An engaging story of friendship, loss, and faith told through two well-drawn characters.

PAINT ME FEARLESS

Two friends ride the ups and downs of adolescence and beyond in this Christian novel.

Robin and Desiare not friends at first sight. When Desi first moves to Shady Gully, Louisiana, at the end of junior high, Robin wants nothing to do with her, mostly because everyone keeps telling Robin they look exactly alike: “You gotta see her, Robin. She looks just like you. Except she’s good lookin’.” But the girls’ outsider status—Desi’s religiosity is strange in Shady Gully while Robin is a perennial social outcast—soon leads them into a friendship of necessity. The girls head into high school, helping each other navigate the treacherous waters of popularity, self-esteem issues, and boys. They remain best friends after graduation, but their lives begin to drift in different directions. Desi ends up with a working-class husband and three kids before Robin and her executive husband even have one. Resentment begins to build, but not around the issues one might expect. Desi has long kept a secret from Robin, one that she has never found a way to share. As fractures begin to form in their long-standing friendship, will Robin and Desi manage to be there for each other during times of trouble? In this series opener, Lee’s prose is fluid and full of personality. She switches back and forth between the two friends by chapter, capturing the particular psychologies of each. Here, Robin considers Desi’s positive effect on her life in school: “Something had changed this summer in the way I thought of myself. I didn’t hate myself so much. Whether it was because Desi loved me back, or because I didn’t feel so alone anymore, or because I had something to look forward to every day, somehow I felt more included and significant.” The book often treads into sentimentality, and it does not quite delve into some of the issues it raises as deeply as readers may like. But fans of Christian fiction should appreciate this more nuanced, human approach to the genre.

An engaging story of friendship, loss, and faith told through two well-drawn characters.

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-952474-26-2

Page Count: 302

Publisher: WordCrafts Press

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

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If you love Jennifer Weiner, you’ll love this one. And if you’re a newbie, start here.

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BIG SUMMER

A plus-size Instagram influencer stumbles into a murder mystery when called to serve as a bridesmaid for her fabulous former best friend.

Weiner’s 14th novel, and her second with a murder plot, is also a short course in social media lingo and best practices. At its center is Daphne Berg, a classic Weiner heroine—a young New Yorker who supports herself by working 20 hours a week as a nanny, by selling crafts in her Etsy store, and through sponsorships of Instagram posts for both her (yoga mats, makeup, plus-size fashion) and her pooch (organic dog treats). Her career began accidentally in her sophomore year of college, when her No. 1 frenemy, an exquisitely lovely heiress named Drue Lathrop Cavanaugh, lured her into a humiliating setup in a bar, the last of a long series of mean tricks that began in high school. When her date called her a “fat bitch” and Daphne responded with fury—“I am fat. But that doesn’t mean you get to treat me like garbage”—and video of the incident went viral, she chose to embrace the moment. She has since become a beloved internet avatar of body acceptance #sorrynotsorry #justasIam. Drue has been out of her life for seven years when she bursts back in to beg Daphne to be her bridesmaid at a spectacular, made-for–social media Cape Cod wedding. Against her better instincts, Daphne agrees, and before long she is handmaiden at #drueandstu2020, a beachfront extravaganza Weiner really outdoes herself in describing. Things are going a lot better than Daphne ever could have dreamed—hot sex scene alert!—when the plot takes a turn for the Agatha Christie. But no matter what mayhem transpires, you can always count on Weiner for delicious food. “I squeezed lemon onto my first oyster, added a dollop of cocktail sauce, tipped it into my mouth and gulped it down, humming in pleasure at its sweet, briny taste.” “My mother hugged me hard, and my father mixed up a pitcher of Sidecars and served us his cioppino, with toasted wedges of garlicky toasted baguette.” “Get the malasadas, if they’re fresh.” Turns out they are, and so is this novel.

If you love Jennifer Weiner, you’ll love this one. And if you’re a newbie, start here.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-3351-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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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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