Touching coming-of-age tales about boyhood and resilience.

BUBBLE 'N' SQUEAK

A COLLECTION OF SHORT STORIES

A collection offers humorous and heart-rending stories inspired by the writer’s childhood in New Zealand.

Nigel Sorenson, the protagonist of these tales, copes with his mother’s death with as much stoicism as the 6-year-old can muster. But Groak, the author of Christmas Yve (2016), presents Nigel’s loss with skillful levity, setting the tone for this assemblage of stories. Nigel is desperate to connect with his father, Ian, who is loving but reserved. The protagonist has a stronger relationship with his sister, Helen, who is three years younger: “A mate, especially a sister-mate, always knew what a fellow mate was thinking.” The siblings are sensitive to changes in their father’s behavior: “Both siblings exchanged a furtive glance: What’s happening? Dad never drops a wheelie.” Ian is noticeably happy on a few occasions, such as driving to Kentucky Fried Chicken (“ ‘It’s American,’ Dad boasted”), watching rugby, and starting a new relationship. The tales unfold chronologically, describing moments of togetherness—such as Nigel playing chess with his grandfather—as well as isolation. In “The Face of Death,” Nigel, then 13, is terrorized by his “pimple-faced” reflection, telling him he’ll always be a loner. “King of Queen Street,” the book’s final story, takes place when Nigel is 18 and going on his first job interview. His inner monologue once again berates him, finally relenting when Nigel cracks a smile. Groak’s collection is filled with rewarding surprises. The narrator delivers playful and heartfelt observations in unexpected places, like a public restroom, where young Nigel resists glancing at his father: “Some things you did alone: peeing, taking a school test...dying.” Although Nigel is consistently the book’s focus, the narrative perspective changes from third person to first. The shifts can feel jarring, and readers may crave the continuity of a novel for such a compelling protagonist. But the work remains a delightful journey through the ups and downs of childhood and adolescence in suburban New Zealand.

Touching coming-of-age tales about boyhood and resilience.

Pub Date: June 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-977226-39-6

Page Count: 156

Publisher: Outskirts Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 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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