An intriguing premise turns disappointingly banal.

ONE YEAR OF UGLY

A Venezuelan family living illegally in Trinidad is forced to work for a crime lord in this comic novel.

Twenty-four-year-old Yola Palacio and her extended family are having a backyard barbecue when a man holding a gun strides into the gathering, introduces himself as Ugly, and announces that Yola’s recently deceased Aunt Celia owed him a large sum of money, which the entire Palacios family must pay off by working for him—on pain of death or deportation back to the dysfunctional Venezuela they fled two years earlier. The four Palacios households begin receiving waves of illegal immigrants, whom they must house, feed, and entertain for free. Shuttling these refugees is Ugly’s handsome enforcer, Román, toward whom Yola feels an immediate and bewildering carnal pull. Soon the Palacios settle into a sort of rhythm: Every few months, they host “a mix of fleeing intellectuals, political refugees, impoverished asylum seekers, and a smattering of adventurers just looking for a new start,” befriending their kinder guests and tolerating the obnoxious ones. Everyone, that is, except Yola's Aunt Milagros, who becomes suspicious of the refugees and eventually shoots a child living in her home. Román tells Yola—they’ve become lovers who bond over their “shared love of books”—that he’s sent Milagros back to Venezuela and told Ugly that she’s dead, and the remaining Palacios are forced to work in Ugly’s clandestine high-end strip club in various capacities. Debut author Mackenzie maintains a jangly, casual sort of humor throughout (“My father was born for safe-housing illegal migrants…he fell upon our new houseguests with all the bonhomie of a Sandals Resort manager, bearing three buckets of fried chicken and a bottle of rum”). But just as often her prose is choked with clichés—“With a thunder crack, in a perfect display of pathetic fallacy, the clouds split.” And while the novel provides a much-needed view into the many double binds of illegal immigration, it also, troublingly, seems to prop up stereotypes. At one point, Yola curses her “inability to thwart all those genetically wired impulses that allow pop culture to accurately peg Latin women as 'feisty,' 'fiery,' and 'mothafuckin’ crazy as shit.' ” Really?

An intriguing premise turns disappointingly banal.

Pub Date: July 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982128-91-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: 37 Ink/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 61

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 10

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

more