Two New LDS Fiction Writers
By Jennie Hansen

Two new authors have created books for this spring’s LDS fiction offerings.

Wrong Numberby Rachelle J. Christensen is an exciting debut novel that took me by surprise both for the quality of writing and for firmly capturing my interest in the first chapter.  This is a romantic suspense novel with the emphasis on suspense and first-time novelist, Christensen handles it like a pro.

Aubree Stewart is running late and her cell phone battery is dead so she borrows her husband’s phone.  On her way to work, she answers a disturbing call.  When she can’t reach her husband to tell him about it, she decides to call the police.  Before the day is over, her husband is dead, an unidentified body is discovered in a manhole, and she’s in protective custody.

Finding herself seven months pregnant, a widow, and hiding from someone who wants her dead, she doesn’t know whom she can trust.  Convinced there’s a leak in the FBI and she must protect herself and her baby, she leaves the Witness Protection Program and strikes out on her own.

Aubree is an interesting blend of naivet and intuitive good sense. She’s a very ordinary person, one with which most people can identify and the story is equally easy to see really happening, especially anyone who has ever answered a wrong number on their phone and had the calling party start talking without making certain they’ve reached the right party.  The romance doesn’t enter into the story until late in the book and may not be everyone’s idea of romance, but as I said, the emphasis is on the suspenseful plot line more than the romance.  Christensen handles the suspense well and weaves an exciting tale with equal parts dependant on reasoning and on technology.  It’s unusual to have a pregnant heroine and though some readers may wish for a little less childbirth and childcare details, these details do fit the heroine’s character and make her more real. The first part of the story is set in San Diego and other settings are Omaha and Bear Lake.  These settings are handled well, especially the Bear Lake area which demonstrates the author’s familiarity with it.

Though Christensen’s style is simple and straight forward, Wrong Number  is not youth oriented.  It’s clearly meant for adults, though I suspect it will be a favorite of many teens as well.  Anyone with a cell phone will find themselves drawn into this plausible plot.

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I don’t usually review a book until closer to its release date, but since I don’t have a large number of other books this time, I’m going to talk about American Voices, State of Rebellion, Book One, by Gordon Ryan which is slated for release in May.  This political action thriller is just what one might expect from Ryan, who is well known for his political intrigue novels and his vast knowledge of political and military tactics.

American Voices takes  a young man, Dan Rawlings, a twelfth generation American and sixth generation Californian, and places him in the center of a political power struggle as California teeters on the brink of secession from the United States.  Recently widowed, Dan buries himself in his work as city administrator for a small Northern California City, captain in the National Guard and would-be author until the brutal murders of a National Guard lieutenant and a sheriff’s deputy by a militia group who sees their actions as the same as those of the early rebels who revolted against British rule at our country’s inception.  Suddenly he’s involved with the FBI, particularly a young, attractive special agent, elected to the California Assembly, and assigned by the governor to write a new constitution for the Republic of California.

Dan is torn between loyalty to his country and to his state.  His ancestors fought in every war in which the US has been involved.  His recently accepted novel is based on his family’s experiences in supporting the Union, yet members of his family were among the first settlers in California, own a vast tract of Almond orchards, and have a large stake in California’s future.

A senator from California is at the forefront of the secession movement, but is he capitalizing on popular sentiment or is there something else behind his effort to form a new nation?  Are the militias’ brazen bank robberies, murders, and intimidation tactics signs of mere extremists and raving misfits or are their actions being guided by a master manipulator?  Is dissatisfaction with federal intervention the cause of the rebellion or is it just a log thrown on the fire  to push the flames higher?

The action is fast and enthralling and the premise is one that will appeal to many people, especially those familiar with political issues. I liked this book a lot and have never failed to enjoy any of Gordon Ryan’s novels, but there were some points that didn’t feel as smooth in this one as in the previous books by him that I’ve read. There are a few annoying info dumps and Dan and Nicole could both be a little better developed, both are somewhat flat.  The intrusion of material that will only matter in the next volume is distracting as are references to incidents in various characters’ pasts that leave the impression the reader is starting in the middle of a series instead of with volume one.  Some of the wrap-up events are a little too convenient. 

That said, let me go on to point out that Ryan paints one of the most realistic pictures of the issues that trouble Westerners concerning our Federal government, land use, illegal workers, and state rights without pushing an extremist agenda that I’ve seen.  His dialog is real.  He’s one of the few male writers who presents a truly strong female character who is still feminine.  Both the physical background in the book and the political background are realistic and believable.  I recommend this book to men and women with an interest in politics, history, action novels, or who just have an interest in the modern West.

