny first novel in the style of P.G. Wodehouse or Kingsley Amis.

Toby Tucker is an amiable, quite lazy, not-quite-grown-up young man in his late 30's who has left New York with numerous collection agents on his tail: "Most of them couldn't make it as thugs, and they're bitter about it." After scraping along as a language teacher and tour guide in Italy, he has the good fortune to meet a lovely American widow named Marcie Harding, who is willing to keep Toby in the style he prefers—for services rendered, of course. Unfortunately, along with Marcie comes her little brat of a daughter, Andrea; and her pompous father-in-law, Haze Harding, who controls the purse strings. As the novel opens, the foursome are in Athens, and Haze is threatening to cut off Marica's money—he insists on buying a perfectly dreadful painting by an equally dreadful artist named Johna Nerg, for $100,000. Thus begins an energetic comedy of errors. The lackadaisical Toby, seeing his meal ticket disappearing, destroy's the Nerg painting on several occasions, only to see it resurrect itself, repaired and even more expensive. It is finally bought from under Haze's nose by a rich Greek woman who lives on a small island; Haze, Toby, Marcia, and Andrea descend on the place, the painting is destroyed a few more times, and Toby plans a grand caper to satisfactorily end the entire affair—all the while fighting off the advances of a teen-age American girl, and a sultry Frenchwoman. Toby is really a gigolo of yesteryear's comedy, fighting his way through blinding hangovers to somehow blunder through victoriously—but he's enormously enjoyable while he's at it.

A promising debut.

Pub Date: May 1, 1988

ISBN: 978-0689119408

Page Count: 237

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1988

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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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