A masterfully constructed story of identity and ambition and an authentic portrait of one unforgettable Filipino family.


An undocumented Filipino American teenager struggles to make sense of his past in order to move into the future.

After spending nine months in the desert of Southern California, 19-year-old Excel Maxino ("like the spreadsheet") tries sneaking back into his old apartment via the fire escape but finds himself at the business end of a switchblade, wielded by his mother, Maxima. A former D-list star of Philippine action movies, Maxima welcomes Excel back with leftover Panda Express and doesn't ask any questions about his reappearance. Instead, she must get back to work scamming men on online dating sites to make ends meet. Though Excel doesn't volunteer the truth of his nine-month excursion, the chapters alternate between his present-day struggles to raise money and his misguided adventure to the desert oasis of Hello City, where he and his girlfriend, Sab, tried to make a life for themselves. This deceptively simple back-and-forth structure yields a rich cast of characters, who quickly populate the world and bring it to life. Gunter, a Serbian immigrant, rehires Excel at The Pie Who Loved Me, a children's pizzeria with an espionage theme, with hilarious and unfortunate results. Joker, the grandmaster who trained Maxima in martial arts, slips forbidden comic books to Excel before his unfortunate passing. While most interactions within this widening circle of relationships serve to advance the plot, a few of the roles feel a bit forced, as with Gunter's grandfather Zivko, who studies a dictionary at the pizzeria and slips words and phrases into Excel's lexicon. But the occasional diversion doesn't detract from the propulsive prose, captivating characters, and vital details of immigrant life, like the Tagalog phrase for undocumented Phillipinos, "TNT," which stands for tago ng tago: hiding and hiding.

A masterfully constructed story of identity and ambition and an authentic portrait of one unforgettable Filipino family.

Pub Date: July 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-205957-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.


The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 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


Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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