LDS Fiction to Fall For
By Jennie Hansen
Note: Some book images are click to buy.
There’s something for everyone in the cross-section of novels I reviewed this month. There was no way to read my way through my entire “to read” stack this month, so look for more in October.
Those of us who were enthralled by David G. Woolley’s first three books of the Promised Land series were excited to learn that a fourth volume, Day of Remembrance, was to be released this month. Five years has been a long time to wait; ironically Day of Remembrance is about time, the time of the Lord.
There are three separate stories contained in this volume, all linked together by the Day of Remembrance, a significant date on the Jewish calendar also know as Rosh Hashannah, ha-Zikkaron, ha-Teurah, Feast of Trumpets, or the Jewish New Year. This is a day set aside to remind men of their covenants with God and to remind God of his promises or covenants with his children.
The first story continues the story of Lehi, his family, and a few close friends in the sixth century before Christ, hiding in the wilderness, waiting for the day when the Lord tells them to continue on their journey. Instead of continuing the journey, the Lord instructs Lehi to send his sons back to Jerusalem for the brass plates. This is not a simple matter for multiple reasons; Labon claims the ancient records as proof of his birthright to rule and guards them with fierce determination, political intrigue is rampant in the city, Lehi and all of his family are wanted by the military and elders of the city, and the brass plates will not be complete until Jeremiah’s pages are added to the codex. A collision of motives and intrigue bears down on the Day of Remembrance.
The second story is that of a father and daughter, Hassidic Jewish refugees from Russia who have come to Jerusalem in the nineteenth century to escape the persecution of Jews in that land. And it’s the story of a Sephardic father and son who live above the ancient ruins of Laban’s treasury. It’s also the story of a young man and woman’s desire for marriage, the kind of marriage meant to last for eternity as promised in the old covenants. They met on the Day of Remembrance and vow to marry on the next Day of Remembrance.
The third story is that of a young farm boy in upstate New York who asks God which church he should join. His quest unleashes a fury of hate and persecution leading up to one more Day of Remembrance.
David Woolley is a storyteller who lends not only his aptitude for storytelling to Day of Remembrance, but he is also an historian with a master’s degree from the University of Iowa and a doctorate from Brigham Young University . Together these two aspects of his background produce meticulously researched physical and spiritual details to enrich his writing. The story is compelling, but the interwoven day to day picture that is painted of historic events and the everyday business of life brings the story a depth of reality not often found with such richness in historical fiction. The footnotes found at the back of the book are interesting and verify his research.
Major characters are well-developed, the plot has an even flow, and the copy editing is pretty near perfect, all-in-all, it might be called a quality product, certainly a reading pleasure. Even the background details are a fascinating education. But more than that, Day of Remembrance provides an intense spiritual journey for the reader. Because Woolley doesn’t go back and pick up many details from the previous books, but just jumps into the story, readers may want to go back to the earlier books to refresh their memories, but even without reading or reviewing the earlier books, this one is a satisfying read.
As I read this book several refrains ran through my mind, first the well-known verse from Ecclesiastes 3:1, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven,” and Alma the Younger’s words to his son, Helaman concerning the brass plates which were incorporated into the golden plates that they would be “kept and preserved by the hand of the Lord until they should go forth unto every nation.” I was left pondering the reasons God instructed his ancient prophets in the natural laws concerning the calendar and time and those things yet to come to pass according to God’s time and covenants. I also checked the calendar to see when the Day of Remembrance falls this year. My calendar places that significant date as September 29, beginning at sundown. This is a novel that entertains, then does much more, and one I highly recommend.
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Traci Hunter Abramson has done it again with a rousing suspense story filled with intelligence agents, threats against a royal family, a dash of romance, and plenty of nail-biting drama. Royal Target is set in a small kingdom somewhere along the Mediterranean Sea nestled between France and Italy starring Janessa Rogers, a linguist CIA operative.
Janessa is assigned to protect the royal family of Meridia while negotiations are taking place for a U.S. Naval base in that small country. Someone doesn’t want navy ships anywhere near Meridian waters and is going to great lengths to stir up anti-American sentiment. A bomb set off near the American embassy and a fire uncomfortably close to the royal vacation chateau are signals of terrorist activity. Someone is also threatening to kill one or more members of the royal family. Janessa’s cover is to pose as the younger royal’s fianc, a role that raises havoc with her objectivity and adds her name to the death threat list.
