LDS fiction or more accurately fiction by LDS authors, marketed mainly to LDS readers and others interested in clean fiction are often accused of all being the same. Some have LDS characters and the Church plays a role, large or small in the story. Others have no LDS characters or references at all, but LDS or Christian values are part of the story. Two recent releases with strong general market appeal are the subject of this column today.

The Cenote by Chelsea Dyreng has no references to the Church and includes a touch of the supernatural, but it carries a strong message concerning love and the power of the mind. Traci Abramson has recently earned national recognition for her work. Her recent release, Spotlight, is high suspense and includes a temple marriage. These two books seemingly have nothing in common except for being action packed and using clean language, but they do highlight the wide spectrum of styles, settings, and subject matter of LDS fiction. Either or both would make great Christmas gifts for the readers on your list.

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THE CENOTE by Chelsea Dyreng

The Cenote introduces a word many people are unfamiliar with since it’s not a commonly used term to describe a natural sinkhole or well, usually found in Central America. It’s caused by the collapse of surface limestone that exposes groundwater underneath and in ancient times was sometimes used by Mayans for sacrificial offerings. In this book by Chelsea Dyreng one such cenote plays a significant role in a story set at some indefinite time in the distant past.

Sandpiper is young and imagines herself in love with a trader who wooed and seduced her one moonlit night on the tropical island where she has lived all of her life. Her mother arranges a quick marriage to the younger, unattractive son of a distant chief to avoid the embarrassment and stigma the girl will face if the islanders discover she is pregnant and has no husband.

Sandpiper is unhappy to be sent away and keeps a red feather given to her by the trader whom she feels certain will return for her someday. Lark takes Sandpiper back to his inland village where she is sick and confused. Not wanting anyone to question her or to risk sharing any information that might reveal her condition, she pretends to be unable to speak. She works hard at being a dutiful wife and Lark tries hard to care for her and make her feel a part of his family and community.

The men of the community are at pains to keep the women from discovering the strange power of the cenote. The men never go there, yet much too frequently one of the men is found floating in the murky water with his head emptied of all matter. Only the women, who seem to be immune to and unaware of the strange power visit the cenote to filter and obtain the precious water for cooking and cleaning.

The mind plays a powerful role in the relationships between men and women, husbands and wives, and even parents and children. This is a tale of the discovery of deep and lasting love, of lust and jealousy, of emotional infidelity, sacrifice, and the realization of true worth. It is told in a sensitive way that leaves much for the reader to grasp and feel for her/him self. The characters are vivid and real; though set in an ancient setting, they are easy to relate to and share their emotions. Dialog is natural. Many of the characters appear recognizable as people the reader knows in today’s world, not by what they say but by their attitudes and by the emotions they experience.

The plot is compelling and keeps the reader’s interest. There are no slow, lag times as one element flows naturally into the next. Some of the events are heart breaking and the story doesn’t end as I expected, but isn’t disappointing either. This is a story that invites thought and suggests deeper meanings than the surface story.

Chelsea Bagley Dyreng grew up in Wyoming, but now lives with her husband and five children in North Carolina. She is a graduate of Brigham Young University and has worked as a librarian.

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THE CENOTE by Chelsea Dyreng, published by Sweetwater Books, an imprint of Cedar Fort, Inc., 254 pages, paperback $15.29. Also available for e-readers.

SPOTLIGHT by Traci Hunter AbramsonSpotlight_COVER

New Navy SEAL Craig Simmons is enjoying a day on the beach with his sketchpad when he notices a young woman walking alone. Not far behind her he spots an armed man who is apparently following her. His protective instincts flare to life and he goes to her rescue. Moments later he feels foolish when he discovers the woman is a famous actress and he just disarmed and attacked her bodyguard.

Sienna Blake is on location to film an action film in which she plays a CIA operative, so meeting a real one is a bonus for her. She’s also in Virginia to attend her equally famous sister’s wedding in the Washington D.C. temple, an event which is being kept secret to avoid the paparazzi who would descend on them if the tabloid reporters and photographers found out about it. A reception is planned, but the guests believe they’ve been invited to an anniversary party for the groom’s parents, Senator Whitmore and his wife.

Someone wants revenge on the Blake family. They’ve hired bodyguards and security, but since the senator is the Saint Squad commander’s father-in-law, the CIA squad is assisting with security for the party and Craig as the only single man in the group, is assigned to act as Sienna’s date. It soon becomes difficult for Craig and Sienna to separate reality and an assigned role.

The hush hush world of the CIA and the publicity driven Hollywood world clash as Craig and the Saints Squad attempt to protect the Blakes from an unknown, but clever assassin. It’s also difficult for Craig and Sienna to be certain how much of the attraction they feel for each other is part of the script and how much is for real.

Craig is a strong, well-developed character readers will love. His roots are country. He has doubts at times about his ability, but he also has a strong work ethic and a bit of a hero complex. When the chips are down he depends on his training and his faith. Sienna wants to branch out into other areas of acting. She takes the action role to avoid being type cast. Sometimes she thrives on her career, but at other times she longs for the simpler life she got a taste of through summers with her grandparents. Some of the secondary characters are strong characters in their own right, but a few are mere stereotypes. Overall the characters are well done and strengthen the story.

Abramson always delivers a fascinating plot in her stories and Spotlight is no exception. Readers will love the twists in this one. There are reflective moments that build the tension, surprises, and a steady move toward an exciting and unexpected conclusion. This is the ninth Saints Squad volume and her fans are sure to want more. Though she has written several other series, this series has proven the most popular. Traci Hunter Abramson is originally from Arizona, but has spent most of her adult life in Virginia. After graduating from Brigham Young University, she went to work for the CIA. Currently she splits her time between her family, writing, and coaching the local high school swim team.

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SPOTLIGHT by Traci Hunter Abramson, published by Covenant Communications, 260 pages, soft cover$15.99. Also available on CD and for e-readers.