One woman juggles the five stages of grief in this novel’s cutting portrait of a marriage’s slow-motion deterioration.
Twenty-nine-year-old, 6-foot-tall Magdalena de la Cruz (nee Jablonowski) mourns the death of her “Polish twin” brother, Junah; they were born 19 months apart, though they were nearly identical. A Northern California viticulturist turned water mogul, Magda begins her story while desperately treading water in the Pacific Ocean after falling overboard. After Junah’s death, she explains, she’s done everything to “rebirth herself”: moving to LA and erasing the many physical similarities she shared with her brother. She’s been Lasiked, Jeuvedermed and Botoxed; pumped with saline, small white pills and gin—everything “short of a corneal transplant.” Yet nothing brings her closer to Ricky, her overcommitted (possibly unfaithful) husband, or to the acceptance of grief, as her psychiatrist advises. Magda agrees to see “the Shrink”—a female therapist “highly recommended by Eric Clapton’s personal assistant”—only because it gives her 45 minutes of alone time with Ricky in rush-hour traffic. As they drive their tanklike Mercedes home from “Lynda Carter’s Hillary for President Beach Bonfire and Benefit in Malibu,” Ricky stops in “the dead middle of Sunset” and violently takes her, as drivers honk, scream and drive around them. Despite the blood, bruising and noise, Magda feels nothing. Instead, she sets out to discover what it’s like to be unfaithful, hooking up with Quentin, a tattooed rock-star wannabe. After the “third worst day” of her life, when she realizes “infidelity wasn’t fun,” Magda returns to her hometown to rediscover the beauty of a place that also smells like cow manure. She seeks solace in art, eventually making a larger-than-life self-portrait out of rhinestones. Prone to embellishment, melodrama and laugh-out-loud set pieces, Magda isn’t an unreliable narrator, even though she admits to being “inconsistent.” Hoida gives her a sure and steady voice, full of caustic wit and raw emotion. With bright similes and shining epigrams, she gleefully mines Tinseltown tropes while skewering class, consumerism and body image. Revelations are punctuated with punch lines that land squarely in the gut. Although the ending is abrupt, it’s as clever as the rest of the book. Best of all, it leaves hope that readers haven’t seen the end of Magda.
In this razor-sharp debut, grief and loathing beget a juicy tragicomedy.
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.