A Series of Great New Books for Summer Reading
By Jenny Hansen
Series lovers waiting for the next book in two loved series will find excellent volumes in each this month as well as the first volume of a new series by a favorite author. In addition there are three new singles; an historical, a romance, and a father/son relationship book that will captivate readers.
Volume five of ” The Great and Terrible,” From the End of Heaven, by Chris Stewart lives up to the expectations of the loyal fans of this suspenseful series. Not only does it keep the reader on the edge of his/her seat, but it leaves him wanting more with the book’s “hanging fire” conclusion.
The storyline of this series begins with the war in heaven then moves to earthly conflicts on various continents, then centers on a major attack on Washington D.C. that leaves constitutional government in shreds, electronic equipment useless, millions of people dead, and families separated. This volume takes up the struggle of two soldiers in widely separated areas – Sam and Bono, who, with their families, are attempting to survive the aftermath of the EMP attack that has resulted in fear, distrust, hunger, and lawlessness.
Bono reaches a point a hundred miles from his wife and daughter and is left to evade marauding gangs, poisoned water, and blistering Southern heat, knowing that even if he makes it to his wife’s parents’ farm he’ll only have two days with his family before he must return. He has no idea that his family is desperately struggling to protect themselves and their few cows not only from ruthless killers, but from an even greater evil.
Sam has caught up to his family, but his father is dead and one of his brothers has been shot and is extremely ill. They’re hiding out in the ghetto home of a woman, Mary, and her young daughter they joined forces with in the previous volume. Azadeh, a young Iranian woman, is there too.
They’re not safe and know they must move on to find other members of the Church along with food and drinkable water. They suspect someone is watching them, and they must prepare to leave the apartment as soon as possible, though when they do leave the cramped apartment they run a gauntlet of fear and attacks far beyond their expectations.
Excellent writing keeps the tension high and gives the reader a sense of “being there.” Developing characters, who are strong and self-sufficient and who are, at the same time, spiritual, is a difficult task that Stewart handles well. Miracles, faith, and dependence on God are important aspects of this type of story, but Stewart never writes himself into a corner and then uses a miracle as an easy out. Miraculous events are foreshadowed and appear as the natural result of tremendous faith and spiritual strength.
This series is plotted well and reads much like one continuous story without a lot of backfill in each volume to bring the reader up to speed, so it is advisable to read the books in order. Older teenagers will enjoy this series as well as both male and female adults. It will appeal to those readers who enjoy suspense, speculative fiction, military, family dynamics, world affairs, or who have eclectic tastes.
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A Modest Proposal by Michele Ashman Bell is the first book in a new series called the ” The Butterfly Box .” The story begins as six high school seniors prepare for high school graduation. The night of their graduation one girl is killed in a tragic, unexplained accident. The remaining five friends vow to never forget their friend.
After the funeral they each put some item of significance to the group and one personally important item in an elaborate old wooden jewelry box and promise that they’ll get together once each year to look at the items and remember. They decide to take turns keeping the box as a reminder of their friends’ faith and support. The keeper of the box is the focal character of each volume in the series.
The first book is Lauryn’s story. Lauryn has grown up in a dysfunctional home with a critical, worldly mother and a father who simply escaped as much as possible. The night Lauryn wins the Junior Miss Pageant, her mother announces that she and Lauryn’s father are getting a divorce.
Fast forward twelve years to New York, and we find Lauryn working for a successful designer, designing outerwear when she really wants to design evening gowns and fashionable attire for ordinary women – not skinny runway models. As she struggles to achieve her dream, she also grapples with being thirty and single, providing esteem-boosting projects for the Young Women she works with, dealing with her mother, coping with the betrayal of the man she was falling in love with, and getting caught up in a vicious vendetta by one fashion designer against another.
When she goes home for the Butterfly Girls reunion, she meets again her high school friend (of the male variety) who came to her rescue many times when her parents let her down. They’d even made a pact before he left on his mission and she went away to school that if they were both still single at thirty, they’d marry each other. The pact seems silly now, yet there’s something about Jace that Lauryn hadn’t noticed twelve years earlier.
This is a delightful romance, but it is also a serious commentary on friendship. In recent years there have been a number of books published concerning women’s support groups. Women who look back on their high school friends with a touch of nostalgia will appreciate this take on the subject and those who have stayed in touch and retained those friendships will particularly love these Butterfly Girls.
A Modest Proposal takes a different slant from other “women friends” books in this novel designed for women and girls. More emphasis is placed on getting on with life than on obstacles needing group intervention. Bell provides a fun romance, but she gives a superb picture of the fashion world and stresses the importance of women dressing modestly.
Lauryn even has a slogan for her line of formal wear, “Modest is Hottest.” A frequent visitor to New York City and knowledgeable concerning the world of high fashion, Bell is intimately involved in that world through the pageants her daughter has participated in and her own expertise in redesigning her daughter’s fashionable gowns to make them modest as well as stylish. Anyone who expects modesty to be prudish, will find that just isn’t so. This is a fun, non-preachy read that still manages to convey a strong message.
