From my mailbag, I’ve learned there are a lot of LDS fiction readers with strong, sometimes contradictory opinions about what they want to read. That’s good because it means a lot of people are reading LDS fiction, and that you’re interested in a wide variety of reading experiences.
I found it interesting that readers say they don’t know what books are available and publishers say they are looking for better ways to get out information concerning their new releases. To aid both groups, I plan to review or list more releases in this column in the future than I have in the past.
In addition, you should know you can go to any LDS publisher’s website and find a list of their published titles, or you can go to most writers’ websites to read descriptions and excerpts from their published works. Almost any bookstore, whether an LDS bookstore or not, will order books their customers request if you can give the store the title, author, and publishing company.
In the United States, a person can also visit a local library and request that the library purchase a particular book or have it borrow the book through Interlibrary Loan.
I’m directing this column today toward giving readers the information you’ve asked for to better enable you to choose novels that suit your tastes. I’ll look at three new novels instead of one. None are without copy errors (though none have large numbers of errors), and none have particularly exciting covers. Two are by new authors and one by a long-time experienced author. The first one is the first book in a new historical series, the second is a romance in an usual setting, and the third is women’s fiction.
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Dark Sky at Dawn , by L. C. Lewis, is the most complicated of the three new novels. It takes place during the years leading up to the War of 1812, when relations between the new United States and England are far from peaceful and with both countries jockeying for position. England impresses American sailors, interferes with American commerce, and seems to be looking for an opportunity to reclaim its wayward colonies. America is struggling with economic and class issues and seems to be caught between the concept of equality and the social rigors of the old country.
Slavery is another issue that bedevils both countries, with many people wishing to abolish the practice and others relying on slave trading or slave holding to further their ambitions. Many Americans are still secretly loyal to England and England’s parliament is riddled with opportunists – while a powerful evil organization is intent on getting rich by fomenting war with the Americans for their own purposes. Freedom of the press and speech are concepts not fully recognized or understood.
A mystery concerning the leading character’s grandfather connects him to a mysterious woman and leads back to a well-placed member of Britain’s parliament. Rumors abound concerning the Pearson family’s origins and the way their land and fortune were accumulated.
Jed Pearson is a young landowner caught up in all of these problems as he struggles to restore and improve the plantation he inherited from his grandfather. His closest neighbors are the Stringhams of White Oak. Stewart Stringham is a cruel and ruthless man with a grudge against the Pearsons. His son, Frederick, is weak and completely dominated by his father. Jed’s sister, Francis, cares for the son, and becomes engaged to Frederick more from a desire to remain close to her brother and his plantation, the Winding Willows, than from any deep love for her fianc.
Jed is in love with the youngest daughter of Bernard and Susannah Stansbury, but because of her youth and his uncertainty concerning restoring his plantation, he puts off courting her. Susannah is mentally disturbed and harbors a deep hatred for Jed, though he knows of no reason for her animosity. She is both emotionally and physically abusive toward young Hannah and in time to all of her family. Her irrational behavior drives Hannah’s older sisters to deceive their young sister into believing Jed doesn’t care for her in order to encourage her to marry someone who doesn’t stir up their mother’s violent behavior. In spite of their mother’s demented cruelties, Bernard and his three daughters adore her and will go to any length to please her.
Francis is attacked by a mulatto spy. She is rescued by her brother before the man succeeds in raping her, but her reputation is destroyed by vicious accusations Stewart sets in motion in retaliation for a perceived sleight by Jed. He manipulates his son into breaking his engagement to Francis and she is sent away to school.
This first volume lays the groundwork for numerous problems, both personal and political and carries the story into the early days of the war. Stephen Mack, brother to Lucy Mack Smith, enters the picture here as an important, but minor character. Relations between the slaves and their owners and among themselves is a key part of this first segment of the series as well.
