A wrenching and sharply observed novel of unconventional love and family tragedy in 20th-century New England.

WINTER KEPT US WARM

A novel about love and yearning in small-town Vermont.

“Blood is blood,” one character darkly intones in Nolan’s taut, evocative novel, and this phrase haunts the events of the story that unfolds in Branlee Village, in Vermont’s Caledonia County in the mid-20th century. Branlee is a tiny place, centered on a town meeting hall, a post office, and the Branlee Country Store (“It smelled like creosote and strong coffee from the outside and, every morning, it smelled like bacon and eggs and strong coffee from the inside”) and surrounded by small-hold farms. The store is owned and run by Bunny Farrow, who narrates the tale from a point many years in the future. Bunny married Stephen Hart when she was young, but after he was killed in World War II, she chose not to remarry and instead established a romantic relationship with a woman named Nicole in Montreal. During Bunny’s many visits to the city, she and Nicole are slightly freer to show affection in public that they would be in Bunny’s hometown. As the story goes on, readers also meet two young cousins from Branlee: shy, bookish Rebecca and pretty Diane, who relishes the attention of men at the Leroux Roller Rink and its attached dance hall. After Rebecca is seduced by loutish James Letourneau (who radiates a “greasy, self-satisfied malevolence”) and dies after giving birth to a son, Henri, in 1956, Bunny defiantly insists that she raise the baby herself. That’s when James notes that blood is blood and that someday he’ll collect his offspring. After that day comes, Bunny spends the rest of the novel worrying about Henri from a distance.

“Do you know the suspended, tingling fear you feel after a flash of lightening [sic] rends the heavens in a summer’s storm?” Bunny asks at one point. “You know a roll of thunder will follow in one explosive, earth-shattering instant.” This same sense of foreboding hangs over Nolan’s setting—a small town that’s “the kind of place a girl moves away from, not the other way around.” Throughout, Nolan effectively evokes a gritty, genuine Vermont (not the picture-postcard version that “the tourism folks like to sell”), and his novel’s portrait of how Bunny’s six years of mothering little Henri fills her with joy is so touching that readers will likely wish it were longer. James is a one-dimensional, monstrous villain, but Bunny is well-developed and complicated, as is the depiction of her life as a lesbian in 1950s Vermont and Canada. As a character, she anchors the book well, and the author wisely has the reader share her agony at not knowing what’s happening to Henri on the Letourneau farm; there’s a persistent dread that James’ noxious rages will attach to Henri like a curse. The book’s multilayered final acts give readers more views of Henri as a young man, but Nolan respects his readers enough to avoid any pat conclusions.

A wrenching and sharply observed novel of unconventional love and family tragedy in 20th-century New England.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 254

Publisher: Manuscript

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 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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