A heartwarming novel with a small-town vibe that sparkles like wine sipped with friends under backyard fairy lights.

EARLY MORNING RISER

The author of Single, Carefree, Mellow (2015) and Standard Deviation (2017) brings us new characters to fall in love with in this novel about love, family, and community.

It’s easy to adore the characters Heiny conjures in her novels and short stories. They tend to be quirky and smart, caring and passionate. Jane, the protagonist of Heiny’s gentle, funny new novel, is no exception. When we first meet her, the year is 2002, and she's 26. She has just moved to small-town Boyne City, Michigan, from Grand Rapids by way of Battle Creek, to teach second grade at the local elementary school. Almost immediately—in the first month she's in town and the first sentence of the novel—she meets and falls for Duncan, a handsome, divorced woodworker in his early 40s who moonlights as a locksmith (they meet when she locks herself out of her new house), looks to Jane “like the Brawny paper towel man,” and, she later learns, not entirely to her surprise, has slept with pretty much every woman in the area. Both Jane, ever hopeful, and Duncan, ever appreciative, are pure charm (as are the book’s secondary characters: their Northern Michigan neighbors, friends, and family members). She is a creative teacher and all-around blithe spirit who enthusiastically procures all her clothes and household items at the local thrift store. (“Some of her thrift-store outfits were more successful than others,” we’re told.) He’s the kind of generous, easygoing guy who still shovels out the snowy driveway of his ex-wife, Aggie, as well as that of Jane; Jane’s best friend, Freida; and, eventually, Jane’s flinty mother. Duncan’s sole employee is a sweet young man named Jimmy who was initially “described to Jane by more than one person as ‘slow learning.’ ” After an accident for which Jane feels culpable, Jimmy becomes Jane’s responsibility, too. Eventually, Jimmy will bring Jane and Duncan together in a new way. Told episodically in chapters titled by year and covering a span of 17 years, Heiny’s book finds beauty and humor in connection and community, family and friendship, and the way love can develop and deepen over time.

A heartwarming novel with a small-town vibe that sparkles like wine sipped with friends under backyard fairy lights.

Pub Date: April 13, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-525-65934-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 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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