ISLAND JUSTICE

The interconnected lives and loves of a Maine island’s summer and off-season people are explored with engaging warmth in a rather loose, baggy chronicle, from the author of numerous books for children and one previous adult novel, In My Mother’s House (1988). As the story begins, 30ish Maggie Hammond, a consultant specializing in the restoration of antique furniture, returns to the (unnamed) island to claim the old house left to her by her late godmother. Winthrop then gradually introduces Maggie’s year-round neighbors: contractor (and sheriff) Al Craven, his abused wife Anna, and their 13-year-old daughter Erin; Dennis Lacey, a newly arrived physician; Chuck Montclair, a kind of village sage who quietly observes others’ conflicts; and Sam Matera, deemed “the naturalist,” to whom Maggie is instantly attracted. The novel springs some surprises, thanks to the skill with which Winthrop shifts the viewpoint (Maggie is by no means its sole focus). But the major actions are nevertheless contrived and predictable: A nurse who sleeps around discovers, and displays, evidence of an extramarital affair; Al’s brutal treatment of Anna (and habit of slipping into Erin’s bed) produces explosive results; teenagers vandalize empty houses; and Al’s construction company, no straight-arrow, is discovered to be using inferior materials and bribing building inspectors. Winthrop does best in portraying Erin’s baffled awareness of sex—several scenes involving kids are among the book’s sharpest—but she labors too much in distinguishing “island people” from their less communal mainland counterparts (“we jump when the siren goes off and take chances when somebody’s in trouble. . . . It’s not because we’re morally upright human beings. It’s just because there’s this circle of water around us that forces us to be that way”). Add a loose-end—tying finale in which a wounded dog recovers and people get the partners they desire, and what you have is a pretty conventional melodrama after all.

Pub Date: July 8, 1998

ISBN: 0-688-15920-6

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1998

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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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