February Offers Wide-Ranging New Novels
By Jennie Hansen

February has seen the introduction of wide-ranging new novels by new writers, as well as by some long-time favorites. The settings and sub-genres, the focus audience, and the quality of writing also vary a great deal among these new offerings.

Lockdown, as is Traci Hunter Abramson’s style, grabs the reader right from the two-page prologue and never lets go until the story wraps up in the final chapter.

She glanced at her watch, already wishing the class was over even though they still had another thirty minutes to go. She turned her eyes back to the professor just in time to hear a hammering noise and see him drop limply to the ground. A moment later the noise repeated itself, and the boy in front of her slumped down onto his desk as screams echoed through the room. Riley looked up to see the slender, dark-haired man point his gun and shoot off another round.

Abramson takes another member of her elite group of LDS Navy SEALS as the central character of this high suspense story. Tristan Crowther is paired opposite Riley Palmetta, one of only three survivors of a campus massacre, as they join forces to set up a training program for police officers to prepare them for dealing with events such as Columbine and the Virginia Tech massacres. As the training takes place, painful memories surface, along with a deadly murder plot. Emotions run high as two people with heavy loads of emotional baggage attempt to make sense of their growing feelings for each other while confronting one of this time period’s greatest fears.

Fast becoming the queen of high suspense, Abramson derived this plot from real life. Being a member of a Virginia high school faculty at the time of the Virginia Tech murders, she is one of those who was glued to her television set on April 16, 2007, waiting for news of friends and loved ones. Hers were not among the fallen, but with the pictures and fears fresh in her mind, she began this novel.

Mystery/suspense readers are not the only ones who will enjoy this novel. Fans of psychological drama will be enthralled by the mental and emotional twists and turns. The author paces the story well, provides likable characters, and with her CIA background presents a believable background and a realistic though non-intrusive setting. I thought the epilogue was unnecessary, but I’m aware that many readers enjoy a tidy wrap-up at the end of an intense thriller. It serves as a pressure valve and in this case is not a whole extra chapter, but is just slightly more than three pages. I highly recommend this book.

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Lemon Tart

Take 5 families living on Peregrine Circle
1 flowered curtain tieback
1 missing child
1 body in the field
Mix with a long list of suspects and top with two very different detectives. Increase heat until only the truth remains. And you have a recipe for Murder!

Lemon Tart is the newest novel by Josi S. Kilpack. This one is a “cozy” culinary murder mystery, a departure from her usual fast-paced social issues books. It’s the first in what she and her publisher hope will become a popular series of the type where each book stands alone as a separate mystery, though the main character, Sadie Hoffmiller, will star in each.

Sadie is a snoopy busybody who means well. She’s also a terrific cook. While bottling applesauce she notices a couple of police cars hurrying past her house to the end of the cul-de-sac. Naturally, she hurries right over to Anne Lemmon’s house to see why the police are there. With a little finagling, she learns Anne’s body is lying in a nearby field, Anne’s two-year-old son is missing, and there’s a lemon tart baking in Anne’s oven. She runs afoul of the police and becomes a suspect herself, and she discovers her fianc was somehow involved with her beautiful deceased neighbor. Her brother Jack’s marital problems prove a distraction, as does a visit from her college-age daughter and her niece. Then there are the other neighbors who might have seen something that a plate of brownies or noodles alfredo would help them remember.

The story is full of twists and turns and a lot of danger. It’s also filled with tested recipes for those who want to try Sadie’s culinary masterpieces. And of course, there’s a major clue connected to that Lemon Tart.

Sadie, though only fifty-six, is portrayed as an elderly widow and amateur sleuth much like Betsy Green’s Miss Eugenia, but without the Southern charm. She’s feisty, determined, and smart. She’s also a woman who cares deeply about people and takes great pleasure in domestic skills.

The plot is skillfully woven and only the most experienced mystery readers will pick up on the villain’s identity early on. Even those who figure it out quickly will still want to stay aboard for the ride, which is filled with interesting and fun antics and maneuvers.

There are a couple of small points that bothered me, but didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story. First, though Albertson’s grocery stores do hire baggers, shelf stockers, and other employes with learning disabilities, their checkers do not fall into this category. I’ve always found Albertson’s checkers to be friendly and smart.

Second, even at small libraries, librarians do not give anyone, not the police and certainly not a neighbor of one of their patrons, any information concerning another person’s library account or personal effects without a court order. The National Library Association is very clear on this point.

Overall, Lemon Tart is an enjoyable read for young and old. And just because there’s a culinary slant to the book, I hope that doesn’t discourage male readers. If it does, they’ll miss an excellent mystery and several hours of first-class reading pleasure.

