Tales that are informative and occasionally evocative, but tediously long-winded.

EVENT IN THE MARSHES

A debut collection of short fiction set in the Middle East and Europe with annotations to help readers understand Iraqi culture.

Dark events lie at the heart of much of this book. A “devastating cholera epidemic” is occurring in the marshes of southern Iraq in the novella-length first piece in this collection, “Event in the Marshes.” The story opens with the mysterious Zaira Tiswahen, a “boat peddler,” rowing to Haj Raisan village. On her arrival, she meets a woman whose daughter, Hasna, has grown gravely ill. The villagers are desperate to save Hasna from death: A clergyman suggests that a miracle—the apparition of a wali, or holy person—may heal her, but her fiance, Hameed is skeptical of the idea and sets off on his own quest for a cure. In “Woman with a Bike,” the male narrator introduces himself to a woman whose bike has a flat tire and unexpectedly hears about “the greatest tragedy” of her life, the death of her husband on their wedding night. And in “Sorrow on the Banks of the Southerly River” a man ruminates about being a conscientious objector to serving in the Iraq War. Even the somewhat incongruous “Two Worlds,” an exploration of one diner’s fleeting attraction to another at a Brussels brasserie, ends with disillusionment. The collection opens promisingly with a rich description of an Iraqi marsh. Careful annotations in the form of detailed footnotes explain aspects of Iraqi culture. However, Lateef’s writing is off-puttingly wordy: “In such an unpleasant, creepy setting where myths and solid reality merged and became one, where actual fears with auditory and visual components intermingled with invisible horror that mimicked morbid hallucinations and the icy breath of formless danger, the metamorphosis of this isolated, untrodden swampy realm into a consternating, haunted world was an appalling mental experience.” That kind of verbosity draws out the stories to needless lengths, causing interest to wane. Although the author takes the reader into potentially new and exciting worlds, and his plotlines are mildly compelling, a significantly pared-down style would have helped to sustain the reader’s interest.

Tales that are informative and occasionally evocative, but tediously long-winded.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-72839-478-7

Page Count: 158

Publisher: AuthorHouseUK

Review Posted Online: April 8, 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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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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