Ventrella reveals the many ways in which the sins of the fathers are visited upon the sons—and the daughters.

A DECENT FAMILY

In the 1980s, a malacarne, or “bad seed,” grows up in a gritty neighborhood in the Italian city of Bari, on the Adriatic Coast, and seeks escape from the violence and mortifications she witnesses and endures there.

Maria De Santis, the spirited daughter of the mercurial Antonio and his browbeaten wife, Teresa, lives up to the “bad seed” designation bestowed upon her by her fisherman father, a Tony Curtis look-alike with a violent temper. Life in the poorest quarter of Bari provides Marí with few opportunities to indulge in wanderlust or satisfy her yearning for escape and recognition. A childhood alliance with the overweight and shunned Michele—another outsider with considerable family burdens of his own—provides Marí with a confidant and much-needed companion in adventure. Long-standing family rivalries and animosities (some based in reality, some in superstition) determine the course of Marí and Michele’s relationship in ways which are tragic, operatic, and soap operatic all at once. Marí’s violent family life mirrors the brutal reality of everyday life in the Bari underclass, but her struggle to escape her home, family, and city resembles the experiences of other young heroines as well. Ventrella’s narrative examines themes of class and gender expectations, accompanied by enough nostalgic detail to make the "old country" more appealing in memory than it was in reality. Inevitable comparisons of Ventrella’s work with that of Elena Ferrante—who also dissects the emotional experiences of young Italian women—will be propelled by Goldstein’s fluid translation of this novel in the wake of her work on Ferrante’s juggernaut. Ventrella's ambitious attempt to convey Marí's struggle echoes Ferrante's epic approach to chronicling women's lives, but, here, the action is played out on a smaller scale, over a shorter time, with fewer characters. Simmering violence and misogyny percolate beneath the surface of Marí’s story, but, really, everyone seems miserable and trapped in the net of poverty and deprivation Ventrella wraps around her characters.

Ventrella reveals the many ways in which the sins of the fathers are visited upon the sons—and the daughters.

Pub Date: June 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5420-0443-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Amazon Crossing

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 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: N/A

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.

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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