Fiction from Brafman, Gross, Ivey, Krueger, Rimington, Wiggs, and Debuter Paris | Xpress Reviews

Brafman's latest is too gloomy to appeal to adult romance fans; a first-rate tale from a real pro; Ivey's second work is even better than her first; Krueger has written a suspenseful outdoors thriller; Paris makes her smash debut; Rimington’s latest is a rewarding portrayal of the intersection of conscience, service, and doom; Wigg's title is a sweet yet dramatic and winding love story

Week ending July 22, 2016

Brafman, Michelle. Bertrand Court. Prospect Park. Sept. 2016. 264p. ISBN 9781938849794. $24.95; ISBN 9781938849800. pap. 16; ebk. ISBN 9781938849817. F
Brafman offers “the secrets of suburbia” in her newest work, exposing the drama and scandal of interconnected families living in a seemingly cozy Washington, DC, neighborhood. Each of the 17 chapters spotlights a resident of the cul-de-sac. Issues of infertility, sibling rivalry, marital affairs, and the isolating loneliness of parenthood epitomize the angsty lives of these creatures living behind white picket fences. The many narratives follow a noncohesive time line and present no climax or resolution. Pessimistic and moody, Brafman’s often nihilistic representation of human relationships adds little depth to the text. Complexities of the Jewish experience are a central theme of the author’s work, with many of the narratives focusing on various matriarchs of intertwined families.
Verdict Too vanilla to be a soap opera but too gloomy to appeal to adult romance fans, Bertrand Court lacks in overall purpose. Though similar in tone, this piece does not match the quality of Brafman’s solid debut novel, Washing the Dead.—Marian Mays, Washington Talking Book & Braille Lib., Seattle

starred review starGross, Andrew. The One Man. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Aug. 2016. 432p. ISBN 9781250079503. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466892187. F
In 1944, two Jews escape the Auschwitz death camp and provide proof of its existence to FDR’s inner team. At the same time, the Manhattan Project needs every advantage it can get in a race against German bomb builders and one man might provide that edge. Alfred Mendl, a German physicist whose family has been killed by the Nazis, is imprisoned at Auschwitz, and Peter Blum, an American Pole who fled Germany, volunteers to get him out. Blum infiltrates the camp and finds the elderly Mendl, but meanwhile a German intelligence officer has discovered the plot and is closing in fast. Further complications involve a teenage chess genius, a camp officer’s wife, and a relative believed dead.
Verdict: Gross has written 14 best-selling thrillers, five of them with James Patterson. Here he skillfully mixes his own Jewish ties with historical figures, vividly delineating the horrors of the camps through his characters’ experiences. The emotional heartaches are counterpointed by plot twists that maintain high suspense through to the very end. This is a first-rate tale from a real pro who here takes a different direction from his previous work.—Roland Person, formerly with Southern Illinois Univ. Lib., Carbondale

starred review starIvey, Eowyn. To the Bright Edge of the World. Little, Brown. Aug. 2016. 432p. ISBN 9780316242851. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316242844. F
tothebrightedge072216Authorized to lead an 1885 winter exploratory expedition up the Wolverine River into the Alaska interior, Lt. Col. Allen Forrester leaves his wife of a few short months to travel more than 1,000 miles over the most hostile terrain imaginable. Woefully unprepared for the climate, scarcity of food, and potentially hazardous exchanges with the native inhabitants, he and his men find a land that is as deadly as it is mysterious and beautiful. Meanwhile, bride Sophie faces a difficult pregnancy alone in Vancouver, WA. The entire novel consists of the correspondence between the couple—neither of them knowing if those letters will even reach the other. Interspersed are other letters between an exhibitor in Alaska and Allen’s great nephew who wants the Forresters’ story to be curated and preserved. This reviewer has never cared for epistolary novels, but Ivey not only makes it work, she makes it work magnificently. The personal nature, the immediacy of the writing puts the reader in the heart of the story, allowing one to become a participant rather than a mere observer.
Verdict Ivey’s first novel, The Snow Child (a lovely retelling of an old Russian folk tale), was a runaway hit, an international best seller, and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Her second work is even better! [See Prepub Alert, 2/8/16.]—Jane Henriksen Baird, Anchorage P.L., AK

