A highly visual debut memoir from Dempsey spanning his pre- to early adolescent years in urban Ohio.
Dempsey illuminates the steep uphill scramble he had as a young man in a bad neighborhood. The memoir opens cinematically on a night of petty stealing, which escalated to the sort of theft that exposed young Donny to violent retribution. Donny attempted to guard himself, his younger brothers and his canine companion, Benji, from the string of hothead men his mother—the eponymous Betty—welcomed into the family’s rotating rental houses. In addition to fending off soul savers from the church Betty attended in order to run her scams, Donny turned down invitations to participate in crime more difficult than theft. Most of the book’s sequences—a teacher’s good-hearted but ultimately futile efforts to defend Donny from a bully—efficiently reveal the wit and determination, not to mention anger, that helped Donny survive. Other scenes, including a detailed account of the young author and his friend Rupe killing flies, register more as isolated anecdotes. Neither alarmist nor self-pitying, the memoir sees Donny through mounting losses of his sense of safety, his friends, his sanity-saving dog and his proximity to his brothers. While this account certainly couldn’t be called feel-good, it also isn’t altogether bleak. Early in the book, Donny poses a question to himself: “Would I wind up toothless, clueless and broke because of heredity—or because of where and how we lived?” Determined not to consider either factor an excuse, as a preteen boy he decided that, despite his abuse and neglect, he would choose better for himself. By turns heartrending and humorous, the book’s main events are accompanied by resonant dialogue that reveals the speakers’ natures. Distinguishing his from similar accounts, Dempsey’s discipline as a writer lends the real-life tale the feel of a fictional page-turner.
In scene after vivid scene, Dempsey presents his inspiring true story with accomplished style.
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.