An odd tone, uneven narrator, and lopsided plot hold this puppy back.

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GOOD DOGS DON'T MAKE IT TO THE SOUTH POLE

A dog and a widow navigate their new lives as a duo in this fiction debut.

Tassen is a one-man dog, and unfortunately, his man, The Major, has just taken his last breath. Now Tassen and widowed Mrs. Thorkildsen find themselves alone and faced with having to reconfigure their lives without him. This leads to journeys to the library and an interest in the 1911 race to the South Pole between Norway’s Roald Amundsen and Britain’s Capt. Robert F. Scott. Tassen is fascinated by Amundsen’s sled dogs, and Mrs. Thorkildsen tells him stories of how each dog met its fate, from being stuffed to eaten. Tassen is just getting used to his new normal when Mrs. Thorkildsen’s son and his family show up, seemingly concerned about how she’s getting on. Mrs. Thorkildsen assures them she’s fine, but is she? Tassen is a unique narrator, but the tone is all over the place, matter of fact and blunt and whimsical. It’s hard to get a feel for Tassen and, by extension, any other character. This is Thyvold’s first book to be published in the U.S. as well as his first work of fiction. His previous nonfiction book on Amundsen explains the intense amount of detail on the South Pole journey, which is unfortunately to the detriment of the main plot. The family thinks Mrs. Thorkildsen is losing her mind because she talks to and understands Tassen, but at one point a stranger does, too, and then it’s never mentioned again. The book is unsure of its own internal mythos, which throws everything else off.

An odd tone, uneven narrator, and lopsided plot hold this puppy back.

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06298-165-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: HarperVia/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 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 story with both comedy and heartbreak sure to please Backman fans.

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ANXIOUS PEOPLE

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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