A sublime tale that explores theology with profundity and black comedy.

THE BOOK OF JEM

In this dark debut satire, a reputed prophet stirs up villagers living in a dystopian world that has banned God and religion.

People in Underhill are understandably shaken by the sudden appearance of Jem. She claims that God, who regularly speaks to her, told her to travel to their village. This is long after religion fueled “the Wars,” which ultimately killed billions. Consequently, religious beliefs and even saying the word God are against this world’s Laws. But some villagers believe the new arrival is the voice of God, including Eileen, who begins writing Jem’s “prophet book.” Jem amasses followers, or Threads, as she preaches messages, the most significant one claiming God has chosen the inhabitants of Underhill to survive a worldwide Cleansing. But not everyone is a believer; Kat is a skeptic whose husband, Ed, and daughter become Threads. Kat sees this as a delusion that could turn dangerous. Ed, for example, works at the turbines, which provide Underhill with power. If the turbines start failing, Ed may simply neglect their care, assuming God will save Underhill. Tensions escalate as the Cleansing rapidly approaches. Jem’s prophecy, if disproven, will be disastrous for villagers who’ve spent months preparing for the event. Hailey delivers an effective and engrossing tale, set entirely in Underhill, that keeps things like the governing “authority” largely mysterious. Eileen and Kat, who alternate narrating, aptly showcase the diverse religious motivations. Some believers are searching for peace while others want merely to be part of something larger than themselves. The smooth, perceptive story is often somber, especially as Kat frustratingly can’t convince her family of her genuine concerns. But Eileen’s droll narration is laced with black humor; she habitually updates a “List of Enemies” (which includes heat) and considers her hands around someone’s throat a “warning gesture.” While the author’s powerful narrative questions many aspects of religion, it’s never disdainful, as it primarily criticizes individual interpretations.

A sublime tale that explores theology with profundity and black comedy.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-1-83800-431-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Watermark Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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