This gripping historical romance set at the dawn of the civil rights movement examines the personal and political repercussions of an illicit love affair between a black servant and a politically ambitious white man.
The chemistry between Ash Kroth, a talented, charismatic law student, and Catherine Wilkes, his family’s new servant for the summer and a student at the local Negro university, is obvious from the moment they meet. The Kroths have employed Catherine’s family for years and have treated them with respect and dignity despite the politically volatile climate and the racist speeches Ash’s father writes as the chief speechwriter for the governor of an unnamed Southern state. Ash and Catherine can only resist each other for so long until they begin their torrid love affair, which lasts until Catherine winds up pregnant and tragedy ensues. As years go by, Ash achieves his political goals. While trying to contain the chaos brought to his state by the civil rights movement, he attempts to reconcile both his past with Catherine and the family life they could have had. He also must keep a firm grip on his own children. McKenzie’s characters are complex, and their relationships with each other are fascinating. Ash, in particular, is intriguingly ambivalent: He has a weak constitution for conflict within his own family, yet he’s a powerful politician; he’s a segregationist determined to keep the state separate but equal, yet he felt Catherine was his soul mate. The only drawback to this fast-paced, suspenseful novel is the slightly rushed conclusion; the loose ends are wrapped up a bit too neatly for such dynamic characters. Nonetheless, McKenzie proves herself to be an effortless storyteller who sympathetically portrays the ironies and hypocrisies of those precarious times.
Realistic, multifaceted characters make for an especially engaging novel.
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.