Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Quick(est?) Hits - Part III: Of Assassins and Candor

I'm seven five three books behind in posting, not including posts already in draft. A bunch of new books just came in, which is going to get me even further behind. So I'm just going to do a some quick impressions of a few of the books I've recently finished.

Day of the Assassins by Johnny O'Brien
3Q 4P; Audience: M/J

Jack and his mother live together in a small cottage. His father is long gone under circumstances that Jack thinks were never adequately explained to him. He appears in Jack's life only on rare occasions, mostly in the form of an annual birthday present. This year's gift is a history book about WWI. One of Jack's favorite games is Point of Deception, a first-person role-playing game about WWI, but even so, this present doesn't cut it. But when he becomes a pawn between two groups of scientists who have discovered how to travel in time, he begins to wish he’d had more time to read that book. Before he knows what's happening, one side transports Jack to 1914 Austria and the days leading up to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The other side is hot on his heels. Jack has no idea which side to trust or believe. All he knows is that he’s being forced to make a decision that will affect the future of thousands of people. The assassination of Franz Ferdinand was the event that triggered WWI. Should he stop the assassination or let it happen? When two groups of scientists disagree on how their invention should be used, things can get very nasty, especially if you're an innocent caught in the middle.

The non-stop action in this book will make it popular with boys who like action and suspense, but are tired of or have already read all the teenage spy novels. Multiple chases and narrow escapes keep interest high and ratchet up the tension chapter after chapter. Jack's friend Angus and the professor (who rescues Jack from his first close shave in 1914) add bits of humor here and there, which will also be welcome. The science of time travel is glossed over, which probably won't bother the target audience, though it's a bit of a cheat to mention Einstein, Planck, Heisenberg, and Schrodinger and then complete the explanation with, "All you need to know is that the world of subatomic physics is an extremely mysterious one." I also found it contradictory and illogical that the scientists trying to prevent the past from being changed bring weapons and tanks back in time. Isn't that running the huge risk of winning the battle and losing the(ir) war? Many readers will be so swept up in the action that they won't care. Given the subtitle ("a Jack Christie novel") and the open-ended resolution, I suspect that fans of this book will be seeing Jack and Angus again in another.

Candor by Pam Bachorz
4Q 3P; Audience: J/S

When parents get tired of their kids misbehaving, they move the family to Candor. In Candor, the kids don't get in trouble. They aren't disrespectful, and they always do the socially responsible thing. Why? Because that's what the Messages tell them to do. Messages play all day every day in Candor. Everyone hears and obeys them, but only one person knows that: the founder of Candor and creator of the Messages. At least, that's what he thinks. He has no idea that Oscar, his son and Candor's poster child for model citizen, knows all about the Messages. Oscar knows how to counteract them, and he knows how to create his own. He uses that knowledge to protect himself from the Messages and to sneak kids out of town before they're so far gone on the Messages that they wouldn't dream of running, let alone rebelling. Make no mistake about it. Oscar isn't a model anything. He doesn't do it because he cares about any of those kids. He does it because they pay him very, very well and because he enjoys sticking it to his father while making everyone think he's the perfect kid. And that's how things stand until Nia moves to town. Nia, with her goth girl looks, her defiant attitude, and her love of art. Nia, the opposite of nice. Nia, the kind of girl who should never be forced to conform to a place like Candor. Oscar is determined to get her out of town, even if she doesn't want to go. Even though he has to break all his own rules to do it. Even if it costs him in ways he never expected to have to pay.

What a great concept for a book. You can't help but be creeped out by the thought of parents who would use mind control to keep their kids in line. How twisted is that? It certainly makes you want to root for Oscar. On the other hand, Oscar is not a particularly likable person. He's very much out for himself, and as much as he pretends to be humble (the Messages at work), he also very much thinks of himself as superior. It takes meeting Nia for him to begin to approach being the kind of person his father wants him to be and thinks he is (at least in terms of being selfless and thinking of the greater good), and Messages have nothing to do with it. His growth is realistic, with a lot of struggling over what's right for him versus what's right for Nia and debating with himself over the tactics he's using and what he's risking and losing. Father-son issues take on additional dimensions in this novel, with themes of grief, abandonment, and control playing a significant role. Fans of dystopian novels will enjoy this, while those who prefer realistic fiction are likely to find that this science fiction novel goes down pretty easily. Readers who like to chew on the books they've read will find plenty of food for thought in this one.


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