A family tale that skillfully brings the magic of the Harlem Renaissance into the present.

DANCING WITH LANGSTON

A busy woman’s visit to an estranged relative reveals an unexpected family connection to a famous poet in this debut novel.

Tomorrow night, Carrie Stevens will be on the red-eye to Seattle, where her husband, Bill, has just accepted a new job. This afternoon, she needs to meet with her lawyer to finalize the sale of their condo. But first, she has to go to Harlem to keep a promise she made to her recently deceased father. Her dad’s cousin Ella is being thrown out of her apartment—the entire building is about to be demolished—and Carrie needs to get her into an assisted living facility. “She has a gift for you,” her father’s final note reads. “It’s something of value that I’m ashamed that I couldn’t give you—and too afraid to give you myself. Carrie, I want this to make it right. I want you to be happy.” Carrie only met Ella as a baby. Carrie’s mother thought Ella, a cabaret dancer who lived for years in Paris, would be a bad influence. When Carrie arrives, the elderly Ella immediately insists that she is not moving anywhere. Ella turns out to be full of surprises. She has severe, mysterious facial scars, for one. She has a man named Jack living there with her, for another. Perhaps craziest of all, she has lots of pictures and books by poet Langston Hughes, who it turns out was her cousin—and Carrie’s father’s cousin as well. Langston and Carrie’s dad didn’t get along, unfortunately. As Carrie desperately tries to pack some of the woman’s things into the bags she brought, Ella offers hints and anecdotes about her past—and draws a few out of her visitor as well. But what is this mysterious gift that Ella supposedly has? Well, in Ella’s words, Carrie will have to earn it.

Skeeter’s prose is as smooth and confident as Ella herself: “I saw that Jack’s cane was on the sofa and he was leaning on Ella. They were dancing jerkily, as fast as their old legs would let them. Actually, they kept up with the beat very well. In that living room with its many decades-old artifacts, they could have been dancing in Paris or Harlem in their heyday.” The novel cleverly mourns the lost world of Jazz Age Harlem, as represented by an apartment full of artifacts that is literally about to be knocked down. The supporting characters—including Hughes, a ghost who casts his iconic shadow over all the rest—are well drawn, and Carrie is a relatable and likable protagonist. The roles that Carrie and Ella play in regard to each other—Carrie wanted to be a dancer herself, and Ella is essentially a fairy godmother—are perhaps a bit too neat, and readers will quickly surmise where the story is headed. That said, the author is a capable writer, and the world that she creates is evocative and amusing enough for readers to happily linger in for the book’s breezy, 206-page length.

A family tale that skillfully brings the magic of the Harlem Renaissance into the present.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-950584-19-2

Page Count: 206

Publisher: Green Writers Press

Review Posted Online: March 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 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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  • SPONSORED PLACEMENT

The rare immigrant chronicle that is as long on hope as it is on heartbreak.

INFINITE COUNTRY

A 15-year-old girl in Colombia, doing time in a remote detention center, orchestrates a jail break and tries to get home.

"People say drugs and alcohol are the greatest and most persuasive narcotics—the elements most likely to ruin a life. They're wrong. It's love." As the U.S. recovers from the repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, from the misery of separations on the border, from both the idea and the reality of a wall around the United States, Engel's vital story of a divided Colombian family is a book we need to read. Weaving Andean myth and natural symbolism into her narrative—condors signify mating for life, jaguars revenge; the embattled Colombians are "a singed species of birds without feathers who can still fly"; children born in one country and raised in another are "repotted flowers, creatures forced to live in the wrong habitat"—she follows Talia, the youngest child, on a complex journey. Having committed a violent crime not long before she was scheduled to leave her father in Bogotá to join her mother and siblings in New Jersey, she winds up in a horrible Catholic juvie from which she must escape in order to make her plane. Hence the book's wonderful first sentence: "It was her idea to tie up the nun." Talia's cross-country journey is interwoven with the story of her parents' early romance, their migration to the United States, her father's deportation, her grandmother's death, the struggle to reunite. In the latter third of the book, surprising narrative shifts are made to include the voices of Talia's siblings, raised in the U.S. This provides interesting new perspectives, but it is a little awkward to break the fourth wall so late in the book. Attention, TV and movie people: This story is made for the screen.

The rare immigrant chronicle that is as long on hope as it is on heartbreak.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982159-46-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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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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