A disjointed tale told with skill but also with ample use of dialect that may put off some readers.

BOY IN THE TREETOPS

Newsome tells the stories of a 19th-century slave boy and a family trying to get by in a contemporary North Carolina island community.

The Edwards children, Callie and Jeffy, are enjoying a vacation in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, when their parents take them to Hiatt Plantation so they can learn about slavery. After the family arrives at the plantation, the novel jumps back in time to that of Sammy, one of its young slaves. Newsome, the author of Joe Peas (2016), here tells Sammy’s story, making frequent use of dialect that may not be to everyone’s taste. Too frail for the fields, Sammy (called “Sambo” by his slave master) winds up working in the Hiatt house. But his brother Johnny is killed by a snakebite in the fields. To avoid that fate, Sammy runs away and takes his brother’s name to avoid suspicion. He is joined by a parrot that has also escaped the Hiatt house, and they end up at sea on a boat that raids other ships looking, in part, for treasure. This is where Newsome’s writing shines. He is especially adept at capturing seafaring dangers, including the risks that arise when a British warship closes in on Johnny’s ship and fires its cannon during a storm: “By now the ship was wallowing into troughs between the waves so deep that the crests of the waves could not be seen above the hull.” When Johnny and his bird are shipwrecked on a coastal island, the action shifts to the present and a family that has just moved to North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Four-year-old J.J. befriends what seems to be Johnny’s spirit, who J.J.’s older siblings, Benji and Kelsey, think is an imaginary friend. J.J.’s dad, James, finds work at a nursing home and brings Benji to volunteer. They cross paths with an old grifter named Charles Murphy, and when Benji finds a bit of treasure, Murphy swoops in. Both the historical and present-day stories are entertaining, and their plots have some symmetry. Newsome doesn’t quite nail the transition when he brings Johnny’s story into the present, but by then readers may be too absorbed in the story to mind. Given the youth of its characters, this novel might appeal most to children or young teenagers who are ready for mature content, such as a reference to a “sexual liaison” and an auction featuring a naked slave.

A disjointed tale told with skill but also with ample use of dialect that may put off some readers.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Manuscript

Review Posted Online: March 6, 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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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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