An intriguing and ghostly but ultimately hazy tale of grief and memory.

THE ROCKY ORCHARD

In this literary novel, a woman alone on her family’s farm becomes trapped in a cycle of memories.

Mazie Mills has returned to the family farm—the vacation spot she loved as a child, where, she remembers, “there was no ‘supposed to’.…Just be.” Alone on the property, she is befriended by elderly neighbor Lula, who takes daily walks through the farm’s orchard. Lula begins to stop by every morning for a game of gin rummy, and Mazie starts to tell her stories about her family. She talks about a road trip to California, how she always had the worst seat at the table, and how she has never eaten an apple from the orchard that tasted any good. Lula, who rarely speaks about herself, listens kindly to Mazie’s memories and offers helpful analysis. But a number of things haunt Mazie, including her early, intense relationship with her high school boyfriend, Sean; a dream she has in which she died; her wedding, which took place on that very farm; and her husband, Eddie. Why is Mazie here alone? And why can’t she quite remember how she got here? Is it possible that she may be dead? Monier’s prose is lyrical and measured, deftly evoking the dreamlike qualities of the setting through Mazie’s eyes: “The short step down from the porch, my bare foot on the hot summer grass, I am hit by a wall of humidity. The full, fertile feel of the air that marks a Pennsylvania mountain summer. Thick, wet, ripe with a steaming, green life.” But the book is a bit too dreamy, both in its premise and its presentation. The first third, which mostly deals with Mazie’s relationship with Sean, is quite gripping, but as soon as the otherworldly element is introduced on Page 50, every scene has the ephemeral quality of a dream sequence. Readers will have trouble taking these scenes seriously, and the novel quickly treads into the clichéd Hollywood territory of false realities and gauzy interior worlds. Despite her clear talent, the author has not constructed enough of a story—one rooted in reality, with genuine stakes and authentic characters—to keep readers invested.

An intriguing and ghostly but ultimately hazy tale of grief and memory.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 119

Publisher: Amika Press

Review Posted Online: April 27, 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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