A gripping, well-limned picture of a time and a place that provide universal lessons.

PARIS IN RUINS

In Tod’s historical novel, two young couples find love against the backdrop of the 1870 Siege of Paris and the short-lived Commune that followed.

Camille Noisette and Mariele de Crécy both belong to very comfortable upper-class families. Mariele is engaged to Camille’s brother Bertrand, and Camille will soon meet André Laborde, and love will follow. But all four must endure the Prussians’ siege of Paris, which will cause physical destruction, lost lives, and, most important, social upheaval, as the lower classes, reduced to starving or eating rats, become a powder keg that explodes in the Communard uprising. Mariele and her mother try too late to slip away from Paris, are captured by the Prussians, and barely make it back. Camille becomes a sort of spy against the Communard movement, leading a dangerous double life, and, when things heat up, she volunteers at a makeshift hospital while Mariele helps out at a makeshift day care. Tod is a very experienced historical novelist, and it shows: There are no missteps here. Historical novels by their nature provide history and history lessons. Napoleon III does not get off lightly for his adventurism, and the reader will most likely be in sympathy with the Communard cause: The upper classes—the older generation in particular—are portrayed as clueless and arrogant. Bertrand and André survive their military experience, and the couples’ futures seem secure. Tod is not only a good historian, but also an accomplished writer, capturing here the febrile atmosphere of a Paris about to be under siege, the vise tightening, the sense of security eroding: “The city felt different. Darker than usual and for the most part quieter, and yet at times a sense of forced gaiety that became almost manic bubbled up.” It is against this looming dread that Camille and Mariele will struggle and even grow as human beings.

A gripping, well-limned picture of a time and a place that provide universal lessons.

Pub Date: March 30, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-9919670-4-9

Page Count: 370

Publisher: Heath Street Publishing

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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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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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

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