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Sometimes a book amuses me, but it isn’t often that one makes me literally laugh out loud. Previously Engaged by Elodia Strain did just that. Strain’s quirky style falls somewhere between satire and chick lit without the nasty male putdowns or sarcasm. Her main character Annabelle Pleasanton is part airhead, part compassionate do-gooder, a little bit klutz, and a whole lot fashionista. Annabelle has a passion for brand name clothing and toiletries, her job as a food writer for a fashionable magazine, and good food, especially chocolate. She also has the misfortune of being the oldest of four sisters with her younger sisters having already gotten married while she’s still waiting for a proposal.

Annabelle has studied all the clues; she knows the proposal is coming. If only Isaac’s attempts at popping the question weren’t constantly being foiled by friends and circumstances. The plot thickens when her old high school boyfriend, Alex, returns to town as the head of the publishing company that employs her and he doesn’t seem to believe their old romance is quite as over as she does. She’s evicted from her apartment due to her landlord’s gambling problems and finds herself house sitting for Alex, a house that just happens to be her dream house.

Apparently, when you tell your boyfriend of nine months – who is planning to propose – that you are going to be having any kind of contact with a guy who you dated, liked, or smiled at anytime after first grade, and he says he’s fine with it. Well, chances are he’s not all that fine with it.

If Isaac and Alex aren’t enough distraction, along comes winning a $50,000 wedding when she isn’t even officially engaged and there’s some question concerning which man should be the groom. Then there’s Isaac’s family, who have already picked out a bride for him.

“Chloe’s here,” Ginny cooed as if the queen of England had just appeared. I looked up and saw the beautiful blonde approaching, dressed in a great black dress and a pair of designer heels that something told me she hadn’t found hidden behind a bottle of bubble bath in Nordstrom Rack.

Previously Engaged is cleverly written, and though it appears light and fun, a great deal of research has gone into getting the cultural background right. Writing in first person, Strain uses a casual chatty style similar to that of a young woman talking to her best friend. It works. The dialog, both between characters and between Annabelle and the reader, is perfectly paced for maximum impact. I loved it from beginning to end, though it could stand a little more thorough copy editing. Women of all ages and those men who are brave enough to give a pink book a try will enjoy this one, then enjoy it again when it is shared with a good friend and two people share the great punch lines together.

* * *

I found Buckshot Higgins, His Life and Treasures thoroughly engrossing though it is filled with all the errors I generally complain about in self-published books by first-time authors. This is the story of a ten-year-old white boy saved by a Navajo woman following the deaths of his parents after the family drinks contaminated water.

Hanabah was a Navajo woman who was probably in her sixties or seventies when she came across the terrible scene of what was left of my family. She was traveling south along the old Navajo Trail near Shiprock, New Mexico, when she saw our family wagon. My father and mother were both dead over in the shade of a juniper tree. Two families traveling the trail had stopped to supposedly assist us, but in reality, they were pilfering all they could get their hands on.

This book doesn’t really have a plot, but is a sequential series of incidents in the life of Percy Higgins, who is raised by the Navajo woman who changes his name to Buckshot. He observes the Navajo rituals meant to make him a man, but retains the Mormon faith taught to him by his parents and reinforced by his friendship with the wife of the man who runs the trading post. Two significant events bring both challenges and joy to his life – meeting a young Navajo woman with whom he falls in love and the sharing by old Hanabah of a secret treasure cache. A long journey to the St. George Temple undertaken in a surrey drawn by four mules plays a significant role in the adventure as well.

The author shares a deep love for the American Southwest and is at his best when he tells of ancient treasures hidden by long ago American natives and as he describes the land and customs of the Navajo and Hopi people. There are strong similarities in style and voice to an old classic, The White Indian Boy by Wilson Driggs. I found the history, cultural aspects, and background of the story fascinating and well worth the time to read the book, but several other aspects of the book may discourage readers. The grammar, spelling, typos, dialog, and editing are disappointing. The book will appeal primarily to those interested in westerns and the Southwest and is written in a first-person narrative style. Unfortunately, another group who may be a strong audience for this group, the elderly, will have difficulty reading the small type.

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Lockdown by Traci Hunter Abramson, published by Covenant Communications, softcover, 246 pages, $15.95

Lemon Tart by Josi S. Kilpack, published by Deseret Book, softcover, 348 pages, $16.95

Previously Engaged by Elodia Strain, published by Cedar Fort, softcover, 292 pages, $18.99

Buckshot Higgins, His Life and Treasures by Charles Moore Hackley III, published by Xlibris Corporation, both soft and hardcover, 207 pages, $19.99 and $29.99

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