An enjoyable search-for-identity tale with a strong female protagonist.



Based on a true story, a historical novel focuses on an unconventional young woman who introduces the game of twenty-one to mid-19th-century San Francisco during the California Gold Rush.

Simone Jules, not yet 20 years old, arrives in San Francisco in 1849, having journeyed for six months by sea from New Orleans, or, as she refers to America’s fourth largest city at the time, “La Nouvelle-Orléans.” Her departure from home was precipitous, a decision made after a tragedy took the lives of her family. In the throes of grief, Simone packed her bags and boarded the first ship available, determined to begin a new life. Left behind, without a word of explanation, is her fiance, David Tobin. She takes up residence at the Bella Union Hotel and negotiates with the owner, Monsieur Sullivan, to pay for her $2,000 per month room by working the card tables in the establishment’s gambling parlor. Sullivan assumes he will throw her out after the first night—women are employed only as bar or dance girls at the parlor. But Simone soon becomes a sensation at the Bella Union, teaching the rowdy gold miners twenty-one and becoming America’s first female croupier. Fluent in French, she discovers that sprinkling in a few words of the exotic language and adding a coquettish smile as she deals the cards quickly charms the men out of their newfound fortunes. It is the beginning of a unique Western adventure, with an indomitable female protagonist who repeatedly finds herself rising out of the ashes to forge a new identity. Although Walsh is working with scant available details about the real-life Simone Jules (aka Eleanor Dumont and Madame Moustache), she has wrapped an intriguing fictional melodrama around an assortment of historical events and personages, bending timelines and creating relationships to suit the arc of her lively narrative. The author effectively captures the excitement of a burgeoning San Francisco increasingly flooded with America’s new westward migration. Walsh also offers readers several engaging secondary characters. And through Simone’s later experiences as a supply-line muleteer to the mining settlements, the author vividly depicts the dangerously harsh conditions endured by the hopeful miners.

An enjoyable search-for-identity tale with a strong female protagonist.

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-948018-95-1

Page Count: 318

Publisher: Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 28, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

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Strong storytelling in service of a stinging moral message.


A long-lost painting sets in motion a plot intertwining the odyssey of a famed 19th-century thoroughbred and his trainer with the 21st-century rediscovery of the horse’s portrait.

In 2019, Nigerian American Georgetown graduate student Theo plucks a dingy canvas from a neighbor’s trash and gets an assignment from Smithsonian magazine to write about it. That puts him in touch with Jess, the Smithsonian’s “expert in skulls and bones,” who happens to be examining the same horse's skeleton, which is in the museum's collection. (Theo and Jess first meet when she sees him unlocking an expensive bike identical to hers and implies he’s trying to steal it—before he points hers out further down the same rack.) The horse is Lexington, “the greatest racing stallion in American turf history,” nurtured and trained from birth by Jarret, an enslaved man who negotiates with this extraordinary horse the treacherous political and racial landscape of Kentucky before and during the Civil War. Brooks, a White writer, risks criticism for appropriation by telling portions of these alternating storylines from Jarret’s and Theo’s points of view in addition to those of Jess and several other White characters. She demonstrates imaginative empathy with both men and provides some sardonic correctives to White cluelessness, as when Theo takes Jess’ clumsy apology—“I was traumatized by my appalling behavior”—and thinks, “Typical….He’d been accused, yet she was traumatized.” Jarret is similarly but much more covertly irked by well-meaning White people patronizing him; Brooks skillfully uses their paired stories to demonstrate how the poison of racism lingers. Contemporary parallels are unmistakable when a Union officer angrily describes his Confederate prisoners as “lost to a narrative untethered to anything he recognized as true.…Their fabulous notions of what evils the Federal government intended for them should their cause fail…was ingrained so deep, beyond the reach of reasonable dialogue or evidence.” The 21st-century chapters’ shocking denouement drives home Brooks’ point that too much remains the same for Black people in America, a grim conclusion only slightly mitigated by a happier ending for Jarret.

Strong storytelling in service of a stinging moral message.

Pub Date: June 14, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-39-956296-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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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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