Painful and joyous, sad and funny—impossible to put down.

THE ARSONISTS' CITY

Alyan’s riveting novel, set in America and the Middle East, brims with overlapping memories of secrets, betrayals, and loyalties within a seemingly assimilated Syrian Lebanese American family.

In 1978, young Palestinian Zakaria is assassinated in a refugee camp in Beirut, the victim of a factional revenge killing during Lebanon’s civil war. Weeks before, Zakaria had betrayed his best friend, Lebanese Idris, with Idris’ Syrian girlfriend, Mazna. Spelled out in the first pages, these facts will haunt the novel as their impact on members of the Nasr family comes to light. Cut to present-day California, where cardiac surgeon Idris Nasr lives with Mazna, whom he married not long after Zakaria’s death. Their three grown children, born and raised in America, take their parents’ perpetually rocky 40-year marriage for granted. And as they first avoid, then succumb to Mazna’s entreaties to convene in Beirut—supposedly to hold a memorial service for Idris’ recently deceased father but really to protest against Idris’ selling the ancestral home he's just inherited—all three are hiding problems from their parents. In Brooklyn, almost 40-year-old microbiologist Ava suspects her WASP husband is having an affair; in Austin, Mimi, 32, has cheated on his long-suffering girlfriend and been dumped by the band he started; almost 30-year-old Naj, an internationally famous singer/musician, has yet to tell her parents she’s gay. Meanwhile, Mazna, whose passions for Zakaria and her aborted career as an actress have never died, has spent her marriage betraying and being betrayed by Idris, depending upon yet resenting him. And Idris, a man of privileged self-importance and some charm, is perhaps more self-aware than his family realizes. Palestinian American psychologist and writer Alyan is masterful at clarifying the complicated sociopolitical realities surrounding Lebanon's and Syria’s intertwined histories in terms of class, caste, colonialism, and tribalism. But even more masterful here—as in Salt Houses (2017), which portrayed the Palestinian diaspora through four generations of a single family—is her laserlike focus on her multifaceted characters in big and small moments that come together to create a singular family.

Painful and joyous, sad and funny—impossible to put down.

Pub Date: March 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-358-12655-3

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

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THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME

When a devoted husband and father disappears, his wife and daughter set out to find him.

Hannah Hall is deeply in love with her husband of one year, Owen Michaels. She’s also determined to win over his 16-year-old daughter, Bailey, who has made it very clear that she’s not thrilled with her new stepmother. Despite the drama, the family is mostly a happy one. They live in a lovely houseboat in Sausalito; Hannah is a woodturner whose handmade furniture brings in high-dollar clientele; and Owen works for The Shop, a successful tech firm. Their lives are shattered, however, when Hannah receives a note saying “Protect her” and can’t reach Owen by phone. Then there’s the bag full of cash Bailey finds in her school locker and the shocking news that The Shop’s CEO has been taken into custody. Hannah learns that the FBI has been investigating the firm for about a year regarding some hot new software they took to market before it was fully functional, falsifying their financial statements. Hannah refuses to believe her husband is involved in the fraud, and a U.S. marshal assigned to the case claims Owen isn’t a suspect. Hannah doesn’t know whom to trust, though, and she and Bailey resolve to root out the clues that might lead to Owen. They must also learn to trust one another. Hannah’s narrative alternates past and present, detailing her early days with Owen alongside her current hunt for him, and author Dave throws in a touch of danger and a few surprises. But what really drives the story is the evolving nature of Hannah and Bailey’s relationship, which is by turns poignant and frustrating but always realistic.

Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7134-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

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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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