In her first solo work, Turner (co-author: Drinking With Dead Women Writers, 2012) shares a series of essays on being normal—where normal involves copious amounts of alcohol, dreams of becoming a secret agent, and the sometimes-gratuitous use of the word “bitch.”
Turner’s story starts with a glancing look at a birth family that’s broken, swapped or blended, depending on how you define the three. She grows up to glory in her own imperfections. This makes for a likable, sometimes startling, read except when traces of overwrought language—like “only in movies had we caught sight of this medical unicorn called the ultrasound”—distract from the core plot: An unusually honest woman navigating a world that’s not always sure how to respond to her. Turner endures a Caesarean section and a vaginal birth, strips in public (sort of) and admits to faking a Russian accent to buy booze as a teen (it worked). Every once in awhile, a comment—like her husband’s appreciation for the painkillers she received after birthing her children—makes you wonder whether the statute of limitations applies. At other times, Turner seems flat-out angry; perhaps she’s forgotten the point she wanted to make when she writes about problem girls: “Everyone present can see that the princess is a little bitch, with the exception of the little bitch’s parents, because they are bitches themselves.” When Turner does hit the right note, she’s gut-bustingly hilarious, like when she describes the aftermath of an encounter with recreational drugs gone wrong: “I need cleaning supplies, all of them.” But the near-complete lack of detail about Turner’s childhood and relationship with her husband, whose only appearances are as the straight foil to her zaniness, leaves readers wishing she’d turn her engaging honesty on her interior motivation instead of just her exterior antics.
When this sometimes superficial collection hits, which it does more than it misses, it’s very funny.
Walkley pits CIA agents against a maniacal Saudi prince intent on starting World War III in this debut thriller.
Delta Force operative Lee McCloud, aka Mac, finds himself in Mexico, trying to rescue two teenage girls kidnapped by a drug cartel. But things go from bad to worse when the villains don’t play by the rules. Framed for two murders he didn’t commit, Mac has two options: go to prison or go to work for a CIA black-op group run by the devious Wisebaum, who hacks into terrorists’ bank accounts and confiscates millions of dollars. However, there’s more going on than meets the eye; Saudi Prince Khalid is in possession of nuclear canisters, with which he hopes to alter world history. Khalid also dabbles in trafficking young women, and harvesting and selling human organs. When Wisebaum’s black-op team targets Khalid’s father, the action becomes even more intense. With so many interweaving subplots—kidnapped girls, Israeli undercover agents, nuclear weapons and a secret underwater hideout—it could be easy to lose track of what’s going on. But the author’s deft handling of the material ensures that doesn’t occur; subplots are introduced at the appropriate junctures and, by story’s end, all are accounted for and neatly concluded. Mac is portrayed as a rough and ready action-hero, yet his vulnerabilities will evoke empathy in readers. He finds a love interest in Tally, a hacker whose personality is just quirky enough to complement his own. All Walkley’s primary characters are fleshed out and realistic, with the exception of Wisebaum—a malicious, double-dealing, back-stabber of the worst ilk; the reader is left wondering about Wisebaum’s motivations behind such blatant treachery.
Despite this, Walkley’s beefy prose and rousing action sequences deliver a thriller to satisfy any adrenaline addict.
Tragedy turns into triumph in Carlson’s debut novel about a young woman who regains her self-confidence after multiple losses and years of dejection.
Before readers meet 28-year-old Jamie Shire, she has already hit rock bottom. Jobless, she drinks away her days on her best friend’s couch as she wallows in loneliness. Among Jamie’s troubles: Her mother died when she was a child, the only man she ever loved wouldn’t reciprocate, her unborn daughter died, and she continuously feels rejected by her father and brother. After a chance encounter with a wealthy woman at a coffee shop, Jamie accepts a live-in job researching philanthropic causes at Fallow Springs Estate. Reaching out to the house staff and eventually working with Darfur refugees afford Jamie some valuable context for her own pain; she’s able to gain confidence as she learns to stop fearing rejection and start pursuing her dreams. Throughout the novel, the author skillfully creates mood. In the beginning, when Jamie borders on depression, her emotional touchiness and oversensitivity will create an uneasy feeling in readers. But as Jamie slowly regains confidence, readers will also feel increasingly optimistic. Alongside the main character’s emotional struggle is the struggle faced by Darfur refugees, although this plotline doesn’t advance too far; yet details from Jamie’s trip to the refugee camp in Chad—the types of beer served at the aid workers’ bar or a depiction of a young refugee sitting blank-faced and tied to a pole because he might run away—effectively transport readers to faraway places. Jamie’s story will interest readers, but, with a weak ending, the story leaves many unanswered questions. Who is Jamie’s wealthy employer? Does Jamie’s work in Chad help anyone but herself? And what of the conflict Jamie feels between herself and the refugees, between the haves and the have-nots?
With so many minor questions left unanswered, Carlson’s captivating novel proves to be more about the journey than the destination.