Eerie, gripping, and macabre: a gothic romance for the contemporary age.


In a house as old and (apparently) stately as Byrne Hall, there are certain to be secrets behind locked doors.

Freya Lyell’s life has felt paused since her sister, Stella, committed suicide five years prior by throwing herself off the cliffs near Byrne Hall, an idyllic manor on the English coast. When Freya gets drunk at a cousin’s wedding held on the estate’s grounds (a somewhat insensitive wedding location, Freya believes), she stumbles on a portrait that eerily resembles her dead sister. Later, unable to get this portrait out of her mind, she leaves the routine of her young adult life in London (work, swim, home to dad) and heads back to Byrne Hall to try to find some answers. What she’s met with, however, are not answers but an almost instantaneous happiness that feels off-kilter with the issues that keep circling in her thoughts—her sister’s suicide, her mother’s death when she was 5, and her ensuing troubled childhood. Bolstering this happiness is her whirlwind romance with would-be portrait artist Cory Byrne, who lives in Byrne Hall, his family estate, with his ailing mother and takes Freya as his all-consuming muse. But even in her newfound elation, a darkness—almost a morbidness—lingers uncomfortably close: “In every version I kiss him right back, and it’s almost like the last scene in the movie—except that there’s an old woman curled up on the bed, and her fingers are twitching restlessly on top of the sheets.” When Brooks suddenly shifts the narrative back in time to when Stella was alive, the darkness bubbling beneath creaky floorboards begins to boil over. Brooks’ elegant prose and artfully written protagonist keep this somewhat predictable thriller from feeling formulaic.

Eerie, gripping, and macabre: a gothic romance for the contemporary age.

Pub Date: March 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-951142-36-0

Page Count: 388

Publisher: Tin House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.


The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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


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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