A Round-up of Autumn Reading
By Jennie Hansen

Note: All book images are click to buy.

I wouldn’t call Sarah Williams an anti-hero, but she comes close in Waiting for the Light to Change by Annette Haws. She’s not a likable person, though she is a character most of us will be able to identify with, especially on those occasions when we over-react or act before we think. And she’s certainly not a Molly Mormon though she is a member of the Church-and active. She’s had a hard life. She had the misfortune of marrying a charming, handsome doctor who deserted her and their three small children twelve years before the story begins. With no money or way of caring for her children and supporting them at the same time, she left Ohio to return to her mother in Utah where she could teach high school debate while her mother took care of her children.

Unfortunately her mother is neither a caring nor honest person. The boys are okay; they spend most of their day at school, but little Jenny becomes an insecure, social misfit. The mother, without Sarah’s knowledge, intercepts letters and money from Sarah’s errant husband and prevents him from seeing the children. The boys grow up hating their father and Jenny is just lost.

Sarah faces a challenging year when Jenny starts high school with no friends, her oldest son on whom she’s quite emotionally dependent is in another country serving a mission, she and her close friend and fellow teacher face an arrogant, cruel senior who disrupts her classes and debate meets, her ex-husband and his air-head wife move to their small town, the local sheriff takes a romantic interest in her, and Jenny decides she wants to live with her father and date the town bad boy.

There is a lot of raw anger and unresolved issues at play in this story. There are serious consequences for wrong choices that may have seemed justified at the time. This book is one where the reader can become emotionally involved without feeling emotions are being manipulated. The author’s first hand knowledge of high school teaching, students, and activities comes through to lend the story a realistic background. Some readers may feel this book is a little too edgy, but I found it realistic and honest without ever straying into vulgarity. Both the editing and copy editing are well-done, though there are a few places dialogue needs a tag line or two to keep it clear who is speaking. The cover is boring, but that’s the only thing boring about this book. High School students may enjoy this book though it is primarily an adult book.

Steven E. Dunn, ED. D., Dean of the School of Education at Newman University summed up this book and I completely agree with him. “Annette Haws has hit a homerun. Ms. Haws clearly understands the vast issues facing teachers as they deal with their own personal lives and the lives of their students. Parents of students will gain a greater insight into the dynamics of adolescent students, their peers, and their teachers in this novel of teenage traumas and adult dilemmas.”

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Don’t Cry Wolf by Clair M. Poulson is possibly Poulson’s best written and best edited novel to date. It begins with a heartbreaking event when a police officer arrives at the scene of an accident to find his wife and daughter dead and his small son missing. The child is eventually found, but has lost the ability to speak. With him is found a large, protective dog that is clearly part wolf. The Montana county sheriff’s officer, Deputy Sergeant Matthew Prescott, is reassigned to a detective position where he doesn’t have to deal with accidents while he heals from the trauma to his family.

A year later a confrontational situation arises between ranchers and wolf activists when wolves begin straying from Yellowstone onto ranchland, raising havoc with the ranchers’ stock. The situation explodes when a rancher is murdered for killing a wolf that killed one of his calves.

This book presents a sensitive view of a volatile dispute concerning the introduction of wolves to Yellowstone Park and the devastating consequences for the ranches affected for many miles around the park. There is also a tender love story that runs through the mystery that is told from a male point of view. The mystery is more complicated than a straight forward tit for tat. There are multi-level motives. Family ties, personal insecurities, irony, well-meaning people with differing legitimate views, and those who allow greed and hate to overrule all else add to the perplexities of this satisfying murder mystery.

I predict this book will be popular with both male and female readers of all ages and points of view. The characters are realistic and though Poulson often presents a rural police officer as his hero, I didn’t find Matt to be stereotyped. Poulson is at his best with rural settings and horses and this book is no exception. I would have liked the crime motivations spelled out more strongly, however this slight weakness didn’t prevent me from enjoying the book and recommending it to others.

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Shadow of the Crown by Jeri Gilchrist is a triple reading pleasure. Its pages are filled with a fascinating glimpse of Copenhagen , Denmark ; there’s a fascinating “cold case” mystery, and a charmingly modern romance.

Teira Palmer is a trainer for a multinational telecommunications firm sent with a team of Americans to work with a newly acquired company in Denmark . She is thrilled with the opportunity to visit the country of her mother’s birth and meet her grandmother. She also has a secret desire to learn more about her grandfather who sixty years earlier went from folk hero to despised traitor.

She quickly learns two things; her boss is the kind of man her childhood dreams cast in the role of Prince Charming and someone doesn’t want her in Denmark . When threats escalate from warnings to attempts on her life, she determines not to run, but to expend greater effort in discovering why someone doesn’t want her asking questions about her grandfather.

The use of historically significant buildings and areas of Denmark is done well. Castles and museums become part of the story, not merely interesting tourist information. Denmark ‘s weather, landscape, beaches, and ports are an integral part of the plot. The romance advances at a realistic pace and is sprinkled with fun dialogue. There’s more than one mystery at play which requires an understanding of the tyranny Denmark suffered under during World War II including the fact that the Danes went to great lengths to hide and protect their Jewish countrymen coupled with a picture of modern day Denmark .

I found the setting fascinating in this novel and the major characters likable. I’d go so far as to say Teira’s grandmother, Grethe, is a wonderful, loveable character, probably my favorite in the book. The story is largely plot driven, but the major characters are developed well enough to have substance. The plot progresses well, though one subplot is resolved too conveniently. Some of the clues are a little too obvious, but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book. Teenagers, men, and women will want to read this one.

