A novel premise that comes out of left field but launches an oddly poignant adventure.

SAMURAI BARBER VERSUS NINJA HAIRSTYLIST

Dee offers a playful dystopian novel about the adventures of an unusual hairstylist.

The city of Lionfish is home to a samurai who cuts hair. This samurai, whose name is later revealed to be Dakota, does his haircutting with a katana, and he’ll do it for free for the poor. As a result, he’s never made much of a living with his skill set until one day when he gets the opportunity to “cast” his work, giving him a large audience of smartphone users. Not all is well for the samurai barber, however. On a train ride, he meets an unusual ninja who’s also skilled at cutting people’s locks by nontraditional means—and he’ll do so even if the person doesn’t ask for a haircut. After the ninja manages to slice off a miniscule bit of Dakota’s hair, the samurai retaliates by killing him. Dakota feels bad about this act, though, and is soon brought to justice—not for taking the ninja’s life but, oddly enough, for murdering the train on which the event took place. It’s no surprise that justice in Lionfish is so strange, as a lot of things about the town seem a bit weird. It’s a place where cellphones literally eat batteries and homes can be grown from seeds. However, it also has a less quirky, darker side; greedy nurses attempt to upsell patients, and the difference between rich and poor is truly vast. The samurai barber is fined and whipped for his crime, but Dakota is left with questions afterward: Who trained this audacious ninja? And why would someone go around cutting the hair of those who don’t want it? Dakota’s quest takes him deeper into what makes Lionfish tick. Can society, as one character professes, be changed “one haircut at a time”?

To many readers, this novel’s premise may initially seem rather silly, but the story ventures to many serious places. Blood flows freely and violence runs rampant, but the average citizen of Lionfish is too busy looking at casts to care much about any of it. All the injustice draws many people to anarchy, but is that the answer to their problems? The contrast between the novel’s lightheartedness and its earnest critique of modern living is refreshing. Likewise, the free-wheeling style keeps the narrative in constant motion. Many scenes are sparsely embellished, and characters are only provided backstories when necessary—no matter how out of the ordinary they may be. Some things, however, get lost in the shuffle. At one point, for instance, the samurai has a nightmare, and although it’s full of vivid imagery, it pales in comparison to the more concrete events, as when a character loses his job, his savings, and even his family to a scam. The town of Lionfish proves to be both tough and bizarre but never entirely unrelatable, and the story’s end, when it comes, is just as off-kilter as its beginning.

A novel premise that comes out of left field but launches an oddly poignant adventure.

Pub Date: Nov. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-80046-049-2

Page Count: 202

Publisher: Troubador Publishing Ltd

Review Posted Online: Dec. 20, 2020

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

THE FOUR WINDS

The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 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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