Fast-paced Plots and End-of-Days Fiction from LDS Authors
By Jennie Hansen

 

October has brought an interesting array of books, covering a wide range of topics and writing styles.  I, too, have a new book out, but since I can’t review my own work, suffice it to say my new book is titled Shudder and the  back cover reads:  Darcy and Clare grew up as best friends, sharing trials and triumphs from preschool through college graduation.  Now they’re sharing an apartment in Boise, Idaho, where Clare just landed a great job and Darcy is pursuing a teaching certificate.  There’s only one problem: Blaine, Clare’s boyfriend.  His chauvinistic, know-it-all ways set Darcy’s teeth on edge.  Darcy vows not to let Blaine ruin her lifelong friendship with Clare, but when Blaine insists on moving in, Darcy suddenly finds herself alone.

The estranged friends forge ahead on seemingly separate paths.  Engaged to Blaine, Claire becomes trapped in ugly family politics and vicious treatment from her fianc.  Darcy finds a temporary home with Karlene, an accident victim seeking live-in help, but a twisted plot soon threatens their safety.  Clare’s wedding briefly reunites her with Darcy, yet the friends have never been farther apart.  And when Clare finds herself in mortal peril and finally calls upon Darcy to help, it might be too late.

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Sometimes a good author who consistently delivers enjoyable novels comes out with one that is so exceptional that even readers who have come to expect high quality books from this author are taken by surprise.  Such is the case with Rachel Ann Nunes’s Saving Madeline.  Nunes secured her spot as an author to follow and watch when she launched her writing career with Ariana.  Since then she has garnered a large following of faithful readers.  With Saving Madeline she has stepped up her game.

Saving Madeline is the story of public defender, Caitlin McLoughlin, who faces some tough ethics questions as she defends one client after another whom she knows are guilty of the crimes charged to them.  When faced with defending a heinous rapist, she is torn between the ethics of her profession and true justice.  She makes a choice that could lead to disbarment.  Following on the heels of that case she is asked to defend a man charged with kidnapping his own daughter.  Parker Hathaway claims he was protecting his daughter from her mother and that the child’s life is in danger. 

Caitlin is also facing some personal challenges.  She is the sole support of her mentally handicapped sister.  She’s lonely, too, and longs for a home and husband.  Being attractive, she has plenty of opportunities to date, but she’s not interested in a short term romance and most men she meets are not interested in a woman, no matter how attractive, who comes with a twenty-seven year old sister who acts like a five-year-old.

Against all she knows about the criminals she defends and in the absence of any creditable evidence, Caitlin finds herself believing Parker’s story.  More than that she finds herself falling in love with her client. She faces some tough personal, ethical, and career choices as she struggles with her own needs and the possible endangerment of a child.  Should she trust her heart, and who is making a fool of whom?

The story is gripping and will leave the reader squirming over the ethics questions.  The characters are expertly drawn, believable, and multi-faceted.  The plot is fast-paced and believable.  The love relationship is a little too fast to be believable, yet it is essential to the story that the pair don’t know each other too well. 

Nunes ‘s books appeal strongly to women, but this one shouldn’t be classified as women’s fiction because as Nunes delves into matters concerning child custody and child endangerment she makes it clear that these matters involve both genders and her male protagonist, Parker Hathaway, a construction worker, will appeal to male readers as well as to female.  I highly recommend this book to both men and women and expect to see Saving Madeline as a finalist for this year’s Whitney awards.

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Ere His Floods of Anger Flow by John Harmer is speculative fiction based on scriptural prophecy.  Events that occur in roughly a two week period, rife with various calamities, are portrayed from a dozen different view point characters’ eyes.

Harmer considers the ramifications to a wide variety of people, many of whom are LDS, should a pandemic spread world-wide at the same time as a global financial crisis and an extra ordinary weather anomaly.  Added to this are the ravages of crime, greed, pornography, corrupt governments and institutions, and the plight of those who are poverty stricken.  Members of the Church range from those who are strict adherents to the gospel to those who only go to church when they don’t have other plans.  Some have deep faith and an awareness of spiritual promptings, some are strengthened by their experiences, and some simply fall away when the going gets rough.

This is Harmer’s first attempt at fiction, though he is well known as the lieutenant governor in California under Ronald Reagan and he has written a couple of non-fiction books.  Ere His Floods of Anger Flow plays on a well-known phrase at the conclusion of a popular LDS Hymn that bids God’s children to Come to Zion. It begins with a letter from the First Presidency of the Church calling members of the Church to come to Zion, not in a physical sense, but spiritually and in the way they conduct their lives. Shortly after, dramatic events occur where adherence to gospel principles makes all the difference in these people’s and the people of the world’s lives.

