A novel with a strong female lead and plenty to satisfy history buffs.

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WIDOW CREEK

Pearce (The Promise of Fate, 2015) offers an offbeat, romantic Western adventure that starts in 1849.

Mariah Hardwick was raised in St. Joseph, Missouri, where her father owns a dry goods store. Con man Earl Penngrove comes to town, sets his sights on Mariah, and courts her, promising her a life of excitement exploring the territory past the Great Plains to what Mariah and her mom call “The Beyond.” The mother and daughter share a passion for the journals of explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, which they read aloud to each other during quiet evenings. It breeds a restlessness in Mariah, which leads her to marry Earl. Together, they join a wagon train heading west. But then Earl runs off and is killed on the journey, and Mariah, unwilling to turn back, pools her resources with Hetty Samuels, a recent widow who’s also determined to reach the West Coast. They head to Remington River in Northern California, where Mariah meets an elderly, Chinese shopkeeper, Zhao (aka the “Old Mandarin”), who, in turn, introduces her to a mysterious Mexican man named Pajaro Mendonca, who has a reputation as an outlaw. Her involvement with the two men will put her in grave danger—and provide her with the thrill of her life. The bulk of the novel consists of Mariah’s travel journal, and she also drops in sometimes-quirky passages from Lewis and Clark’s real-life journal. Readers may find themselves skimming these latter excerpts, however, in order to get back to the dramatic action. Pearce’s descriptions of the political machinations surrounding white American land grabs from the “Californios”—people of Mexican heritage who were born in California before it became part of the United States—have a poignant currency. The author’s carefully honed prose captures the cadence and atmosphere of the period, while also offering two well-drawn characters in Mariah and Pajaro. The concluding third of the narrative, set in 2015 and involving modern characters looking into Mariah and Pajaro’s past, is engaging but will leave readers with lingering questions.

A novel with a strong female lead and plenty to satisfy history buffs.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-943588-77-0

Page Count: 330

Publisher: Lucky Bat Books

Review Posted Online: May 13, 2019

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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