LDS Fiction to Read by the Fire
By Jennie Hansen

The new year is off to a good start with new books by Suzanne Reese, Sandra Grey, Becca Wilhite and yours truly, Jennie Hansen.

Suzanne V. Reese’s Where Hearts Prosper is the story of a single mother, Carmen Anderson, who is very good at her intense position as a team leader with a Chicago advertising company. Office politics, a domineering boss, and a strong love interest keep her on her toes, but don’t slow her down. It’s the discovery that her almost fifteen-year-old daughter is headed for trouble that pushes Carmen to make a hasty decision and an abrupt move to her grandparent’s empty house in Prosper, Arizona. She feels confident she can continue her team leader position as a telecommuter, but there are more problems than she expects.

Carmen, who ran away from the isolated town of Prosper, Arizona, when she was little older than her daughter Paige, is now with no explanations and little contact with her parents, sister, or grandparents since that time. She returned only for her mother’s and grandmother’s funerals.

Paige meets her grandfather and aunt for the first time when they show up to help her mother move into the old house. The meeting doesn’t go well and neither does Paige’s enrollment in the Mesquite, Nevada, high school where she dresses, acts, and seems to think differently than her classmates. She particularly lacks enthusiasm for the two classmates her age who also live in Prosper. One is a rah rah cheerleader type and the other is Mr. clean-cut, high school, athletic star.

After less than a week in Prospect, Carmen has to fly back to Chicago, and while she’s gone the Virgin River rises above its usual spring flood stage, wiping out the small community’s only bridge linking them to the rest of the world, knocking out power, and imperiling the residents of the small town. Paige faces a life and death struggle with her neighbors and grandfather to survive and protect each other. While Carmen is frantic to reach her daughter, her boss and her boyfriend manipulate the situation to further their own objectives.

Even though this is a compelling, well-written story with a great cover, excellent pacing, and characters the reader can care about, it is not copy edited well and publicity for the novel seems to center around the reason Carmen left home abruptly as though it were a great mystery. Actually the reason is spelled out in a teaser prologue and Carmen’s concern for keeping her daughter’s age a secret doesn’t compute since the girl is enrolled in a public high school and doesn’t know her age is supposed to be a secret. The book’s strong points center around the flood of the Virgin River and the efforts a resourceful group of people pursue to save themselves and as much of their community as possible. A tree planted by Carmen’s mother, that appears to be dead, becomes a kind of symbol of hope and better things; it adds a nice touch. Some of the relationship issues are a little shaky, but others such as Carmen’s father’s love for his daughter and granddaughter, are touching and real.

Where Hearts Prosper is being marketed nationally and doesn’t have any explicit references to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but the town of Prosper will be recognizable to residents of the Utah/Nevada/Arizona border area and to small western towns and LDS wards everywhere. I like this book very much and I think many readers, teenagers and adults alike, will enjoy its strengths as I did.

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Bright Blue Miracle by Becca Wilhite has an interesting cover. Featured are bare toes with bright blue nail polish and a few decorative flowers. It also has an abundance of clever dialog and both asks and answers the question, “Is it possible for two very nice, adequately good-looking, and fairly intelligent people to embark on a doomed marriage? Consider it likely when they each have a teenage daughter.”

Leigh’s best friend is Jeremy and they’re both a bit nerdy, out of the loop with other seventeen-year-olds, on the brainy side, and stubbornly set in their ways. But they’re happy that way, that is until Leigh acquires a popular, pretty stepsister, Betsy, and Jeremy develops a crush on the girl Leigh most wants to despise.

The problems of blended families are a common theme in today’s teenage books, but this one takes a slightly fresh view with its focus on two girls who find they are suddenly sisters. Not only do they face sharing a room, being in the same classes at school, different outlooks on life, but how does one deal with your best friend becoming your sister’s boyfriend? And does a guy turn to his girlfriend or his best friend when serious problems arise?

