A richly imagined look at the high price one pre-modern woman pays for her independence.


A young woman fights for her sanity in Victorian England.

When Shumway’s debut historical novel opens in the spring of 1837, little Euphemia “Effie” Marten’s life is idyllic: She’s the daughter of Henry Marten of Marten House, the squire of Chilton Foliat, whose manor house and estate grounds form a beautiful backdrop to games Effie plays with her adored older brother, George. But their happiness shatters seven years later when a drunken George, after three unsuccessful terms at Oxford (and driven to despair by his enormous debts), drowns himself in the River Cherwell. His suicide not only brings pain and grief on his stunned family, but also brings George’s outstanding debts to the Marten estate. When Mr. Marten sells her horse to help pay George’s debts, Effie’s grief leads her to behave oddly. She sneaks out of the house dressed as a boy, is quickly discovered, announces her intention to travel to Oxford alone to pay her respects at her brother’s grave, and, when forbidden to do so by her father, throws things and bites her father’s hand. Her father promptly consigns her to the care of the family doctor and sends her to Warrinder House, a lunatic asylum in Lyme Regis (although she later scoffs at the term: “Asylum?” she says. “Warrinder House was neither more nor less than a gaol for wayward females—a dumping ground”). There, she encounters a somewhat predictable string of brutalities that convinces her to escape with a friend and work to expose the shady practices of Warrinder House. The novel’s period details are refreshingly well-researched (Jane Austen fans will find their beloved Lyme Regis faithfully drawn), and the state of Victorian mental health practices is harrowingly portrayed. Effie’s own shift into bizarre behavior seems a bit arbitrary (it comes as a surprise when we’re flatly told, early on, that she’s “slightly unbalanced”), but readers will end up rooting for her.

A richly imagined look at the high price one pre-modern woman pays for her independence.

Pub Date: May 9, 2013

ISBN: 978-1484933305

Page Count: 272

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2013

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.


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.


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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