Adventure and Romance in Contemporary Novels
By Jennie Hansen

Not many LDS novels are released early in August due to the LDS Booksellers Convention being held during the middle of the month and most publishers reserve their late summer/early fall titles to be released at the convention. Volumes from two series by well known authors, Chris Stewart and Anita Stansfield, were available in time for me to read before the convention, as was the next Traci Hunter Abramson action thriller.

There is also one book from a new author, Marlene Austin. Austin is a regional author from New England, an area from which we haven’t previously seen many contemporary novels.

Chris Stewart’s latest installment of his epic “The Great and the Terrible,” Fury & Light , is not for the faint-hearted. This is because everything he writes is possible with today’s technology the horror stabs deep. This series, which begins with the War in Heaven and continues the battle here on earth, is an extremely intense series.

Fury & Light picks up following the destruction of Washington D.C. It follows Sara, Ammon, and Luke as they flee toward the west. Sam and Bono, along with the rest of the U.S. military, are withdrawn to the United States. And Azadeh Pahlavi arrives in America to begin a new life.

King Abdullah, coached by Satan, sets in motion even more murder and chaos. The U.S. is reeling from the devastation of a nuclear attack when a second attack is launched. This one more deadly, an electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) of sufficient strength to knock out electronic power grids, transportation systems, mobile and land phones, and hurl the United States technology back to the 1800’s. Without trucks, refrigeration, pumps, modern hospital equipment, and other modern technology, the country faces starvation and devastating diseases. Only one force, faith, is strong enough to counter attack the evil that has been unleashed.

Stewart has both the background and the ability to speak convincingly of weapons, military issues, and international intelligence. He is a world-record-setting pilot, president and CEO of the Shipley Group, and part of the Renaissance Organization, a private group of leaders from across the globe who meet to explore the “renaissance spirit.” His knowledge of military and international relations is evident in his book and lends authenticity to it. His style is immediate, bringing his reader to a sense of “being there.” He provides just enough startling detail to add to this feeling of reality without overwhelming his audience with technology details.

I am enjoying this series immensely, and my only criticism is Stewart’s sometimes abrupt jumps in action. I’m not sure I like Sam becoming more like Superman than Rambo either. It doesn’t quite suit his personality. I very much like the gradual shift from technological might to reliance on faith. And I like the strong new female character and her daughter introduced toward the end of the book and trust we will see more of them.

It would be easy to assume this series with its military angle, strong male characters, and high action will primarily appeal to males, but I’m proof it has a strong appeal for women too. If there were any technical errors in the text, I was too busy enjoying the book to notice.

Readers are in for an exciting roller coaster ride with Traci Hunter Abramson’s newest high action thriller, The Deep End . CJ is in the witness protection program and she can’t even acknowledge her husband, Matt, when they meet on the street. Her dreams of qualifying for the Olympic swim team appear almost washed up when her coach shows favoritism for the swimmer whose father finances the pool and program where he works and it becomes clear there’s an assassin searching for her at the various swim competitions. When her F.B.I handlers abruptly move her to another location, Matt has no idea where she is, and she begins a battle to stay one step ahead of the gunmen intent on making certain she doesn’t testify against their boss.

With a major trial approaching and only one witness, three highly qualified agents are the only people allowed to take responsibility for her safety and they race to anticipate every assassination attempt and eliminate the possibility of leaks.

This is a fast-paced, well-written and well-edited action novel. The characters are believable and the plot moves smoothly. Abramson, who formerly worked with the CIA, knows the ins and outs of witness protection and the attention to detail that makes the difference between life and death. Readers of mystery/suspense novels will not be disappointed in this one.

There’s a slightly different flavor to LDS novels written by an author from outside the Wasatch front than from those based in or near Salt Lake City. I’m not saying they’re better, and they’re certainly not worse, but there is a different feel to them.

