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Originally published Saturday, March 19, 2011 at 7:02 PM

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Book review

New novels by Kristin Hannah, Anjali Banerjee and Lise Saffran evoke islands of the Northwest

Three new novels by Kristin Hannah, Anjali Banerjee and Lise Saffran, all set on islands in the Pacific Northwest, evoke universal themes of love and loss. Hannah will discuss her book "Night Road" at several locations this week in the Seattle area.

Special to The Seattle Times

Author appearances

Anjali Banerjee

The author discusses her book "Haunting Jasmine," 3 p.m. Sunday, Eagle Harbor Book Co., 157 Winslow Way E., Bainbridge Island; free (206-842-5332 or

Kristin Hannah

The author of "Night Road" will read from her book at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park; free (206-366-3333 or

She will appear at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Loft, 18779 Front St., Poulsbo, sponsored by Liberty Bay Books (, free; and at 7 p.m. Thursday at Border Books & Music in Redmond Town Center, free (; 425-869-1907).

Pacific Northwest islands are the settings for three new novels about love, loss, heartbreak and reconciliation. These books are often miles apart in terms of tone, plot and character, but they are firmly rooted in the all-important sense of place. In each, you catch the whiff of saltwater, the chug of the ferries and the chill of the rocky shores, as well as the special separate character of the islands and their distinct communities.

The celebrated Bainbridge Island author Kristin Hannah is back in top form with her new "Night Road" (St. Martin's Press, 400 pp., $27.99) set on "Pine Island" (an island very similar to Bainbridge). The novel grips the reader from the first appearance of despondent 14-year-old Lexi Baill, who was abandoned by her addict mother and has survived a series of foster homes before coming to live in a trailer with a long-lost aunt. Lexi is a kid who's never gotten a break, but her luck turns when she is befriended by Mia and Zach, the two happy, confident twin siblings of the well-to-do Farraday family.

A tragic accident changes everything, leading the reader into an appalling series of "this can't be happening" events that will hook Hannah fans from start to suspenseful finish.

On a more whimsical side: Northwest author Anjali Banerjee has set her new "Haunting Jasmine" (Berkley, 292 pp., $15) in the mythical Shelter Island, Wash., where the beautiful Bengali-American divorcee Jasmine Mistry arrives from L.A. to take over temporarily her aunt's haunted bookstore. Elements of magical realism give the plot some unusual twists: books hop off a shelf or crash into a pile in order to draw attention to themselves, as the initially skeptical Jasmine somehow comes up with the perfect volume for each inquiring customer. Rudyard Kipling whispers in her ear, drawing her attention to "Magic in the Mango Orchards"; Beatrix Potter wafts into the room to congratulate Jasmine on her reading of "Peter Rabbit" for a circle of local children.

Initially depressed by her lack of husband, children and money, Jasmine discovers life also isn't so perfect for her much admired Bengali-American childhood friend (a pediatrician with a brain-surgeon husband and two children). Meanwhile, a mysterious doctor keeps reappearing in the bookshop to woo Jasmine, and she gradually rebuilds her confidence.

Banerjee invites the reader into her colorful, hopeful world, one in which the Northwest island tides coexist with the ghost of Julia Child, Charles Dickens' mirror, and a sari or two.

San Juan Island is the setting for Missouri resident Lise Saffran's evocative "Juno's Daughters" (Plume, 328 pp., $15), in which Jenny Alexander and her two teenage daughters are drawn into a traveling summer-theater production of Shakespeare's "The Tempest." (The theater company is loosely based on the real Island Stage Left, which presents free productions in the San Juan Islands each summer.)

Jenny, who moved to San Juan to escape her abusive husband, has her hands full with the teenagers, especially when the sexy older daughter falls for the same actor who has caught Jenny's eye. (With her breezy attitude toward teen sex and drugs, Jenny might profit from an introduction to "Chinese Tiger Mother" Amy Chua.) Saffran does a great job of conveying the island ambience of creative, sometimes wacky individualism.

Although Saffran's mom with teens is decidedly different from the deeply involved mother in the Kristin Hannah novel, both authors admirably depict the tightrope quality of helping steer teens through the tricky balancing act of young adulthood.

Melinda Bargreen ( is the former classical-music critic for The Seattle Times. She also reviews concerts for Classical King 98.1 FM.

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