By Jennie Hansen
Responses to the three questions posed last month concerning LDS fiction came from as far away as Russia and as close as my own hometown. I asked what readers like about LDS fiction, what they dislike, and what they want to see in reviews. Those letters were both fun and enlightening. Now it’s time to share what I learned.
First, I found an overwhelming vote of support for LDS fiction. Most of you listed favorite books and authors. Many respondents qualified their support by saying there are only a few “really good” LDS novels available and that they would like to see more. Others said that while they enjoy LDS fiction and find it better with each passing year, there’s still plenty of room for improvement.
Still others said their only complaint is the difficulty in obtaining enough LDS fiction when there are no convenient LDS bookstore near them and a lack of advertising outside of the Mountain West alerting them to new titles. Several readers said they enjoy LDS fiction, especially the action-packed stories, on CD that they can listen to while commuting or traveling.
Positive points mentioned most frequently were adherence to LDS standards, clean language, absence of detailed love scenes, and the omission of gruesome details. Elements most disliked included poor copy editing, preachiness, convenient miracles, and amazing coincidences.
Those qualities readers liked in the books they’ve read that go beyond “clean” included having more genre choices, stories of LDS people coping with contemporary issues, characters who face trials and spiritual conflicts, romances readers can identify with, good, gripping stories, a good selection of books available on CD, books that make the reader laugh or cry, series that use the same main character, but each story is unique and can stand alone, writing that is intelligent without the use of an inflated (show-off) vocabulary, real characters with real reactions.
Areas of improvement readers want to see in LDS novels include more high quality books, greater character development, characters who grow and become better because of their faith and hard work, characters who discover they are capable of greater things than they knew, less preaching (particularly in young adult novels), more men as main characters, intelligent young adult books for boys, more stories that really move, a greater number of new fiction releases, fantasy and science-fiction novels, more good general fiction that maintains LDS standards (but is not specifically LDS), complex plots with greater depth, novels that target the over-thirty adults, and stories the reader can connect with and lose themselves in. One respondent asked for more literary novels and one said he liked the more “edgy” novels with small amounts of sex and vulgarity.
Readers made it clear they want no more stories that end with everyone getting baptized. They’re tired of the same story told over and over, copy-cat stories, and cheesy, predictable romances. They don’t want detailed love scenes or long-suffering heroines who cry at the drop of a hat. They don’t want miraculous, unrealistic rescues or husbands who conveniently die so the poor heroine can marry her true love without getting a divorce. They don’t want convoluted soap opera style series, gruesome details, or anything too “far-fetched.” Many expressed their annoyance with typos, misspelled or omitted words, and poor grammar.
I found it interesting that twenty-four authors were listed as favorite authors and five of those favorite authors were also listed as least liked authors. A couple of authors who are LDS but write for the general market were also listed as favorites.
Readers also mentioned they would like reviews of LDS books to hold the reviewed books to a higher standard of writing than just being clean and observing LDS standards. (This I will continue to do.) Several readers said they’d like me to do more reviews and for them to be posted more often. (Even if Meridian has the space for this, I’m afraid I lack the time to write them). Some suggested that I compare LDS books to comparable mass market books both in quality of writing and appeal. (Time element again). The request made most often was that Meridian include a monthly alert listing new fiction releases. (I will be happy to include a list of the new titles I receive each month, but unless a publisher or author sends me a book to consider for review I may not be aware of its existence either). Most publishers post their new releases on their web sites and many bookstores are willing to order any book for a customer, given the title, author, publisher and where possible the ISBN number.
Books received and read this past month included:
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Ghost of a Chance by Kerry Blair ? This book is fun, witty, and an absorbing mystery all rolled together. Sam is an interesting heroine ? bright, self-deprecating, and big-hearted ? who falls into one dilemma after another simply by trying to do the right thing. As the female half of the romance thread in the story, she approaches romance with all of the starry-eyed grace of an adolescent, but it’s funny and fits the character. This book is particularly a delight for those who enjoy word play. It is also enlightening and thought-provoking concerning both the history and the current problems of the Southwest. From its brilliant hot pink cover to the challenging crossword puzzle in the back of the book, this one is a keeper.
My book Macady was released again in January with a new cover. This book is a romantic mystery set in Twin Falls, Idaho. It has a contemporary western flavor and though not really new, it is new to a new generation of readers.
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The Operative by Willard Boyd Gardner is a fascinating, gripping mystery set against a Middle East background. The hero is a bit of a loser, but likable. There’s a slight paranormal twist that, though handled well and felt believable, did nothing to strengthen the story in my opinion. It isn’t presented in a way that will likely turn off readers who object to miracle interventions. The strength of the book lies in the main character’s growth from a man who runs from what he believes is personal failure to a man whose strength of character will not allow him to give up no matter how insurmountable the odds appear. Gardner, an experienced police officer with SWAT team experience, is particularly adept at handling this type of high action drama. Suspense fans will love this one.
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Beyond the Horizon by Judy C. Olsen surprised me with its quality and a depth of understanding not often seen in a first adult novel. It’s written like six short stories, but the stories are actually the stories of six generations of one family, beginning with a young man who almost accidentally becomes a Mormon in Missouri when he tries to make peace between a Mormon family and mobbers bent on destroying that family. The last highlights a young man whose life is messed up by drugs and poor choices who suddenly finds himself raising a son abandoned by his mother. This is an extremely well-written book with lifelike characters who aren’t perfect, but who have strong qualities that sometimes get them in trouble and sometimes strengthen them as people and as a family. The characters are remarkably well-developed and complex for what is basically a series of short stories. The connection between the generations and thus the stories avoids choppiness and flows smoothly. I look forward to more novels by this author.
Angel and the Enemy by Marnie L. Pehrson takes place in the South during the American Civil War. The rich detail comes from a true Southern writer who is steeped in the history of the south and who possesses a love for genealogy and the sacrifices and traditions of the people of her region. Though Pehrson has written many novels, I found this one far superior to any of her previous works. Atrocious things happen during wars, and she handles those difficult scenes with both blunt honesty and a delicacy that is commendable. In the past, I’ve faulted Pehrson for cheesy love scenes and inadequate editing. This time she got it right and delivers a first class tale of war and romance. I’d like to see less use of dialect. It’s a distraction when readers, knowing the book is set in the South, will automatically assume the dialect without having it spelled out for them. All in all, I heartily recommend this book both to history buffs and to those who like a bit of romance.