Smith delineates his large cast concisely and writes with verve and style about campus life. But his unwieldy debut...

THE WHISPER OF LEAVES

A group of midwestern college students exploring remote Lues Creek Canyon discovers the corpse of a naked woman. Police chief Colt Fellows efficiently identifies the departed as trashy Josie Fortune and the killer as her no-account husband Jack Hazard. Twenty years later, English scholar DJ (Josie) Fortune, the murdered woman’s daughter, returns to take a teaching position at Lues State. Raised by foster parents far from the scene of the crime, Josie has little knowledge of the murder or the incarceration of her father, who is back in society after serving his sentence. Nor is Josie, absorbed in her new teaching duties and English Department gossip, particularly curious. But the past comes calling in the form of anonymous threatening notes whose form and syntax match a message carved on the body of Josie’s mother a generation ago. Josie pores over old newspapers, tracks down some of the witnesses, and consults Colt Fellows, who eventually discloses that Jack wasn’t the killer after all. Thenceforth the plot takes surprising, albeit awkward, directions, each with its own collection of suspects. Jack lives as a mountain man with his brother Virgil, who at one point kidnaps Josie. Surviving lawmen from the old probe reveal hidden agendas. The students who found the body try to protect long-buried secrets. Even Josie’s colleagues evince suspicious behavior and irrational grudges.

Smith delineates his large cast concisely and writes with verve and style about campus life. But his unwieldy debut stretches credibility at every turn.

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 2002

ISBN: 0-8093-2480-6

Page Count: 358

Publisher: Southern Illinois Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2002

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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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