Family secrets give way to family love in this likable portrait of Southerners helping their unexpected kin.
Clumsy Missi Jennings awakens on her 33rd birthday to find her dismal life as disappointing as ever. She’s saddled with a loathsome paralegal job, a sleazy boss, a subpar apartment and an ice queen mother who wants to take her out for an esteem-crushing lunch. Just when her catalog of misfortunes seems overwhelming, an abrupt accident changes everything. In the wake of the tragedy, Missi suddenly finds herself the owner of a pristine townhouse, a multimillionaire and the granddaughter of the grandfather she never thought she had. Instilled with confidence by her only friend, the homely misfit Maggie, Missi buys a one-way ticket to Mississippi in hopes of finding her grandfather. Once in the hospitable South, a host of colorful Southern women—from Dolly, the spit-talking gas station owner, to Melba, the matron of the Grits-n-Greens diner, who spoons love out as fast as she does banana pudding—show Missi the family she always dreamed of having. Family secrets are turned on their heads, and while the grandfather she came to see has no interest in Missi at first, the rest of her unexpected family quickly welcomes her into their flock. When tragedy strikes the family, Missi proves to have just as generous a heart as others have shown her. She reluctantly returns to her previous life in hopes of finding herself in volunteer work but decides that she and her fortune can do more in Mississippi than anyone would expect. Despite her radical new life and the ups and downs it comes with, Missi sails through it all with little internal conflict, alternately laughing or weeping on cue but never deepening as a character. Expected challenges that come with family, just discovered or long suffered, never surface for Missi, who accepts everything without pause. The other characters, while not original portraits of Southerners, are extremely likable. Aunt Melba Little and her brood shine, showering Missi with hugs, biscuits and affectionate nicknames. Sandra, an adult daughter with Down syndrome, glows as a full character defined by more than her disability. Deliciously described home cooking is mouthwatering.
Tender characters and exciting plot twists create an enjoyable romp through one girl’s newfound Southern roots.
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.