A captivating gold-rush tale told from the viewpoint of an indomitable woman.

PROSPECTS OF A WOMAN

A New England woman builds a life in the rugged frontier of California in this gold-rush novel with elements of feminism and romance.

Elisabeth Goodwin’s comfortable life in her family’s home with an orchard in Concord, Massachusetts, comes to a cruel and abrupt end in 1847. Blight destroys the apple crop, and the family is forced to work in a textile mill. Desperate, her father, Henry, mortgages the farm and abandons the family to poverty, moving west as a trapper with the Hudson Company. Three years later, as news of the discovery of gold spreads around the world, Elisabeth follows with her new husband, Nathaniel Parker, resolved to find her father and his claim on the American River in Central California. When her father runs off, leaving her his gold claim, the promise of riches soon gives way to the reality of grueling work and disappointment. Married in haste and desperation, Elisabeth soon finds that her new husband is more interested in the burly gold miners than his wife. But inspired by the copy of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Self-Reliance” that is her only tie to her childhood home, Elisabeth emerges from each daunting setback more determined to survive. Though her letters home to her childhood friend Louisa May Alcott are filled with lies about her successful life with an ideal family, Elisabeth fights to achieve independence and find passion and intimacy. As her struggles intensify, she comes to realize that, despite Emerson’s eloquent text, self-reliance is a different prospect altogether for a woman alone.

Voorsanger creates a memorable hero in Elisabeth as well as a vivid depiction of the rough-and-tumble frontier life of mid-19th-century California, which is characterized by equal parts boundless optimism and humiliating despair. The author’s language is evocative and beautifully apt both to period and subject, as when Elisabeth questions some miners about their claims: “The men split open up like a sack of beans then, spilling out tales of digging and finding just enough flecks to keep them fed.” Although Elisabeth’s reaction to her husband’s sexuality is harshly homophobic, Voorsanger displays sensitivity and compassion in Nate’s description of the shame and glory of his gay identity. The depiction of an all-male Fandango gathering, where rough miners dance, drink, and find comfort with one another, is a provocative piece of history, as is the portrayal of the plight of the Californios, the ancestral owners of the land whose proud status is delegitimized by the arrival of a flood of White prospectors. Elisabeth’s often thwarted desire for sexual intimacy is poignant, though many of the bodice-ripping sex scenes lack the subtlety that characterizes the other facets of the narrative. But overall, this work is a lucid portrait of the evolution of a strong woman in an “ambitious and urgent” period in California history.

A captivating gold-rush tale told from the viewpoint of an indomitable woman. (acknowledgements, author bio)

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63152-781-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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

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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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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