Kingsley’s debut, a bildungsroman with humor, mystery and magical realism.
Thirteen-year-old Angel Bishop’s father hasn’t been in her life since she was a baby. The few stories she can glean from her mother, Ruth, and grandmother, Naomi, do little to elucidate who he is or why he’s lived apart from them for so long. In addition to her despondency in believing herself to be the cause of his absence, she resents her family members, who refuse to tell her anything meaningful about him. When a phone call suddenly announces his return for Thanksgiving, confusion and trepidation overshadow any happiness she thinks she ought to feel. With the help of Old Susan, the town recluse, and her Aunt Patsy, a resident of the local mental institution, Angel attempts to discover exactly why he left. In the process, she learns more than she ever expected about her family’s secrets and her own role in the mystery. Amid all of this, Angel also contends with classic teen concerns like friendships, school, first love and puberty. Kingsley’s eloquent prose breathes life into Angel’s trials and tribulations. Angel’s sensory awareness and appreciation, from the natural beauty of her small Appalachian town to the smells emanating from her grandmother’s kitchen, add richness and depth to the story. For example, in a passage describing her idea of an autumn spirit, she explains, “[C]ome November, she leans her head into the wind as her wild skirts are stripped away, leaving her branches bare like bony limbs reaching out for something.” While Angel’s voice may leave some readers wishing for a bit more originality, taken in concert with the dynamic secondary and even tertiary characters, any shortcomings will likely be absolved. Kingsley uses a subtle touch with magical realism, providing just enough to imbue her story with a fitting sense of enchantment. She also deftly avoids a saccharin or trite conclusion, instead maintaining a high level of believability.
A winsome debut certain to garner a readership well beyond the YA genre.
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.