A surprisingly easy read containing a little romance, a lot of personal growth, and an honest look at weighty topics.

THE BRIGHT SIDE OF GOING DARK

A social media influencer goes through a self-imposed electronics detox while another woman hacks into her online identity in an attempt to distract a family member from thoughts of suicide.

Through Mia Bell’s hard work, @Mia&Mike has become a very, very successful brand. Pictey—a social media app akin to an Instagram/Facebook/Twitter mashup—is her platform, and half a million followers await her near-continuous posts and comments. As Pictey has grown from a startup to an offices-in-168-nations behemoth, so has she, evolving from the struggling owner of a small yoga studio to a well-known motivational influencer. However, in quick succession, Mia’s fiance breaks up with her, she hides that fact from her followers, and she fakes her Colorado wedding. Realizing what she has become, she then throws her phone over a cliff to separate herself completely from the account. Paige Miller, on the other hand, is a very well-paid Pictey standards enforcement and quality assurance team member medicating away her debilitating panic attacks. When Paige’s half sister, Jessica, comments on one of Mia’s posts with suicidal thoughts and follows through with a suicide attempt, a series of against-the-odds coincidences lead Paige to Jessica’s side in Colorado and the problematic decision to hack into Mia’s unusually silent account to impersonate her. Author Harms (The Overdue Life of Amy Byler, 2019, etc.) deals openly and honestly with depression, the aftereffects of attempted suicide, and the benefits of medical treatment. Refreshingly, each character is a true-to-life individual with complicated emotions and unique voices. Most readers will be pleased that the storylines wrap up with grand moments and gestures so that hope and joyfulness in the future are the final notes of this tale; some, on the other hand, might find it overly tidy.

A surprisingly easy read containing a little romance, a lot of personal growth, and an honest look at weighty topics.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5420-2091-6

Page Count: 348

Publisher: Lake Union Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 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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Like the many-windowed mansion at its center, this richly furnished novel gives brilliantly clear views into the lives it...

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THE DUTCH HOUSE

Their mother's disappearance cements an unbreakable connection between a pair of poor-little-rich-kid siblings.

Like The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer or Life Among Giants by Bill Roorbach, this is a deeply pleasurable book about a big house and the family that lives in it. Toward the end of World War II, real estate developer and landlord Cyril Conroy surprises his wife, Elna, with the keys to a mansion in the Elkins Park neighborhood of Philadelphia. Elna, who had no idea how much money her husband had amassed and still thought they were poor, is appalled by the luxurious property, which comes fully furnished and complete with imposing portraits of its former owners (Dutch people named VanHoebeek) as well as a servant girl named Fluffy. When her son, Danny, is 3 and daughter, Maeve, is 10, Elna's antipathy for the place sends her on the lam—first occasionally, then permanently. This leaves the children with the household help and their rigid, chilly father, but the difficulties of the first year pale when a stepmother and stepsisters appear on the scene. Then those problems are completely dwarfed by further misfortune. It's Danny who tells the story, and he's a wonderful narrator, stubborn in his positions, devoted to his sister, and quite clear about various errors—like going to medical school when he has no intention of becoming a doctor—while utterly committed to them. "We had made a fetish out of our disappointment," he says at one point, "fallen in love with it." Casually stated but astute observations about human nature are Patchett's (Commonwealth, 2016, etc.) stock in trade, and she again proves herself a master of aging an ensemble cast of characters over many decades. In this story, only the house doesn't change. You will close the book half believing you could drive to Elkins Park and see it.

Like the many-windowed mansion at its center, this richly furnished novel gives brilliantly clear views into the lives it contains.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-296367-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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