Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Cliff-Hanger Extraordinaire - Book Exam of "Lady in the Mist" by Laurie Alice Eakes

I just found my second five-star read of the year. Lady in the Mist by Laurie Alice Eakes is that good.

I really don't like rating systems, and I'm admittedly stingy with handing out five stars in my own system. But Lady in the Mist qualified. Here's why.

A five-star book has to make me want to read for hours, and keep on reading even when I know I have other things to do. It has to pull me so deeply into the story that I forget I have real-life obligations -- or that I just don't care. It has to have a plot that feels dangerous and exciting. (What could be more dangerous than a lowly midwife trying to solve the mysterious disappearances of her village's men into the mist, while being privy to the tormented secrets of its citizens? What could be more exciting than a love triangle involving a shanghaied former fiancée and a dashing indentured servant secreting his past connections to the British realm.)

I have to worry that even the good guys might not make it to the end. A five-star book absolutely has to keep me guessing on several levels. It has to have twists and turns. If it's a Christian book, it'll get five stars only if it depicts the main character wrestling with spiritual truth in a very real way, without a lot of jargon, and there can't be any easy fixes or sudden changes of heart that don't ring true to human nature.

A five-star book must have a setting I can see and smell and feel, especially if I've never been to such a place. Even if the story spins somewhere as old as the Mayflower or as offbeat as outer space, I want to feel what it's like to be there. The characters in a five-star book have to be so well-defined that I can step into their skins in just the first few pages of reading. Finally, because I'm absolutely biased when it comes to favorite genres, it's more likely I'll give five stars to something that's historical in nature. That's not absolute. But likely.

Does your book do those things? Lady in the Mist did.

Ms. Eakes presented a story that filled my hunger for a rich historical. I've never been to the sea, but I could feel the sand between my toes and hear the surf. I saw Tabitha's salt-beaten-and-sand-weathered cottage on the shore. I loved Eakes's depiction of the hero, and even of her anti-hero. Such men they were, but with foibles that made them nothing less than real, live beings. The author did a superb job of keeping me on edge. I knew I didn't dare guess how the ending would turn out.

I've always thought it to be an intriguing part of our nation's history when England used vice, bullying, and dark of night to press men from our shores into naval service -- and this after we'd already won our independence. This was a wonderful plot idea to take on in a novel.

I don't read a lot of suspense. But the suspense in Eakes's novel was carefully interwoven. She did a superb job of casting red herrings before both the reader and the characters. She set up multiple layers to dig through in plot and theme. And talk about cliff-hangers! Eakes has mastered the art of developing the page-turner.

(Writers, if you have trouble creating cliff-hanger chapter endings, you should consider this book a study guide.)

There are so many beautiful books available, and it's hard to choose which to sink your teeth into. Your decision will be satisfying if you pick Lady in the Mist. It's a perfect summer read.

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