The life of a Canadian city is revealed with verve and insight through the colorful stories of some of its inhabitants.

AUBREY MCKEE

A sensitive young man shares his memories of growing up in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Though it wouldn’t rank high on any list of well-known literary destinations, Halifax provides a fertile field for Pugsley’s collection of 14 linked stories about his eponymous narrator’s life there from childhood through his early 20s in the mid-1980s. Evoking comparisons in both style and substance to the work of John Irving and Robertson Davies in its assemblage of perceptive, richly detailed character studies, Pugsley’s book succeeds in the task the author sets for his narrator—“to give expression to the lives I encountered, and to make sense of some of the mysteries that seemed to me the city’s truths.” Among the most affecting entries are “Karin,” the story of a young woman with “a knack for making a man feel most alive in her company,” and “Tempest,” the dramatic account of a December hurricane and its tragic consequences in the lives of two of Aubrey McKee’s closest friends. In “Fudge,” Aubrey focuses an unsparing lens on his own life, describing his youthful excursions into his hometown’s outlaw fringe, including drug dealing under the tutelage of the terrifying older teenager Howard Fudge, who served as his “ferryman into these underworld ports of call.” One of McKee’s preoccupations is his friend Cyrus Mair—“whiz kid, recluse, and weirdo”—the scion of a once prominent Halifax family whose spectacular descent into shame and ruin he recounts in the story “Death by Drowning.” It’s too early to tell whether Pugsley will be able to mine sufficient narrative gold from Aubrey McKee’s life for a projected five volumes of autobiographical fiction, but on the evidence of this first entry, there’s good reason to hope there will be more engaging stories like these in the offing.

The life of a Canadian city is revealed with verve and insight through the colorful stories of some of its inhabitants.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77196-311-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 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 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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