A whale of a tale concerning a boy who tries to lift everyone’s spirits.

TREASURE OF THE BLUE WHALE

The appearance of an ocean blob causes folks in a small seaside town to believe that they are all rich in this comic novel.

On the first day of summer vacation in 1934, a mysterious and malodorous blob washes up on the beach of Tesoro, California. Ten-year-old Connor O’Halloran manages to reach the lumpy mass even before the local lighthouse keeper, thus establishing his claim over it—though just what it is he doesn’t know. “The mass was large—as broad as the base of a giant redwood tree and nearly as tall as me,” remembers Connor, now narrating the story as an elderly man. “It smelled of manure and barnacles and was certainly the most disgusting object I had ever encountered.” The lighthouse keeper tells him it’s ambergris—a valuable discharge from whales used by the perfume industry—and that it may well be worth millions. News of the find quickly makes its way through the seaside town that the O’Halloran family, which includes Connor’s mentally ill mother, Mary Rose, and his 6-year-old brother, Alex, is rich. The generous Connor decides that he will share the wealth with the town—it’s the height of the Depression, after all—and the citizens of Tesoro immediately set about figuring out how to sell the thing. When town miser Cyrus Dinkle offers lines of credit to all the families so that they can start spending their money now, a buying spree of epic (and opulent) proportions begins. Connor hopes that his share of the profits may be used to finally get a good doctor to end his mother’s bouts of mania and depression. But when he discovers that his mound of ambergris is actually mostly sewage, Connor and a few trusted others—who dub themselves the Ambergrisians—must figure out a way to prevent Dinkle from bankrupting the entire town.

Mayfield’s novel has a wonderful tall tale quality, matched perfectly with its semifantastic, semibelievable pre–World War II American setting. Though the premise may sound middle grade, the mannerly prose style of the elderly narrator tips the story into the realm of adult literary fiction: “Every boy has a friend with an older brother happy to introduce an innocent younger sibling and his pals to pornography. Mine was Webb Garwood, whose brother Tuck had already initiated our education with a library of postcard photos depicting Rubenesque women and hairy men engaged in naked Greco-Roman wrestling.” There is a warmth and energy to the author’s depiction of his characters, particularly the town midwife, Miss Lizzie Fryberg, who becomes Connor’s mentor in his schemes. Likewise, Tesoro’s population of oddballs and colorful personalities means that someone intriguing is always entering or exiting the scene. There are a few moments when the pacing lags or the prose becomes slightly too self-indulgent, but generally, the story moves with a purpose. Readers looking for a slightly stylized yarn of small-town drama will find much to enjoy in this charming book.

A whale of a tale concerning a boy who tries to lift everyone’s spirits.

Pub Date: April 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64603-004-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Regal House Publishing

Review Posted Online: March 27, 2020

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

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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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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

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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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