A war tale that delivers an impressive blend of historical research and narrative drama.

THE BATTER'S BOX

A NOVEL OF BASEBALL, WAR, AND LOVE

A rising baseball star volunteers to serve overseas in World War II and later struggles to bear the weight of what he witnessed in this novel.

Professional baseball star Will Jamison is an unsolved mystery, a historical enigma. A talented up-and-coming player for the Washington Senators, he’s “on top of his game, with money, fame, women.” Then, in response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he enlists in the Army despite being given ample opportunity and the promise of a considerable payoff from the Senators’ owner, Clark Griffith, to continue to play. In fact, even once he’s a soldier, Will is offered a chance to avoid the perils of combat and play ball for the 84th Infantry Division. Yet again, he eschews the easy way out and chooses to become an anonymous soldier, a “common infantryman.” He distinguishes himself in war, fighting in the Battle of the Bulge and earning a Silver Star. When he returns to the United States, he rejoins the Senators, and only a month into the season, his skills beginning to regain their former luster, unceremoniously quits, subsequently vanishing forever from the public eye. Kutler suspensefully unravels the puzzle that is Will’s life and the burdensome emotional pain he shoulders in the aftermath of the war.

While the author’s book is fictional, the rigorous historical research he must have done to achieve such an impressive sense of period authenticity is evident on virtually every page. Kutler vividly portrays the excitement of American baseball, but the best sections of the work are devoted to the depiction of the war and the horrors that were committed in its name. Will’s trauma is powerfully described—forced to helplessly witness unspeakable barbarism, he is forever changed, his experience “etched in his memory for eternity.” The author also gives readers some intelligently conceived insights into Will’s past, especially his “tenuous childhood.” Similarly, his love for Kay Barlow as well as his struggle to reconnect with her following the war are poignantly described: “I love her. He knew because every time he found himself in a shadowy corner since returning from the war, mired in despairing emotions and haunting memories that plagued him since he left Belgium, he thought of her.” Kutler’s prose is consistently lucid, but he can strain a bit laboriously to elicit an emotional response from readers, a tendency that flirts with lachrymose manipulation. For example, the author takes gratuitous pains to demonstrate, in long, drawn-out scenes, Will’s honorable resistance to using his celebrity to avoid military service. In addition, the insertion of a “historical note” further explicating the Battle of the Bulge is more intrusive than clarifying—it has the effect of lifting readers out of the story, suspending a complete literary immersion. Nonetheless, this is an emotionally affecting story, both heart-rending and thrilling, as dramatically captivating as it is historically edifying.

A war tale that delivers an impressive blend of historical research and narrative drama.

Pub Date: March 12, 2019

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 324

Publisher: Warriors Publishing Group

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 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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