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War plays a major role in history and in the present. It is often the setting for suspense novels because of the heightened sense of danger and high level of action war and the events surrounding conflict naturally bring to the situation. Along with actual combat, behind the scenes intrigue leads to action filled glimpses of the past as well as the modern innovations of today.
War is also a time of high emotions. Ordinary men and women become heroes or cowards. Along with all of the negatives associated with war, it’s also a time when some people recognize tender feelings of love toward each other. The novels reviewed here are stories of ordinary people facing the prospect of imminent death, who lose people they care about, but still retain the capacity to care for others and even fall in love.
LOVING LEAH by Lynne Larson
Loving Leah goes back to the American Civil War and the terrible massacre in Lawrence, Kansas, a time when the border states such as Kansas and Missouri were caught up in mixed loyalties between the North and South. The story features fourteen-year-old Ethan Pace and his four-year-old sister, who recently lost their mother and whose father serves in the Union Army. During a brief furlough, the father arranges for a governess, a twenty-year-old Mormon girl with dreams of earning enough money to go to Zion, to care for the children. Ethan falls in love with the governess even though she sees him as a child. He and his friends, the son of a wounded soldier and a black boy, play elaborate games, attend school, and romanticize the war until marauders attack their town, slaughtering mostly old men and boys. The governess hides him and his sister, but pays an awful price for her courageous act. Five years later Ethan sets out to find Leah, if she is still alive.
Ethan is a typical boy as the story begins, but gradually matures, which makes this story appear to be more YA than adult. On the other hand, most of the other characters, including Leah, are adults, giving the story broad appeal for both teens and adults. Character portrayals are well done, striking a comfortable balance between characteristics due to ages and those due to the 1860s time period. There is also a strong contrast between loyalties to the North or South and those who use war as a cover for baser actions.
The story is told in first person from Ethan’s point-of-view. Leah is, of course, a major character, but we only know her from Ethan’s viewpoint and her actions. She is an orphan who lost both parents as her family was making their way from Europe to Utah. She has no money and hires herself out to raise money to continue her journey, but the man who first hires her takes her to Ethan’s father when his wife refuses to have a Mormon in her home. Ethan often sees her reading her Book of Mormon and she tells him a story from it once, but there are few references to her faith other than her desire to go to Zion. The second part of the book involves the Church more, but still is not preachy and there’s little explanation for the conversions that take place.
The plot is divided into two segments; the war years when Ethan is still a child and the post war period when he becomes an adult. The author presents the awful dilemmas that both Leah and Ethan face in a heartbreakingly realistic manner. Both the plot and the setting show careful research into the tragic massacre of civilians by deserters and criminals, not only in Lawrence, but all along the frontier during and immediately following the war, that receives little attention in today’s references to the Civil War. The ending is strong, but not what the reader may expect. It does, however, fit the story.
Lynne Larson is a graduate of Brigham Young University and received her MA from Idaho State University. She taught in public schools in Idaho for thirty years, though she and her husband now live in American Fork, Utah. They are the parents of three grown children.
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LOVING LEAH by Lynne Larson, published by Covenant Communications, 185 pages, soft cover $14.99. Also available for e-book readers.
BY THE STARS by Lindsay B. Ferguson
Cal Morgan is in the eighth grade when he meets Kate. She and her divorced mother have just moved into the neighborhood and Cal is smitten from that day on, though Kate’s outgoing personality and strikingly pretty appearance soon make her popular with all of the boys. Being a farm boy with long hours of farm work before and after school, he doesn’t have much time for social activities. Nevertheless he watches Kate all through high school and dreams of being able to date her, but it isn’t until he returns from his mission and has only a couple of weeks before he is drafted into the Army that he gets up the courage to ask her out. Actually, she asks him! She pretends to be his wife so she can visit him for a short time while he is in training. Then it’s on to the South Pacific where he has one harrowing experience after another as World War II rages on. He thinks of Kate every day, but letters are slow arriving and he isn’t certain she’ll be waiting if or when the war is over.
Ferguson does an excellent job portraying the battles and terrain of the fighting on the South Pacific islands which was different and continued longer than the European side of the war. The battles, the shortage of food, and the losses suffered by the G.I.s as a whole and personally are some of the strongest aspects of the story. Cal is portrayed well and is a strong, likable character, though his reluctance to pursue Kate and his failure to be completely honest with the girl he’d been dating for a couple of years before his mission make him appear indecisive and somewhat weak. Kate is harder to like as she appears flighty and lies to be able to spend a couple of weeks on the training base.
The basic story is captivating and an enjoyable read, but the story- within-a-story technique the author employed is a distraction. It begins with the narrator interviewing 93 year-old Cal about his life. Since this story is based on the life of a real World War II veteran, I assume the author chose to use this method to emphasize this point, though in my opinion, it would have been better to just tell the story strictly as a novel.
