An articulate, often entertaining, but chilling portrait of the power of evil.

NASTY GIRL SEEKS HAPPINESS

In this historical novel, a 20-year-old Canadian woman decamps to Paris in 1920, assumes a new identity, and becomes convinced she can achieve the fame and fortune to which her exquisite beauty entitles her.

Ragnhild “Ragny McMutt” McFlaherty, aka Sandrine Thibodeau, arrives in Paris almost penniless. In her tattered carpetbag, she carries the few pricey clothes she was able to steal before departing Montreal. After a day of walking through the city, she winds up on the Left Bank. Eventually she scores a cheap room in the Hôtel Alsace by winning the sympathy of a gentle “patron.” The next day, she enters a cafe on Boulevard Saint-Germain, unaware it is a mecca for the flourishing Dada/avant-garde movement that is taking a still war-weary Paris by storm. With her proclivity for eloquence and snark, Holmström explains the cultural revolution and its consequent abandonment of conventions: “Narcissism and Nihilism stood bride and groom. Their offspring was born on February 8, 1916, getting on…six o’clock in the evening, and was christened Dada, an offspring that never learned to talk properly, and that is now teaching the rest of the world to babble its nonsense.” At the cafe, Sandrine meets a woman who, finding her amusingly intriguing, invites her to a gathering at her “salon.” While repelled by the eccentricities of the guests, Sandrine manages to steal enough cash and jewelry to fund the search for her next mark, this time finding a room on the Right Bank. Several recognizable artistic luminaries make appearances throughout the vivid and scathing narrative, with an emphasis on their personal quirks rather than on their talents. But the author’s biting, albeit often humorous, sarcasm takes a very dark turn when Sandrine (renamed Inga Bagge) moves to Germany. Here, the richly detailed, vicarious tour of Paris in the ’20s ends, and readers are immersed in the insidious and horrific rise of Hitler during the ’30s. While the tale is historically engaging, many readers will find it challenging to spend so much time with its soulless, relentlessly unlikable central character.

An articulate, often entertaining, but chilling portrait of the power of evil.

Pub Date: July 17, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 435

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 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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