An occasionally profound novel that takes risks with language and readers’ patience.

CLOUDMAKER

Teenage cousins get the jump on the aviation age in 1930s Montana.

In an opening suggesting a Disney-esque Western adventure, Houston "Huck" Finn, a 14-year-old engineering prodigy in Big Coulee, Montana, designs his own glider, wrecks it in a ballfield, then turns to his next project—building, in his father Roy’s smithy, a prop airplane powered by a Ford engine and, later, supercharged with vacuum cleaner parts. Brooks' singular style, evoking the ornate vernacular of a cowboy poet, does not quite distract from the fact that we’re going deep—too deep—into the mechanics of any practical challenge that might arise, such as retrieving a gangster’s body from a trout stream with an ingenious pulley system. Huck and his bookish pal, Raleigh, find a Lindbergh flight watch on the body, and Huck can’t resist hoarding this talisman of his idol. That watch provides the key to a mystery plot that quickly fades into irrelevance. Huck’s 18-year-old cousin, Annelise, newly arrived from California, sports an identical watch, on loan from her flight instructor and first lover. Annelise’s “ruin” is the reason her mother has exiled her to Montana. Her maternal Aunt Gloria, Huck’s mother, worships charismatic preacher Aimee Semple McPherson almost as much as Annelise adores Amelia Earhart, who, as this novel’s convoluted and multivoiced action unfolds, vanishes over the Pacific. Annelise will test-pilot Huck’s new rig and court new ruin with Roy’s assistant, McKee, a former member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, she’s sometimes arbitrarily sidelined, as is Gloria, who spends long stretches of the novel in Bible-thumping seclusion at the family ranch. But Brooks won’t let any of his characters be marginalized, or stereotyped, for long. The backstories of Roy, McKee, and Gloria are a vivid, anecdotal compendium of Western disgrace and glory. Although the flight scenes are majestic, they’re often truncated by excessively detailed preflight tinkering. Amid all the eloquence, history, scenery, and how-to, forward momentum stalls.

An occasionally profound novel that takes risks with language and readers’ patience.

Pub Date: March 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2705-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more