An absorbing, beautifully written debut novel with surprising moments of humor.

A SONG FOR ISSY BRADLEY

When 4-year-old Issy dies of meningitis, her Mormon family struggles with sadness, doubt and faith.

The Bradleys—Ian, Claire, Zippy, Alma, Jacob and Issy—don’t live in Salt Lake City but rather in an English town where Ian is constantly on call as bishop to a small flock of Latter-day Saints. He misses Jacob’s seventh birthday party, leaving Claire so stretched she doesn’t notice Issy’s fever is more than a regular cold. The little girl’s death sends her family reeling; rather than bringing them closer, it fractures them, especially once Claire retreats to Issy’s bed and won’t get up. Ian believes in telling the truth at all times, but what kind of example would he be setting if people knew he couldn’t solve his own family's problems? So he begins covering for Claire when people ask about her, shocking his children. Zippy is sure of her own rectitude until she discovers the pleasure of kissing the boy she’s long wanted to marry; will he now see her as tarnished goods? Alma is a boy who’d rather be called Al, thank you very much, and he’s the requisite doubter among the children; what good is religion if it makes his father force him off the soccer team? Young Jacob believes so fervently in the power of prayer that he sets about trying to resurrect Issy, practicing first on bugs, spiders and a goldfish. Each chapter follows a different Bradley, and Bray brings her characters to complicated, messy life with her tremendous power for empathy. It’s rare to see religious faith explored so deeply in popular fiction, and though Ian’s nearly unquestioning devotion can make him seem like the villain at times, Bray does a remarkable job of illuminating each character’s hopes and fears.

An absorbing, beautifully written debut novel with surprising moments of humor.

Pub Date: Aug. 12, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-553-39088-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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Why you double-crossing little double crossers! Fiendishly clever.

PRETTY THINGS

The daughter of a grifter plans to fund her mother’s cancer treatment with a revenge con.

Rich people suck, don’t they? Nina Ross found this out in her adolescence, when her romance with Benny Liebling was broken up by his status-obsessed, old-money father, who found them screwing in the guest cottage of the family’s Lake Tahoe estate. Back then, Nina had a future—but she’s since followed her con-artist mother into the family business with the help of a handsome blue-eyed Irish confederate named Lachlan. “Here’s my rule,” Nina tells him. “Only people who have too much, and only people who deserve it.” Of course, he agrees. “We take only what we need.” With her art history background, Nina is usually able to target a few expensive antiques they can lift without the rich dopes even noticing they’re gone. But now that Nina's mother is hovering at death’s door without health insurance, she’s going after the $1 million in cash Benny mentioned was in his father’s safe all those years ago. So back to Lake Tahoe it is. The older Lieblings are dead, and Benny’s in the bin, so it’s his sister Vanessa Liebling who is the target of the complicated caper. Vanessa is a terribly annoying character—“I couldn’t tell you how I went from a few dozen Instagram followers to a half-million. One day, you’re uploading photos of your dog wearing sunglasses; and the next you’re begin flown to Coachella on a private jet with four other social media It Girls…”—but, in fact, you’ll hate everyone in this book. That is surely Brown’s (Watch Me Disappear, 2017, etc.) intention as she’s the one making them natter on this way. She also makes them vomit much more than is normal, whether it’s because they’re poisoning each other or because they’re just so horrified by each other’s behavior. Definitely stay to see how it all turns out.

Why you double-crossing little double crossers! Fiendishly clever.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-47912-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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