Whimsy and fantasy meet the way things really turn out in stories from a strong new voice.

ANIMAL WIFE

Girls and women caught between myth and the modern world.

Selected by Ann Hood as the winner of the Red Hen Fiction Award, Ehrlich’s debut collection contains 15 stories, some as short as a paragraph. Protagonists range from girls dealing with absent mothers, first kisses, and female friendships to grown women, mothers and would-be mothers themselves. Many feature animals (swan, deer, bear, raccoon, and more) or mythic creatures (the Marsh King, the Undertoad), and most have at least one foot in a liminal space between fantasy and reality, between what we dream of and what we’ll ultimately accept. A story called “Six Roses” handles this tension with a healthy dose of humor. “June’s holding out for a man like Heathcliff or Mr. Darcy, whose scorn masks a deep pain only she can heal. She wants a kiss that will stop the earth from spinning, with a man who would die for her. If they were stranded in the ocean with only one plank of driftwood between them, he would insist she take it, and comfort her as he froze to death. No eighth-grader can compete with that. Nathan Bagley never stood a chance.” In fact, it turns out he does, because reality has a way of winning. In “The Tenant,” a woman who is living happily with a hungry bear—she serves him dinner by candlelight—is heartbroken when he moves out. While “Foresight” imagines a substance that lets you see all your possible futures, it seems to concur with “Stone Fruit” about the disappointment at the end of the road: “Alice had wanted to sleep beneath the stars nestled in a gypsy’s arms. She’d wanted to travel the world and write a novel rivaling War and Peace. Now, she wants a house to grow old in.” The drifty way the stories unfold—a lack of narrative urgency—may keep some readers from digging in.

Whimsy and fantasy meet the way things really turn out in stories from a strong new voice.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59709-884-7

Page Count: 168

Publisher: Red Hen Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2020

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

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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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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

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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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