Peña and Peña, in their debut, introduce readers to Windy Wendy in two children’s stories—one a creation myth of the alphabet, the other a suspense tale.
The first story takes place at the first Worldwide Congress, Parade, and Festival of Letters, where the letter Z is feeling a little left out. “It’s not fair that we…are always the last letters to appear,” the letter says. “By the time we appear, most of the children are already sleeping or gone.” But why are they last? It’s all due to a wind named Windy Wendy, who blew her breeze upon the world until letters spontaneously appeared; Z brought up the rear, just as Wendy was falling asleep from exhaustion. Z’s pleas to change up the order of the alphabet are ignored, and the other letters want to punish Z for its demands. However, when Windy Wendy appears at the Congress and starts whooshing once again, Z alerts the other letters about what’s happening. In the second story, Wendy’s cousin and school friends are intrigued about an abandoned house. Legend has it that “anyone able to get in would gain all the knowledge and power of the world.” But such an attempt would be risky, and Wendy, as the voice of reason, urges them all not to do it. The ominous story continues: “They didn’t listen to Wendy, and then the wind came for them. None of them would be seen ever again.” The scene then jumps 20 years into the future, as an adult named Wendy Veronica Williams prepares to accept an award for a book she wrote about her childhood friends. The multiple Wendy characters will help young readers link the two stories, which are both imaginative and suspenseful. However, the Wendys don’t factor into the stories’ main action until near their conclusions. Overall, the two stories don’t fit together very well; one is a simple story about the creation of the alphabet, while the other is a scary story with a cliffhanger. As a result, it may be confusing to read them back to back.
Two intriguing stories that make sense individually but don’t quite work when combined into one book.
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.