The characters are generally well drawn with the major characters showing complex personalities and motivations, including questioning of the old spiritual dictums. There is some confusion created by the telling of the story from so many points of view and from the use of similar names such as Stansbury and Stringham. It’s also a little difficult to determine whether Francis or Hannah is the main female protagonist. Jed’s sister Francis is certainly the easiest to sympathize or identify with. Though Hannah’s horrific childhood generates pity, she never becomes a strong enough character in her own right to consider her the female lead. Some readers will appreciate Jed’s soul-searching, others may consider him a little wishy-washy, but he is definitely the book’s major character. The romance between Jed and Hannah is not convincing, but since the story is not primarily a romance, this weakness doesn’t distract from the stronger story elements.
There are more copy errors in this book than I usually see in this publisher’s books, but there are not enough to detract from the story. The multi-layered scope of this work, the carefully researched historical facts, and the freshness of the subject matter set it apart and make it appealing to readers looking for greater depth in LDS fiction.
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Secrets in Zarahemla is a first book by Sariah S. Wilson. It is the story of Kiah, a Nephite girl, daughter of Captain Moroni, who falls in love with Jeran, a runaway Lamanite prince. They meet secretly outside Zarahemla until Jeran is captured and Kiah begins a quest to free him. While Captain Moroni is away fighting the Lamanite Army, Corahan and Pachus enter into a secret arrangement to overthrow the chief judge Pahoran and crown Pachus king of the Nephites. Corahan expects to be paid by being given Captain Moroni’s daughter, Kiah, who despises him. She earned his enmity by refusing his marital suit and by defeating him physically in a fight, thus humiliating him. He means to have her and destroy her. Kiah learns of the kingmen’s plot and alerts Pahoran, then once she manages to smuggle Jeran out of prison, they are caught up in a life and death struggle as they flee the city and are pursued by their enemies.
The background for this novel is interesting and well done. It adds an unusual element to what is essentially a basic romance novel. The descriptions of weaponry are particularly good and placing the Book of Mormon events of that time period (approx.
62 B.C.) into everyday context gives a nice touch to the story. Readers will enjoy this foray into a well-researched Book of Mormon setting.
Wilson paces the story well and doesn’t let the background overshadow the plot. There’s little or no conflict between the protagonists. Instead, the conflict is entirely situational. Those who fear a Book of Mormon setting might mean preachy, have no cause for concern. Grammar, spelling, and typo errors are minimal and never distracting.
Negative characters or villains are more interesting and better developed than the positive characters, who appear a little flat. Pachus and Corahan bring chills, while Kiah seems both immature and too contemporary for her role and Jeran doesn’t reveal much personality at all.
Romance readers looking for something unusual will enjoy this one.
The Independence Club by Rachel Ann Nunes is the latest female support group novel. This one varies from most of the others in that it is better written, the characters more likable, and the ladies are all single ladies ranging from thirty-nine to sixty-two. There is also a real basis for their friendship because they are neighbors, sell or buy cosmetics from each other, and they’ve all given the singles’ activities for their age group in their stake a try.
The ladies meet once a week at a nice restaurant to set goals and encourage each other in dealing with their various problems. Each of the ladies, who have all previously been married, then widowed or divorced, embarks on a new romance. Some have old baggage to deal with such as abuse or infidelity, and others aren’t certain they can love again – or if they should. And one just doesn’t want to bake pies, care for, and pick up after another man.
Through it all, each woman grows and discovers new things about herself, her faith, friendship, and her capacity to love.
This book certainly fills the bill for those who want more books written for adults over thirty, though I wouldn’t suggest younger readers skip this one. It has a number of jarring typos where corrections have been made without removing the old text. This is a problem that can’t be blamed on the author, but on some glitch in the proofreading process.
The characters are not complex, but the author has done an excellent job of fleshing out each character enough to satisfy the needs of the story and to endear the character to the reader. My only fault with the characters was that I found the over-sixty women seemed more like they’re at least a decade older than that.
The plot is well-paced, polished, and though not complex, clearly the work of an experienced writer. Nunes shows touching insight into and compassion for women who have to face life without a partner and must make difficult decisions and choices concerning their future happiness. This novel is ideal for women looking for a light read with an optimistic ending that isn’t merely fluff.
Dark Sky at Dawn by L.C. Lewis, Covenant, 498 p., $17.95
Secrets in Zarahemla by Sariah S. Wilson, 245 p., $15.95
The Independence Club by Rachel Ann Nunes, 258 p., $14.95