It’s easy to get caught up in the story Harmer tells and though there’s a huge cast of characters, I never found them confusing.  Characters are sketched well, though not in depth, which lends well to the overall plot.  The plot varies in effectiveness and includes some unnecessary Dan Brown type speculations, but it is always exciting.  More information would have been helpful concerning the people of Laredo who gave all of their food storage to those who had nothing just prior to the area being devastated by weather-induced crop failure.  More careful attention to scene structure, time sequence, repetition, showing instead of telling, and other technical points of fiction writing would have enhanced an already good book.  It has been copy edited well, but the overall structure editing is lacking.

Most of the problems in this book are ones a good fiction editor could have fixed or worked with the writer to improve, however, they do not prevent the book from being a compelling, thought-provoking read.  And though I don’t often recommend either speculative fiction or privately published novels, this one is well worth reading and I count it as one of the rare gems to come out of self-publishing.

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The Sister Pact by Cami Checketts is an enjoyable read from the intriguing cover to the final resolution.  Trouble begins when one sister idly flirts with an attractive man at the gym.  When he shows up at her door, while her husband is away on a business trip, expecting more than flirting, he frightens Allison.  Her son awakens while she is trying to free herself from the man’s unwelcome hold on her, but as she dashes up the stairs in hopes of reaching her child and locking herself in his room, her unwelcome visitor’s actions cause her to fall.  She is knocked unconscious and her sister Savannah finds her a few minutes later lying in a pool of blood at the bottom of the stairs.  The man transfers his attention to Savannah and begins a campaign to keep Allison in a coma and win over Savannah.

Allison is drawn to the handsome detective who shows up to investigate the accident and though he is equally attracted to her, he doesn’t trust her.  And why should he?  She was the last person known to be with her sister before the accident which he suspects wasn’t really an accident, has a juvenile record of pushing a classmate down a staircase, and she was alone with Allison shortly before Allison’s blood test reveals she is being drugged.  She also is much too chummy with a man the detective has mistrusted most of his life.

Savannah and Allison made a pact when they were children to always look after each other and in spite of being the police department’s number one suspect, Savannah is determined to prove her innocence and discover who really hurt her sister and who is sneaking a mind numbing drug into Allison’s IV.

Savannah, too, has a habit of indulging in meaningless flirting which isn’t as harmless as she thinks.  She has a quick temper, is impulsive, and frequently lies by omission.  She withholds important information from the detective even when she knows he’ll soon discover the truth for himself.  Though she’s quick to put facts together, she’s incredibly obtuse when her sister comes to enough to tell her who is responsible for her being in the hospital.  Her childish behavior kept me from liking her as much as I would have otherwise.

This romantic suspense novel doesn’t contain much mystery, but it is fast paced and holds the reader’s attention from start to finish.  The plot twists are fun to follow.  The romance elements are a little shaky and cluttered with too many side issues, but is still satisfying.  Both adults and teens who enjoy romantic suspense will enjoy this one and look forward to this first time author’s next release.

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G.G. Vandagriff has a new book out in her Alex and Briggie series, The Hidden Branch.  Again the two genealogy sleuths tackle a mystery concerning a tangled family tree.  When an  Armenian-American billionaire is murdered and valuable artifacts are taken from his home, suspicion falls on estranged cousins in a distant state who are the beneficiaries of his will.  Along with the twists and turns of the mystery, there are questions concerning Alex’s engagement to a recent convert to the Church, a wealthy English aristocrat whose mother has suffered a major heart attack.

This upper-crust pair of sleuths and their wealthy love interests drop everything to fly to Huntington Beach, California to notify the heirs of their inheritance and to determine just who and how many heirs there are.  They meet a family where most members are already financially well off and come with their own elite snobbery.  The family is both close knit because of their loyalty to their ethnic heritage and difficult to like because of their shallow values and tendency to snipe at each other.

The similarity of important and difficult to pronounce names such as Mugerian, Mardian, and Marigny create some confusion and bring the smooth flow of the story to frequent stops.  I found the references to the Armenian holocaust enlightening and a reminder of the tragedy that took place in a part of the world that has seen too much tragedy.  The Hidden Branch is not a fast paced action mystery and readers who enjoy analyzing clues will discover the most likely villain early on, but will still enjoy following the web of clues.  This is a welcome addition to this series and will be greatly enjoyed by fans of the sleuthing genealogists.  I found it flowed better than previous books in the series, and to be better edited, though it doesn’t approach the magnificence of  Vandagriff’s epic historical, The Last Waltz, published earlier this year.

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SHUDDER by Jennie Hansen, published by Covenant Communications, softcover, 218 pages, $15.95

SAVING MADELINE by Rachel Ann Nunes, published by Shadow Mountain, softcover, 321 pages, $17.95

ERE HIS FLOODS OF ANGER FLOW by John Harmer, published by Lighted Candle Publishing, softcover, 380 pages, $16.99

THE SISTER PACT by Cami Checketts, published by Bonneville Books, softcover, 229 pages, $15.99

THE HIDDEN BRANCH by G.G. Vandagriff, published by Deseret Book, softcover, 222 pages, $16.95

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