Exceptional writing and a thoroughly entertaining collection.

THAT OLD COUNTRY MUSIC

Tales of love, lust, and country life by the gifted Irish writer.

It’s spring or summer in western Ireland in most of these 11 stories. The whitethorn—or hawthorn, which helps the heart, say herbalists—may be “decked over the high fields as if for the staging of a witch’s wedding.” And love appears throughout, romantic, familial, injurious, magical, morbid. A man drives away his lover for the painfully familiar reason that he can’t imagine “what kind of a maniac could fall for the likes of me.” A young woman who targets a man to take her virginity before she returns to boarding school feels a new sense of power when he is run out of town. A man inherits a cottage that seems to make him irresistible to women, but while he’s Don Juan under that roof, “elsewhere I was, as ever, a bag of spanners.” A collector of old western Irish songs is startled by one in which a married woman seduces a herdsman so she can regale her husband with descriptions of her victim’s besotted state. A pregnant 17-year-old waits in a van while her fiance is supposedly off robbing a gas station to finance their elopement, but here “the whitethorn blossom…made an ominous aura as it moved in the wind.” Barry has the right stuff for short stories. He brings characters to life quickly and then blesses them with his uncanny ear for dialogue and prose rhythms, his compassion and wry wit. Most intriguing is one that opens with a dead whitethorn and has Theodore Roethke in an Irish psychiatric hospital (as he was in 1960), bantering with an earnest doctor while the poet’s mordant interior monologue adds a subtext on madness and creativity.

Exceptional writing and a thoroughly entertaining collection.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-385-54033-9

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 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 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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