A young girl of mysterious but significant parentage joins Scotland’s medieval rebellion against the English in this lively YA historical novel.
At the dawn of the 14th century, fetching teen aristocrat Isobel MacDuff and dashing nobleman Rob—destined to become Scottish national hero Robert the Bruce—deposit their love child for safekeeping on the remote Isle of Arran. Little Pippa’s true identity must be kept secret, even from herself, lest she run afoul of ruthless enemies, including Isobel’s sadistic estranged husband and England’s King Edward, who would love to get his gauntlets on the rebel Bruce’s kin. Unaware of these intrigues, Pippa grows up a redheaded spitfire doted on by a foster mother, an awkward but stouthearted village lad named Tom and a parade of handsome lairds. The author ensconces Pippa in captivating, slightly magical medieval Scotland, where figures from Celtic legend—including a blind centenarian soothsayer who knows the secret of Pippa’s heritage—live and mingle. But as Pippa approaches adolescence, the grim realities of war intrude on her idyll, bringing terror and grief; she duly revolts by smuggling silver for the Scottish cause, spying on the English army and strategizing about how to rescue poor Isobel from the cage where she’s been hung for two years while peasants pelt her with manure. Loosely basing the story on real events, del Mara adroitly mines a rich historical setting for colorful material, which she enhances with rousing action scenes and a pinch of fairy-tale glamour. She crafts all this into a coming-of-age yarn with genuine substance and pathos. As Pippa gets entangled in her family’s struggle against the English, she’s appalled by the violence and misery her father sets in motion, but she also starts to understand the harsh necessity that drives him. She’s a feisty, appealing heroine, and her quest to discover her identity and capture her destiny makes for an absorbing read.
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.