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

A BETTING WOMAN

A NOVEL OF MADAME MOUSTACHE

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 whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

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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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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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