Set against the backdrop of the modern American South, Reese’s supernatural coming-of-age tale brims with horror and revenge.
It’s Lydia Cantrell’s 10th birthday, and her wealthy family has thrown a party for the kids of Sherman’s March, Ga. While the children are having a good time, Lydia’s father, Frank, is held up on his way to the event by a mysterious young girl to whom he offers a ride. After the party, with indefinable evil lurking inside him, Frank rapes his daughter. The novel then jumps forward two years to the summer before Lydia’s freshman year of high school. Lydia, now shy and academic, dons a teenage goth style, and her father still sexually abuses her with regularity. Her mother drugs herself to escape the hellish existence that life has become for the Cantrells. Though mocked by her peers and tormented by her family, Lydia has one bright spot in life—Michael, with whom she has a blossoming though tentative romance. However, as the young heroine turns to self-harm and Marilyn Manson as a means of escape, she makes a startling discovery: someone, or something, has given her the ability to control fire. Diary entries from the 19th century, written by one of Lydia’s relatives, are spliced into the text in a relatively weak effort to impart some sense of Southern history to the work. These sections, mostly concerned with the rage of a forgotten lover in the antebellum South, mirror Lydia’s darker story and provide the reader with a historical precedent of the family’s pyrokinetic ability. Occasionally, distracting lines—“That was the Lydia he loved, not Crabzilla the PMS Princess”—crop up to provide neither comic relief nor add any realism to the character’s mentalities; the result causes the short narrative to stumble as it trots along to a familiar-feeling finale. But there are some admirable qualities: For all its faults, the horror story will have readers eagerly turning pages to see just how Lydia’s revenge will play out. The truly shocking moments come early in the text, though, and a tendency to stray too far from the already short narrative may bother readers who feel that the extremely weighty issues raised aren’t given enough care or concern from an emotional or psychological standpoint.
A page-turning horror story with a few legitimate shocks and plenty of angst.
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.