Betsy Brannon Green Creates Intriguing Mystery
By Jennie Hansen

Betsy Brannon Green has gone back to Haggarty, but this time Miss Eugenia plays a minor role and Kennedy Killingsworth of nearby Midway, Georgia, is the principal character. Murder by the Book is steeped in smalltown Southern culture, but cannot be truly considered a “cosy mystery” to the extent Green’s earlier Haggarty books were. There is less emphasis on culture and more focus on an intense mystery, though there are still strong background elements that clearly identify the stage.

Kennedy caught her husband cheating and promptly divorced him. He wants her back and she’s annoyed that most people in their small town, including her mother, dismiss his adultery as a “boys will be boys” peccadillo. Kennedy is the town librarian and when a rich, handsome developer comes to town bringing promises of high prices for land, a new library, and numerous other improvements that will improve the appearance and economic condition of the town’s people, she is flattered by his personal attention. He brings with him another man who draws her attention, the foreman of his works department. One more handsome male draws her attention as well as criticism for spending time with him. He is the nephew of the man who owns the salvage yard and part of a family known for being dirty, uncooperative trouble makers. Even though he is now a well-groomed, recently released Marine who served in Iraq who is determined to go to college, the town still sees him as a ne’r do well Scoggins. Counting her ex-husband, she finds herself in the awkward position of being pursued by four handsome, eligible men.

The action heats up when she realizes the facts don’t add up when the junkyard owner is found dead and his death is called a suicide. When she brings the discrepancies to the sheriff’s attention, he dismisses them as unimportant, but thinks he’s doing his deputy, Kennedy’s ex-husband, a favor by assigning him to work with Kennedy to check out her theory. Miss Eugenia who knows Kennedy through the library offers her some advice and Miss Eugenia’s neighbor who works for the FBI shows a great deal of interest in her theory.

Another highly interested party is the dead man’s nephew who also doesn’t believe the man committed suicide. Soon half of the town look like suspects and Kennedy is struggling with her feelings toward the four young men who are all suspects, her rising awareness that her own life is in danger, and questions concerning her future, since she doesn’t have a husband, a library science degree, she stands to lose her job when the new library is completed, and she has ambivalent feelings toward her mother, sisters, and her hometown.

Kennedy is a less-than-perfect heroine who quickly grabbed my sympathy. She’s blunt, struggles with her mother’s mandated social rules, and is both courageous and afraid of being inadequate for the challenges facing her. She’s also practical, but impulsive. The entire book is written from her point of view, which allows for some delicious mental asides. The other characters are not as well developed but that is alright since the reader sees them through Kennedy’s eyes and limitations. The plot is fascinating and well-paced. though I usually figure out who is the villain early on in most mysteries, this one didn’t come clear to me until I was at least two thirds of the way through the book.

Though there are romance elements in this book, Murder by the Book is definitely not a romance. It is a strong mystery that will keep readers riveted to its pages. I predict it will be a strong contender for this year’s Mystery/Suspense Whitney award.

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Altared Plans by Rebecca Cornish Talley is a fun romantic romp both teens and adult women will enjoy. It begins with a carefully planned wedding. Caitlyn has thought of everything, well almost everything; she left her veil behind. But that’s only the beginning of the disasters that beset her. The groom is a no-show. It seems he made a last minute decision to marry someone else and left it to his parents to explain to his fianc. Caitlyn’s heart is broken and she returns to college vowing to never date again, but her bishop calls her to serve as Family Home Evening mom for her FHE group and the young man called to be the dad has plans of his own on that score. In fact, the romantic and happily ever after plans of several characters run afoul of each other.

Though light and fun, this book carries some well thought out insights on appropriate planning and not-so-appropriate planning. It also touches on being open-minded, not jumping to conclusions, and sticking to gospel principles. The characters are almost all college students and they behave realistically for their age group; sometimes they’re immature kids and sometimes remarkably mature adults. The plot flows smoothly and the book is well-edited. I enjoyed this book and recognized tremendous growth in this writer’s skills over her previous two books.

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Cedar Fort has found another promising new author in Heather Justesen. Her recently released novel, The Ball’s in Her Court walks a fine line between Young Adult and Adult fiction. Though the main character is a twenty-six year-old career woman, the story still deals with elements of a coming-of-age plot.

Denise lived with her abusive mother until the age of nine, then spent three years in the foster care system before being adopted. The abuse and her feeling that she has never quite fit in anywhere merge with a sense of not being good enough for anyone to keep. Between when she was nine and was taken from her mother until she was adopted, she spent three years in various foster homes. As an adult she knows that much of her acting out and getting into trouble during her teen years was a desperate attempt to test her adoptive parents and to perhaps get herself thrown out before they took the initiative and sent her away.

Falling in love with her boss in a company with a “no employees dating each other” policy complicates her life, but it also sparks something inside her that sends her seeking answers to questions concerning her background like why did her father abandon her to her abusive mother, does she have an extended family, can she ever forgive her mother, and can she commit to her adoptive family enough to go to the temple with them?

Playing basketball is Denise’s outlet when she needs to escape pressure and she spends a lot of time at the gym playing pick-up games or just practicing. Her favorite one-on-one partner is her younger adopted sister’s boyfriend who plays on the BYU team.