Royal Target, like Abramson’s other books, catches the reader right from the start and continues at a breathtaking pace until the dynamic conclusion. To say more would involve spoilers.
Abramson brings an unmatched level of knowledge concerning covert operations from her own CIA background to her writing. (Don’t worry; she clears her writing with the CIA Publication Review Board before submitting her novels for publication.) This novel is a little different from her other hard-hitting stories with the addition of an almost fairy-tale romance interwoven into a contemporary threat straight out of today’s headlines. Though the romance is fun if predictable, Abramson is at her best with the suspense elements of her story. Teens and adults will want to read this one.
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Intense is the word that comes to mind in describing Epicenter by Sonia O’Brien. This definitely isn’t the novel to relax with an hour before going to bed. Reminiscent of the disaster, super suspense novels of a few years ago, O’Brien has readers scarcely taking time to breathe from page one to the book’s ending.
The story begins much like a Clancy novel with several different story lines. There’s New Yorker McKenna Bradford, a highly acclaimed defense attorney, who is still desperate to gain her father’s approval, who is sick to her stomach over getting a client off on a technicality when she knows he’s guilty of the murder of a young mother of two. Then there’s James, an easy-going artist with a trail of broken romances, who is in love with a wealthy woman, who only sees him as a friend.
Payson Griggs is struggling with being dumped by his girlfriend just as he’s set to propose to her. He says some painful, hurtful things to her, then immediately regrets his behavior and wants to apologize, but Gwen has already left campus for an internship in Los Angeles . Immediately following graduation from BYU, Payson and his two closest friends and roommates set off for LA so that Payson can apologize and see if there is any way he can repair his relationship with the young woman he is deeply in love with. His friends are wealthy, spoiled Jax who can’t see what all the fuss is; he has a steady string of girlfriends, none of whom he really cares about, and serious, gentle Hunter who is only marking time until he gets the mission call he’s been waiting for since he was twelve.
Justice Stevens is a fire captain for the Los Angeles fire department. His crew is his family as surely as his wife, Anna, who is almost full term with their first baby. Chad , one of Steven’s crew members, is impulsive and haunted by the memory of not being able to save his own father. He puts his life on the line much too easily and too often in his determination to save fire victims. Brian is a rooky who may not have chosen his career wisely and is in danger of failing as a firefighter. Archer married young and had two sons before most young men finish college. In spite of his extreme youth, he has the sound judgment and courage to become a great firefighter.
Circumstances place them and a murderer in the Lincoln Tower in Los Angeles when the big one, a mega earthquake, hits. Chaos reigns, but O’Brien does a masterful job of linking the threads of these diverse stories into a race against time that is believable and that will keep the reader turning pages in rapid succession.
There are a couple of minor characters whose stories I would have liked to see more fully developed and there are a few annoying typos, but overall the characters and plot are handled skillfully and errors are minimal. I’m generally not in favor of miraculous events or preaching in fiction, but there is a subtle element of just that in this story, but it didn’t bother me, in fact it was so well done, I actually liked it. It fit and was appropriate.
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Meeting Amazing Grace by Gary and Joy Lundberg is neither like the marriage and family relationship books this well-known duo usually writes nor quite like most popular LDS fiction novels, but it is both fun and informative. Tackling the touchy subject of in-law relations the Lundbergs have created a modern young woman, Lindsey, who would like to get married and have a family, but she’s a little nervous about accepting a proposal from a man she admires and cares deeply about, but who seems to be uncomfortably close to his mother. She works with several women who have faced awful in-law situations, some of which have resulted in a great deal of unhappiness and even divorce. Then she meets Grace, an amazing mixture of fairy godmother, guardian angel, and professional snoopy know-it-all. Grace teaches Lindsay the ins and outs of dealing with in-laws, being an in-law, knowing when to take a stand and when to show loving compassion. And she does it all with a dash of humor.
