Xpress Reviews: Fiction | First Look at New Books, September 13, 2013

Week ending September 13, 2013

Braffet, Kelly. Save Yourself. Crown. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780385347341. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780385347358. F
In her new novel, Braffet (Last Seen Leaving) explores a trio of characters who are struggling to overcome the damage inflicted by their parents. Patrick Cusimano is eking out a sorry life as a gas station clerk, overshadowed by his father’s conviction for a drunken hit-and-run accident that claimed the life of a local boy. Meanwhile, Patrick’s brother Mike is dating Caro, whose own upbringing as the daughter of a schizophrenic has led her to crave the normalcy of a stable home life. Rounding out the trio is Layla, a former “poster child” for her parents’ home ministry who is struggling with demons of her own, while her sister, Verna, shares her perspective and the narration. Braffet does a masterly job of bringing depth to people who live on the margins of society: waitresses, warehouse workers, goth teens. And even though the tone of this book is very dark, you’ll appreciate Braffet’s ear for dialog and the seamless way in which she intertwines her characters.
Verdict Recommended for fans of thrillers and dark, atmospheric fiction. [Braffet, who is married to novelist Owen King, was featured in a 7/31/13 New York Times Magazine profile about Stephen King and his family.—Ed.]—Amy Hoseth, Colorado State Univ. Lib., Fort Collins

Gruber, Michael. The Return. Holt. Sept. 2013. 384p. ISBN 9780805091298. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781466805026. F
Rick Marder’s death sentence is no spoiler alert; it is telegraphed on the very first page of Gruber’s seventh novel (after The Good Son).The surprise comes in how this fastidious book editor, after his brain tumor diagnosis, chooses to spend his final months packing a large supply of cash and guns into an RV for a trip down to Mexico on a deeply personal mission. Accompanying him on this trip are memories of his time in Vietnam and army friend Skelly, a violent wild card whose colorful presence skirts close to cliché without quite crossing over. Marder’s war experiences are not all that haunt him, as memories of his late wife, Chole, and family are never far behind. The manner of Chole’s death and his relations with his children, in particular his daughter Carmel, are a major part of the plot. Some of the Vietnam flashbacks feel forced, but when the work focuses on Marder, his daughter and Mexican culture, it shines.
Verdict Despite some flaws, this novel will please readers who enjoy their thrillers on the literary side. [See Prepub Alert, 3/18/13.]—Julie Elliott, Indiana Univ. Lib., South Bend

starred review starJackson, Mitchell S. The Residue Years. Bloomsbury USA. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9781620400289. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781620400302. F
There is nothing pretty about selling drugs or doing crack, yet Hurston Wright Award winner Jackson makes it literarily beautiful in this debut novel. The narrative alternates between the prospective of Champ, a black college student and drug dealer taking care of his family, and that of his mother, Grace, who has been recently released from a drug clinic. Opening in second person, the novel immediately grabs us, putting us in the place of the protagonists. We see characters as neither villains nor heroes but as simply people trying to do what they feel is right for the family. The beauty of this novel is Jackson’s inclusion of wonderful pearls of insight within the gritty story: “There’s a huge difference between lowering your standards and adjusting your expectations.” Some urban fiction preaches, but Jackson simply tells a wonderful story that resonates long after the book is closed.
Verdict As with Susan Straight’s Between Heaven and Here, this exceptional novel will appeal to readers of literary and urban fiction.—Ashanti White, Yelm, WA

Kenyon, Nate. Day One. Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. Oct. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9781250013217. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250013378. F
Kenyon is known for his novels of horror (The Bone Factory), but this possible Armageddon scenario is his scariest to date. Tainted by scandal, journalist John Hawke’s career is at a crossroads, and his family is ready to walk away as well. He hopes to turn things around when he lands an opportunity to interview James Weller, a tech legend who has created a new computer company. Hawke is in Weller’s downtown Manhattan office when the technological malfunctions begin. Soon every item with an Internet connection or access to the electrical grid begins to go haywire. Safety and trust evaporate.
Verdict Kenyon takes our reliance on technology and shows in a horrific and realistic way how much our world would crumble if we had to fend for ourselves. The pace is tense and the violence a bit gruesome at times, but this thriller is a must for horror fans or readers looking to convince others to put down their smartphones. [See Prepub Alert, 4/15/13.]—Jeff Ayers, Seattle P.L.

starred review starTreadwell, James. Anarchy. Emily Bestler: Atria. Sept. 2013. 432p. ISBN 9781451661675. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781451661699. FANTASY
Following up his spectacular debut, Advent, was a tall order, but Treadwell manages to astound readers once again in this second installment in his original fantasy trilogy. Goose is a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer who has been transferred to the sleepy village of Alice in British Columbia. Nothing ever happens in Alice until one evening a prisoner escapes a locked cell during Goose’s watch. Across the pond in rural England, a lonely, isolated young woman decides to leave her home of 13 years and venture into the heretofore unexplored and terrifying world. In London, chaos reigns: riots, burning buildings, strange issues with telephones, TV and the Internet, and end-of-days prophets screaming from every street corner. A mother leaves it all behind to seek her son who disappeared weeks ago. Weaving various threads together into one coherent story is one of Treadwell’s talents. There are dark and powerful forces at work, guiding each character’s journey to a staggering common culmination.
Verdict Treadwell writes with such love of language that even if the pacing feels slow at the beginning, readers will soon find themselves immersed in this fantasy’s captivating detail. Highly recommended.—Amy M. Davis, Parmley Billings Lib., MT

Bette-Lee Fox About Bette-Lee Fox

Bette-Lee Fox (blfox@mediasourceinc.com) is Managing Editor, Library Journal.

Now in her 46th year with Library Journal, Bette-Lee also edits LJ's Video Reviews column, six times a year Romance column, and e-original Romance reviews, which post weekly as LJ Xpress Reviews. She received the Romance Writers of America (RWA) Vivian Stephens Industry Award in 2013 for having "contributed to the genre or to RWA in a significant and/or continuing manner"