Utterly improbable—and utterly delightful.


A rollicking, Rabelaisian tale by Catalan poet and novelist Besora.

Joan Orpí, writes an invented scholar in an inventive foreword, was “a Catalan man who went through a lot and managed to come through it all.” In language that would not be out of place on Talk Like a Pirate Day, Besora relates Orpí’s imagined adventures, a narrative framed by a crew of miscreant sailors being told what pass for maritime nursery tales by a captain desperate to put an end to their grousing. “Ye shant find these in any book of history,” the captain declares, “yet they be no less memorable or less important.” True enough. First there’s Orpí’s miraculous birth, helped along by a blast of lightning directed by the Virgin of Montserrat, who instructs him, “Hush thy blathering piehole and heed these instrucktions on how to effect your fate.” Alas, Orpí’s not much of a listener, and he bumbles between poles of behavior—a would-be monk one moment, a Lothario the next, unconcerned with language at one turn and adept at “mumbling unbearable Latinisms” at another. Law degree acquired but his services not exactly in high demand, Orpí bumbles further, meeting the likes of Cervantes, Sir Francis Drake, and Estebanico the Moor, companion of Cabeza de Vaca, as he eventually maneuvers his way into a position of power as the caudillo of New Catalonia, a hellhole-turned–anarchic outpost in the jungles of South America. Oh, and then there’s his ineffective courtship of a “damsel with an extremely long name,” which ends in nothing but tears. Think of it as a Catalonian rejoinder to Little Big Man, and go with the onrushing flow. Orpí’s a schlemiel, but he’s an endearing one, and we cheer for him. For his part, Besora delivers a delightful parody of the conquistadors’ reports of old, peppered with all manner of goofiness, from songs with lyrics such as “For we art the hardy foes / of abstemia & anemia” to a pseudo-Renaissance vocabulary that will make a language lover smile.

Utterly improbable—and utterly delightful.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-948830-24-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Open Letter

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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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 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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