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The second volume in Anita Stansfield’s Dickens Inn Series, A Far, Far Better Place picks up two years after Jackson and Chas’s marriage.  The death of Jackson’s mother and his return to the small town where he grew up sets off an increase in the nightmares that have plagued him most of his life.  Most of the story revolves around Chas and Jackson’s efforts to understand the nightmares and get them to stop.  Jackson’s PTSD (post traumatic stress syndrome) affects his marriage and interferes with his ability to accept God in his life. After many failed attempts at getting psychiatric help, Jackson checks himself into a psychiatric hospital ward where Dr. Callahan helps him face the trauma of his father’s brutality and his own harsh treatment at the hands of drug dealers.

Stansfield’s books tend to be emotion-oriented and follow her characters emotional journey more than an action plot.  In most of this author’s books the actions, other than those pertinent to the romance relationship, occur off-stage,  in this book a few of Jackson’s scene’s are shown rather than related by someone, making them much stronger and more enjoyable.  Some of the treatment scenes drag on too long and there’s a lot of less-than-subtle preaching, leading up to Jackson’s conversion to the Church.  There’s one of those odd errors early in the book which should have been caught by the author or her editor that occurs when the couple rent a car at the airport, travel together to the hospital, park in the hospital parking lot, then she takes the car to take their son back to their motel room and a few  hours later he also takes the car back to their motel.

This series revolves around a bed and breakfast inn in Montana which Chas has inherited from her grandmother who was a Charles Dickens fan/fanatic.  Each story has quotes and parallels to one or more of Dickins’s novels.  Jackson is an interesting and likable character, but I had a hard time with Chas who seemed too self-righteous and know-it-all for my taste.  I found this second volume more enjoyable and less abstract than the first.  Stansfield fans, as always, will enjoy this latest release.

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Seventh Earth by Richard Bradford didn’t come to me from an LDS publisher as most of the books I review do.  I’m frequently asked to review someone’s book by well-meaning friends or relatives of the author.  These books often turn out to be self-published, poorly edited, and a complete waste of time.  However, I got a pleasant surprise this week as I occasionally do.  A woman who introduced herself to me at a book club where I spoke asked me to review her son’s book.  She said it was Young Adult so I explained that I review adult fiction.  She sent the book to me anyway and I’m glad she did, though when I saw the cover I groaned.  Most readers of this column know I’m not a big fan of Science Fiction/Fantasy, though I do read some and have enjoyed quite a few of those I read.  This is the first one that intrigued me enough that I found it difficult to put down. 

Two of the characters are young, just seventeen. but there’s another major character who progresses in age into his sixties.  There’s a coming-of-age element to the story, yet there’s an element that goes deeper into recognizing those aspects of humanity that sets humans apart from other beings.  One plot line that intrigued me was an underlying story that goes back to Genesis.  I’ll admit I was a little slow turning around the villain group’s name, Reficul, to pick up on some of the evil intent of that group.  I was also disappointed that a minor character reveals too blatantly and prematurely facts about one main character to another, thus spoiling the delicious suspicion that had been building.

The story line follows a war between two superior beings and their supporters that cumulates in their supposed deaths.  Followers of each continue on their separate paths, but while the followers of one become complacent, the followers of the other slowly infiltrate the complacent group’s ranks.  On the least developed of the seven earths, two infants are born and live fairly normal lives until circumstances bring the two together.  Changes begin to occur  in their physical and mental abilities as they are drawn to each other.  An ancient book falls into the hands of the older lead character and he realizes The Omega still lives.  His discovery escalates the controversy between the two factions and the Reficul discover their Alpha is still alive as well.  Destruction and cunning maneuvers escalate as good contends with evil.  A race against time and between worlds speeds the reader to a not-entirely-unexpected conclusion that is handled well.

Yes, there are a few typos, some of the point of view shifts will make discriminating readers cringe, and some of the futuristic details will probably only appeal to fans of futuristic drama, but overall, Seventh Earth is a satisfying read. Both teens and adults will enjoy this one and be kept busy trying to guess where the twists and turns are leading them.

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WRONG NUMBER by Rachelle J. Christensen, published by Bonneville Books, softcover, 198 pages, $14.99

AMERICAN VOICES, State of Rebellion, Book One, by Gordon Ryan, Published by Valor Publishing Group, Hardcover, 400 pages, $20.95

DICKENS INN SERIES, A FAR, FAR BETTER PLACE, VOL. 2 by Anita Stansfield, published by Covenant Communications, softcover, 270 pages, $16.99

SEVENTH  EARTH Book One,  by Richard Bradford, published by D & D Publishing, softcover, 226 pages, $12.95

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