Delicately rendered characters inform a richly textured family portrait.

AN ELEGANT WOMAN

A family's myths become a treasured legacy.

“How is a person made?” the young Katherine Stewart asks her older sister, Tommy. “I mean a life,” she adds, “growing up, understanding who you are and what you want. How does that happen?” That is the essential, vexing question that pervades McPhee’s thoughtful, gently told novel about the ways a family’s past shapes each generation. Tommy’s granddaughter Isadora finds the stories irresistible: A writer, she bases her novels on biographies of real people, just as McPhee has done here, drawing on her own family history. Central to the novel are Tommy and Katherine, cowed by poverty, neglected by their impetuous mother, Glenna, and longing to escape a circumscribed life. Throughout their childhood, they find themselves “elaborating and embellishing” colorful family fables, handed down by Glenna, until both felt that they “had lived not only their brief lives, but also in memories that began long before they were born.” Their own lives change dramatically in 1910 when Glenna leaves her adulterous husband, taking her daughters from their home in Ohio to Montana, where she cajoles and flirts her way into being hired as a teacher—pretending to be single, soon foisting her girls on a kindhearted childless couple. She returns after 2 years, sweeping up her daughters once again to accompany her as she continually reinvents herself. As the sisters grow up, they confront the question Katherine asked as a child: how to know who you are. McPhee underscores her characters’ evolving identities by playing with names: Tommy was born Thelma; Katherine calls herself Kate and, later, Pat; and these names, too, change—sometimes confusingly—as the narrative spins out and each sister grapples, more or less successfully, with the possibility of self-creation. “Sometimes it feels good to pretend,” Tommy reflects, “to be the person you desire, to believe you can have what you please, that what you say is the truth.”

Delicately rendered characters inform a richly textured family portrait.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7957-0

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 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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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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