Smart, fun, staunchly feminist entertainment.

DEAR MISS KOPP

Stewart’s popular series takes an epistolary turn as the Kopp sisters chronicle their separate World War I adventures via letters.

This requires some authorial contrivance. Norma, established as a woman of few words in the previous five volumes, has to have her terse missives supplemented by the chatty epistles of her friend Aggie, a nurse at the American hospital in France where Norma is battling military indifference to her cherished pigeon messenger program. Fleurette’s escapades in the chorus of a revue performing for troops in U.S. Army camps are recounted mostly to a nonjudgmental friend rather than her anxious older sisters. And Constance’s reports on tracking down spies are so improbably novelistic that Stewart feels obliged to have her justify them as ways “to better paint a picture” for her superior at the Bureau of Investigation. Readers will not mind a bit, as the series returns to top form after a spell of doldrums in Kopp Sisters on the March (2019). Two mysteries drive the plot: An unjust accusation that Aggie is stealing hospital supplies launches Norma into an investigation that ultimately nabs a German agent; and Constance tracks down a ring of saboteurs in New Jersey with the help of Fleurette, who has done some growing up on tour while caring for a green parrot entrusted to her by a soldier heading overseas. As always, the feisty sisters refuse to be daunted by men who doubt their abilities or, in Fleurette’s case, the ladies of the Committee on Protective Work for Girls who are sure that young women’s interactions with soldiers “weaken their morals and inflict upon them crippling social diseases.” The censorious committee really existed, as did the Army’s pigeon program, but Stewart acknowledges in her endnotes that she has invented more of the Kopps’ activities than usual due to a lack of information about their WWI years. No matter: The fictional opportunities she dangles for her three feisty protagonists at the novel’s close will leave readers eager for the next installment.

Smart, fun, staunchly feminist entertainment.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 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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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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