There is a jarringly swift jump in the first chapter from Jeremy and Leigh visiting her father’s office to her mother announcing she is getting remarried. There hasn’t been adequate warning that the father has died and the mother has been a widow for some time. Leigh’s reluctance to drive should have been built up better too. Beyond that, the timing works well, the adjustment problems are interesting (though at times the reader may feel like shaking Leigh) and the characters feel real. This story is more YA than adult though parents of teens may enjoy it too.

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High Country by Jennie Hansen isn’t a western in the usual sense though it takes place mostly on a ranch and there are horses, but it’s a contemporary story that begins in California when Laura and her cousin Bruce inherit their elderly great aunt’s house and all the boxes and clutter she’s collected over nearly a century of living. One of those boxes contains a few shocking documents; Laura’s late father’s will leaving her a half share in an Idaho ranch, a baptism certificate, and a marriage certificate with Laura’s name on it.

Sheltered, home schooled, and indoctrinated by her Mormon-hating aunt, Laura embarks on a course of discovery. In the process she runs straight into a stubborn, impulsive, Idaho cowboy who claims to be her husband. She suspects he’s a thief who has stolen her inheritance and made chaos of her life.

Since I’m the author, I’ll leave it to others to decide its merits.

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Tribunal by Sandra Grey is a sequel to Traitor and is heart-stopping, compelling, and well worth the wait fans have endured since the first book’s release a year ago. The book begins in 1945 in a German concentration camp where SS Major Rolf Schulmann has been incarcerated since his arrest for treason earlier in the war. With the approach of the allied army, the prisoners begin a forced march tosward the Baltic Sea and certain death. Eventually the German prisoners are released. Cold, destitute, ill, and frightened Schulmann walks, then crawls toward home. His friend, Hans Brenner finds him unconscious beside the road.

Schulmann awakes in an American military hospital in Berlin . His recovery is slow and uncertain, but watching over him are Hans and an American nurse, Natalie Allred. Hans and Natalie become the objects of a Russian intelligence officer’s pursuit of Stalin’s nuclear objectives. Both her freedom and Hans’s are on the line as they become pawns in a ruthless race for power. The tension mounts as both are threatened and Schulmann’s fianc, Marie Jacobson, arrives to find Schulmann facing an allied military tribunal.

There are several strong themes presented in this novel. They raise questions concerning the bounds of loyalty, friendship, patriotism, family, honor, and faith in God. That we must all one day stand before God and face His tribunal is a theme that lies beneath the surface. The brutality of war is depicted vividly, but no more so than the lingering resentments, confusion, and deprivations faced by both the survivors and the conquerors along with the ruthless rush to power by the superpowers. The seeds of enmity and the beginnings of the cold war arise over the differing political philosophies of the nations who so recently were allies.

Though far from being a romance novel, there are two powerful love stories that take place in Tribunal. These stories will touch the hearts of readers. There is also enough action to satisfy the most avid action-oriented reader. Those who like to delve into deep philosophical questions will not be disappointed either. The historical background is thoroughly researched and fascinating in its presentation. Not only does this book tell a remarkable story, provide in depth historical insights, provide characters the reader can care deeply about, but it is rewarding to read a novel with such a rich vocabulary and almost no copy errors. There is also a satisfying level of understanding by the author of doctrinal principles.

I personally found this novel at the top of my list of mature and satisfying LDS novels.

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WHERE HEARTS PROSPER by Suzanne V. Reese, published by Bonneville Books, paperback, 255 pages, $15.99

BRIGHT BLUE MIRACLE by Becca Wilhite, published by Shadow Mountain, paperback, 172 pages, $12.95

HIGH COUNTRY by Jennie Hansen, published by Covenant Communications, paperback, 231 pages, $15.95 (also available unabridged on CD)

TRIBUNAL by Sandra Grey, published by Covenant Communications, paperback, 375 pages, $17.95 (also available on CD)

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