A repetitive but beautifully written debut novel about a college graduate’s self-discovery.
When Annie turns 25, her life seems to be in order. Her live-in boyfriend, Max, opens a yoga studio; her career as a Web designer in San Francisco is thriving; and her mother, back in the Midwest, seems to be just fine. But when things in Annie’s life start to fall apart—with watershed moments often presented in sparse detail—she finds herself paralyzed. Instead of flying home to be with her family, she watches TV and doses herself with “sleepytime medicine.” This choice doesn’t quite match the intensity of Annie’s grief, though. Equally odd is Annie’s decision to keep the bad news a secret from her best friend, Prita, as well as from everyone at work. Instead of turning to friends and colleagues, she finds solace in a B&B in rural Drake’s Valley, Calif. Annie and Max initially planned to go to the valley together; now Annie drives to the countryside alone. She finds great comfort in the place, a Victorian house run by a taciturn woman known as “the souplady.” As the lady serves her soup, she tells Annie that it “Feeds the body, warms the soul.” Between the delectable soup and the refreshing sleep she enjoys, Annie soon establishes a routine of weekly visits to the B&B. Walking in the clear air with her camera in hand, she recalls her love of photography—a convenient time to remember it, since her Web design job isn’t going so well. Scenes of Annie at the Web design firm create a number of dull tangents: There are entire play-by-plays of presentations to clients, and the muddled antagonism between her and co-worker Josh is never really explained. The writing is strongest, however, when Annie observes the natural world, as when she sees a jackrabbit’s ears, their “transparent pink flesh big as the teardrop heads of badminton racquets.” In the valley, three young boys—Ky, JJ and Newt—develop their own fascination with the souplady, whom they call the Bonelady. They spy on her and insist that she makes her broth with human bones. Ultimately, their curiosity and mischievousness create another void in Annie’s life.
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.
Pirates, magic and a secret society collide in this fantasy middle-grade novel.
This fast-paced novel follows best friends Cameron and Miguel, who are looking for adventure while cruising through their Arizona town on a tandem bicycle. They find it when an enchanted pirate ship flies overhead and lands in a convenience store’s parking lot. The ship sets up as a shop, which uses an intoxicating mist to trick customers into buying overpriced sea-themed merchandise, while simultaneously making them defenseless against pickpocket pirates. Cameron has bigger problems when Blackbeard, the ship’s intimidating captain, decides that the tween has stolen a powerful ring that would allow him to shape-shift into any person he imagines. Raising the stakes, the pirates kidnap Miguel and force him to perform grunt work with no chance of release. Cameron enlists the help of his best gal pal, Marcella, to free Miguel, but their mission takes a surprising turn when they discover a secret society protecting an underground gold mine. Author Loge keeps the action coming as the trio encounter a nasty doppelganger, a sinister talking parrot and a gang of violent pirates. The breezy writing ensures that the story doesn’t get stale. With so many quick twists and turns, young readers could get lost along the way, but Loge clearly explains all the unexpected changes to keep his audience on track. In addition to a sprinkling of black-and-white illustrations, Cameron’s easy friendship with Miguel and Marcella keeps things light and youthful when the tale could have been bogged down with one too many odd, mystical events. The heart of the book—a young boy as the chosen one who must defeat an evil enemy—has been a common YA plotline in recent years, but Loge’s energetic style makes the theme seem fresh.
A fun adventure for anyone who’d love to see a few spunky kids trick some bad-news pirates.