Style alone cannot carry these stories.

SUGAR, SMOKE, SONG

A debut collection of linked stories about women trying to escape tricky family relationships only to re-create them in the world.

In Bollywood movies, melodrama can be delicious and fun, but in fiction it's tricky to keep it from sliding into histrionics. That's what happens in many of these stories, in which sisters betray each other, families draw blood, and men behave rakishly. In "The Stars of the Bollywood House," for example, we see Jumi, a Harvard grad, wasting away from a broken heart. This is the third story about her. In the first ("Ode on an Asian Dog"), Jumi dumps Walt, her cloddish college boyfriend, 30 times. In the second ("Swan Lake Tango"), she's graduated and dating Sammy, her tango partner, and talking nonstop about Walt. She cries in front of displays of wedding necklaces, recalls all the terrible things Walt said ("How he's moved on, how he prefers white girls to her, how everyone said he was too good for trash like her"), and refuses her father's love. This goes on for more than 30 pages, and though Jumi's father, who narrates most of the sections, has an endearing voice and his own emotional scars, it's hard not to catch yourself thinking, "Pull yourself together, Jumi!" The star of the book is the Bronx, which Rajbanshi captures in all its rich complexity: its "buoyant crayon streets" with "Pakistani women in salwars pushing strollers...baby-faced Puerto Rican girls laughing in tight jeans and swinging hoop rings...." Rajbanshi writes some beautiful, arresting sentences. "The precious thing about the old," one character observes, "is that their skin feels the way butterflies look." But because of the overly dramatic plots and underdeveloped characters, it's hard for her poetic sensibility to shine.

Style alone cannot carry these stories.

Pub Date: June 23, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59709-891-5

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Red Hen Press

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 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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