Powerful historical fiction and a testament to war’s insanity. Powerful historical fiction and a testament to war’s insanity.

TWO STORM WOOD

British author Gray lays bare the horrors of World War I through an Englishwoman’s battlefield search for her fiance.

Before the war, music teacher Edward Haslam and Amy Vanneck fall in love and become secretly engaged, although he is beneath her class, socially a nobody. He hates war, which “poisons everything that it does not destroy,” yet he answers England’s call and becomes a captain of the Seventh Manchesters. Of course, the lovers exchange letters. Then, in early 1919, when the war is newly over, English soldiers must scour the battlefields of northern France to identify rat-eaten corpses and properly bury them. It’s a gruesome, smelly, necessary task. Edward is among the missing, and Amy decides to travel to France to search for him on her own, well aware that he is most likely dead. In a hospital, a wounded soldier tells her to “look for your damned sweetheart” under Two Storm Wood. That’s the label on army maps for a former German stronghold, under which lies a vast network of tunnels packed with explosives and teeming with rats. The army dismisses rumors that deserters are hiding there and that someone may have murdered a group of noncombatant Chinese laborers. There’s no hint of irony here: only horror at the possibility of murder while surrounded by nations’ organized killings. Amy is determined to know Edward’s fate for better or worse. This, to her, is what it means to be in love—to find her man dead or alive, deserter or not. But there are those who don’t want her to know a dark secret about Two Storm Wood, and they are willing to kill. Combat creates Edward's dramatic arc from “the lover, the music teacher” to “the expert close-quarter killer” who sneaks up to enemy trenches and slits throats with a knuckle knife. The scenes of death are unsparing in their grimness, but nothing will stop Amy Vanneck.

Powerful historical fiction and a testament to war’s insanity. Powerful historical fiction and a testament to war’s insanity.

Pub Date: June 15, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-393-54188-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

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

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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.

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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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