Fiction from Denfeld, Hamer, Hannah, Simmons, and Debuter Reed | Xpress Reviews

Week ending August 18, 2017

starred review starDenfeld, Rene. The Child Finder. Harper. Sept. 2017. 288p. ISBN 9780062659057. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062659071. F
In her sophomore novel, Denfeld (The Enchanted) has created a glittering gem of a story—part mystery, part fairy tale, and all white-knuckled, edge-of-your-seat thriller. Set in the snow-choked world of Oregon’s Skookum National Forest, Denfeld’s tale revolves around the work of Naomi, an investigator known as “the Child Finder” who helps families track down their missing children. Calm, methodical, and determined, Naomi is single-minded in her pursuit of those lost because she was once a lost girl, too. As the book opens, she is meeting with the parents of Madison Culver, who disappeared three years before during a family trip to the forest to cut down a Christmas tree. Many have written off Madison for dead, but Naomi is willing to consider alternatives—even though the search causes her to remember long-lost scenes from her own tragic past. As the story alternates between Naomi’s voice and that of a “snow child” who believes that she is living in a fairy tale, readers will be drawn in by Denfeld’s lyrical prose and undone by the brutal reality that Naomi uncovers, just beneath the snowy forest floor.
Strongly recommended for readers who enjoy the work of authors such as Jane Hamilton and M.L. Stedman (The Light Between Oceans). [See Prepub Alert, 3/27/17.]—Amy Hoseth, Colorado State Univ. Lib., Fort Collins

Hamer, Kate. The Doll Funeral. Melville House. Aug. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9781612196657. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781612196664. F
When Ruby learns on her 13th birthday that her mom and dad aren’t her real parents, she sets out with her friend Shadow Boy to find the truth about her origins. Shadow Boy isn’t real, and he isn’t imaginary; he is one of the many spirits that interact with Ruby, as she has a connection with the dead that she has never fully understood. Her spirit friends appear throughout the novel, playing a crucial role in muddling Ruby’s progress while she stays with a group of seemingly abandoned children for a month—an interlude that is mildly reminiscent of the lost boys in Peter Pan but not nearly as clever. Since Ruby is easily distracted, the sharpest components of this novel are those in the voice of Anna, Ruby’s birth mother, as she explains why she was forced to abandon her child and how Ruby came to live with her abusive adoptive family.
Verdict Parts of Ruby’s mythology are underdeveloped, as her role as a “hunter of souls” is never fully explained, but Hamer’s sophomore effort (after The Girl in the Red Coat) is reminiscent enough of Kim Edwards’s The Memory Keeper’s Daughter to continue reading.—Tina Panik, Avon Free P.L., CT

Hannah, Sophie. Keep Her Safe. Morrow. Sept. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9780062388322. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062388346. F
Faced with an unexpected pregnancy that only she wants, Cara Burrows runs away from her family in the UK and arrives late at night at an exclusive Arizona resort. She is accidentally given the wrong room assignment, a room that a man and a teenage girl are already using. Cara thinks nothing of it until she overhears another guest talking about Melody Chapa, the most famous murder victim in the States. Because she is British, Cara had not known much about the case involving the abduction and presumed murder of a seven-year-old girl. But the more she learns about Melody, the more convinced she is that the girl she saw her first night was Melody. With the help of other guests, Cara puts herself in danger to get at the truth. While Hannah’s premise is intriguing, she complicates her story with unnecessary plot twists and confusing character motivations. Cara never really seems to be in any real danger, while the case of Melody, presented through a series of YouTube clips from a Nancy Grace–like television show, has a remoteness to it.
Verdict A rare miss from this best-selling author. [See Prepub Alert, 3/13/17.]—Lynnanne Pearson, Skokie P.L., IL

Reed, Cheryl L. Poison Girls. Diversion. Sept. 2017. 374p. ISBN 9781682308264. pap. $15.99. F
[DEBUT] This debut novel by a journalist follows single, thirtysomething Chicago reporter Natalie Delaney as she investigates a series of e apparent heroin overdose deaths of affluent, teenage white girls in the steamy summer of 2008. She befriends a pair of potential informants, cousins Libby and Anna, whom she spotted on the scene of the last fatality. Natalie becomes involved in the girls’ lives, too deeply, and gets drawn into dangerous situations involving gangbangers and drug dealers on Chicago’s South Side. Natalie’s job at the newspaper hangs on her ability to produce a big story, and her investigation ultimately takes control of her life and almost ruins her.
Verdict This somewhat uneven debut is provocative but doesn’t completely live up to its potential. Its biggest strength is its evocative depiction of the Windy City, which is almost as compelling a character as is Natalie.—Kristen Stewart, Pearland Lib., Brazoria Cty. Lib. Syst., TX

Simmons, Kelly. The Fifth of July. Sourcebooks Landmark. Aug. 2017. 288p. ISBN 9781492651796. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781492651802. F
The Warners have summered at their cottage on Nantucket for decades, savoring traditions, salt air, and longtime friendships. But this year is different. The house is showing its age and so is Tripp, the family patriarch. He’s just not the dad the family remembers, and everyone is worried. Suddenly, tragedy strikes, and Tripp dies. Was it an accident? Was he killed? Did someone sabotage the old house? Family members appear to be harboring secrets, and everyone’s problems seem to be surfacing at once. It’s a small island, and everyone seems to have a piece of the puzzle.
Verdict Simmons’s (One More Day) cleverly dark family whodunit, narrated from multiple points of view, is just the perfect read for a day at the beach. The wonderful, salty Nantucket atmosphere and a cast of entertainingly questionable characters populate a fast-moving and spare plot.—Susan Clifford Braun, Bainbridge Island, WA

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