Tristi Pinkston has written a novel, Season of Sacrifice, based on her own ancestors’ experiences during the expansion years of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in the West. Ben Perkins, a Welsh convert to the Church, makes up his mind to immigrate to Utah both to join the Saints and to escape the dangerous, dark life of a coal miner. Before he leaves he falls in love with Mary Ann Williams, who promises to wait for him to send for her which he does a year later. It is another ten years until her family decides to join the young couple in Utah.
Shortly after the Williams family’s arrival in Cedar City, Ben is called to settle in San Juan. He and Mary Ann with their four little girls set out in 1878, on one of the most arduous treks of the Mormon colonization. One of Mary Ann’s sisters, Sarah, and a brother, Thomas, join them on the journey. Seemingly impassable mountains, slick rocks, and winter cold turn an expected six-week trip into one lasting six months. At the journey’s end their trials continue as they struggle to establish a home and community, irrigate crops, deal with Indians, and face the specter of polygamy.
The book is divided into four segments with the first two, The Coal Miners and The Immigrants, introducing the family and the conditions they face. These segments are a little choppy due to the author’s attempt to cover so much information, but they hold the reader’s attention, introduce characters, and are generally well-written.
The third segment, The Missionaries, is devoted to the incredible trip undertaken to reach San Juan and is the most powerful portion of the story. It is also the best written and will bring the reader to a sense of awe for the faith and perseverance of this group of settlers. Both their ingenuity and trust in God under the most trying of circumstances will bring tears to many readers’ eyes. The fourth segment, which deals with polygamy, is something of a letdown. It returns to a somewhat choppy style, and the warmth and sense of identity with the major characters loses its immediacy.
The book is well worth the price for the third segment alone. It is one of the best depictions of this incredible journey I’ve read. Much of it is taken from the journals of Pinkston’s ancestors, and it carries a strong sense of both physical and emotional realism. The reader feels like he or she is experiencing the dust and fear, the intense cold, and worry about family right along with Mary Ann, Sarah, and Ben.
The polygamy section adds nothing to the story and might have been dealt with better in a separate volume. As is often the case when creating a novel from the lives of real people, there is a sense of trying to “get it all in” and follow the real life script too closely without placing loved and respected ancestors in a bad light. Characters I felt were real earlier seemed more remote in this part of the book. In the waning days of polygamy the decision to take a second wife is solely Ben’s with no support, calling, or encouragement from priesthood leaders, only the memory of a previous blessing where he is told he will “someday” be called to take a second wife. The unhappy relationships that ensue might have been better handled minus the real relationship between the participants and the author. With one foot in the fiction camp and one in the biography camp, the author leaves a muddled sense of which one she is trying to present.
The cover on Season of Sacrifice is a beautiful photo of the Hole in the Rock by Max Bertola. It provides a vivid reminder of the incredible fete the San Juan party faced. Though I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this book to readers of all ages and particularly to history buffs, I felt it could have benefited from stronger editing and would appear more professional with less genealogy, poetry, and explanations at the beginning of the book. There are a few minor inaccuracies, but overall, the book is a worthwhile, satisfying read. It’s one that goes on my “keeper” shelf.
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Mended Hearts is a first book written by Connie Angeline. As the title suggests, it is a romance and will appeal primarily to teens and diehard romance fans. It has an eye-catching red and gold cover featuring a field of tulips.
Sydney Chase suffered a tragic loss five years earlier, when her boyfriend was swept overboard from his sailing vessel in Puget Sound and drowned. Blaming herself for the tragedy because it was her idea to go sailing, she goes through the motions of going on with her life, but avoids those things that once brought her the greatest pleasure – especially competitive horseback riding.
She also shies away from dating. She prefers to confine her social life to lifelong close friends.
When her grandfather begins playing cupid and arranging blind dates for her, she has a talk with him and gains his promise that he won’t set up any more dates for her – but he isn’t through meddling and arranges for her to take her horse to a nearby training farm, where she meets the handsome owner. Much of the story is taken up with Sydney’s struggle to face the past and forgive herself.
The story is predictable in the way many romances are and is based more on emotions than plot. The author is at her best in describing the beautiful scenery in the far northwest and detailing the world of horse training and competition. There are some mental leaps that are hard to understand, such as why Sydney gave up her favorite horse and equestrian sport because of a boating accident. Her emotional reactions seem a little extreme at times. There is also too much dependence on communication failure in the storyline. I’ve heard enough proposal stories to suspect many readers will find the proposal scene romantic, but I found it a bit too juvenile and public for a pair supposedly in their middle to late twenties, who still have unresolved issues between them.