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Spare Change by Aubrey Mace is light and fun, bordering on chick lit. Riley’s mom has a thing about New Year’s resolutions. The highlight of her family New Year party is when everyone makes a resolution for the coming year. At twenty-three Riley isn’t enthused about resolutions; she never keeps them anyway. It occurs to her that she can satisfy her mother’s insistence that she announce a resolution and do something for herself at the same time. Her resolution is to save her change and only spend paper, then at the end of the year buy herself something nice. But she works in a cancer center and somehow saving her spare change becomes something she wants to do for cancer research. The nurses are soon saving their change as are her family and friends. Even some mysterious romantic begins leaving huge amounts of change for her cause. She has a run-in with a bank teller who refuses to count large amounts of change. Their confrontations lead to romance, but Riley can’t quite get the mysterious donor and his love notes out of her mind.

This is a quick read, but carries a warm message concerning service to others. The story has a few romantic twists and will probably appeal primarily to young women. It is both touching and humorous. I found its greatest drawback to be the lack of motivation or lead-in to support the romance crisis. Riley is likable and just realistic enough to identify with her dilemma and her leading man is a typical chick lit hero; smart and smooth on occasion and clueless at other times. At the beginning of each chapter is a cute, but terribly appropriate quote from a famous person. Though this story had some elements similar to other stories dealing with saving change or sponsoring a charitable cause, this one never gets maudlin or sticky sentimental.

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Jayson Wolfe is gifted with an incredible talent for music in The Sound of Rain by Anita Stansfield, the first volume in a new series. Fleeing from an abusive ex-husband, his mother takes her two teenage sons to Oregon to live and finish high school. Jayson feels left out and alone at the new school and is frustrated to be unable to play his guitars in the tiny thin-walled apartment where they live. Then he befriends a brother and sister who are also facing the pain of a broken home and discovers his new friends live in a fashionable home in an upscale neighborhood. Their affluence doesn’t matter to him, but their soundproof music room does. Derek is also musically talented and soon Jayson, his best friend, Derek, and brother, Drew begin their own band. The group becomes complete when Elizabeth is persuaded to join them. Jayson is deeply in love with Elizabeth and there’s no question that she loves him in turn, but their lifetime goals are miles apart and they are only eighteen. His world is music and stardom; hers is college followed by marriage, children, and a quiet life. Their band is earning recognition and their future seems golden, then tragedy enters their lives and their world is shattered into fragments that will never be whole again.

The Sound of Rain is a strong, well-written, and compelling story through the first two-thirds of the book then a few problems creep in. An honest, hard-hitting story turns maudlin with far too much weepy melodrama. Fans of three-hanky romance will still love the story, but others may feel a little let down. Up until this point, my only complaint was the similarity of the names Derek and Drew which I found confusing at times. Stansfield does a masterful job of creating the complex character, Jayson Wolf, and bringing alive his music. None of the other characters are as fully developed as Jayson and the book is definitely his story. Though none of the characters in the book are members of the Church, Jayson’s mother is sometimes overly preachy and it is LDS values she preaches, especially in the last portion of the book. For parents who are so deeply concerned about their children, both Jayson’s mother and Elizabeth ‘s father make some pretty nave choices both in their suggestions to their children and in their own actions. This appears to be a series where individual books will not stand alone, but each one will advance a single story. Though my criticism may sound strong, let me assure you this is a story worth reading and Jayson and the beat inside his head and heart are worth knowing. Readers who aren’t into romance will still find plenty to think about and the cover is beyond excellent.

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Two books primarily of interest to young readers made their way to my desk this month too. Ordinarily I leave young adult reviews to another reviewer, but since both of these authors have adult followers as well and they seem to straddle the line between adult and YA fiction, I’ll give them a brief mention here.

Eddie Fantastic by Chris Heimerdinger is a rewrite and modernization of one of his earliest books written before his Tennis Shoes success. It’s the story of a teenage boy who connects with an elderly recluse and discovers a series of inventions that could change the universe forever. Eddie and his friends experience “incredible adventure through time and space, reality and quantum physics, until at last Eddie discovers an ultimate wisdom and understanding about the Creator of our universe.”

Servant to a King by Sariah S. Wilson is a fun romp through the pages of the Book of Mormon with Ammon and the young princess offered to him by her father, a Lamonite king. Though a great deal of teasing and youthful antics are inserted into the scriptural story there are serious elements too that help to emblazon the basic story into the hearts of those who read it. This light teenage romance will appeal largely to female readers looking for a quick, but worthwhile read.

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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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WAITING FOR THE LIGHT TO CHANGE by Annette Haws, Cedar Fort, trade paperback, 328 pages, $19.99

DON’T CRY WOLF by Clair M. Poulson, Covenant Communications, trade paperback, 273 pages, $16.95

SHADOW OF THE CROWN by Jeri Gilchrist, Covenant Communications, trade paperback, 268 pages, $15.95

SPARE CHANGE by Aubrey Mace, Bonneville Books, trade paperback, 201 pages, $14.99

THE SOUND OF RAIN by Anita Stansfield, Covenant Communications, trade paperback, 288 pages, $16.95

EDDIE FANTASTIC by Chris Heimerdinger, Covenant Communications, trade paperback, 233 pages, $15.95

SERVANT TO A KING by Sariah S. Wilson, Covenant Communications, trade paperback, 228 pages, $15.95

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