An expressive and striking story that examines what one does for family and for oneself.

COPY BOY

A novel about an ambitious young woman who navigates familial trauma while working as a copy boy in late-1930s San Francisco.

At the height of the Great Depression, 17-year-old Jane Hopper arrives home one night to find her pregnant mother packing their possessions into the car of federal labor camp manager Uno Jeffers. Her mother wants them to move, and when Jane’s father, Abraham, arrives home inebriated and angry, a domestic brawl ensues. Jane feels an obligation to her mother, who blames her for the death of Jane’s stillborn fraternal twin, Benjamin, so she fights her father. During the melee, she hears her brother’s voice in her head urging her on, and she leaves Abraham for dead. Her mother has left without her, so Jane flees to San Francisco for a fresh start. Three months later, she’s working for a newspaper called the Prospect and posing as a boy with her brother’s name, Benny Hopper. While working as a copy boy, Jane meets a woman named Vee who says, “I’ve got a story for you, rookie.” They make an appointment to meet, which Jane doesn’t keep; then Vee is attacked and hospitalized. Jane finds a picture of Vee and decides to look into the woman’s life, which leads her to uncover a story of corruption that ties Jane’s own new life to her former one. In her debut, Blanton-Stroud, who teaches writing at Sacramento State University, effectively evokes the dichotomy of Jane’s rural and urban lifestyles, particularly when highlighting Jane’s family’s poverty. The author’s descriptive language is robust, especially when setting scenes: “Benjamin Franklin Hopper was born into a shattered bulb, shards buried under the loose, gray silt of a ravaged Texas plain.” There are occasional minor errors, and the device of Jane repeatedly hearing Benjamin’s voice in her head doesn’t add very much to the narrative aside from a very strong opening. Even so, Blanton-Stroud’s book remains an engrossing work of fiction.

An expressive and striking story that examines what one does for family and for oneself.

Pub Date: June 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63152-697-8

Page Count: 264

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: May 4, 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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