A young boy and his loyal dachshund get lost in an extraordinary world of oppressed, strange creatures in the first volume of debut author Rand’s middle-grade fantasy series.
Eleven-year-old Ellis Garcia’s campout with his Vulture Voyager troop isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, especially since his dad, Javier, couldn’t be there—a fairly common occurrence, as Javier’s ice cream shop keeps him busy. Later, after a heated argument with his father, Ellis runs off into the woods with his timid, fearful dog, Philecia. After they lose their way, they’re soon joined by a frightened mouse named Matilda, who can speak—and so, too, can Philecia, rather suddenly. They follow the only visible light, which takes them to the land of Kibblestan, where they wind up battling slime that’s flooding the grounds. Ellis saves a drowning, toddler-sized Petikin named Jenkins who claims that monstrous Snotlins attacked, covering the land in slewedge. The small group joins other refugees, who are already in a cramped habitat. Evidently, Fandrella, the Snotlins’ ruler, is more controlling than most Kibblestan citizens are used to. As Jenkins searches for his missing family—including his father, who disappeared long before the Snotlins’ slewedge assault—others confront baddies such as “chatzkies,” vicious Chihuahua-like animals with needle teeth. But if Ellis can unite the citizens, they may stand a chance against Fandrella. The author’s names for her characters are revealing—smug, lazy Brattley is indeed a brattish Petikin—and readers will easily guess the origin of the Snotlins’ slewedge. The book’s overall political theme, though, might have benefited from a bit more subtlety, as in a scene in which Ellis maps out a clearly superior democratic government. But Rand still serves up moral lessons with finesse: Philecia, for example, is in desperate need of courage, and Ellis realizes that his problems at home pale in comparison to those of citizens fighting to retain their homes. There are some comic morsels, as when Ellis declares Philecia to be a slightly more exotic-sounding “weinerdach,” and some genuinely daunting creatures—the chatzkies sink their teeth in and don’t let go, which leads to a few bloody moments but nothing excessive.
Lucid, enchanting characters populate this diverting story.
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.