A fresh perspective on painful losses during wartime.

THE ELEPHANT OF BELFAST

A determined zookeeper in Northern Ireland protects a young elephant during World War II.

Walsh’s novel is inspired by the true story of Denise Austin, a Northern Irish zookeeper who hid an elephant in her house during the 1941 bombing of Belfast by German Luftwaffe forces. The concept sounds whimsical, but this is not a light or frivolous novel. Ambitious zoo assistant Hettie Quin is young, but she has already suffered too much tragedy. Her father abandoned his family for another woman, leaving her mother distraught and depressed. Hettie’s beloved sister, Anna, recently died in childbirth, and their mother wants nothing to do with Anna’s Catholic widower or their child. Hettie’s part-time job at the zoo pays little, and life during wartime is hard. Into this emotional vacuum swings Violet, a young elephant Hettie first sees hoisted from the hold of a ship. She’s enchanted with the animal but isn’t allowed to care for her until Violet’s caretaker enlists. As their bond grows, rumors fly that Germans plan to bomb the city while IRA supporters align themselves with the Germans, gleeful over attacks on London. Walsh delivers a turbulent portrait of life in a divided city, and she wisely steers away from anthropomorphism. The animals, especially Violet, are real, messy, unpredictable creatures who don’t behave as their caretakers might like. As Walsh sets the stage for the bombing, though, sometimes the novel feels padded out, with interludes that don’t add up to much. On occasion Hettie’s behavior feels too impulsive and unlikely, robbing her of any common sense. Still, Walsh offers a unique perspective of a country at war and the lengths people will go for those they love.

A fresh perspective on painful losses during wartime.

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64009-400-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more