Jenny’s decision will come as no surprise, but this debut novel offers credible descriptions of first-time motherhood,...

THE BRIGHT SIDE OF DISASTER

Ditched by her partner right before she gives birth, a young mother must decide whether to take him back or give a new love interest.

In the realm of adult responsibilities, Houstonian Jenny Harris knows her fiancé, Dean Murphy, comes up short. A retirement-benefits analyst who performs in a half-baked cover band, Dean still receives monthly checks from his well-heeled parents, smokes more than he should and moons over other women. He meets Jenny, in fact, while chasing a friend of hers, but when that doesn’t pan out, they settle into a live-in relationship, and he proposes marriage. Getting pregnant before the wedding, Jenny frets about Dean’s ambivalence toward impending fatherhood, especially after his peculiar response to a pretty coworker’s death. While Jenny quits her job at an antiques store and organizes a garage sale to prepare for their child, Dean clings to band practice and gigs at local dives. One night he walks out, leaving her with a breakup note and a baby due any minute. Daughter Maxie brings unexpected joys and burdens, which newly single Jenny shoulders with the support of her divorced parents, best friend Meredith, other mothers from her childbirth class and an attractive neighbor named John Gardner. A pediatric nephrologist who has taken up renovating and selling houses, John has an uncanny knack for appearing when Jenny needs him most. Nurturing, attentive and good with Maxie, he keeps Jenny company in a blackout and paints her garage when she decides to start an antiques business. His unobtrusive courtship culminates in an evening of margaritas and salsa dancing. But then Dean returns, seeking reconciliation.

Jenny’s decision will come as no surprise, but this debut novel offers credible descriptions of first-time motherhood, affecting characters and situations and low-key charm.

Pub Date: June 26, 2007

ISBN: 1-4000-6637-9

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2007

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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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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