Some moving material about love and loss, swamped by authorial excess.

THE THIRD ANGEL

A ghost in a down-at-the-heels London hotel ties together three tragic romances in Hoffman’s latest (Skylight Confessions, 2007, etc.).

Though all three episodes are strongly conceived with complex characters, the connecting material includes carelessly repetitive plot devices (warring sisters, cancer-stricken mothers), highly improbable links among the major figures and a seriously overused blue heron. The “third angel” metaphor is also heavy-handed, but at least has a tangible connection to the plot. In addition to the Angel of Life and the Angel of Death, Dr. Lewis tells his daughter Frieda, there’s a Third Angel, “who walked among us, who sometimes lay sick in bed, begging for human compassion.” Frieda passes along this insight to Allie, who marries Frieda’s dying son Paul during the summer of 1999 in the novel’s first section. Though Allie’s furiously jealous younger sister Maddy does everything she can to destroy the wedding—including sleeping with Paul, who’s trying to convince his fiancée that he doesn’t deserve her—nothing can kill the love that blossoms in Allie as Paul’s illness grows mortal. Section two moves back to 1966, when 19-year-old Frieda has fled her father’s plans for her to become a doctor and gone to work as a maid at the Lion Park Hotel. Frieda falls in love with Jamie, the junkie rock star in Room 708, and writes him two songs: “The Third Angel” and “The Ghost of Michael Macklin.” The latter is about the specter introduced in the book’s opening pages, when Maddy hears shouting in Room 707 and learns that something terrible happened there in 1952. In fact, it was Maddy and Allie’s mother, then 12 years old, who witnessed the incident that created the ghost, an outgrowth of yet another doomed wedding. The particulars are recounted in the closing section, which features another cluster of full-bodied characters. By now, however, the piling up of disasters and coincidences has become ridiculous.

Some moving material about love and loss, swamped by authorial excess.

Pub Date: April 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-307-39385-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Shaye Areheart/Harmony

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2008

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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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