Grave Secrets by Marlene Austin is a prime example. Though Austin was born in Idaho and grew up in Montana, she has spent most of her adult years in New England and feels most comfortable in that corner of the world, as is reflected in her writing.

Grave Secrets begins with a prologue detailing a terrifying encounter with hostile Indians in 1640 Maine. Then chapter one jumps to a contemporary young woman, Bethany Carlisle, preparing for her college graduation ceremony. With minutes to go before she must leave for graduation, she learns of her Grandmother Amelia’s death. Caught up in a fog, she attends the graduation, aware that her only relative and her grandmother’s attorney, Joseph, are not there and neither is her boyfriend, Peter.

She learns that her grandmother wishes for her to live at an old cottage on Faunce Cove in Maine and write a book. As she attempts to write about the first inhabitant of the cove, she falls victim to a strange sequence of accidents. Her relationships to the three men in her life are equally strange. Peter is missing and she only receives odd garbled messages from him. Joseph isn’t telling her everything and he’s more controlling than she’s comfortable with. He also makes it clear he’d like to be more than her attorney. And then there’s Rob, the mysterious gardener at a neighboring estate.

There are also mysteriously delivered threats and warnings. An obsession with the early inhabitant of the cove brings her sanity into question, but she feels strongly prompted that she must resolve the old mystery in order to solve the current mysteries in her life.

This is a first book by this author, and I found her style faintly reminiscent of the old Phyllis Whitney and Victoria Holt mysteries ? slightly genteel, but packing a powerful, edge-of-your-seat tension at key points. Through the first part of the book, I was put off by the heroine’s naivety and helplessness, but later was pleased to see Bethany’s growth and search for independence.

The setting sparkles with a realism only someone who knows and loves the North Atlantic seacoast could write about so convincingly. The double layering of the old mystery and the new one was handled effectively and is sure to please genealogy and history buffs. The plot development is a little slow in the early part of the book, but builds to a satisfying level in the second half.

There are few typos and errors in the book. It will appeal to a broad segment of readers, both men and women, with varying genre preferences including mystery, suspense, history, and romance.

A Quiet Promise by Anita Stansfield is volume two in her “Barrington Family Saga.” James and Eleanore are relative newlyweds when they leave England to settle in Iowa. He’s twenty-two years her senior, a widower with small children, and she is the children’s former governess, a young girl of eighteen. She’s also a recent convert to the Church. He’s sympathetic to her faith, but reluctant to become a member himself.

Their first child together arrived too early and was stillborn shortly before this volume begins, leaving the couple to struggle with the loss of their child and the persecution directed at Mormons during the Nauvoo era. As the story progresses there is more sorrow and trials and James struggles with accepting the gospel.

Stansfield fans will enjoy this book, though non-romance readers may be put off by the excessive amount of weeping and passionate kissing that takes place. As is her usual style, the author stresses the emotional and social impact of the day to day crisis her characters face and the historical aspects are merely the framework surrounding the relationships of her characters.

I found myself distracted at times by details I found peculiar, such as sitting on the side porch to enjoy the aroma of irises (since most people consider irises beautiful, but far from having a pleasant fragrance). I personally think they stink, and they make my eyes run. Stansfield proves why she is dearly loved by her fans because she takes everyday mundane happenings and ties them into emotional symbols with which her readers can easily identify.

I found this book to be copy edited well. It will appeal primarily to women and girls who like emotionally charged stories, especially ones that make them cry.

Fury & Light , Vol. 4 of “The Great and Terrible” by Chris Stewart, published by Deseret Book, hardback, 313 pages, $19.95

The Deep End by Traci Hunter Abramson, published by Covenant Communications, soft cover, 245 pages, $15.95

Grave Secrets by Marlene Austin, published by Covenant Communications, soft cover, 341 pages, $15.95

A Quiet Promise , Vol. 2 of the “Barrington Family Saga” by Anita Stansfield, soft cover, 278 pages, $15.95