Evison moves his narrative backward and forward through time, taking a leisurely approach to telling a story that is seldom...

WEST OF HERE

Well-plotted, literate novel of the 19th-century settling of a corner of the West and the still-resounding echoes of decisions made long ago.

The Olympic Peninsula, west of Seattle, Wash., was little known even to Native American people until very recent times, thanks to its “chaos of snow-clad ranges colliding at odd angles, a bulwark of spiny ridges defending a hulking central range like the jaws of a trap.” Those imposing mountains long defied exploration and exploitation, but in time, as sophomore novelist Evison (All About Lulu, 2008) explains, they drew a particular kind of person who just wouldn’t go away, seeing in them the promise of endless wealth. So it is with James Mather, an “Arctic explorer, Indian fighter, and rugged individual” who arrives in the soggy outpost of Port Bonita with orders from the governor to bring the place under the aegis of civilization. Ethan Thornburgh, young and dissolute, has a somewhat different vision: He aims to turn the mountains into money, the better to make the place his own domain. The communitarians (“Weren’t they socialists or something?” asks a latter-day resident of the place, none too well versed in history), squatters and Indians who live nearby have different visions still. Much of Evison’s story—which, naturally, involves a headstrong pioneer woman—is conventional, though, borrowing a page from Ivan Doig’s Winter Brothers (1980), it makes room for closely observed notes on American Indian life as seen through the lens of a couple of key players. What brings the story to life, though, is Evison’s juxtaposition of a century past with a much different present, in which the derring-do of our forebears is seen as so much criminality, and the things that they built—particularly dams—as so many insults to the land that require undoing and atonement.

Evison moves his narrative backward and forward through time, taking a leisurely approach to telling a story that is seldom dramatic, but that Westerners will recognize as their own.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-56512-952-8

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Dec. 30, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2011

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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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