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Take one battered ’71 Ford farm pickup truck, a man who walked out on his wife and son ten years ago, and a teenage boy whose mother has just been killed in a tragic accident and we have Finding Dad by Alma J. Yates. It would be easy to expect such a story to be maudlin or at least overly sentimental, but it isn’t.
Porter returns to Panguitch, Utah, to collect his son when he learns of his ex-wife’s death and takes him to live with him in Arizona. He receives a cool reception from old friends and his son. To his chagrin, he learns that a beat-up old truck and his son, Alma, are a package deal. Though he’d like to leave the truck in the nearest garbage dump, he realizes that would be the worst way to begin getting reacquainted with his son.
As Alma repairs the truck, he gains insights concerning his father and his parents’ marriage. Porter gradually finds a way to involve himself in refurbishing the truck, and as he does, he is forced to examine his life, discover who he is, and face his past mistakes.
The local high school teacher, Darby, makes it clear to Porter that she no longer wishes to date him; she doesn’t want to end up a stepmom, and Alma is emphatic that he doesn’t want a stepmother. Still, Darby is a neighbor, and after she and Alma become running partners, the three celebrate each step of the truck’s renovation together as neighbors and friends. Over the summer the truck is repaired, but father and son learn they still have one more lesson to learn.
Yates has written several highly acclaimed young adult novels, but this is, I believe, is his first adult novel. His teenage fans will likely enjoy this book, but I suspect its greatest appeal will be to adults, both men and women.
There are tender moments in the story that are handled with skill, not emotional manipulation. There are passages where the reader will clearly sense a process of repentance and even a glimpse of the concept of atonement, but the author never blatantly uses the words nor preaches a sermon.
This is a highly satisfying read. The copy editing is well done with the exception of an electronic glitch that dropped the last part of a sentence in one place. The ending is handled well, wrapping up the story, without making overly zealous promises. I will recommend this book to almost anyone.
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Twilight’s Last Gleaming is the second volume in a new historical series called “Free Men and Dreamers,” written by L.C. Lewis. Lewis is a tireless researcher who lives in the Baltimore-Washington D.C. area – where she has firsthand access to the places she depicts in her novels. This series begins with the events leading up to the War of 1812, and this second volume carries into the war and the senseless brutality that inflamed a struggling new nation.
Volume One left the relationship between Jed and Hannah at an uncertain point and Hannah’s sister’s husband a prisoner of war. Twilight’s Last Gleaming begins with Jed back at his plantation facing an impending attack from his neighbor who is a British sympathizer and the corrupt British agent who follows a self-serving, evil man in England who is more interested in wealth and a personal vendetta against Jed than in his nation’s best interests. The man’s son discovers his father’s evil scheme and first runs away then becomes embroiled in the war.
Hannah and her sister, Beatrice, set off for New England in an attempt to reach Beatrice’s husband and learn of his fate. They find themselves caught up in the devastating typhoid epidemic that took as many or more lives than the war. Not only must they battle their way free of the deadly disease, but they must also come to terms with their relationships with their family and with the men who love them.
Jed faces conflicting responsibilities as he struggles to keep his plantation, The Willows, and the recently freed slaves he considers his family, safe, while worrying about his sister, Franny, and Hannah’s safety. A new worry is added when he learns of the attacks along the James River, where his best friend and foreman has gone to visit his family and support the war effort by sea.
This is a complex novel that follows the fortunes of five separate families from two continents. It is centered on a war that most people know little about and tend to dismiss as of minor importance when it was of major importance in uniting the various segments of a new country and earning recognition for America as a separate sovereign nation. It also was the period of time that Joseph Smith would later refer to as a time of great religious fervor during his boyhood. This period also saw the rise of the movement to end slavery and showcased the conflicting views on this sad institution.
This second volume of the series is not as fragmented as the first volume. Whether the first volume felt more choppy than the second because of the large cast of characters to introduce (with their many settings and trials) or because the author gained experience from that first book, I don’t know, but the characters are more believable in the second volume and the flow of the story is handled in a much smoother fashion.
Action feels more precise and absorbing as well. I was sometimes frustrated with the first volume, though I liked it well enough to try the second. However I found myself truly fascinated with this second volume. History buffs and all those who enjoy complex novels should be sure to follow this series.
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From the End of Heaven , “The Great And Terrible,” Vol. 5 by Chris Stewart, published by Deseret Book, hardcover, 332 pages, $21.95
A Modest Proposal by Michele Ashman Bell, published by Covenant Communications, softcover, 373 pages, $15.95
Season of Sacrifice by Tristi Pinkston, published by Golden Wings Enterprises, softcover, 321 pages, $16.95
Mended Hearts by Connie Angeline, published by Covenant Communications, softcover, 214 pages, $14.95
Finding Dad by Alma J. Yates. Published by Covenant Communications, softcover, 253 pages, $15.95
“Free Men and Dreamers,” Vol. 2, Twilight’s Last Gleaming by L.C. Lewis, published by Covenant Communications, softcover, 337 pages, $17.95