MONUMENT ROCK

The late (d. 1988), leathery, awesomely unstoppable (over 100 books still in print) L’Amour, still producing fluently from his grave (End of the Drive, 1997), offers one more gathering of unpublished tales, proving again that great writing laughs at death. Showing sheer contempt for slow openings, L’Amour’s seven newly discovered short stories offer some breath-catching first paragraphs echoing with the cold steel click of a Colt .45 hammer being cocked. The lead story, “The Man from Utah,” polishes L’Amour’s walnut prose to its glossiest grain. Bearing a fearsome reputation as a gunfighter, Marshall Utah Blaine arrives in Squaw Creek to investigate 14 recent murders (three were marshals) by a cunning bandit masquerading as an upright citizen. By a process of deduction, the shrewd Blaine narrows his suspects down until he has the killer. “Here Ends the Trail” opens with a High L’Amouresque Miltonic Inversion: “Cold was the night and bitter the wind and brutal the trail behind. Hunched in the saddle, I growled at the dark and peered through the blinding rain. The agony of my wound was a white-hot flame from the bullet of Korry Gleason.” This builds to an explosive climax that mixes vengeance with great-heartedness. “Battle at Burnt Camp,” “Ironwood Station” and “The Man from the Dead Hills” all live up to the melodrama of their blue-steel titles. “Strawhouse Trail” opens memorably with the line: “He looked through his field glasses into the eyes of a dying man.” And never lets up. The title novella tells of Lona Markham’s unwilling engagement to six-foot-five, 250-pound, harsh-lipped Frank Mailer, who has “blue, slightly glassy eyes.” Will Lance Kilkenny, the mysterious Black Rider, save her from indestructible Mailer? Stinging stories of powerful men against landscapes you can strike a match on.

Pub Date: May 11, 1998

ISBN: 0-553-10833-6

Page Count: 260

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1998

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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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