A well-crafted tale of a precocious child.

CANTERBERRY TALES

From the The Happy Valley Chronicles series , Vol. 1

Hoff’s novel presents the adventures of an impossible little girl.

Seven-year-old Celia Canterberry is already a legend in her little town of Happy Valley, well known for her obstreperous ways and independent mind. She prides herself on her precociousness: “In my mind, precocious was far better than polite. There was no joy in being polite.” When Celia’s long-suffering grandmother Nan packs her off to stay with Old Lady Griggs for an afternoon, she starts to learn more about her own mysterious origin story. She knows that she was abandoned at the hospital, but she’s never been able to get any adult to divulge more details. At first, Old Lady Griggs seems more forthcoming. “After you were born,” she tells Celia, “whole pages were devoted to you and your inauspicious birth.” Over the course of her visits to Old Lady Griggs, and after multiple consultations of a meticulously maintained scrapbook, Celia gradually finds out more about her past, and in the process, Hoff spins a yarn about pre-modern small-town American life that glows with affection. The prose is smooth and consistently funny, and Celia is a delightful character. The author also makes a storytelling decision that will be familiar to the many fans of Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole series or Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy: She gives Celia a quirky, forceful, and unmistakably adult voice. The narrative, which includes occasional black-and-white line drawings by Froese, is, by turns, touching and uproarious—as when Celia puts her hair in pigtails by using a stapler—and Hoff is always ready with well-executed humor: “[Nan] never wears her teeth when she’s gardening,” Celia tells Old Lady Griggs at one point. “She thinks it’s best not to let the plants know her true intentions.” The combination of warm nostalgia and a sharp, modern sensibility is perfectly managed, and the promise of future volumes will please readers who want to spend more time in Happy Valley.

A well-crafted tale of a precocious child.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 326

Publisher: Black Crow Books

Review Posted Online: March 23, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME

When a devoted husband and father disappears, his wife and daughter set out to find him.

Hannah Hall is deeply in love with her husband of one year, Owen Michaels. She’s also determined to win over his 16-year-old daughter, Bailey, who has made it very clear that she’s not thrilled with her new stepmother. Despite the drama, the family is mostly a happy one. They live in a lovely houseboat in Sausalito; Hannah is a woodturner whose handmade furniture brings in high-dollar clientele; and Owen works for The Shop, a successful tech firm. Their lives are shattered, however, when Hannah receives a note saying “Protect her” and can’t reach Owen by phone. Then there’s the bag full of cash Bailey finds in her school locker and the shocking news that The Shop’s CEO has been taken into custody. Hannah learns that the FBI has been investigating the firm for about a year regarding some hot new software they took to market before it was fully functional, falsifying their financial statements. Hannah refuses to believe her husband is involved in the fraud, and a U.S. marshal assigned to the case claims Owen isn’t a suspect. Hannah doesn’t know whom to trust, though, and she and Bailey resolve to root out the clues that might lead to Owen. They must also learn to trust one another. Hannah’s narrative alternates past and present, detailing her early days with Owen alongside her current hunt for him, and author Dave throws in a touch of danger and a few surprises. But what really drives the story is the evolving nature of Hannah and Bailey’s relationship, which is by turns poignant and frustrating but always realistic.

Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7134-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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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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