A cut below this author’s superb earlier books, but very much worth reading.

THE NIGHT WATCH

Time runs backward, and memory tightens its grip on the variously involved characters of British author Waters’s unusual fourth novel—a departure from her highly praised historicals Tipping the Velvet (1999), Affinity (2000) and Fingersmith (2002).

It’s indeed a story of relationships, which begins in 1947 in a London rooming-house where sinister Mr. Leonard treats the afflicted using Christian Science principles, and from which boarder Kay Langrish, an ambulance driver during the recent war, wanders the streets seeking the woman she had loved and lost years ago. Waters skillfully draws us into the lives of those who orbit around these two figures: elderly Mr. Munday, and his dutiful young “nephew,” ex-convict Duncan Pearce; Duncan’s sister Vivian, stalled in a dingy relationship with her married lover; “Viv’s” business partner Helen Givner, with whom she operates a matchmaking concern; and Helen’s lover Julia Standing, a beautiful, self-possessed bestselling mystery novelist. We gradually learn how the death of Duncan’s lover Alec Planer had set Duncan on a course of self-destruction, and also how virtually all the novel’s women have at one time been involved with, yearned for and/or failed or betrayed one another. The strong emphasis on same-sex attraction threatens to reduce the book to something very like a manifesto. But Waters’s mastery of period detail carries the day, and the work is further distinguished by several brilliant sequences: Mr. Mundy’s slow, patient seduction of the helplessly vulnerable Duncan; Viv’s botched abortion, performed by a sublimely creepy back-street dentist; Helen’s panicked reaction to evidence of Julia’s infidelity; and Kay’s stoical labors during the Blitz, when she’s partnered with another young woman who will not be “the one” of whom she dreams.

A cut below this author’s superb earlier books, but very much worth reading.

Pub Date: March 23, 2006

ISBN: 1-59448-905-X

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 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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