A warmhearted exploration of modern love with considerable psychological and philosophical insights.

CLOSER TO FINE

In this coming-of-age novel set in 1995, a young woman starting graduate studies struggles with the vagaries of relationships, sexual orientation, and faith.

At the age of 23, Rachel Levine moves to Boston to begin a doctoral program in clinical psychology and to live with her 86-year-old grandfather, an observant Jew coping with the loss of his beloved wife. The two have a close bond, and Rachel serves as a needed companion but must keep parts of her life hidden. While she regularly accompanies Zayde (the Yiddish word for grandfather) to his synagogue, she is under strict instructions from her mother not to reveal to him her bisexual orientation. When she falls headlong into a passionate relationship with Liz Abraham, a brilliant young member of the congregation, she conceals it from him. The book examines the shifting plates of the religious community—more involvement of women and non-Jews in the rituals, to the consternation of Zayde. In her clinical training, under careful supervision, Rachel is learning how to enable her patients to handle change in their lives. Meanwhile, she becomes increasingly anxious about the uncertainties she faces. She is not confident about Liz’s commitment to her; her parents are uncomfortable with her bisexuality; and she fails to foresee some serious problems with a favorite patient. Her own experience with a skilled therapist grants her tremendous insights as she navigates some very rough waters. Rosenfeld’s novel is framed by events from 2019, indicating that Rachel has successfully achieved significant career and personal goals. Much time is spent on elaborate discussions of Jewish observance and beliefs, such as washing and sitting with a body between death and burial. The pacing flags at times for secular readers when these descriptions venture into the esoteric. The early romance of Rachel and Liz is a high point described with humor and zest. On an early date, Rachel explains to Liz that she doesn’t like spicy dishes but does love trying new foods, with the unspoken subtext: “I’m not into leather but don’t think that means I’m boring in bed.” The book’s descriptions of psychological disorders and treatments, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, are informative and extremely readable. Rachel’s therapist, Kevin Miller, summarizes the story’s message succinctly: “Rachel, the notion that we can have complete certainty about anything is a lie.”

A warmhearted exploration of modern love with considerable psychological and philosophical insights.

Pub Date: May 25, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64742-059-8

Page Count: 280

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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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: 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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