A microbiological adventure centered on a little boy bacterium and a girl virus living in a young human boy’s fluffy, four-legged best friend.
With his first book for children, Lyen (Alma’s Journey, 2012) takes young readers inside the digestive system of a dog named Pembroke, where the microbes lead very humanlike lives. Arthur Bacterium meets Patty Virus when she walks into his class at school. Despite her being different from Arthur’s bacteria classmates, Arthur is kind and welcoming, and the two become fast friends. In Pembroke’s colon, where Arthur and his parents live, most of the microbes are “good bacteria” living in symbiosis with the canine. The bacteria fear viruses since they can make Pembroke sick by infecting and destroying other cells (like them), but Patty is a Nelson virus, a good strain that Arthur’s father Louie, a professor of virology, says descends from the viruses that lived in Lord Admiral Nelson, who died during the Battle of Trafalgar. Excessive or bizarre factual additions like this frequently reveal the overly elaborate nature of the authorial conceit and can occasionally be a source of conflict or error in the novel. The professor suggests that Patty and Arthur leave the colon and cautiously investigate different areas of Pembroke’s anatomy, so the pair set out in a kayak filled with supplies along the “Great Brown River.” After a thorough tour of the intestine, they muster the courage to visit, through various veins, arteries and channels, the stomach, the liver—or “Hepatic Mountain,” which is particularly well-described—the pancreas, circulatory and cardiovascular systems, the brain and even “The Great Expanse” outside the pup. Although exhilarating, the idea of Patty knowing how to return the two microscopic organisms back to Pembroke’s digestive track is a bit too implausible, as is her knowledge of human affairs and the generally convoluted depiction of the relationships among bacteria, viruses and organ systems. The book is most illuminating and charming when it stays within the metaphor, describing the personal roles and experiences of Arthur, his friends and family. The glossary helps with understanding the microbiology terms, but the story is unnecessarily complicated and long, and there are frequent unsavory descriptions of fecal gases, smells and fluids.
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.