A fine introduction to a writer little known outside his native land and who memorably captures its atmosphere.


Joined sketches, ostensibly fictional but with the ring of lived truth to them, by the noted Catalonian writer.

As translator Bush remarks in an afterword, Pla’s (1897-1981) chronicles of his seafaring compatriots were supposedly written during the author’s youth. Most, in fact, were from the 1940s, when, working as a journalist, Pla made a specialty of sneaking subtle criticisms of the Franco dictatorship into his copy. Sometimes his resistance is less than subtle. In one story, the narrator is conversing with “Dalí the painter’s father,” as he prefers to be called, and recounts, “In the Ampurdan, we federal republicans and those who didn’t think like us created a most pleasant level of coexistence, which had eliminated all forms of brutality….We’d rage at each other, but there was mutual respect. All that was destroyed thanks to theories about human progress and happiness.” Most of the stories are laden with references to the glories of Catalan cuisine, so much better, Pla asserts, than the butter-heavy French cuisine up the coast; in just about every story, someone is eating anchovies and sardines and sea bream, and it’s a book not to be read on an empty stomach. In just about every story, too, there is a reminder not just of food, but also of the antiquity of the Mediterranean; a Zorba-like character with the Greek-ish name of Hermós, for example, claims that the people along the cape he inhabits are indeed Hellenes, for “those Greeks were no fools. They chose to come and live in the best of places.” Blending both themes, the narrator later rejoins, “The spectacle of avid hunger becomes this antique sea. There are corners of this sea where you can smell the stench of Homeric hecatombs.” Pla’s stories are generally unadorned and precise in their renderings of both the people and the places of the far northeast of Spain, lives full of hardship and labor—but also their insistence on freedom.

A fine introduction to a writer little known outside his native land and who memorably captures its atmosphere.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-939810-72-4

Page Count: 310

Publisher: Archipelago

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 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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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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