Memorable characters inhabit a surprising, engaging story of American idealism and its dark opposite.

NINE SHINY OBJECTS

An impressive debut novel tells a wide-ranging story of mysterious connections among vividly rendered characters in 20th-century America.

This novel’s nine chapters stretch across four decades at intervals of five years. Each has a different main character, and their settings crisscross the country. The book opens in 1947 with Oliver Danville, a “washed-up stage actor” and pool shark, who witnesses a friend’s murder and decides to change his life. When he reads a newspaper story about a military pilot who saw a group of UFOs, the “shiny objects” of the title, he’s galvanized by a vision of a better world. After a chance meeting with a farm family, Oliver takes off, farmer and wife in tow, for the West. Five years later, Oliver, now called the Tzadi Sophit, is the leader of a California cult that aims to create a multiracial utopia. In 1957, he and his followers move across the country into a newly built town adjacent to a Long Island suburb and are violently attacked by some of their neighbors. The echoes of that terrible night shape the main characters in the rest of the chapters: a young black man embarking on an intellectual life in Harlem, a salesman in Florida who makes a wild career change, a woman who hosts a conspiracy-theory radio show in Phoenix, another woman whose husband was the ringleader of the attack, a teenage girl whose grandparents and parents were targets of the attack, and finally an old man, the son of Oliver’s first followers, still on their farm and haunted by the ghost of his brother. Several characters recur, including Max Felt, who was a boy during the attack and grows up to be a rock star and something of a cult leader himself. Max and Oliver remain mysterious characters whose thoughts the reader has little access to, and the plot is built around mysteries as well—many chapters end in a cliffhanger without resolution. But Castleberry maintains deft control of the novel’s arc, making satisfying connections and bringing rich characters to life.

Memorable characters inhabit a surprising, engaging story of American idealism and its dark opposite.

Pub Date: June 30, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-298439-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Custom House/Morrow

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 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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