A colossal, mysterious dog protects an ancient Roman family from marauding Volgoths.
Young Gabriel has his bow and arrow ready: He is proud to go with his father, Marcus, into the Crimson Forest, on the lookout for evil forces that have been terrorizing travelers. And he soon gets the action he is looking for: Terrifying Volgoths appear—stand-ins for the Visigoths who invaded the Roman Empire in the late 4th century. The Volgoths are deliciously frightening, with beating bat wings on their helmets, giant red-eyed weasels at their command, and skulls and femurs clutched in their powerful hands. This will satisfy many young readers’ thirst for real action, for monsters and villains that are truly scary, and for dangerous, life-and-death situations. De Vosjoli (Popular Amphibians (Advanced Vivarium Systems), 2012, etc.) delivers all that and more—but leaves out the blood and gore: When a villain dies on the battlefield, he’s dragged underground, and when a spear dispatches a giant weasel, it melts into a black ooze. In the heat of the battle, an enormous dog appears—the eponymous Atticus Rex—to save the outnumbered Romans. While action—arrows zing and swords swing on nearly every page—takes precedence over character development, young Gabriel is very much like the 7-, 8-, and 9-year-olds the book is aimed at. He wants to fight alongside his father, but he also sleeps with the candle lit or while clutching the protective amulet of Atticus Rex his father unearths. Two minor quibbles: While Marcus and Titus are very believable names for Roman citizens in the 4th century, Gabriel, Miriam and Charlie are not. And, when Marcus is called to “the front” (mostly out of narrative necessity), young readers are unlikely to understand that phrase without any context. Otherwise, the story is intelligently written and explains just as much as its target audience might need.
This fast-paced chapter book has the action that many new readers crave and rarely find on the bookshelves for their age group.
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.