REVIEW: Christa Comes Out of Her Shell by Abbi Waxman

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Niamh Kavanagh
Niamh Kavanagh
Niamh Kavanagh is a social media and digital marketing expert, CMO of Dream Machine Foundation, and storyteller with a purpose. She grew Dream Machine to 8M followers and edited videos that raised $750K for charity, earning attention from Oprah, Steve Harvey, and Khloe Kardashian.

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Just when she thought she’d gotten far enough away . . . a life-changing phone call throws an antisocial scientist back into her least favorite place—the spotlight.

After a tumultuous childhood, Christa Barnet has hidden away, both figuratively and literally. Happily studying sea snails in the middle of the Indian Ocean, Christa finds her tranquil existence thrown into chaos when her once-famous father—long thought dead after a plane crash—turns out to be alive, well, and ready to make amends. The world goes wild, fascinated by this real-life saga, pinning Christa and her family under the spotlight. As if that weren’t enough, her reunion with an old childhood friend reveals an intense physical attraction neither was expecting and both want to act on . . . if they can just keep a lid on it. When her father’s story starts to develop cracks, Christa fears she will lose herself, her potential relationship, and—most importantly—any chance of making it back to her snails before they forget her completely.

CW/TW – past teen alcohol and drug use, past sexual assault attempt

Dear Ms. Waxman, 

I’ve said before that my experiences with your books have been mixed. This is one which I sorta love it and sorta dislike it. Parts had me laughing out loud, or cringing, or upset. Most of the characters pissed me off at times and the one who didn’t piss me off felt too good to be true. But I sucked down roughly 400 pages in two days (taking a bit of time out to watch the eclipse which I feel sure Christa, as a scientist would approve of). 

Christa is in her happy place, on a remote island in the Indian Ocean studying her snails, when her world detonates. Suddenly she’s flying home (Reunion to Paris to LA) back to a family which has complicated dynamics. Her (long lost and presumed dead) father has reappeared, her family is stunned, and her father’s long term (reptilian) agent is attempting to micromanage every stage of his return and their reaction on a world stage. What the heck is going on here and how soon can Christa escape? Before she can head back to her snails, she’ll have to come to terms with how life is now.

Christa is little but she can be fierce. Her default survival mechanism though is run and hide. If that doesn’t work, then she’ll come out swinging. Her childhood was a bit of a mess partly due to the fact that her well organized mother took over her father’s TV Show and Conservation Foundation activities after dear old dad’s plane crashed in the Alaska wilderness and his body was never found. Christa was too young to remember her father but through a series of widely published photos, being hauled onto the set of TV shows to hold the cute animals, and some unfortunate acting-out as a teen, Christa gained some notoriety. 

She, her sisters, and their mother (who, after dad was ruled to be legally dead, married a man she loved), have dealt with many “sightings” before over the years but when Jasper appears on Oprah, they know he’s really back. The press and general public with smartphones descend on the family turning things into a circus. If that wasn’t bad enough, the slimey agent and his minions intend to milk this for every exclusive deal possible with Christa, as the only bonafide scientist, front and center with her father about whom she has conflicting opinions once the truth starts coming out. Then there’s Nathan, someone who has been in Christa’s life for ages and for whom she’s beginning to feel feelings she’s never felt for him before while Nathan appears to reciprocate those feelings. 

Given her background, I can understand why Christa prefers to be out of the limelight now. As a child and given no choice in the matter, she got dragged into a lot of stuff that she didn’t want any part of. She did finally bust loose and do things that were, unfortunately, caught on camera leading her mother to wake up and get Christa away from it all. As Christa tells mom Denny (Denise) when mom apologizes as she should have done years ago, this all led to Christa finding her passion in marine biology (and I loved the biology stuff!) so it wasn’t all for naught. There were times though when I wanted to shake Denny as she immediately starts committing Christa to doing public things (again!) with no consent from Christa. Mom is mostly good but has her moments. 

Christa’s sisters are much older which caused some rifts in years past but they’re acting better now due to intensive therapy. Yay that they’re not their old selves who Christa had been dreading seeing but I felt that there was still a lot of old family drama that had never been quite worked out either and which got – more or less – swept under the carpet. Both sisters also appeared fine with disappearing back into their lives and leaving Christa as the Liddle sister stuck with the machinations of dad and the agent who pulled no punches in manipulating Christa into doing what he wanted.

Jasper Liddle is one of those charismatic souls who can read a room, easily slip into friendships with total strangers but who really isn’t the nice guy he might appear to be. Jasper’s got some “‘splaining to do” about where he was for so many years and once that ugly truth begins to tumble out, I disliked him intensely. And yet, the family is conflicted about how to react to his return. This is also somewhat understandable as the daughters were young and Denny was able to provide for them all and also found her true love. Christa, who has no memories of her father, probably has the purest response which has a lot of anger in it. And things only get worse later on. She’s also (understandably) angry about having her life hijacked for all the Netflix specials, TV appearances, books, and whatnot that the agent is spinning and her dad seems to be falling for. 

The romance in the story gets sprinkled into it in various places but I found I liked this the least. Nathan is quite frankly too good to be true. He’s endlessly understanding, beyond patient with the whole three-ring circus situation, always ready to drop what he’s doing and appear at a moment’s notice to help the Liddles, and unbelievably supportive of Christa. I’d love a man like this in my life but honestly, I don’t think they actually exist. After Christa has pulled back, then moved in, then announced she’s leaving, then spouted her “I love yous” only to announce for the umpteenth time that she’s headed back to the snails, good old Nathan is still the totally there for her and urging her to do what she has to. His speech in which he spells out to her just why he thinks she’s the best thing ever in his life is lovely and a great “boombox” moment but I wanted him to finally get a little mad about something, anything in this book which he keeps getting dragged into. 

There are some dark things that swirled through the book such as the power of social media, the hunger of the public for a piece of someone’s life, the price that some people are willing to pay to get what they want, the fact that all the women of the Liddle family have either already gone to or end up going to therapy to deal with the fallout of what Jasper did, the lack of consent for things Christa was made to do and the lack of support her family gave her for so many years. There is also a lot of funny stuff as Christa is an acerbic person who doesn’t worry about filters but yeah, dark places are visited here. The book works more for me as fiction and women’s fiction but less so as a romance. B-


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Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 25 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there’s no TSTL characters and is currently reading more fantasy and SciFi.

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