A 5-year-old boy discovers a magical land just beyond his backyard in this debut picture book for young children. After receiving permission from his mother, Eric—who had his birthday the previous day—takes his favorite gift, a new soccer ball, out to the backyard. He wants to excel in the sport the way his older sister, Alexandra, does, so he gives the ball such a hard kick that it travels over the goal and into a hedge. Despite the hedge’s scary darkness, he bravely goes after it. But instead of the ball, he finds a magical land with a green sky. The first thing he sees is a short man in a blue tuxedo and top hat who’s searching for pairs in a multicolored mountain of socks. Eric politely asks the little man if he’s seen his soccer ball and soon learns that the man calls himself The Keeper and that they’re in the magical place where all lost things go. When another two dozen socks fall out of the sky on The Keeper’s head, the man expresses his frustration with trying to pair them all. Eric shares his mother’s wisdom that only one sock from each pair gets lost, which would make pairing them impossible. With this realization, The Keeper collapses but quickly recovers. He happily decides that it would be more useful to sort lost books and thanks Eric for his insight. As they approach the mountain of books, Eric finds his soccer ball, says goodbye to The Keeper, who invites him to return, and then heads home to take his nap. Although the story is simple and short, it provides a satisfying sequence of events and several lessons: asking permission, making polite requests, and being responsible and kind. It leaves open imaginative possibilities for its audience: The youngest readers may be engaged by finding socks or books of different colors and patterns, while older children may imagine what else they could find in the Land of Lost Things and what will happen when Eric returns. The colorful, painted illustrations clearly distinguish the ordinary world of Eric’s home from the magical land, mirror the story’s emotional ups and downs, and invite exploration, although adult readers may notice that Mr. Keeper’s facial features are somewhat inconsistent and that Eric’s cheeks sometimes seem excessively red. A simple, fun encounter with magic for young children.
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.