It’s not often that a novel absorbs my attention so fully that I forget my role as critic. Traitor by Sandra Grey is one of those rare books. It kept me reading far into the night until I reached the conclusion. I thought I’d had enough of World War II novels, but this one held me spellbound.

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Marie parachutes into occupied France to test a new code system for the Allies and to join her fianc, Felix, who is a resistance fighter. She barely begins her work with the resistance fighters when her fianc is killed and she is captured. She endures incredible abuse and is torn between her allegiance to the Allied cause, her faith, fear for the life of a young child, and the difficulty involved in separating bias from truth and knowing whom to trust.

Major Rolf Schulmann is an SS officer who is torn between conflicting factors concerning his love for his country, his responsibilities as a military officer, his young son, and his membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Imagine his horror when in his efforts to prevent the resistance from receiving support damaging to his county and his men’s lives, he is responsible for the death of the man who baptized him and his friend’s fianc becomes his prisoner. To make matters worse, he must extract information from her quickly or turn her over to the Gestapo.

Traitor contains all of the usual nightmares of World War II – the threats to life, shortages of food, greedy people who capitalize on the misery of others, sadists who consider the war their opportunity to maim and injure with impunity and even be rewarded for their brutality, greed, fear, sorrow, the “final solution,” and families torn apart by hardship, blackmail or conflicting loyalties, but it also introduces the tight rope participants on both sides of a conflict face between duty and personal conscience. It humanizes “the enemy.”

The background behind this novel is well-researched, the major characters are well-developed, the pacing is fine-tuned, the romance is touching without over-shadowing the other plot elements, and the plot is multi-dimensional, complicated, and compelling. Lest I sound more like a fan than a critic, I will mention that I found the ending less than satisfying.

Some authors overdo tying up loose ends and some leave a few questions dangling in preparation for a sequel. Grey concludes her novel more like one of Louis L’Amour’s old westerns. She just stops, leaving the reader to figure out the ending. Also little attention is given to Marie and her options of conscience when she reaches a point where she might contact the Allies or her parents. I found this incongruous with the novel’s theme.

Grey is a new author, and this is her first book. In my opinion her writing style can hold its own with the most experienced writers. I’ll certainly be looking for more offerings from this talented newcomer. Overall, I give this novel my highest recommendation.

The Refiner’s Gift by Sherry Ann Miller is the final volume in Miller’s “Gift” series. It is Tom Sparkleman’s story. Tom believes he is guilty of a serious brutal crime and has served time for it. He also believes his victim’s son is his child. Upon his release from prison he finds life difficult. Though he has gained a deep testimony of the gospel, he wonders if he can still call himself a child of God. He’s also lonely and finds that the kind of women he would like to date or even marry want nothing to do with him.

When he sees that child and his mother fall into a storm-swollen river, he doesn’t hesitate to try to save them. He helps the mother to a tree, then goes after the boy. He pulls the unconscious child from the water. Later he wakes up in a hospital to learn both he and the child sustained serious injuries and the mother was dying. With her last breath she gives her son to Tom.

Tom’s former girlfriend, Charlene Hawkins, who dropped him when he confessed to the crime, is having a hard time too. She has become a nurse at Primary Childrens’ Medical Center and has fallen in love with an abandoned, seriously damaged newborn baby boy. She has never gotten over her feelings for Tom and goes to see him. Then, when Tom leaves the hospital he becomes an almost constant visitor at the hospital where she works. Soon it becomes obvious that for either of them to adopt the loved child, they need to join forces and they decide to marry.

Miller’s books always carry a strong spiritual theme and the climax moment of the story involves some kind of miracle. The miracle in this book is not as blatant as in some of her books and easier for readers who aren’t strong advocates of the miracle solution to accept. The book is well written, doesn’t contain a lot of technical errors, and provides a satisfying conclusion to the series. The biggest fault with the book I found was the overuse of dialect, which didn’t enhance Tom’s Western image, but rather made him appear lacking in education. Other than that one minor distraction, I found the book a highly enjoyable read.

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I barely finished reading At Heaven’s Door by Anita Stansfield when the fourth book, Promise of Zion, in her “Barrington Family Saga,” was released. This series tells the story of one family’s journey from England to Zion in the mid-nineteenth century. The first chapter of this third volume recaps the previous high points in the story, explaining that Eleanore is a convert to the gospel and in the previous volume her husband had gained a testimony and was baptized too. Like with the previous volumes, this one chronicles the trials of early Church members and focuses strongly on the day-to-day details of life.

This volume marks passage of time without furthering the plot a great deal, but it contains two strong episodes told for maximum emotional impact. One is the parents’ struggle to accept their daughter’s emergence into womanhood and the subsequent way they deal with her wrong choices. The other is when Eleanore’s husband, James, loses his temper and attacks a drunken man who is guilty of terrible crimes. His struggle with the consequences of his violent act, includes both his lack of regret for what he has done on one hand and his knowledge that his actions were wrong on the other.

This passage is handled well by Stansfield, as she dramatizes the mixed emotions of both James and Eleanore. The ending brings the reader to an important point in the history of the Saints migration to Utah and sets up the beginning premise of volume four.

I found a few typos, but not a significant number of technical errors. There are long passages where there is more telling than showing as is often the case when a writer wishes to convey a large amount of time has passed.

Though Stansfield is known for her romantic fiction, this volume really can’t be classified as a romance, but falls more nearly into the historical fiction category. Serious history buffs may not enjoy the level of angst and emotional drama of Stansfield’s characters and her longtime fans may be disappointed to find this element toned down from some of her earlier novels, but I found she generally achieved a nice balance. I look forward to her final volume in this series.

Traitor by Sandra Grey, published by Covenant Communications, softcover, 372 pages, $16.95

The Refiner’s Gift by Sherry Ann Miller, published by Granite publishing, softcover, 251 pages, $15.95

At Heaven’s Door by Anita Stansfield, published by Covenant Communications, softcover, 243 pages, $15.95