A rich, original, and engrossing drama featuring a remarkably engaging hero.

ONLY SOFIA-ELISABETE

Romance, adventure, and danger attend the travels of a British Portuguese teenage girl in this literary historical novel.

Sofia-Elisabete Fitzwilliam made her first appearance in I, Sofia-Elisabete, Love Child of Colonel Fitzwilliam (2018), recounting her experiences as a 5-year-old in 1815. The girl’s mother, Doña Marisa, who’d abandoned her in a convent years ago, stole her away from England and her father, Col. Fitzwilliam (the poor cousin of Mr. Darcy in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice). After some time, her father tracked her down, and Sofia-Elisabete’s parents agreed to take turns raising her. But when she was 11 and ready to return to England, her father never showed up. In this sequel, it’s 1825, and Sofia-Elisabete, almost 15, feels stifled by her authoritarian stepfather, Don Rafael, and the expectations that young Spanish women be pious, pure, and think only of marriage and babies. Further, Sofia-Elisabete longs to experience the passion of love—in a country where women don’t allow men even to touch their hands. When her flirtation with handsome bolero dancer Antonio de Silva goes too far, she is sent posthaste to her beloved grandfather in Cádiz. There, Antonio is soon eclipsed by Kitt Munro, a 20-year-old Scottish student traveling as a research assistant. Sofia-Elisabete is bewitched by his intelligence, good manners, and freckles, and he’s equally enamored. But their burgeoning romance is interrupted when Kitt is called home to Scotland, leaving Sofia-Elisabete to deal with her cash-strapped family’s insistence that she marry a rich, thoroughly loathsome older man. She manages to escape and makes a long and dangerous journey toward Britain, experiencing such misadventures on the way that she loses her wits. Kitt finds and rescues her, but that isn’t the last of their struggles. Grueling travel, reported deaths, amnesia, injury, and separation stand between Sofia-Elisabete and the fulfillment of her dreams.

In this volume, Kobayashi develops her charming child hero into a thoughtful, passionate, and equally delightful teenager. While she’s a typical adolescent in her impatience to burst through restrictive bonds and experience life, Sofia-Elisabete exhibits insightful maturity, as when she reflects on the accusation that she’s lazy, pampered, and spoiled and admits she has been selfish and desperate to get her own way. She also has a wonderfully lyrical imagination, as when she plays the harp for Kitt and fantasizes about drifting down a river to a marsh, where he becomes a swallow: “A balmy breeze swept us to sea, and so, I raised high my mantilla to make a sail, guiding us into the bay of Cádiz, past the tangle of ship masts, past the naked sea-bathers, past the urchins angling for St. Peter’s fishes. Mr. Munro fluttered his wings and he settled upon my shoulder, to sing tenderly in my ear.” The complicated plot’s melodrama is balanced with humor, poignancy, and moments of magical realism, particularly when Kitt disappears and Sofia-Elisabete searches for him in the haunted islands of the Inner Hebrides.

A rich, original, and engrossing drama featuring a remarkably engaging hero.

Pub Date: June 29, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-7367866-0-4

Page Count: 347

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: April 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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As one of Whitehead’s characters might say of their creator, When you’re hot, you’re hot.

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HARLEM SHUFFLE

After winning back-to-back Pulitzer Prizes for his previous two books, Whitehead lets fly with a typically crafty change-up: a crime novel set in mid-20th-century Harlem.

The twin triumphs of The Underground Railroad (2016) and The Nickel Boys (2019) may have led Whitehead’s fans to believe he would lean even harder on social justice themes in his next novel. But by now, it should be clear that this most eclectic of contemporary masters never repeats himself, and his new novel is as audacious, ingenious, and spellbinding as any of his previous period pieces. Its unlikely and appealing protagonist is Ray Carney, who, when the story begins in 1959, is expecting a second child with his wife, Elizabeth, while selling used furniture and appliances on Harlem’s storied, ever bustling 125th Street. Ray’s difficult childhood as a hoodlum’s son forced to all but raise himself makes him an exemplar of the self-made man to everybody but his upper-middle-class in-laws, aghast that their daughter and grandchildren live in a small apartment within earshot of the subway tracks. Try as he might, however, Ray can’t quite wrest free of his criminal roots. To help make ends meet as he struggles to grow his business, Ray takes covert trips downtown to sell lost or stolen jewelry, some of it coming through the dubious means of Ray’s ne’er-do-well cousin, Freddie, who’s been getting Ray into hot messes since they were kids. Freddie’s now involved in a scheme to rob the Hotel Theresa, the fabled “Waldorf of Harlem," and he wants his cousin to fence whatever he and his unsavory, volatile cohorts take in. This caper, which goes wrong in several perilous ways, is only the first in a series of strenuous tests of character and resources Ray endures from the back end of the 1950s to the Harlem riots of 1964. Throughout, readers will be captivated by a Dickensian array of colorful, idiosyncratic characters, from itchy-fingered gangsters to working-class women with a low threshold for male folly. What’s even more impressive is Whitehead’s densely layered, intricately woven rendering of New York City in the Kennedy era, a time filled with both the bright promise of greater economic opportunity and looming despair due to the growing heroin plague. It's a city in which, as one character observes, “everybody’s kicking back or kicking up. Unless you’re on top.”

As one of Whitehead’s characters might say of their creator, When you’re hot, you’re hot.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-385-54513-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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A novel of capacious intelligence and plenty of page-turning emotional drama.

BEAUTIFUL WORLD, WHERE ARE YOU

Two erudite Irishwomen struggle with romance against the backdrop of the Trump/Brexit years.

Eileen and Alice have been friends since their university days. Now in their late 20s, Eileen works as an editorial assistant at a literary magazine in Dublin. Alice is a famous novelist recovering from a psychiatric hospitalization and staying in a large empty rectory on the west coast of Ireland. Since Alice’s breakdown, the two have kept in touch primarily through lengthy emails that alternate between recounting their romantic lives and working through their angst about the current social and political climate. (In one of these letters, Eileen laments that the introduction of plastic has ruined humanity’s aesthetic calibration and in the next paragraph, she’s eager to know if Alice is sleeping with the new man she’s met.) Eileen has spent many years entangled in an occasionally intimate friendship with her teenage crush, a slightly older man named Simon who is a devout Catholic and who works in the Irish Parliament as an assistant. As Eileen and Simon’s relationship becomes more complicated, Alice meets Felix, a warehouse worker who is unsure what to make of her fame and aloofness. In many ways, this book, a work of both philosophy and romantic tragicomedy about the ways people love and hurt one another, is exactly the type of book one would expect Rooney to write out of the political environment of the past few years. But just because the novel is so characteristic of Rooney doesn’t take anything away from its considerable power. As Alice herself puts it, “Humanity on the cusp of extinction [and] here I am writing another email about sex and friendship. What else is there to live for?”

A novel of capacious intelligence and plenty of page-turning emotional drama.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-60260-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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