An original, compelling, and enigmatic first novel.

THE BALLAD OF BIG FEELING

Watching an elderly parent become frail and ill is never easy, but it's even more difficult when the relationship is fraught.

The unnamed 33-year-old narrator of this unsettling debut not only has to help her once-neglectful and often haughty mom sell her house and downsize, she also has to deal with her mother’s physical decline. The two live thousands of miles apart, in two dissimilar but never-identified locales. The woman lives with her male partner in a cozy rental and both work in never-defined jobs that allow them a modicum of social mobility. The novel presents their relationship as comfortable, settled, and their day-to-day interactions unfold alongside the woman’s planned and random encounters with people known only as "the neighbor," an elderly woman dying of kidney disease; "the cousin"; "the hard stranger"; "the father" and "the stepmother"; "the coworker"; "the pretty-necked friend"; and "the bad-lucked friend." Who she is with each of these people varies, but self-doubt is never far from the surface. Her weight, always a source of discomfort, is a constant concern, but readers have no idea if the narrator is actually overweight or if this fixation is a delusion. Whatever, it creates tension, and it is only after the woman and her mother have readied the family home for sale that eating cupcakes together becomes a rite of release. Class and religious differences are alluded to, as well, since the father is Jewish and the mother is not, but the many possible meanings of these identifiers are left hanging. In the end, it is up to the reader to parse meaning from each and every incident, many of them bizarre and some of them shocking.

An original, compelling, and enigmatic first novel.

Pub Date: July 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-61219-767-8

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Melville House

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

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THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME

When a devoted husband and father disappears, his wife and daughter set out to find him.

Hannah Hall is deeply in love with her husband of one year, Owen Michaels. She’s also determined to win over his 16-year-old daughter, Bailey, who has made it very clear that she’s not thrilled with her new stepmother. Despite the drama, the family is mostly a happy one. They live in a lovely houseboat in Sausalito; Hannah is a woodturner whose handmade furniture brings in high-dollar clientele; and Owen works for The Shop, a successful tech firm. Their lives are shattered, however, when Hannah receives a note saying “Protect her” and can’t reach Owen by phone. Then there’s the bag full of cash Bailey finds in her school locker and the shocking news that The Shop’s CEO has been taken into custody. Hannah learns that the FBI has been investigating the firm for about a year regarding some hot new software they took to market before it was fully functional, falsifying their financial statements. Hannah refuses to believe her husband is involved in the fraud, and a U.S. marshal assigned to the case claims Owen isn’t a suspect. Hannah doesn’t know whom to trust, though, and she and Bailey resolve to root out the clues that might lead to Owen. They must also learn to trust one another. Hannah’s narrative alternates past and present, detailing her early days with Owen alongside her current hunt for him, and author Dave throws in a touch of danger and a few surprises. But what really drives the story is the evolving nature of Hannah and Bailey’s relationship, which is by turns poignant and frustrating but always realistic.

Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7134-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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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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