Lindsay B. Ferguson is a graduate of the University of Utah where she majored in communications. She left her marketing position with a software company to raise her family. She and her husband and four children live in Utah. By the Stars is her first published novel.
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BY THE STARS by Lindsay B. Ferguson, published by Cedar Fort, Inc., 320 pages, soft cover $14.77. Also available for eReaders.
ROYAL BRIDES by Traci Hunter Abramson
Noelle Saldera grew up with royalty in the small European country of Meridian. Prince Stefano and Prince Garrett were like older brothers to the daughter of their cook and head chauffeur. Though she has always dreamed of a life of adventure and excitement, she gets more than she bargained for when she notices something odd at Prince Stefano’s wedding and reports it to one of the security men. Suddenly she finds herself in the middle of an attempt to disarm a bomb. This experience leads to tighter security at the palaces and Noelle is recruited to work with the undercover CIA operative who is assisting the royal family.
When Prince Garrett’s wedding follows a few months later, Noelle finds herself face to face with the bride’s brother, Jeremy Rogers, a man she met earlier while in the United States for a few months and would have liked to know better. Jeremy is supposedly working for the nearby naval base, but is actually a CIA operative. Neither is allowed to share their connection with the CIA with each other. Their interest in each other grows as they uncover clues concerning the bomb at Stefano’s wedding and the strong possibility that another attempt is planned to wipe out the royal family and most of the government leaders at Garrett’s wedding.
Abramson creates a royal family of real people who talk, laugh, worry, and share their lives with their staff members who are more employees than servants. The CIA operatives and the security people are also realistic. A couple of characters are a little too obnoxious, but then some real people are like that. The conclusion was mostly satisfying, but I never felt the perpetrator was bright enough to create such elaborate schemes.
A subplot that runs through the story highlights Noelle’s concern over telling her parents she has joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However the story isn’t preachy. The emphasis is on the difficulty involved in telling someone a person loves something that may upset or hurt them.
This is the third book in Abramson’s “Royal” series, but it easily stands alone. It enhances the story and is fun to know the stories behind other characters who are secondary in this one, though not essential to enjoying Royal Brides. Mystery/Suspense fans will love this one, though I’ll admit I’m partial to her Saint Squad Series.
Traci Hunter Abramson has earned a reputation as one of LDS fiction’s top suspense writers. She is the winner of the 2015 Whitney Award for Mystery/Suspense for her novel Failsafe. She started life as a western girl in Arizona, but after graduating from Brigham Young University, she went to work for the Central Intelligence Agency, and has lived since then in Virginia. After leaving the CIA she became a swimming coach and has written close to two dozen novels (all of which had to be approved by the CIA before she could submit them for publication.)
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ROYAL BRIDES by Traci Hunter Abramson, published by Covenant Communications, 288 pages, soft cover $16.99. Also available for audio, MP3, and eReaders.
THE CAPTAIN by Julie Coulter Bellon
The Captain is the second book in Julie Coulter Bellon’s Griffin Task Force series. It features Captain Colt Mitchell who is a member of the elite Griffin Force team. Following an attack on the Canadian Parliament buildings, the team pursues Nazer al-Raimi, the mastermind behind the attack to Afghanistan. At the last minute the mission goes wrong and Colt becomes Nazer’s prisoner.
Brenna Wilson is an undercover agent serving as a slave in Nazer’s most trusted lieutenant’s household. Her task is to discover the target of Nazer’s next plan of attack. She’s close to gaining this information when Colt is dragged into a shed behind the house which she knows is used for torturing captives. He is drugged, disoriented, and shackled. They were once in love and she fears he’ll give away her identity while under the influence of the drugs he’s been given and the excruciating torture he will be subjected to. The only way to save his life is to scrub her mission.
With unresolved issues and memories of the past between them, Colt and Brenna, face staggering choices as they attempt to protect each other and stop a terrorist with his sights on an even bigger target than the Canadian parliament.
Reasonable strengths and weaknesses make the characters in this novel believable. Dialog is up-to-date adding to a sense of realism. Bellon pays careful attention to settings and is known for her depiction of international venues for her books, using both European and Middle Eastern settings to add authenticity to her stories. The plot moves forward at a rapid pace, making The Captive a difficult book to set down. The book has a great cover, but some of the spacing gaps in the text are distracting.
Julie Coulter Bellon was born and raised in Canada. She married an American and they are raising their large family in Utah. She graduated from Brigham Young University. Along with caring for her family and writing, she teaches college level courses in journalism, writing, and English. She has won two RONE awards for previous books and is a favorite among mystery/suspense readers.
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THE CAPTAIN by Julie Coulter Bellon, published by Stone Hall Books, 186 pages, soft cover $13.99. Also available for eReaders.