Thought-provoking, skillfully written, and hard to put down.

HALF LIFE

Reality and speculation merge to provide a look at Marie Curie, Nobel Prize–winning scientist, and the person she might have become if she'd made different choices.

Curie was born as Marya Sklodowska in Poland in 1867. Motherless at 10, raised by her father to yearn for education, she struggled under poverty and politics to reach for her dreams. A difficult choice leads her to Paris, where she attends the Sorbonne. She meets Pierre Curie, her husband and lab partner, the love of her life, second only to her experiments on radium, the new element she discovers. Cantor renders her story beautifully, creating a rich historical fiction that brings Curie to life by seamlessly inventing thoughts and desires to flesh out a character known mostly for her obsession with science. To read this wonderfully executed tale alone would be satisfying, but we are also treated to an imaginative thread of what might have happened had Marie remained in Poland as Marya and married Kazimierz Zorawski, the man who’d asked for her hand despite the certainty of being disowned by his wealthy family for it. The novel alternates between the parallel stories of Marie and Marya, following a determined theme: You always have a choice. Clearly these choices determine life’s outcome for the choice-maker as well as for all those who rub elbows with her. Feeling guilt over one's decisions and thinking about lost possibilities factor into Cantor’s theme, as does judging other people’s choices. Assessing Marie Curie’s actual life and the imagined one leads to a difficult question: Was one life better than the other, happier, more meaningful?

Thought-provoking, skillfully written, and hard to put down.

Pub Date: March 23, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-296988-0

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Harper Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 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 heartfelt but schematic wartime tear-jerker.

ETERNAL

Quite a change from Scottoline’s bestselling contemporary thrillers: an ambitious, deeply researched historical account of three Roman families caught in the meltdown of Fascist Italy.

May 1937 finds Alessandro Simone and Marco Terrizzi competing for the favors of Elisabetta D’Orfeo, an aspiring journalist and cat lover who waits tables at Casa Servano, the well-regarded Trastevere restaurant owned by Giuseppina Servano, widely known as Nonna. Since Sandro’s father, Massimo Simone, is a Jewish tax lawyer who strongly supports Mussolini and Marco’s father, Giuseppe Terrizzi, is a former cyclist who proudly styles himself a Fascist of the First Hour, there’s plenty of potential for ethnic, religious, and political conflicts both between and within the leading characters, and despite the widespread conviction that Mussolini’s pre-Hitler brand of fascism will never turn against the Jews, the coming of the war flushes all these conflicts out. After Marco’s brother Aldo is killed when he joins a group of anti-fascist saboteurs, Marco, groomed by Commendatore Romano Buonacorso for a rapid rise to power, begins to have second thoughts. Sandro, his dreams of academic stardom trashed by his religion, is more open in his opposition to Il Duce. The real calamities, however, follow the German invasion of Italy, which kicks off several painful rounds of increasingly severe anti-Jewish legislation, expropriation, extortion, and finally rastrellamento, the wholesale roundup of Italian Jews to be shipped off to destinations readers will know all too well. Through it all, Scottoline struggles mightily to bring her sorely tried characters alive through their love for each other, but they mostly remain pawns of history who believe till the end that “the Vatican will intervene, of course.”

A heartfelt but schematic wartime tear-jerker.

Pub Date: March 23, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-525-53976-6

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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