Well-crafted fiction that offers little-known details about Panama Canal history.

CLARA'S WAY

In Carr’s historical novel, a nurse faces danger and unexpected love during the construction of the Panama Canal.

It’s December 1904 when 23-year old nurse Clara Tyler sets out for Panama from rural Cutler, Ohio, because her 26-year-old railroad engineer brother, Samuel, is too sick from malaria and pneumonia to travel home from there on his own. Clara has never left home, except to attend nursing school, but she’s determined to go on the journey despite her fiance Jasper’s disapproval. She already harbors doubts about her forthcoming marriage, and the prospect of moving in with Jasper and his parents “suffocates” her. In Panama, she finds that her brother is so shockingly gaunt that she leads him straight to a hospital, where he soon dies. On impulse, Clara crosses the Isthmus of Panama on a freight train, passing through the jungle to the excavation site where Samuel lived and worked in appalling conditions. There, she discovers that he’d been keeping notes about safety issues. After falling ill herself from yellow fever and recovering, Clara decides to stay, working at the hospital with Army Col. William Gorgas, a doctor who’s an actual historical figure. Overall, Carr delivers a well-researched story of a young woman breaking free from society’s expectations in this novel. Her research also yields appearances by other real-life historical personages over the course of the story, including John Frank Stevens, the chief engineer of the Panama Canal. Although Jasper comes off as something of a one-dimensional character, Clara is a fully realized human being whose relationships in Panama evolve in unexpected ways. Her quest to improve workers’ safety and support Gorgas’ goal of ridding the isthmus of mosquitoes is also portrayed in a believable manner.

Well-crafted fiction that offers little-known details about Panama Canal history.

Pub Date: March 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-578-59152-0

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Bowker

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 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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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: N/A

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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