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A few months ago, I fell in love. In love, that is, with the small fictional community of Bright’s Pond. In love with characters who revealed strength, frailty, and a generous dash of fun. In love with an author whose penchant for Converse sneakers mirrors her fresh, distinctive voice. I loved Joyce Magnin’s debut novel, The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow and was delighted to receive an advance reader copy of her September release, Charlotte Figg Takes Over Paradise. Although Charlotte Figg is also a Bright’s Pond novel from Abingdon Press, it has only limited connections to Agnes and should not be considered its sequel. The colorful characters of Charlotte Figg live in their own unique world. In quick succession, Charlotte Figg becomes a widow, buys a mobile home in the Paradise Trailer Park sight unseen, and moves into it with her dog Lucky. Soon, she begins an unlikely friendship with free-spirited artist and prayer warrior Rose Tatoo. The relationship yields new purpose for Charlotte when Rose half-prays, half-pushes her into the role of founder/manager of a women’s softball team. As the Paradise Angels’ season progresses, Charlotte discovers—and reveals—some less-than-comfortable truths about herself, her fellow players, and her God. One of my favorite elements in both books is Magnin’s uncanny ability to use flawed but believable characters to display painful truths. Charlotte Figg forces its namesake to confront not only the abusive marriage in which one of her players is trapped but her own past wounds as well. Plot twists combine to propel the story in a direction readers may not intend to go. But don’t let the hot topics scare you. Find a quiet spot and savor this book. Its combination of tough and tender goes down with all the appeal of one of Charlotte’s homemade pies. Read the book, visit Paradise—and fall in love all over...

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READ: The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow by Joyce Magnin (Abingdon Press, 2009)

Did you ever anticipate something so much that you feared it would disappoint you? I wondered if I had done that as I turned the first pages of this book. I knew the author had a distinctive voice. I knew it was a “village” story in the tradition of Miss Read’s Fairacre or Jan Karon’s Mitford novels. I knew it had at least some relationship to prayer. And I knew it had received high praise. All this meant I was more pleased than surprised to find the book among the New Books at our local library. After all, Library Journal named it one of the top five Christian titles of 2009. Half-excited, half-fearful, I snatched it from the shelf. The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow failed to meet my expectations. It surpassed them in ways I’m not sure I can articulate. How could I have anticipated a novel whose heroine, resident of a former funeral home, weighs more than 600 pounds? How could I have expected one small story that combines codependent relationships, lingering childhood wounds, and the obsessive hungers of love and hate in such an intriguing way? I don’t know quite how she did it, but Magnin drew me into the world of Bright’s Pond—and kept me there. The relationship between sisters Griselda and Agnes Sparrow perplexed and enthralled me. The complexity of all her characters, in fact, moved them off the page and into my heart. When trust broke and an idol fell, I mourned. But I also celebrated Magnin’s skill as an artist and skillful teller of truth. The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow mixes the power of prayer and the frailty of human relationships in a readable, believable, humorous, and horrifying way. Magnin’s amazing debut novel caused me to examine what I believe. It also caused me to consider the impact of my own woundedness, seen and unseen. Visit Bright’s Pond soon, but don’t carry your expectations with you. This book, like the town’s celebrated Full Moon Café, carries a full menu of original, delightful treats. Take the time to read—and to savor—each...

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