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Originally published Sunday, March 2, 2014 at 3:03 AM

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Three Northwest authors tell stories with a local setting

New novels by Seattle-area authors use regional settings as a backdrops, including a wrenching story of organ donation, a post-WWI Seattle novel, and a new installment in the “Blackberry Island” series.


Special to The Seattle Times

Author appearances

Amy Hatvany

• The author of “Safe With Me” will appear at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 4, at the University Book Store’s Mill Creek location, 15311 Main St., Mill Creek Town Center; free (425-385-3530 or ubookstore.com).

• She will appear at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, March 8, at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park; free (206-366-3333 or thirdplacebooks.com).

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Three Northwest authors return to regional settings for their newest novels — all full of intriguing dilemmas and interesting characters.

Amy Hatvany’s “Safe With Me” (Washington Square Press, 338 pp., $15), set in Seattle, is a book in which none of the three protagonists is really safe — certainly not 12-year-old Emily, whose fatal accident in the novel’s first page precipitates the story’s central dilemmas.

Emily’s horrified and vulnerable single mother, Hannah, makes the wrenching decision to take her brain-dead daughter off life support and donate her organs. This act saves the life of Maddie Bell, a chronically ill 15-year-old who needs a new liver, and it also changes the life of Maddie’s mother, Olivia — who is trapped in an abusive marriage.

All this is expertly laid out in the novel’s opening section, and Seattle author Hatvany takes the reader inside the three very different points of view (Hannah’s, Maddie’s, and Olivia’s) with skill and empathy. We see the grieving Hannah’s shock at realizing, through a chance conversation with her new client Maddie in the hair salon, that this is almost certainly the girl who is alive because of her own daughter’s death. Hatvany shows us how the three women draw closer, and how each undergoes unrelated internal struggles. While Maddie — finally well enough to return to school — copes with the “mean girls” and her fictitious online persona, her mother tries to manage an increasingly violent husband whom she doesn’t dare to leave.

As always, the characterizations are beautifully developed, but Hatvany sacrifices momentum by having so much of the drama and resolution at the beginning one-third of the novel, and giving the reader a lengthy stream of violent episodes with the husband. The pacing is off — but the characters are great.

Cate Campbell, based in Redmond, continues her “Benedict Hall” series about post-World War I Seattle with a second book, “Hall of Secrets” (Kensington, 362 pp., $15), carrying the story of the wealthy Benedict family further forward. The series has an American “Downton Abbey” feel, as different generations cope with the inevitable social changes wrought by the 1920s. The daughter of the family, Margot, is a doctor who faces continuing opposition to her career — some of it from her fiancé, Boeing engineer Frank Parrish.

New characters, the rebellious young cousin Allison and her appallingly coldhearted parents, add intriguing plot twists to the story line. So does the improbable reappearance of the villain of the first book, whose vendetta against Margot endangers the Benedicts and everyone in their orbit. Northwest readers will especially enjoy the way Campbell enriches the narrative with details: references to Seattle-area locations and institutions, current events and medical developments.

Susan Mallery’s “Evening Stars” (Harlequin, 376 pp., $14.95) also revisits a familiar milieu — the fictitious Blackberry Island — with a contemporary book that expands her previous realm of characters with some well-drawn new ones. Nina Wentworth, a nurse in the medical practice established in the earlier “Three Sisters,” is exhausted from being the lone grown-up in a troublesome family.

Her feckless mother, who runs a crumbling antiques store, has hired a felon to run the business while she takes off on another junk-buying trip. Nina’s sister, Averil, has left her nice husband and come to the island to “find herself” and write a book. And Nina’s first love, now a doctor, has also returned to the island — and he’s not the only potential suitor. Will Nina prevail? Of course she will: this is romantic fiction. But the why and the how, and with whom, are all highly entertaining.



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