In Wurth’s novel, four children from the Sesame Street generation grow up, get cynical and learn life isn’t nearly as simple as a cast of colorful Muppets once made it seem.
Like many children born after 1969, Steven’s television promised him “Sunny days sweeping the clouds away.” Instead he got perpetual thunderclouds. Bad break after bad break stalked the aspiring engineer until, as we learn in the introduction, he finally killed himself. The thesis central to Wurth’s quirky debut is that Sesame Street was somehow to blame for Steven’s failures—as well as those of his wife, Tiffany, and their contemporaries Jeremy and Katherine. Steven and Tiffany’s financial and marital instability was Big Bird’s fault for telling them “You can be whatever you want to be in this life.” Katherine and Jeremy’s boredom with life, love and sex were Jim Henson’s fault for making the future seem fresh and exciting. The idea here is the sale of false possibility has been the undoing of an entire generation. It’s a compelling notion, though Wurth’s dedication to it, and his evidence supporting it, grows scarce as the novel moves past the exposition-heavy backgrounds. Apart from this and a clever ending, the show’s place in (and influence on) the plot is slight and somewhat forced. For the most part though, that’s OK. Wurth’s intermingling plotlines often succeed in spite of his thesis, standing stronger on their own as ground-level studies on the relationship between dysfunctional childhoods and subpar adulthoods. The novel has some sleepy stretches; nevertheless, characters show enough authenticity to entertain without paying service to any overarching hook. So, as the book builds, Big Bird, Oscar and the lessons of Grover are out; jealousy, violence, and jags of wild sex are in. And, like Sesame Street, that’s ultimately what keeps you tuned in: the characters and adventures, not the lessons.
Fortunately, not as Sesame Street-centric as billed; like the TV show, it proves entertaining in spite of its overt agenda.
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.