A brilliant character study encased in a gripping plot with a fabulous final twist.

NIGHTSHADE

Walking across London after dark, an artist reviews her past and fears the future in McAfee’s pitch-black new novel.

Eve Laing grows and then paints plants in jewellike works that have garnered her some success but also condescension as a dainty, feminine artist. This infuriates her almost as much as the fame of her one-time friend, a confessional performance artist Eve dissed years ago with a widely reprinted wisecrack: “Wanda Wilson’s sole talent is for monstrous self-pity.” She’ll live to regret that remark in the jaw-dropping finale to a masterfully orchestrated narrative that fully justifies its pervasive atmosphere of lurking dread. When we meet Eve, she’s looking through the window of the town house where she used to live with her husband, Kristof. Eve left him five months ago, consumed by her new project and by Luka, the young assistant who has become her lover. At 60, Eve has decided to finally silence her patronizing critics with Poison Florilegium, a seven-panel depiction of deadly plants “lovely as their innocent sisters, venomous as snakes”; she views it as a tribute to “all those female artists…who laboured in the shadows.” As her memories unfold during her walk, we learn that Eve’s bitter determination stems from ancient wounds: an unhappy childhood, a humiliating affair with her famous art teacher, frustrations as a wife and mother. These injuries have rendered her both cruel and vindictive: “stringy Nancy, with her unfortunate recessive chin” is among Eve’s kindest comments about her daughter; and her revenge on an old friend who had a fling with Kristof is shockingly excessive. Eve isn’t meant to be likable—McAfee’s whip-smart text implicitly makes the point that no one objects to male artists being selfish and unkind—but she’s desperately human. We understand her rage and wince at her blindness to the dangers right under her nose in a text as studded with red-flag clues as it is with penetrating insights.

A brilliant character study encased in a gripping plot with a fabulous final twist.

Pub Date: Aug. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-65829-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

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CLOUD CUCKOO LAND

An ancient Greek manuscript connects humanity's past, present, and future.

Stranger, whoever you are, open this to learn what will amaze you” wrote Antonius Diogenes at the end of the first century C.E.—and millennia later, Pulitzer Prize winner Doerr is his fitting heir. Around Diogenes' manuscript, "Cloud Cuckoo Land"—the author did exist, but the text is invented—Doerr builds a community of readers and nature lovers that transcends the boundaries of time and space. The protagonist of the original story is Aethon, a shepherd whose dream of escaping to a paradise in the sky leads to a wild series of adventures in the bodies of beast, fish, and fowl. Aethon's story is first found by Anna in 15th-century Constantinople; though a failure as an apprentice seamstress, she's learned ancient Greek from an elderly scholar. Omeir, a country boy of the same period, is rejected by the world for his cleft lip—but forms the deepest of connections with his beautiful oxen, Moonlight and Tree. In the 1950s, Zeno Ninis, a troubled ex–GI in Lakeport, Idaho, finds peace in working on a translation of Diogenes' recently recovered manuscript. In 2020, 86-year-old Zeno helps a group of youngsters put the story on as a play at the Lakeport Public Library—unaware that an eco-terrorist is planting a bomb in the building during dress rehearsal. (This happens in the first pages of the book and continues ticking away throughout.) On a spaceship called the Argos bound for Beta Oph2 in Mission Year 65, a teenage girl named Konstance is sequestered in a sealed room with a computer named Sybil. How could she possibly encounter Zeno's translation? This is just one of the many narrative miracles worked by the author as he brings a first-century story to its conclusion in 2146.

As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982168-43-8

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 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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