Book Reviews: Family History with Some Adventure
By Jennie Hansen

The books I read this month prove genealogy isn’t the dry, dull pastime the uninitiated accuse it of being.  All three of this month’s novels are closely linked to the bond between generations.  The first, The Ties That Bind by Kristen McKendry is fiction, but it came about because of a long, difficult search for the author’s ancestors.  Its greatest appeal will be to adults whether they’re involved in tracing their roots or not.  The second, Eyes Like Mine, by Julie Wright, is a time travel geared toward a younger audience but will appeal to many older readers as well.  The third, though not as genealogy oriented as the others, also involves searching for family and finding shocking answers to that search.  Code of Honor is far more than the mystery/suspense type of novel Betsy Brannon Green is known for and, as in McKendry’s novel, it proves that not all ancestors are as noble and desirable as those most of us hope to find on our family trees.

The Ties That Bind is the story of Daniel McDonald, a man with little knowledge of his family.  He only knows his mother died and his father abandoned him and an older brother and sister to be raised by an aunt who never spoke to him of his father.  Learning that he is about to become a father sets off feelings of inadequacy and a need to know about those people whose genes he is passing on to his child.  His search takes him to Montana, to Washington, to Wisconsin, and even to Ontario.  Much of what he learns includes painful accounts of alcoholism, abuse, and abandonment, but there’s also joy in discovering he has relatives, both living and dead who loved deeply and who made good, but difficult choices.

McKendry developed some of the minor characters better than her main character, but she did an excellent job of making the reader care about some of Daniel’s ancestors and want to give others a good swift kick.  In the story Daniel is an investigative reporter for a newspaper and is well aware of search techniques that enable a searcher to find someone when there are few clues.  His methods are excellent suggestions to try for those having difficulty tracing their own families.

The search for Daniel’s father and other ancestors is an interesting story and a realistic break from all those genealogy stories filled with miracles and the discovery of connections to heroic ancestors.  I found this book somewhat like working a puzzle and was intrigued by the search. Daniel’s search brings him many disappointments, a lot of unhappy endings, but some heart-warming ones too, and finally a better understanding of himself.  I enjoyed this book and think many others will too.

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Eyes Like Mine begins with a split screen effect.  Constance is a young pioneer convert to the Church who is traveling by wagon train to Zion with her husband and infant daughter.  Her husband goes in search of a lost horse and doesn’t return.

More than a hundred and fifty years later Liz King is dealing with the emotional baggage dumped on her by her parents’ divorce, her father’s abandonment of her, the loss of friendships, and she is struggling to earn enough to support her horse, which she dearly loves, by competing in various riding shows. 

A strange trick of time throws the two girls together.  Constance is frantic to get back to her husband and infant daughter.  She doesn’t approve of the way Liz dresses, her behavior which is rude by Constance’s standards, or her lack of appreciation for all she has in spite of the loss of her philandering father and her mother’s odd behavior.  Liz finds Constance nave, ridiculously polite, a little embarrassing, and a whole lot bossy.  Still the girls become close friends even though they work at cross purposes concerning sending Constance back to her own time.  Liz has read this fifth great grandmother’s history and knows a terrible fate awaits her if she returns and wants to keep her with her in the present.  Constance discovers an old journal Liz’s mother inherited and learns her husband is alive back in her own time and she takes drastic action to try to join him.

Through a large portion of this book, I wondered why I was reading it, other than just because I was enjoying it.  It seemed quite clearly directed toward teens and I review novels geared toward adults.  As I got further into the story, I realized that though the primary slant may be toward young readers, it also has a great deal of appeal for adult readers and anyone interested in genealogy or family relationships.  The ending carries a far stronger emotional impact than I expected which is all I’ll say about the way the book concludes. 

Wright is a storyteller and weaves a convincing tale.  She also has a blunt, realistic style and communicates strong empathy for young woman who are struggling with life, testimonies, and the confusing emotional and physical choices surrounding them.  Her characters are convincing and her plot has excellent timing.  Teen or adult, you’ll find this book will leave a lasting impression.

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Code of Honoris the highly satisfying conclusion to Betsy Brannon Green’s military trilogy.  This series is a departure from Green’s earlier Haggarty cozy mysteries.  The suspense is ramped up; there’s little humor, and no recipes.  Instead of a nosy, busybody filled with Southern grace, the heroine is a competent young woman who becomes involved with a crack military extraction unit.

In this final volume Savannah McLaughlin escapes capture by jumping from a moving car.  As she is being wheeled into surgery, she finds the eyes staring at her from behind a surgical mask belong to her hated and feared enemy, Mario Ferrante.  She wakes up in a private sanitarium under tight surveillance and learns she is the decoy Ferrante is using to lure Major Dane into a deadly trap.

This story is filled with technical equipment, detailed planning, contingency plans, and an enemy who is clever, has political backing from powerful sources, and moles in supposedly secure places.  He places no value on life and has unlimited financial means as well.  The action is fast, cliff hanger scene endings leave the reader scrambling to read just a few more pages, then a few more, and . . .   Besides the fast paced enthralling plotline, this story has stronger character development than the previous two volumes and the reader gets to see gradual shifts in attitude, growing self-awareness, and more of the bonds that hold the team together.  We also get to see a man who has been severely traumatized and abandoned begin to trust and accept.  As he begins to recognize his feelings, a tender love story develops.  It’s not the kind of mush men abhor in books, yet will satisfy readers who find a bit of romance enhances, and often completes, a compelling story.

I’ve greatly enjoyed this series and feel satisfied with the concluding volume and won’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone.

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THE TIES THAT BIND By Kristen McKendry, Published by Covenant Communications, softcover, 195 pages, $15.95

EYES LIKE MINE by Julie Wright, Published by Covenant Communications, softcover, 262 pages, $15.95

CODE OF HONOR by Betsy Brannon Green, Published by Covenant Communications, softcover, 216 pages, $15.95

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