Krueger, William Kent. Manitou Canyon. Atria. Sept. 2016. 328p. ISBN 9781476749266. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781476749280. MYS
In his 15th adventure (after Windigo Island), Cork O’Connor reluctantly returns to Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness for his daughter’s November wedding: it’s the month when his wife, father, and dear friend all died tragically. While awaiting the festivities, Cork learns that rescue workers have exhausted their efforts to find missing friend John Harris, who had built the nearby Manitou Canyon dam. Harris’s relatives beg Cork to continue the search. When Cork fails to return, his family send a floatplane out to search for him—only to find Harris’s blood-soaked campsite but no bodies. Meanwhile, Cork, in his hunt for Harris, has encountered an angry group of Ojibwe people who threaten to blow up the dam.
Verdict Once again, Krueger has written a suspenseful outdoors thriller that incorporates family drama, evocative settings, and fascinating Native American lore. [See Prepub Alert, 2/29/16.]—Jerry P. Miller. Cambridge, MA

starred review starParis, B.A. Behind Closed Doors. St. Martin’s. Aug. 2016. 304p. ISBN 9781250121004. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250121011. F
[DEBUT] Jack and Grace are the picture-perfect couple. She is thin, gorgeous, kind, and a fabulous cook, he is handsome, successful, and dotes on his wife. Jack has even agreed to let Millie, Grace’s special-needs sister, live with them when she turns 18, going as far to design Millie’s perfect bedroom. But can any couple be that perfect? There are slight chinks in their public image: Grace is never out of Jack’s loving gaze, doesn’t own a cell phone, and doesn’t email. And why does Jack keep mistakenly saying that Millie’s new bedroom is going to be red when her favorite color is yellow?
Verdict Making her smash debut, Paris switches chapters between the present and the recent past, taking us along on Grace’s journey and keeping the suspense level high. In the same vein as Gone Girl or Girl on the Train, this is a can’t-put-down psychological thriller. [An August LibraryReads pick.—Ed.]—Marianne Fitzgerald, Severna Park H.S., MD

Rimington, Stella. Breaking Cover: A Liz Carlyle Novel. Bloomsbury USA. Jul. 2016. 368p. ISBN 9781632865267. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781632865281. F
Grieving over the loss of the love of her life, British agent Liz Carlyle thankfully steps to the counterespionage side of the desk to take a little breather. But there is no time to rest her weary head. Her assistant reports her live-in lover is behaving strangely and a new hire over in MI6 may be mired in murky business. Veteran Liz, always cool and collected, does the math and perceives that in an era marked by Putin’s rebound toward Russian hegemony, his spies in London have flushed a couple of rabbits and are now in full pursuit. The ninth installment (after Close Call) of this Carlyle’s career in the male world of cloak-and-dagger literature is up-to-date in its cultural and political references. With government snooping as a major theme, this episode is engagingly complicated and will draw readers back to earlier Rimington works. Verdict While not as physically action-oriented as Jason Matthews’s Red Sparrow and very British compared to Gayle Lynds’s spy novels, Rimington’s latest is a strong and rewarding portrayal of the intersection of conscience, service, and doom.—Barbara Conaty, Falls Church, VA

Wiggs, Susan. Family Tree. Morrow. Aug. 2016. 368p. ISBN 9780062425430. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062425478. F
familytree072216Annie Rush knows two things—she’s got big dreams and she wants to be with Fletcher Wyndham forever. Growing up in rural Vermont on her family’s maple syrup farm, she fantasizes about college, travel, and a long happy life with Fletcher. He was the town bad boy—tough, mysterious, hard-working, and completely devoted to Annie. But when a tragedy forces Fletcher to stay in Vermont while Annie pursues college and a career, they grow apart. Years later, Annie suffers a terrible accident and wakes from a yearlong coma to find herself back home. Fletcher, a divorced father of one, still lives there, now as a judge. Annie has an incredible amount of healing to do—not just her body but her heart after her failed relationship with Fletcher. They have a chance to rekindle their old flame, but only if they both avoid past mistakes and learn to forgive.
Verdict This sweet yet dramatic and winding love story demonstrates the realities and complexities of love. Recommended for fans of realistic, heartwarming romances full of second chances. [See Prepub Alert, 2/21/16.]—J. Harris, New Hampshire

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