A book that’s sometimes formulaic but alluring in its strangeness.

THE INEXPLICABLE GREY SPACE WE CALL LOVE

A debut collection of short stories that examine love and death with flashes of dark wit.

“Pizza Monks,” the first of the 14 stories in this book, has an intriguing strangeness. Written in the first person, it tells of a pizza shop worker who, when about to close up, is approached by two Buddhist monks who request 20 pizzas. The pizzas are a favorite of a member of their brotherhood who plans to set himself on fire at sunrise. That storyline helps to set up a collection in which the motif of fire is prominent throughout: In “Smoke,” a man agrees to torch his brother’s house as part of an insurance scam, and “A Lesson in Fire” describes a girlfriend’s father inexplicably self-combusting. Other stories tell of a man who learns that his father enjoys wearing women’s lingerie, a goat discovered in the bathroom at a McDonald’s, and a salesman who falls in love with the word “languid.” Augello’s writing is richly textured. In the disturbingly dark “Call Me Your Unbroken,” the conception, pregnancy, and birth of a daughter all happen over the course of one night. The author’s words are loaded with suspense: “She was naked, her body slender and taut, her hips small again, as if she’d never given birth. She held the baby at her breast as she took a step, then another, toward the edge of the balcony.” On other occasions, Augello employs a fiendishly macabre wit. Describing the recently self-combusted father, he writes: “We tried to put out the flames with glasses of water and little cups of coffee, but it just didn’t work.” Almost every story relies on a hook—an uncanny occurrence—to draw the reader in. Although the subject matter of the stories varies, the approach becomes predictably familiar and starts to feel programmatic toward the end of the collection. That said, this is a promising debut indicative of a wild imagination and a burgeoning talent.

A book that’s sometimes formulaic but alluring in its strangeness.

Pub Date: April 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-943900-41-1

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Duck Lake Books

Review Posted Online: March 19, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

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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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

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: N/A

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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