An eccentric, ultimately moving novel of an expat Irish family in turmoil.

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WEST OF IRELAND

From the The Picaresque Narratives series , Vol. 1

An Irish family in Canada faces a stark generational choice.

Hoff’s impressive fiction debut centers on the O’Brien family in New Brunswick, Canada. Mr. O’Brien is garrulous and tries to be optimistic, holding court at The Donnybrook, the local pub, every day, and Mrs. O’Brien is sharp and forceful, haunted by the fact that all of her many children but one died very early (“Three boys and five girls buried one after the other in the churchyard, none living long enough to open their eyes to see, or their mouths to cry”). Tended by servants, the couple lives in a fine house with their only daughter, Mary-Kate, a high-spirited, bookish young woman who’s continuously being proffered by her father to all the eligible or semi-eligible men in the town of Tnúth. Mary-Kate is the book’s most complex dramatic creation, and the subject of her matrimonial future is a contentious one. Years ago, Mrs. O’Brien made a rash promise to her sister-in-law, Sister Mary-Frances, pledging one of her children to religious orders, and Sister Mary-Frances is determined to collect (“The long line of O’Briens was coming to an end,” we’re told, “and she wanted to make sure it finished with some dignity”). Hoff adds to these charged premises a third storyline that’s customarily a staple of comedy rather than drama: Mrs. O’Brien’s quarrelsome mother (referred to by her son-in-law as “Our Lady of Blessed Misery” and called by her daughter simply “Herself”), having just recently buried her husband, has decided to come and live with the O’Briens. Hoff animates this tale of over-the-top family dysfunction with wit, considerable writing skills (at one point we read “There was enough blue in the sky to cut out a pair of pants”), and deadpan humor (“I’m not ignoring you,” one character tells another, “I’m just pretending you’re not here”). And the very human pathos of the novel is always present but never heavy-handed, with even the most outlandish characters written to a fine shade of believability.

An eccentric, ultimately moving novel of an expat Irish family in turmoil.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9812215-0-2

Page Count: 346

Publisher: Black Crow Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 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: 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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