A welcome return to top form by a gifted, popular author.

BLUE DIARY

A small-town hero with a criminal past raises unsettling questions about guilt and trust, in this unsparing new novel by Hoffman (The River King, 2000, etc.).

Everyone in Monroe, Massachusetts, adores Ethan Ford. He’s the town’s most reliable contractor, a supportive Little League coach, and a life-saving member of the volunteer fire department. He and his wife of 13 years, Jorie, are still so in love that they’ve tumbled back into bed on the June morning when the local sheriff rings the bell to arrest him on a 15-year-old murder charge. Ethan freely admits it. “The way he sees it the truth is a simple thing: He is not the same man any more.” The self-obsessed, violent drifter who raped and killed Rachel Morris became another person after that night, asserts Ethan, and enough people in Monroe agree to form an ardent defense committee, including sexy Rosarie Williams, casual breaker of teenage boys’ hearts, who thinks Ethan is her dream lover. But Rosarie’s 12-year-old sister, Kat, who recognized Ethan’s photo on TV and turned him in, is not the only person who thinks guilt can’t be shed so easily. His son, Collie, doesn’t even want to see him, and Jorie reels from the knowledge that her life has been founded on a lie. When she goes to Maryland to confront what Ethan did, the victim’s bitter younger brother reminds her, “My sister never had the chance to be a different woman” and gives her Rachel’s blue diary to drive home his point. Ethan’s claims of repentance and redemption come to seem much too glib as Hoffman skillfully spins a disciplined narrative (the whimsy and the descriptions of nature for once held in check) focused on the struggles of Monroe’s stunned residents to make sense of this abrupt fissure in their accepted reality. Hopeful developments for the strong supporting characters prevent the story from seeming entirely grim, but the final decisions made by Jorie and others suggest that forgiveness should not be lightly given—or requested.

A welcome return to top form by a gifted, popular author.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-399-14802-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2001

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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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