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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A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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A quick, biting critique of the publishing industry.

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What happens when a midlist author steals a manuscript and publishes it as her own?

June Hayward and Athena Liu went to Yale together, moved to D.C. after graduation, and are both writers, but the similarities end there. While June has had little success since publication and is struggling to write her second novel, Athena has become a darling of the publishing industry, much to June’s frustration. When Athena suddenly dies, June, almost accidentally, walks off with her latest manuscript, a novel about the World War I Chinese Labour Corps. June edits the novel and passes it off as her own, and no one seems the wiser, but once the novel becomes a smash success, cracks begin to form. When June faces social media accusations and staggering writer’s block, she can’t shake the feeling that someone knows the truth about what she’s done. This satirical take on racism and success in the publishing industry at times veers into the realm of the unbelievable, but, on the whole, witnessing June’s constant casual racism and flimsy justifications for her actions is somehow cathartic. Yes, publishing is like this; finally someone has written it out. At times, the novel feels so much like a social media feed that it’s impossible to stop reading—what new drama is waiting to unfold. and who will win out in the end? An incredibly meta novel, with commentary on everything from trade reviews to Twitter, the ultimate message is clear from the start, which can lead to a lack of nuance. Kuang, however, does manage to leave some questions unanswered: fodder, perhaps, for a new tweetstorm.

A quick, biting critique of the publishing industry.

Pub Date: May 16, 2023

ISBN: 9780063250833

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2023

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