LDS Fiction for the Lazy Summer Days
By Jennie Hansen

At long last Lynn Gardner’s next Maggie McKenzie Mystery has been released. Many fans have been waiting for Pursued to continue the adventures of a young woman in her twenties who has just discovered she has an identical twin sister and there’s a possibility she has one or two older brothers. There’s the matter of a love interest too, a psychologist, who helped her and her sister come to terms with their unexpected discovery then disappeared at Christmas, leaving only a note saying he would see her in one year if they both still felt the same about the other.

Maggie is on her way to England to research a travel article for the newspaper that employs her. Just before she leaves, her boss gives her a letter with the return address of the people who paid the midwife at the time one of her older brothers supposedly died at birth. She suspects her biological father lied about the baby’s death and actually sold the baby to the people who paid the midwife. She looks forward to adding this personal search to her itinerary.

Before she boards her flight, strange things happen at LAX and she befriends a young mother who needs help with two small children. While attempting to entertain the little girl by taking a picture of her, a man stumbles into her and she accidently gets a shot of a terrorist the police are pursuing. Strange things continue to happen once she reaches London where she learns bombs have been detonated in three major cities around the world and a blackmail threat has been made by a terrorist group to blow up some of the major capitals of the world. A strange twist of fate draws her into the hunt for the terrorists at the same time she is learning shocking facts about her birth family.

Sister Gardner travels to the locations where she sets her books to get a firsthand picture of the background she plans to use, lending her books some of the most detailed and accurate backgrounds of books set far from the Wasatch Front. In some of her previous books I felt the background dominated a little too much, but not in this one. The background provides authenticity and is part of the story, but it doesn’t take it over. I liked Maggie in the previous book, but I like her better in this one. The mystery is gripping and leads the reader a good chase. I was well into the book before I began to suspect the real villain, but even though I was right, the red herrings provided creditable doubt. I found the ending a little too convenient—or the perfect set up for the next Maggie McKenzie mystery.

Adults and teens will enjoy this mystery. Mystery fans will love it.

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Heather Horrocks, author of two inspirational books, is trying her hand at romantic fiction now. Her first novel How to Stuff a Wild Zucchini has just been released . The title is catchy and the cover is cute.

Lori Scott’s big dream is to be a New York playwright, but when her first show bombs and her boyfriend dumps her, she goes home to lick her wounds. She tells her mother and brother she wants to go away somewhere far away to heal from her humiliation and to decide what to do with her life.

Her brother teases her into picking a place to go by tossing a dart at a map. She soon finds herself in Brigham City, Utah, writing a gardening column for the local newspaper while the regular columnist goes on vacation for three months. She has only been in Brigham City a few hours when she sets a barbecue grill on fire and meets a handsome fireman. The story follows the expected formula for romances and the oft-used LDS twist of a young woman being reluctant to marry because her father was supposedly a good Mormon who cheated on her mother and abandoned his family.

Horrocks paints Brigham City as a pretty provincial place and the whole zucchini thing is pretty cliche. Billed as a romantic comedy, the humor in How to Stuff a Wild Zucchini feels a little forced. The major characters are likable however, and the story is paced well. There are a couple of intriguing zucchini recipes in the back of the book for readers to try. Avid fans of light romance will find this novel to be an appealing diversion while indulging in lazy summer days basking in the sun or whiling away time on a park bench while the kids play.

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Trail of Storm by Marsha Ward is the third book in a western series featuring the Owen family that takes place during those first years following the conclusion of the US Civil War. Ward is recognized as an award winning western writer, the founder of the American Night Writers Association, and an authority on Southwestern history.

This series chronicles the events, including a rape and several severe beatings, that send several families from the Shenandoah Valley west following the war, their journey westward, and their struggle to establish homes in the American Southwest. Trail of Storm takes up the story of the Bingham sisters who are roughed up by Yankee ruffians and the desperate measures that force them to flee from their home with their widowed mother, younger brother, and the oldest sister’s husband. Two men, neighbors who are in love with the other two sisters, are also forced to run even though one of the brothers is also a Yankee. They catch up to the Binghams and circumstances bring them in contact with another former neighbor, James Owen, whose wife has just been murdered.

The love stories in all three volumes are similar, but the love stories are not the series’ strongest point. Trail of Storm is not a romance, but a nitty gritty Western. It is the historical details of Colorado and New Mexico and the writer’s understanding of both the American and Hispanic cultures of this place and time period that are superbly done and make all three novels worth reading. Their encounter with a Mormon wagon train and the hasty conversion of three members of their party feels a little rushed and when the small group of Southerners is stranded by a blizzard a few days later there is a feeling of incompleteness in not knowing how the Mormon group who were farther up the mountain fared.

I found a few typos distracting, but quickly got back into the story. Ward doesn’t glamorize the West and some of her characters aren’t particularly likable, but they are realistic and she is true to the rough times of that settlement period. She handles well the will to survive of those early settlers. Though the series is not directed toward an LDS audience, Trail of Storms does bring in the Church and includes strong messages concerning baptism and eternal marriage. The author portrays vividly the lingering hatred that existed between Confederates and Yankees for years following the war, the bigotry between races, and the minimal rights of women. Historical and Western fans of either gender will enjoy this series from the compelling covers to the last word of this third volume. It’s a series I’m glad I had the opportunity to read.

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The Light Above by Jean Holbrook Mathews is more history than fiction and it’s the perfect compliment to the current Sunday School Gospel Doctrine lessons with their emphasis on the Doctrine and Covenants. It gives a clear picture of the background and obstacles early Scottish immigrants faced on joining the Church, their abject poverty, and their unfamiliarity with skills needed for their journey west once they reached America. It’s a story that will break the reader’s heart.

The large Hogge family work in the coal pits of Scotland, even the small children must work and many of them die. Family members are covered in coal dust, the father coughs from the black spit and knows he is dying. The coal miners live a life of government sanctioned slavery where they are owned by the mine owners, are brutally punished for breaking any rule, are beaten and forced back into the mines if they attempt to leave, and have no hope for a better life.

One son, Robert, manages to run away and make his way to Edinburgh, where he labors for years to buy his freedom. Eventually he buys his twin sister’s freedom and that of her husband. In the process, he hears the gospel and is converted. Though other family members also join the Church, only he, his twin sister, and her husband avail themselves of the perpetual emigration fund to attempt to make their way to Zion. The journey too is filled with terrible trials.

This story gives snatches of the different family members’ lives, though Robert is the character followed most closely. There are large sections, particularly at the end of the book where there is more telling than showing which breaks the continuity of the story and leaves the ending feeling rushed. The book is well-researched and the historical facts are compelling though the plot is somewhat weak. The bleak conditions and sense of despair the miners faced is portrayed well and the lives and circumstances of the miners is one of the story’s strongest points. Mathews writes of these tragic lives in a stark, factual way that makes them real rather than sentimental.

Few readers will be disappointed for reading The Light Above even though I would have liked stronger plotting and less epilogue. Even with the books few flaws, it is still a dynamic and unforgettable reading experience. It’s a book well worth its price.

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PURSUED, A MAGGIE McKENZIE MYSTERY by Lynn Gardner, Covenant Communications, softcover, 327 pages, $16.95

HOW TO STUFF A WILD ZUCCHINI by Heather Horrocks, Deseret Book, softcover, 272 pages, $17.95

TRAIL OF STORMS by Marsha Ward, iUniverse, Inc., softcover, 255 pages, $16.95

THE LIGHT ABOVE by Jean Holbrook Mathews, Covenant Communications, softcover, 302 pages, $16.95

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