Monday, October 09, 2006

Eye Contact, by Cammie McGovern

Adam, a nine-year-old boy with autism, disappears into the woods with a 10-year-old girl from his special ed class. Adam is eventually found alive, but the girl has been murdered. The police try to get Adam to tell them what happened, but he has retreated into himself more than ever as he tries to make sense of what he's just experienced. Occasionally a clue is able to be pulled from the traumatized autistic boy, but to find the truth the entire community must decode clues found in the woods, in the schools, and in their own lives.

I started to relate the plot of this story to one of my co-workers. He stopped me before I got too far. "This isn't exactly an uplifting story, is it?" I hadn't even gotten to some of the more disturbing scenes. So no, this isn't a warm fuzzy, touchy feely kind of book, but it's not nearly as dark as the events of the book could have made it. There is some positive balance from the caring relationship between Adam and his mother, along with several other sets of oddly supportive relationships. One of the main themes of the book is that love and hope persist even through trials, regardless of whether the trials were created by fate or by our own poor choices. Sometimes that love and hope will only survive when we deliberately force it to.

It was an interesting book with some interesting messages. The autistic boy was portrayed very realistically. In spite of those positives, I'm not ecstatic over this one. There were too many loose ends in the plot, too many requests for the reader to suspend disbelief, too few characters without major problems. The writing style also seemed awkward to me. Sometimes you weren't sure if you were supposed to be in a character's head or watching the character from above. The verb tense kept inexplicably switching from past to present tense too.

3 Stars
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Friday, October 06, 2006

Mystic and Rider, by Sharon Shinn

Mystic and Rider is the first in the Saga of the Twelve Houses series. It is set in the land of Gillengaria, a country divided into twelve regions, each of which is ruled by a different noble house. The king has sent a group to investigate the unrest that seems to be growing in Gillengaria. What follows is a tale of political intrigue and religious conflict.

This is the third Sharon Shinn novel I've read. The first was The Safe-Keeper's Secret, which I reviewed earlier. The second was The Truth-Teller's Tale, set in the same world as the first, with much the same feel. Mystic and Rider, on the other hand, has a completely different feel. Where the magic of the other series is subtle, this book has people throwing fireballs and morphing into mountain lions. Pretty in-your-face stuff. And it features the standard cross-country trek found in so many other fantasy novels. In short, this has none of what made the other two books stand out to me.

Fortunately, Mystic is special in its own right. The conflict of choice versus destiny is emphasized throughout the book, as are the themes of tolerance and loyalty. I enjoyed how skillfully they were woven into the story without taking over. Also, the plot seems to be interesting enough to hold up through an entire series, with plenty of opportunities for unexpected twists and turns.

Because this is the first book in a series, a lot of questions were left unanswered. Those unanswered questions lend an air of mystery to the story, but they also leave you hanging at the end. I guess that's OK, but don't expect this book to satisfy you on its own. Unless you hate this first book, you will want to read the next in the series to find out how things are resolved.

4 Stars
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Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Safe-Keeper's Secret, by Sharon Shinn

If you're looking for a book that doesn't stray too far from the conventions most fantasy books seem to follow, yet isn't a clone of every other fantasy novel out there, this would be a good choice.

The world of The Safe-Keeper's Secret is only a step away from what could be reality. Magic is an inherent part of people's lives, but it is subtle. In fact most magic could be chalked up to chance or even differences in personality. For example, there are truth-tellers who always speak the truth. Nothing overly magical about that, except that they occasionally reveal the truth about things they could not possibly have known. The complement of the truth-teller is the safe-keeper, who listens to secrets of all kinds and keeps them secret for as long as they need to be kept.

Damiana, the safe-keeper of Tambleham village, has a doozie of a secret to keep – the identity of the baby dropped off in the middle of the night to be raised as her own child. You don't learn the truth until the very end of the book.

Overall the plot was reasonably good, but what really stood out for me was the setting. I enjoyed reading a fantasy book based on family dynamics rather than on epic travels through far away lands. In fact most of the story takes place in or near Damiana's cottage. You won't find any battles with dragons in this book's pages, but you will find a compelling coming of age story with an emphasis on people and relationships.

4 Stars
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