Fiction from Hilderbrand, McGrath, Thayer, & Woods, and Debuts from Breznican & Dicker | Xpress Reviews

Week ending June 6, 2014

starred review starBreznican, Anthony. Brutal Youth. Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. Jun. 2014. 416p. ISBN 9781250019356. $25.99; ebk. 9781250019363. F
The adage says it takes a village to raise a child, but what if the village is a dangerous place? Such is the case at St. Michael the Archangel High School, where even the best-intentioned adults wreak havoc in the lives of their students. It’s the fall of 1991, and bullying is a deeply ingrained tradition at the school. In-crowd students haze newcomers with fevered zeal, the parish priest delights in belittling the principal, and the teachers turn on one another and their students. Into this mix tumble Peter Davidek, Lorelei Paskal, and Noah Stein, each carrying wounds and seeking a place to belong. What they find instead is a maze of traps and betrayals. Like mythic heroes, they must journey through their own fears and leave in their wake broken bodies and exposed truths.
Verdict Debut author (and senior staff writer at Entertainment Weekly) Breznican captures a perfect balance of horror, heartbreak, and resilience and takes the high school novel into deeper places. Great for the beach but not just a summer read. [The author will appear at the June 29 United for Libraries program “The Laugh’s on Us” at ALA in Las Vegas (—Ed.]—Jan Blodgett, Davidson Coll. Lib., NC

starred review starDicker, Joël. The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair. Penguin. Jun. 2014. 656p. tr. from French by Sam Taylor. ISBN 9780143126683. pap. $18; ebk. ISBN 9780698171121. F
truthaboutharry060614Swiss debut author Dicker has proven himself to be a talented new writer with this story of forbidden love, dashed hopes, and the darkness that lies inside all of us. Successful author Marcus Goldman, approaching his 30th birthday, is suffering from a severe case of writer’s block. On a winter visit with a friend, renowned writer Harry Quebert, Marcus accidentally discovers that Harry was once in love with a 15-year-old girl who vanished in the mid-1970s from a small New Hampshire town. Marcus is drawn into the mystery as he decides to make this the subject of his second novel. So begins a sordid tale with labyrinthine plot twists, an ominous atmosphere, and characters who are never quite what they seem. Moving deftly between Marcus writing his book in 2008 and the events of the summer of 1975, the titles takes readers on a harrowing journey through a town’s most shattering secrets.
Verdict Fans of mystery and suspense novels will enjoy this clever melding of TV shows Twin Peaks and The Killing as well as a liberal dusting of themes from The Exorcist. Already an international best seller and a winner of three French literary prizes, this is an astonishing and clever treatise on the nature of evil.—Mariel Pachucki, Maple Valley, WA

Hilderbrand, Elin. The Matchmaker. Little, Brown. Jun. 2014. 368p. ISBN 9780316099752. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780316329026. F
Looking for a summer read to get immersed in and transport you to beautiful Nantucket? Grab Hilderbrand’s (Beautiful Day; Summerland) latest and some sunglasses for a captivating and charming novel to devour. Dabney Kimball Beech has lived on Nantucket her whole life and prides herself on many things: her love and knowledge of all things Nantucket, her family, her work with the chamber of commerce, her cooking, and her successful matchmaking skills. Though some find her abilities intrusive, Dabney knows a destined match when she sees one—and when she does not. However, for herself, she believes she was wrong about her first love, until he comes back to Nantucket after 27 years in another country. Clendenin Hughes’s presence dares Dabney to start truly to live and enjoy all the moments of life that she can as both she and her daughter, Agnes, learn that life is messy and complicated—especially when matters of the heart are involved.
Verdict Here’s a must-read to reignite the beauty and gift of life, love, and family.—Anne M. Miskewitch, Chicago P.L.

McGrath, M.J. The Bone Seeker: An Edie Kiglatuk Mystery. Viking. Aug. 2014. 400p. ISBN 9780670785803. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101604892. MYS
The third entry in McGrath’s Canadian Arctic series (The Boy in the Snow; White Heat) finds Edie working as a summer school teacher and being recruited by the local police into investigating the fatal stabbing of a favorite student. A recovering alcoholic whose relationships with the men in her life (lover, ex-husband, stepson, and co-investigator) are all complicated, Edie reads at first glance like she sprang from a mystery protagonist checklist, but her investigation into the central crime is challenging and fast-paced. The setting, Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic, is the real star here, providing a detailed glimpse into a harsh arctic summer and the tensions between the native Inuits and the qalunaats from the south. McGrath uses the remoteness of the landscape to great effect, creating several suspenseful set pieces out of characters’ navigation of the unforgiving terrain and their inability just to leave town quickly. The remoteness also serves as a threat to the community, as it means atrocities can be committed and forgotten.
Verdict For fans of Dana Stabenow’s Kate Shugak series as well as readers who enjoy writers such as George Pelecanos and Giles Blunt, who create a strong sense of place in their mysteries.—Julie Elliott, Indiana Univ. Lib., South Bend

Thayer, Nancy. Nantucket Sisters. Ballantine. Jun. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9780345545480. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780345545497. F
Emily Porter and Maggie McIntyre became fast friends when they met as children on the island of Nantucket, where Emily’s family vacationed every summer. Maggie’s family is from the island, with her single mother being the local seamstress, and she and her brother, Ben, both working to keep the family afloat financially. Emily comes from wealth and as a result their friendship is frowned on by the Porter family. When Emily falls for Ben, Maggie couldn’t be happier. Now they can finally be real sisters, not just “Nantucket sisters,” as they dubbed themselves as youngsters. But things begin to unravel between the girls as Emily and Ben’s relationship stalls when Emily’s pursuit of an advanced degree and Ben’s pride and lack of money become roadblocks. The women’s friendship is once again put to the test with the introduction of handsome Wall Street trader Cameron Chadwick. They are forced to make decisions, to keep secrets, and finally to discover the truth needed to make a friendship last.
Verdict Thayer keeps readers on the edge of their seats with her dramatic story spanning the girls’ childhood to adulthood. This wonderful beach read packs a punch.—Erin A. Holt, Williamson Cty. P.L., Franklin, TN

Woods, Stuart. Cut and Thrust. Putnam. (Stone Barrington, Bk. 30). Jul. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9780399169113. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698154087. F
In the 30th installment (after Carnal Curiosity) of the Stone Barrington series, the debonair attorney accompanies his current squeeze, the campaign manager for a high-profile presidential candidate, to Los Angeles for the Democratic national convention. Hoping to win a spot on the presidential ticket is first lady and personal friend Kate Lee, who asks Stone to act as go-between to her opponents. Foiled assassination attempts, political manipulations, and public scandals are more than enough to keep Stone busy. In the meantime, old friend Ed Eagle makes an appearance to show support for his local candidate. Unfortunately for Ed, his devious ex-wife is not far behind and is still hell-bent on revenge. Luckily, Stone’s got an ace in the hole and calls in a favor from security specialist Billy Burnett to keep tabs on the manipulative ex.
Verdict Edgar Award winner Woods has written another satisfying addition to his popular series. Longtime fans will appreciate the inclusion of many familiar characters, including Will Lee and Dino Bachetti. The ending will both shock and amuse readers, and this alone makes Woods’s thriller worth the read. [See Prepub Alert, 1/10/14.]—Vicki Briner, Westminster, CO