Enough stylish invention here for several novels, but this one’s center cannot hold. Maybe next time.

THE PROBABLE FUTURE

A teenaged girl’s prophetic powers constitute the eye of several storms brewed up in the magical-realist’s overstuffed, ungainly, improbably absorbing 16th novel.

Taking a page or two from her Practical Magic (1995), Hoffman (Blue Diary, 2001, etc.) once again creates a trio of women gifted and burdened with extrasensory powers. Stella Avery discovers on her 13th birthday that she is able to see people’s futures—an alarming phenomenon that causes her father Will to be falsely suspected of murder. Stella’s mother Jenny, contentedly divorced from the feckless Will (who has a long history of selfish and irresponsible behavior), similarly troubled by her own ability to “read” people’s dreams, sends Stella away from scandal and possible danger to live with maternal grandmother Elinor, a widowed recluse who tends her beloved garden and considers the fruits of her ability to “smell out” falsehood, while she’s dying of cancer. First Jenny, then Will follow Stella’s path, and the tale opens—often quite awkwardly—to involve Elinor’s physician and friend Brock Stewart (who has secretly loved her for decades); Jenny’s formerly mousy high-school classmate Liza Hull (a woman reawakened and transformed by love); Dr. Stewart’s affable grandson Hap, who befriends Stella and falls for her acerbic visiting girlfriend Juliet Aronson; Will’s “good” brother Matt, a scholarly bachelor who has never forgotten Jenny; and the 17th-century figure of Rebecca Sparrow, a troubled and doomed woman evoked by both Matt’s historical researches and the experiences of her descendants, which are eventually seen to be replicating Rebecca’s own. Hoffman flits from one center of interest to another like a distracted butterfly. The effect is both jarring and intriguing. We’re interested in all her people, but their subordination to the increasingly busy plot tends to drain away interest created by their beguiling individual eccentricities.

Enough stylish invention here for several novels, but this one’s center cannot hold. Maybe next time.

Pub Date: June 24, 2003

ISBN: 0-385-50760-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2003

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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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