Wednesday, November 14, 2018

BLEAK HARBOR by Bryan Gruley

   Carey Bleak Peters should be the Princess of Bleak Harbor, Michigan. The City, after all, was founded by her family during the boon of the steel industry—and made them rich, wealth that continued beyond the closing of the steel and timber mills and shipping in the harbor as Bleak Harbor transformed into a summer vacation destination for the wealthy. But Carey’s mother, Serenity Bleak, sole heir of the fortune estimated to be worth several hundred million dollars, has other plans. And they don’t include Carey, her autistic son Danny, or her brother Jonah, the mayor of Bleak Harbor. When Danny is kidnapped and held for an ever increasing multi-million-dollar ransom, there is no shortage of suspects with strong motives: Danny’s biological father, an ex-con with a violent history; his step-father, a struggling medical marijuana dealer with business problems of his own; his mother, looking for her share of the Bleak fortune; Carey’s boss, looking for leverage against her to protect his business. As the search for Danny advances, it seems like every lead opens a door on a new suspect, and everyone has something to hide. Even the police and FBI agents investigating the crime and looking for the missing boy have their own agendas, and finding Danny seems secondary to them. 

     Bryan Gruley has created in Danny a complex boy with interests that provide meaning to the book. In contemplating Danny’s near obsession with a poem by Wallace Stevens, Carey remembers:

     And he would tell her that the palm in the opening line, the one Carey mistook for a hand instead of the tree it was, “is forever out of reach.” 
    She always heard his declaration as defeatist, as if Danny had given up on whatever dreams swirled in his mind. It crushed her. Now, his observation strikes her as realistic, mature, even liberating. Danny wasn’t saying people couldn’t have what they yearned for. He was saying that the yearning would never cease, no matter what was gained or gathered. It was enough to embrace the yearning, then let it go. She wishes she’d listened harder. 

     Danny has a similar obsession with dragonflies and is known to stand and watch them for hours, seeming to see then when others can’t. He wonders, “whether any of the people…actually know what the dragonfly is about, how its flitting beauty, wings aglint in sun, masks the bloodless killer within. Probably not.” 
     In a book full of secrets and masked motives, even the victim has a side that is underestimated. 

    Bleak Harbor is a thriller that increases the pressure with every chapter; like pealing layers of an onion it slowly exposes the complex crime--and possible complicity of each character--with every page turn. 
Gruley, Bryan. Bleak Harbor, Thomas & Mercer, December 1, 2018. 
ISBN 978-1503904682

A copy of Bleak Harbor was provided to The Thirty Year Itch by the publisher. No compensation was provided for this review. 

Friday, September 14, 2018

BABY TEETH by Zoje Stage

    Seven-year-old Hanna doesn’t not have much to say. Nothing, actually. Ever. While she seems to otherwise develop normally, she can’t—or won’t—talk.  Her parents, Suzette and Alex, subject her to test after test to find out why. But mutism isn’t Hanna’s only problem, not even her biggest. She wants her father all to herself, even if that means getting rid of Suzette. Is there such a thing as evil? Demons? Witches? After spending time with Hanna, those are the questions most will be asking!
Zoje Strage
     Baby Teeth is written using alternate point of view of Suzette and Hanna. Suzette--smart, likeable, hardworking, loves Hanna despite her behavioral problems, and works hard to be a good mother—sometimes lets her frustration and get the better of her. Hanna--smart and diabolical--still has the emotional, intellectual, and physical limitations of a seven-year-old, manifested in the sometimes-childlike simplicity of her plotting and beliefs in spells and curses. Her evil plans often fail the way one would expect when made by a seven-year-old, adding a layer of childlike inculpability. 
     Even in the failed plans Hanna’s intent is clear, and Suzette is caught between Hanna’s wrath and her husband, who is reluctant to believe his beautiful daughter is capable of such things. 

Stage, Zoje. Baby Teeth, St. Martin's Press, July 17, 2017. 
ISBN: 9781250170750

A copy of Baby Teeth was provided by the publisher via No compensation was paid for this review. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

YOU WERE MADE FOR THIS by Michelle Sacks

Sam and Merry left the busy life of New York City and were living the dream raising their infant son, Conner, in Sweden. At least that’s what they were telling themselves, and anyone else who would listen. But the long winters and slower-paced atmosphere, raising their own vegetables and making their own bread, jams, and baby foods might not be all they’re making it out to be. When Merry’s oldest and best friend Frank sends word she’ll be coming for a visit to meet Conner, Sam and Merry double-down on their version of the utopia they have been portraying.  But Merry and Frank know each other too well, and the secrets—and rivalries—can’t stay hidden for long.  

You Were Made for This, the debut novel by Michelle Sacks, is told in the first person alternating between Sam, Merry, and Frank. All three are deeply developed, establishing themselves and providing insight into the current events of the novel by sharing their pasts. The relationship between Merry and Frank—how they’ve influenced each other since early childhood and still do today—is central to the story.  Sam, though wanting to be in control, is controlled by them both, and by the relationship with his mother, giving him a loathing for women that he just can’t seem to get over. 
Full of characters you'll love to hate, You Were Made for This shows us the worst of the human nature.

How far will this rivalry between Merry and Frank go? Adultery? Murder? And who will come out on top? You just can’t predict what a lifetime of love and hate can do among friends.

Sacks, Michelle. You Were Made for This, Little, Brown, June 2018.
ISBN: 978-0-316-47540-2

A copy of You Were Made for This was provided to The Thirty Year Itch by the publisher via NetGalley. No compensation was received for this review.