A short tale that will satisfy a reader’s craving for Victorian pomp and family intrigue.

THE GIRL FROM COLOMBIA

In Rodriguez’s historical novel, a young man is captivated by a mysterious young woman living on his father’s estate.

In Sea Girt, New Jersey in 1890, Joseph Johnson arrives from London to see the property that his wealthy industrialist father, Samuel, has developed on the American coast. Riding through the dunes, the 19-year-old comes across a two-room cabin that houses his father’s 18-year-old adopted daughter, Isabel. Before this visit, Joseph knew nothing about the young woman, whom his father apparently saved from drowning off the coast of Colombia when she was small. To be fair, Joseph knows almost nothing about Samuel, either, as the man left him back in England to be raised by a nurse; his mother “disappeared.” Samuel now expects Joseph to marry Elizabeth Edwards, the beautiful daughter of a local doctor. Joseph likes Elizabeth, but he can’t get his mind off the mysterious Isabel, who everyone claims has tuberculosis. Nor does he know that Isabel almost succeeded in poisoning Samuel to death when she was younger. Isabel is anything but welcoming, but as she and Joseph get to know each other, long-held secrets threaten to come to light. Rodriguez’s prose is modern in style while still effectively evoking the particularly Victorian tension of words unsaid and emotions repressed: “His father’s decision to keep the secret places of his past dark didn’t help, of course. Joseph bordered on obsession about who the man was, without new thoughts about this girl—holding the memories just out of his son’s reach was an effective form of torture.” This is a short novel at less than 160 pages, and the plot moves quickly across that span. Its milieu—coastal New Jersey and, in flashbacks, Cartagena, Colombia—feels familiar without drifting too far into historical clichés. By the end, readers may not feel particularly moved or enlightened, but the story of Joseph, Samuel, and Isabel is, on the whole, a pleasant way to pass an afternoon.

A short tale that will satisfy a reader’s craving for Victorian pomp and family intrigue.

Pub Date: March 12, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 139

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: April 21, 2020

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

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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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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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