Despite its flaws, George’s Proustian homage to a lost time will be a Francophile’s madeleine.

THE PARIS HOURS

Set in 1927, George’s atmospheric third novel follows the lives of four ordinary Parisians, each seeking something they lost, over the course of a summer day.

The book opens a few hours after midnight as Souren Balakian, an Armenian refugee haunted by traumatic memories of his flight from Ottoman Anatolia a decade before, prepares his puppets for his daily shows at the Jardin du Luxembourg. Impoverished painter Guillaume Blanc awakes, hungover and desperate to raise money to pay off a loan shark’s debt that is due that day. Insomniac Jean-Paul Maillard, a journalist nursing physical and emotional wounds from the Great War, comforts himself listening to the music of George Gershwin. Camille Clermont arrives at a cemetery with her young daughter, Marie, to lay flowers on the grave of her former employer, writer Marcel Proust. As the day progresses, alternating chapters interweave these characters’ pasts with their presents to gradually reveal tragedies and heart-wrenching secrets. The era’s celebrities (Josephine Baker, Gertrude Stein, Maurice Ravel, Sylvia Beach, Ernest and Pauline Hemingway) make guest appearances in a name-dropping Midnight in Paris fashion. Despite some striking moments (a badly wounded Jean-Paul is moved by an impromptu piano concert in an abandoned church by an ambulance driver who turns out to be Ravel), other encounters feel forced. Likewise, in George’s aim to get his four protagonists to the climax in a Montmartre jazz club, the loose connections he creates among them seem at times like heavy-handed contrivances. And despite the vividness of the stories being told, their power is undermined by the flatness of the character development. Still, the ambiguous ending will provide discussion fodder for reading groups.

Despite its flaws, George’s Proustian homage to a lost time will be a Francophile’s madeleine.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-30718-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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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.

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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