Was the Mayan prophecy about December 21, 2012, wrong or just late? In her YA sci-fi debut, Markowitz plumbs the depths of prophecy, conspiracy and teenage camaraderie to find out.
Henry Lipton’s best friend turned him into a zombie. But soon there are bigger problems. Elsewhere, Katie Chase spends her senior year of high school caring for her grandmother, and Henry’s best friend, Ram Rajathani, still doesn’t know why his little sister Laila voluntarily went mute six years ago. When the secret she’s guarding finally comes out, it throws Henry, Katie, Ram, Laila and another Rajathani sister, Nina, into a conspiracy bent on divine judgment. And then there’s the small matter of the Mayan prophecy, which wasn’t so far off the mark after all. Markowitz weaves threads of Mayan legend through a character-driven plot that cooks along without getting bogged down in minutia. She knows when to show detail and when to hold back: Henry and Ram tossing tennis balls at each other matters but exactly how a world of sluglike beings maintains its records in mucous doesn’t. The rare editorial slip-up—such as Henry being “kidnaped”—doesn’t slow the story down, and Markowitz keeps the teens believable and relatable, right down to the Rajathani siblings bickering with each other or Henry’s hopeless new crush: “It’s not like I even have a shot. She totally hates me.” As in the real world, parents are both central and tangential to the teens’ plans; parental presence or absence is an important consideration for nearly everyone, although it can sometimes gum up plans at a critical moment. After all, if the Rajathanis don’t remember to regularly call home as they fight to prevent the coming apocalypse, they’re going to be grounded for life.
A page-turning adventure navigated by a winning team of teens.
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.