A book that’s sometimes formulaic but alluring in its strangeness.


A debut collection of short stories that examine love and death with flashes of dark wit.

“Pizza Monks,” the first of the 14 stories in this book, has an intriguing strangeness. Written in the first person, it tells of a pizza shop worker who, when about to close up, is approached by two Buddhist monks who request 20 pizzas. The pizzas are a favorite of a member of their brotherhood who plans to set himself on fire at sunrise. That storyline helps to set up a collection in which the motif of fire is prominent throughout: In “Smoke,” a man agrees to torch his brother’s house as part of an insurance scam, and “A Lesson in Fire” describes a girlfriend’s father inexplicably self-combusting. Other stories tell of a man who learns that his father enjoys wearing women’s lingerie, a goat discovered in the bathroom at a McDonald’s, and a salesman who falls in love with the word “languid.” Augello’s writing is richly textured. In the disturbingly dark “Call Me Your Unbroken,” the conception, pregnancy, and birth of a daughter all happen over the course of one night. The author’s words are loaded with suspense: “She was naked, her body slender and taut, her hips small again, as if she’d never given birth. She held the baby at her breast as she took a step, then another, toward the edge of the balcony.” On other occasions, Augello employs a fiendishly macabre wit. Describing the recently self-combusted father, he writes: “We tried to put out the flames with glasses of water and little cups of coffee, but it just didn’t work.” Almost every story relies on a hook—an uncanny occurrence—to draw the reader in. Although the subject matter of the stories varies, the approach becomes predictably familiar and starts to feel programmatic toward the end of the collection. That said, this is a promising debut indicative of a wild imagination and a burgeoning talent.

A book that’s sometimes formulaic but alluring in its strangeness.

Pub Date: April 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-943900-41-1

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Duck Lake Books

Review Posted Online: March 19, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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Who tells your story? Williams illuminates why women needed to be in the room where, and when, it’s written.


The Herculean efforts required to assemble the Oxford English Dictionary are retold, this time from a fictionalized, distaff point of view, in Williams’ debut novel.

Esme Nicoll, the motherless young daughter of a lexicographer working in the Scriptorium—in reality, a garden shed in Oxford where a team led by James Murray, one of the OED’s editors, toiled—accompanies her father to work frequently. The rigor and passion with which the project is managed is apparent to the sensitive and curious Esme, as is the fact that the editorial team of men labors under the influence of Victorian-era mores. Esme begins a clandestine operation to rescue words which have been overlooked or intentionally omitted from the epic dictionary. Her childhood undertaking becomes a lifelong endeavor, and her efforts to validate the words which flew under the (not yet invented) radar of the OED gatekeepers gain traction at the same time the women’s suffrage movement fructifies in England. The looming specter of World War I lends tension to Esme’s personal saga while a disparate cast of secondary characters adds pathos and depth. Underlying this panoramic account are lexicographical and philosophical interrogatives: Who owns language, does language reflect or affect, who chooses what is appropriate, why is one meaning worthier than another, what happens when a word mutates in meaning? (For example, the talismanic word first salvaged by Esme, bondmaid, pops up with capricious irregularity and amorphous meaning throughout the lengthy narrative.) Williams provides readers with detailed background and biographical information pointing to extensive research about the OED and its editors, many of whom appear as characters in Esme’s life. The result is a satisfying amalgam of truth and historical fiction.

Who tells your story? Williams illuminates why women needed to be in the room where, and when, it’s written.

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-16019-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

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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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