The beginning of the falling in love portion of this book is a little unrealistic and occurs much too quickly. Denise and her boss more than bend the rules, as well, as they skirt awfully close to the line of what might or might not be called a date. Still this is an exceptionally well-written romance and social issues novel. Once the romance is launched, it proceeds nicely and the dilemma of the adopted child coming to terms with his/her past is handled well. Some readers may find the boundaries of coincidence stretched a little too far in order to have a satisfying conclusion. Having been a foster parent myself, I like stories that show foster parenting in a positive, yet realistic light and this story does just that. It is well edited and there are few copy errors. Its greatest appeal will be to both adults and older teens. I found this novel to be more than a romance, but a story with some real meat to it and well worth the enjoyable time spent reading it.

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I’ll admit I groaned when I saw Abish, Faith Among the Lamanites by Brenda Anderson land on my desk. Fictionalizing Book of Mormon stories seems to be the popular pastime of a growing number of LDS authors, and I’m not overly fond of historical novels that create imaginary lives, loves, and dialog for men and women I know from the scriptures. I prefer to do my own reading between the lines. However, I thought Abish might be fairly safe since she only appears as a minor character in the Book of Mormon, a servant of King Lamoni’s wife, who appears to have some previous knowledge of the gospel and who runs through town inviting everyone to come to the king’s house to see the unconscious king and queen.

Acknowledging that I don’t have strong feelings one way or the other about this woman, and that whatever the story is, it has to be straight fiction because the scriptural account reveals almost nothing about her, I picked up the book and began to read. Anderson’s simple, straight forward style appealed to me at once, and I could see how the story could appeal to teens as well as adults.

Anderson’s Abish is a young girl, living alone with her ill father. The father experiences a coma-like state in which he has a vision and learns that the Nephite religion is true. Slowly he teaches the gospel to his daughter, and after a great deal of study and prayer, she too is converted. The pair must keep their faith a secret since accepting the Nephite religion in their Lamanite community is considered treason.

A wealthy man in the community, who places great importance on wealth and position, adopted an orphaned nephew when it appeared he and his wife could only produce daughters, but after half a dozen girls a son is born. With the arrival of a son, Zeram, the nephew, Tikan, is ignored and is no longer the heir. Thus begins years of jealousy and resentment on Tikan’s part. Zeram isn’t happy either because his father dismisses his efforts as unimportant and micromanages his life. When Zeram meets Abish and Tikan discover’s the young woman prays as do the Nephites, he sets in motion a plan to destroy Zeram and his father and usurp their property. Abish is forced to flee and eventually finds employment in the queen’s household.

The story is a gentle love story and though the background is not as well-researched as some of the other fictionalized Book of Mormon novels I’ve read, the story elements are strong and rewarding. The plot twists and turns are executed with polish and keep the reader intrigued with the story. The major characters are well-drawn and show growth toward becoming stronger or more wicked. Some of the minor characters could have been developed a little more and I would have liked a little more depth to the characters and events, but overall, I found the author has a strong sense of story and plot development. Abish, Faith Among the Lamanites turned out to be a highly enjoyable read.

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Once in awhile it is fun to read something completely outside of my normal reading tastes. I read few fantasy novels, but once in awhile one lands on my desk and I decide to read it just to keep up with what is going on in this popular genre. And often, if it isn’t one of the icky gory ones, I enjoy the change of pace. That’s how I happened on The Dragon War Relic by Berin L. Stephens. This one is even more different than I expected.

It starts out much like other novels in this genre with a teenage boy accidently stumbling into a strange and different world. Jared is a stock boy for a local grocery store. On his way home from work, a man who appears to be on the run and afraid of being caught, gives Jared a ring and a small rod-like relic of some kind. When he puts the ring on his finger strange things begin to happen and he’s soon zipping to the moon and to distant planets in the company of an ogre. He soon learns the ring cannot be casually removed and with it comes some heavy responsibilities.

The thing I liked most about this fantasy novel is the author’s sense of humor. Not only does he create an interesting cast of characters, many of them familiar from childhood stories of ogres, trolls, elves, fairies and angels as well as some new and unusual oddities, but Jared’s best friend, Doug, is so weird in a pop culture way, I couldn’t help loving him. The story is told as a straight adventure novel and the characters, familiar from childhood fairy tales, are not cutesy extensions of those bedtime story characters, but adult or teen members of various galactic populations.

The plot is fast and well developed. The first couple of chapters are not copy-edited well, but the rest of the book has few errors. Though this book appears to be written for younger fantasy fans, the humor will appeal to older readers as well. Though not directly LDS themed, there are several points members of the Church will recognize as LDS principles. Readers as young as ten will enjoy the story, but readers of any age will appreciate the pop culture humor.

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MURDER BY THE BOOK by Betsy Brannon Green, published by Covenant, softcover, 271 pages, $16.95
ALTARED PLANS by Rebecca Cornish Talley, published by Bonneville, softcover, 233 pages, $15.99
THE BALL’S IN HER COURT by Heather Justesen, published by Cedar Fort, softcover, 245 pages, $16.99
ABISH, FAITH AMONG THE LAMANITES by Brenda Anderson, published by Horizon, softcover, 218 pages, $14.99
THE DRAGON WAR RELIC by Berin L. Stephens, published by Bonneville, softcover, 244 pages, $16.99

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