A whimsical, funny, and poignant historical novel.

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THE GIRL PRETENDING TO READ RILKE

Riddle debuts with a pleasantly offbeat coming-of-age novel that looks back at the changing roles of women in the 1960s.

In 1963, 19-year-old Bronwen Olwen has just completed her junior year in a prestigious Portland, Oregon, college and is heading to Boston for a prime summer internship in a biochemistry lab—and, not incidentally, a couple of months of living with her boyfriend, Eric Breuner. He’s four years older, ensconced in Harvard, and working toward a junior fellowship in the biology department, where he’s a superstar. Indeed, Bronwen is daunted by what she accepts as his intellectual superiority. But this summer, she’s decided to become an expert in the literary works of early 20th-century Bohemian-Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke as her nonscientific area of proficiency, because “All the scientists in Eric’s crowd had a little niche, a subarea of nontechnical knowledge on which they could hold forth.” Her boss, Felix, is a strange whirlwind of frenetic energy, always “rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet.” Bronwen helps him with some problem experiments, enabling him to complete his long-overdue doctoral thesis. Her grueling hours at the lab prove more gratifying than her time spent with the obnoxiously arrogant Eric and his cohort of pseudo-intellectual male scientists. However, it takes a series of crises to force her to reexamine her life. Although Riddle’s narrative is often humorous and frequently quirky, it also offers a stark reminder of the scientific community’s treatment of women joining its ranks in the ’60s. For example, Felix can’t fathom why Bronwen would choose to study science given her other options: “Girls don’t just whimsically decide to give up a social life and nice clothes to hang around in smelly hellholes with slavedrivers like me ordering them around.” Throughout, Riddle mixes solid, straightforward storytelling with long, stream-of-consciousness sections in which the omniscient narrator jumps into Bronwen’s chaotic mental meanderings. The run-on sentences in the latter can be confusing at times, but they effectively reflect the protagonist’s inner struggle as familiar young adult angst meets bubbling social change.

A whimsical, funny, and poignant historical novel.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-615-90432-0

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Pilgrim's Lane Press

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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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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