An unusual but poised mix of noir and town-and-gown novel, bolstered by Stone’s well-honed observational skills.

DEATH OF THE BLACK-HAIRED GIRL

The death of a star student at an upper-crust university unsettles friends, faculty and family in a piercing novel from veteran novelist Stone (Fun With Problems, 2010, etc.).

Stone’s eighth novel introduces student Maud Stack as a privileged young woman enveloped by a cloud of danger and collapse. The manicured, Ivy-ish campus is rife with halfway-house residents, mentally ill homeless people and addicts—that last group a class that includes plenty of students, too. Maud has her own issues with drinking, but her biggest problems are the ongoing affair she’s pursued with Steven, a married professor, and a column she’s written for the campus paper mocking anti-abortion protesters at a nearby hospital. Just as Maud’s writing grabs attention and her relationship with Steven falls apart, she’s killed in a car accident. The novel isn’t halfway done by then, and what follows isn’t an easy morality play about abortion rhetoric or teacher-student relationships. Rather, Stone pursues a close study of how Maud’s death has undone many of the certainties of those around her. The incident drives her father back to drinking and pondering past corruptions. An adviser recalls her own history as a protester and reconsiders her faith. And Steven, who was arguing with a drunken Maud before her death, reckons with his own complicity. Stone gives this story the rough shape of a police procedural—Steven is the main person of interest—which gives the prose some snap and avoids sodden, moralizing lectures. What emerges from Stone’s crisp storytelling is a critique of tribalism of all sorts—religious, academic, police—that doesn’t damn those institutions but reveals how they work to protect their own interests at the expense of those of others.

An unusual but poised mix of noir and town-and-gown novel, bolstered by Stone’s well-honed observational skills.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-618-38623-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2013

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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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