An unsatisfying family epic that bites off more than it can chew.



A multigenerational saga of an Italian family that immigrates to Germany in the mid-20th century.

German fashion designer Julia Becker always believed that her father, Vincenzo, died when she was a child—at least, that’s what her mother, Tanja, had always told her. But her life turns upside down when a mysterious elderly man approaches her after a Milan Fashion Week show for her upstart clothing label, claims to be her long-lost grandfather, and reveals that her father is still alive. Though Julia at first refuses to believe him, she soon uncovers a trove of family secrets that forces her to reevaluate everything. The novel unfolds as a series of reminisces that begin with Julia’s grandfather Vincent’s journey from Munich to Milan to work on the Isetta bubble car in the 1950s, where he met, fell in love with, and impregnated Giulietta Marconi, a Sicilian woman who was engaged to her cousin Enzo. Though Vincent and Giulietta separate, Giulietta and Enzo later immigrate to Munich, and the old romance is rekindled. Speck effectively depicts the struggles of Italian “guest workers” facing discrimination in postwar Germany, but despite this noble enterprise, his novel lacks dramatic power. The book feels both too long and not long enough: At 520 pages, it's a hefty tome, but Speck tells the stories of so many members of Julia’s extended family that the book feels rushed; frustratingly, he often summarizes his characters’ feelings and motivations instead of letting them live and breathe on the page in fully realized dramatic scenes. The novel also suffers from an inconsistent framing device: Though it's written as a series of stories being told to Julia or as entries in Giulietta’s diary, those stories often include information that the narrators could never have known, which is disorienting to the reader.

An unsatisfying family epic that bites off more than it can chew.

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5420-9012-4

Page Count: 477

Publisher: AmazonCrossing

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.


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


Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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A story with both comedy and heartbreak sure to please Backman fans.

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Eight people become unlikely friends during a hostage situation created by an inept bank robber.

In a town in Sweden, a desperate parent turns to bank robbery to help pay the rent. Unfortunately, the target turns out to be a cashless bank, which means that no robbery can take place. In an attempt to flee the police, the would-be perpetrator runs into a nearby apartment building and interrupts an open house, causing the would-be buyers to assume they're being held hostage. After the situation has ended with an absent bank robber and blood on the carpet, a father-and-son police pair work through maddening interviews with the witnesses: the ridiculous realtor; an older couple who renovates and sells apartments in an effort to stay busy; a bickering young couple expecting their first child; a well-off woman interested only in the view from the balcony of a significant bridge in her life; an elderly woman missing her husband as New Year’s Eve approaches; and, absurdly, an actor dressed as a rabbit hired to disrupt the showing and drive down the apartment price. Backman’s latest novel focuses on how a shared event can change the course of multiple people’s lives even in times of deep and ongoing anxiousness. The observer/narrator is winding and given to tangents and, in early moments, might distract a bit too much from the strongly drawn characters. But the story gains energy and sureness as it develops, resulting in moments of insight and connection between its numerous amiable characters.

A story with both comedy and heartbreak sure to please Backman fans.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6083-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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