Painful and joyous, sad and funny—impossible to put down.


Alyan’s riveting novel, set in America and the Middle East, brims with overlapping memories of secrets, betrayals, and loyalties within a seemingly assimilated Syrian Lebanese American family.

In 1978, young Palestinian Zakaria is assassinated in a refugee camp in Beirut, the victim of a factional revenge killing during Lebanon’s civil war. Weeks before, Zakaria had betrayed his best friend, Lebanese Idris, with Idris’ Syrian girlfriend, Mazna. Spelled out in the first pages, these facts will haunt the novel as their impact on members of the Nasr family comes to light. Cut to present-day California, where cardiac surgeon Idris Nasr lives with Mazna, whom he married not long after Zakaria’s death. Their three grown children, born and raised in America, take their parents’ perpetually rocky 40-year marriage for granted. And as they first avoid, then succumb to Mazna’s entreaties to convene in Beirut—supposedly to hold a memorial service for Idris’ recently deceased father but really to protest against Idris’ selling the ancestral home he's just inherited—all three are hiding problems from their parents. In Brooklyn, almost 40-year-old microbiologist Ava suspects her WASP husband is having an affair; in Austin, Mimi, 32, has cheated on his long-suffering girlfriend and been dumped by the band he started; almost 30-year-old Naj, an internationally famous singer/musician, has yet to tell her parents she’s gay. Meanwhile, Mazna, whose passions for Zakaria and her aborted career as an actress have never died, has spent her marriage betraying and being betrayed by Idris, depending upon yet resenting him. And Idris, a man of privileged self-importance and some charm, is perhaps more self-aware than his family realizes. Palestinian American psychologist and writer Alyan is masterful at clarifying the complicated sociopolitical realities surrounding Lebanon's and Syria’s intertwined histories in terms of class, caste, colonialism, and tribalism. But even more masterful here—as in Salt Houses (2017), which portrayed the Palestinian diaspora through four generations of a single family—is her laserlike focus on her multifaceted characters in big and small moments that come together to create a singular family.

Painful and joyous, sad and funny—impossible to put down.

Pub Date: March 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-358-12655-3

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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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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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

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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