There are a few minor copy-editing errors, but for the most part the book is very readable and flows well. No matter from which perspective a person views their particular in-law relationship; mother-in-law, daughter-in-law, father-in-law, son-in-law, brother or sister-in-law, this book gives a peek at ways to improve those relationships and gives realistic hints for forming workable, even loving friendships and avoiding those crippling situations that often destroy bonds meant to be eternal. It’s a fun story too.
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Well-known TV personality Bruce Lindsay has written a short humorous book entitled The Hometown Weekly, Good News For a Change. It’s a book, written I suspect, to relieve some of the tension associated with the steady diet of hard news Lindsay faces on a daily basis, but may be taken as an affront by those who consider the day-to-day happenings of life the real news. The book is set in a small, predominantly LDS town in Utah called Parley Grove. The time is hard to pinpoint since the small town newspaper featured in the story, The Parley’s Progress , and the names and antics of his characters are from about thirty to fifty years ago, but vehicle model makes and other more modern features set the time as closer to the current time. Lindsay drags out every stereotypical small town Mormon character and places them in every stereotyped situation of every joke we’ve ever heard that pokes fun at rural Utah communities.
There really isn’t a plot to the book. Neither is there a central or main character. It is a series of columns and stories appearing in the weekly local newspaper and the expanded stories that tell what “really” happened. The silly, contrived names are overdone and somewhat confusing. The repetitive phrases become annoying. Though the anecdotes are often funny, the characters appear more like buffoons and hicks rather than as real people with warmth, character, and a modicum of education—even television or internet education. The newspaper columnist uses an old, old gossip column style that once appeared on the “Society” page of almost every newspaper where there was an effort to cram as many names as possible into the column under the theory that people will buy newspapers if their names or the names of family members are in it. Visits to other communities and entertaining houseguests were activities considered news and reporting on most social functions ended with the trite “and a good time was had by all.”
Lindsay takes a few pokes at his imaginary small town LDS locals for their narrow-minded snobbery and suspicion of outsiders, but many of us who had the misfortune of ever being a newcomer in a small, tight-knit community anywhere know the painful truth that this is not a Mormon phenomenon, but is pretty standard, no matter what is the identifying religion or loyalty of the community.
If not taken seriously and the insinuations concerning small town people are overlooked, there is humor to be found in this slim volume. There are a few well-aimed jabs taken at materialistic city folk that will earn a chuckle or two as well. Though lacking in any profound message, The Hometown Weekly will provide a bit of humorous nostalgia to wile away a few hours.
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Surprise Packages is the final installment of The Company of Good Women series by Nancy Anderson, Lael Littke, and Carroll Hofeling Morris. This is the story of three women who first met long ago at BYU Education Week and through the years their friendship has deepened and they’ve seen each other through good times and bad though they live in different parts of the country. Though the women initially appear to have little in common, their shared experiences and support for each other builds a bond that strengthens each of them in their individual troubled lives. The women have matured, have adult children, and have gained personal confidence. This last volume takes a look at whether the three main characters are stronger and more ready to take their lives in new directions or if they’ve simply become “Crusty Old Broads.”
This book will appeal primarily to those women who read the first two books in the series and who enjoy a slower paced novel that explores relationships, the contrast between ideals and reality, and thought processes. The series is more character than plot oriented and much of the story takes place in the form of letters.
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Please take time to nominate your favorite 2008 novels for the Whitney awards. Nominate all of your favorites at http://www.whitneyawards.com/nominations.php
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DAY OF REMEMBRANCE , Vol. 4 of the Promised Land series , by David G. Woolley, published by Covenant Communications, hardcover, 378 pages, $22.95
ROYAL TARGET by Traci Hunter Abramson, published by Covenant Communications, trade paperback, 257 pages, $15.95
EPICENTER by Sonia O’Brien, published by Covenant Communications, trade paperback, 248 pages, $15.95
MEETING AMAZING GRACE by Gary and Joy Lundberg, Riverpark Publishing Company, paperback, 258 pages, $14.95
THE HOMETOWN WEEKLY, GOOD NEWS FOR A CHANGE by Bruce Lindsay, published by Covenant Communications, paperback, 111 pages, $13.95
SURPRISE PACKAGES, Vol. 3 of the The Company of Good Women series, by Nancy Anderson, Lael Littke, Carroll Hofeling Morris, published by Deseret Book, trade paperback, 359 pages, $17.95.