Most compelling when history intersects with the emotions of women figuring out their lives today.

SOMETHING UNBELIEVABLE

Present and past mirror each other as an aged Russian woman tells her American granddaughter the story of their family’s struggles to survive the German invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II.

Kiev-born Kuznetsova begins her novel with a knowing nod to Russian literature: a formal character list that pointedly includes pet cats and gives clues to the plot ahead. The opening scene reads like a traditional framing device when Natasha, a Russian born, American-raised actress Skyping with her almost 90-year-old Baba Larissa in Kiev, asks for the full story behind how Larissa’s grandmother Tonya died in WWII. And at first, new mother Natasha’s typical millennial ambivalence toward domesticity seems less important than Larissa's story. In a tough, cynical voice devoid of sentimentality, Larissa describes how, in 1940, after a life of coddled comfort lasting through Communist rule, her suddenly penniless grandmother Tonya moved in with her engineer son, Fyodor, Larissa’s father. Soon Germany’s invasion forced Fyodor and family to evacuate Kiev to Lower Turinsk, accompanied by the Orlovs, a fellow engineer’s family. Tonya favored Larissa’s younger sister, Polya, whom the bookish 13-year-old Larissa considered a frivolous “lobotomized swan.” But family roles began to change as survival required increasingly difficult sacrifices and ethical choices. While Larissa discovered complicated romantic feelings toward the two Orlov brothers, Polya turned inward and Tonya grew pathetically demented. Meanwhile, the original framing device begins to dissolve as the secrets Larissa reveals (or keeps hidden) about herself and Tonya parallel the crises Natasha faces—loving her (unbelievably understanding) husband and infant daughter while becoming dangerously attracted to her husband’s friend Stas, who represents the free-spirited independence she craves. In shifting first-person narratives in which they analyze each other with assumptions that may or may not be accurate, Natasha and Larissa build a portrait of family love in all its variations.

Most compelling when history intersects with the emotions of women figuring out their lives today.

Pub Date: April 13, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-525-51190-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 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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