In Vokli’s debut novel, a Silicon Valley professional longs for a quick way to build a lean, muscular body but instead receives lessons in how to live.
The story follows Rodef, a somewhat overweight man in his early 40s. Rodef has it all—a loving partner, a big house in a nice California neighborhood and a well-paying job—yet he shuffles through life with robotic dreariness and lower back pain. Rodef and his colleagues have lunchtime conversations about dieting and how they are unable to lose weight.Later, he meets a mysterious man named Zakhariy at an ice-cream parlor. At 75, Zakh has the perfectly sculpted body of a much younger man, but he doesn’t explain how he achieved this miracle; instead, he frustrates and intrigues Rodef with questions. The two continue to meet for hikes in area beaches and parks, where Zakh bounds down rocky trails with ease; clumsy Rodef, meanwhile, is determined to learn the secret to Zakh’s youthful appearance. The bulk of the book consists of the often philosophical—and sometimes textbook-slow—dialogue between the two men about health, eating and living life to the fullest. Lean on plot, the narrative reads like nonfiction at times; the author also provides several sketches, including pictures of Zakh’s stretching exercises and diagrams of female erogenous zones.The childlike Rodef begins to understand the difference between knowing and understanding, as Zakh prompts him with thoughts such as: “If you live as though you’ll die the next moment, then you’ll die at the right time. It is death that makes us alive.” There are some memorable character moments, as when Rodef takes Zakh’s advice to eat naked in front of a mirror. As Rodef begins to embrace life, he also begins to appreciate the natural world, even going so far as to perch on a cliff’s ledge to become one with the rock. The book’s greatest strength is its loud-and-clear overall message: Optimal health and mental peace can’t be acquired via dieting.
An occasionally awkward portrayal of one man’s philosophical quest to break the shackles of his negative habits.
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.