Some portions of this tale drag, yet the likable protagonist’s final destination will surprise readers.

READ REVIEW

THE FRIENDS OF ALLAN RENNER

A debut novel focuses on the coming-of-age of a cinephile.

If Allan Paul Renner is anything, it’s affable. Renner was born near the end of the 1970s in Ohio, though he later moved with his parents to Florida. He enjoys films, music, and being kind to delivery drivers. The narrative takes place largely around 2016. Both Donald Trump and Hurricane Irma loom large in the present and near future. On a more personal level, Renner is in store for a few pivotal life changes. The book, though, as the title suggests, provides extensive details about Renner’s acquaintances. There is Akhil Das, an amateur astrophysicist who battles alcoholism and enjoys heavy discussions. Sadie Guildwood was once a singer in a semipopular band in Los Angeles and is now in her 40s and resides in Minnesota. Despite their geographic separation, she and Renner still talk. Fred Seelenfreund is a filmmaker and Renner’s former teacher. He helps Renner discover movies the younger cinephile has never heard of. Philip and Alice are Renner’s kindly parents while Ruby the havapoo (a Havanese-poodle mix) rounds out the family as the lovable dog. Carmen Villela is a beauty who exposes Renner to music he has never heard before while her son, Anxo, shows the protagonist a video game he has never previously played. Readers will follow along as such people move in and out of Renner’s personal orbit. It all winds up leading to a place that will throw even this eclectic group a curveball.

In Andrae’s novel, Renner’s relationships take him to some disparate places. After all, his friends are not just a diverse mix, they also have their own complex, engaging background stories. Whether Renner is having a crossbow pointed at him after talking about films or waiting for a potentially dangerous convict to audition for a part in a movie, the sympathetic hero, no matter how kind and good-natured he may be, has the potential to land in some sticky situations. But there are parts of the tale that lack much in the way of conflict. Renner spends a good deal of the book living at his parents’ home in Florida and enjoying the company of Ruby. He goes so far as to purchase a trailer for his bicycle, which also transports the canine. The purchase and subsequent use of a “medium-sized Pet Safe Solvit HoundAbout” could have been played for laughs or at least some turmoil. But it is not. Man and dog going for a bike ride is simply as much a part of Renner’s life as other activities, such as watching movies. In other words, there are times when there is not a whole lot happening to Renner. Nor is he having much of an impact on the world. But things take a decidedly odd turn in the final pages. Renner’s seemingly tranquil existence ultimately becomes upended in a way that neither he nor his friends could have ever imagined. For the audience, this is the intriguing part. Renner can’t simply enjoy an easy life in Florida forever. What shall disrupt it? The big reveal comes only at the end.

Some portions of this tale drag, yet the likable protagonist’s final destination will surprise readers.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64970-128-2

Page Count: 306

Publisher: Kaji-Pup Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 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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