A Smorgasbord of Fascinating Books
By Jenny Hansen

May’s selections all come from one publisher, but are widely varied in subject matter and style.  Two are part of popular series (one is church history and one is World War II).   The other two books consist of a contemporary romance between a rancher and an environmentalist and the other is a mixture of mystery and psychological drama. 

Those with eclectic tastes will enjoy all of them, and those with more specific tastes are likely to find at least one that suits.

A number of excellent series set during World War II have set the bar high for this type of novel.  With Home Again at Last, Jerry Borrowman concludes his Til the Boys Come Home series with a compelling story of the waning days of the war.  Most novels dealing with this subject matter have been written from the American perspective, but Borrowman’s characters come from both sides of the ocean and this volume and the previous one have highlighted the British view.

Michael Carlyle is a lieutenant in the British Navy, a commander of a small Motor Torpedo Boat charged with protecting Allied vessels in the English Channel.  He’s also the son of Viscount Philip Carlyle, a minister in Winston Churchill’s War Cabinet.  His mother is an American from Salt Lake City, Utah.

The Carlyle family is still dealing with the suicide of Michael’s brother when Michael is transferred to the Italian front and placed under the command of an autocrat who makes clear his dislike for the young lieutenant.  When the commander orders Michael to retreat and leave a landing party behind, the young officer disobeys the order, leaving him subject to court martial. 

As he attempts to rescue the stranded men, his superior officer assumes command of his boat and leaves Michael and one other sailor along with the men of the original landing party stranded and subject to capture.  They suffer greatly at the hands of their German captors until an allied plane bombs a rail yard as they are being transferred to a northern prison.  Instead of ending their ordeal, they are left to their own devices to cross Germany and make their way into France, evade Nazi soldiers, and make contact with rebels without being killed by their own or other allied forces.

I found an interesting message running through this volume concerning social biases and assumptions.  It’s good to recall that the thirties and forties were years when much of the world, including England, was rethinking class distinctions.  Michael is ridiculed and subject to insults by a commanding officer because of his aristocratic background, but receives almost the opposite treatment as a prisoner because his captors consider his connection to a prominent member of Churchill’s cabinet makes him of more value than the other captives even though one of those captives is of slightly higher military rank. 

Class has an impact on how he is perceived by other officers and by the men under his own command.  It even enters into his relationships with young women.  His closest friend is a brash young officer who shows no regard for their different social stations, which leaves him with a greater sense of freedom to be himself.  His father, Lord Carlyle, is also torn by the weight of his title, which automatically opens doors for him yet leaves him feeling helpless to do anything real.

Home Again at Last is a satisfying conclusion to an excellent series that began with the First World War and spans two generations that were impacted by the two World Wars.  It chronicles the close links that unite the British and the Americans and shows the gradual breakdown of class distinctions on both sides of the ocean.  It reveals shared grief and acceptance of differences. 

Excellent research and editing have gone into this novel, and there are few technical errors.  It will appeal to men, young and old, but I think a large number of women will find it satisfying and intriguing as well.

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In Silhouette, Nancy L. Cratty introduces a family that is falling apart.  Leah is obsessed with finding her son who was abducted seventeen years ago.  The memory of an outing to select a Christmas tree all those years ago haunts her day and night.  Pregnant and suffering from morning sickness, carrying a sleeping two-year-old, and trying to keep track of an active four-year-old are not acceptable excuses in her mind for having allowed her son to run into the fog to a shadowy man she and the child thought was her husband, Garrett. 

Chloe, the older daughter, has become excessively responsible while Jazzy, the younger daughter, has become an expert liar and is rebellious and immature.  Garrett carries his own share of guilt, but as a family therapist, he believes that if his wife will agree to therapy, the family can put the terrible happening in the past and move on. 

Instead of taking an active role in his daughters’ lives, he tends to distance himself from his family, losing himself in his work, while expecting his wife to assume most of the parenting responsibilities even though he knows she has emotional problems that limit her ability to parent.

The situation comes to a dramatic head when one of Chloe’s friends begins dating a young man, the family suspects might be their son and brother.  Leah’s obsessive, impulsive behavior alienates her family and the young man.  Jazzy’s escapades heighten tension while Chloe and Garrett have their own problems to deal with that are magnified by the over-reactions of those around them.  The young man is confused and defensive.  Conflicting needs and personalities raise the tension level.

Cratty has written a well-paced story dealing with emotional issues, loss, and grief, with their ramifications that hold reader attention.  She has avoided the maudlin overly sentimental sensationalism this story could have easily become.  She has created characters the reader can both sympathize with and want to shake some sense into. 

Even though elements of the story are predictable, there is enough surprise to keep the reader intrigued with the developments.  There is a strong sense of reality to the story not – only in the emotional toll taken by such a loss and the enduring nature of family love, but a vivid picture is also painted of the difficulty faced by these people as time takes its toll on expectations, unrequited dreams, and the continuation of life after trauma.

Silhouette is a compelling story that will appeal to teens and adults.  It’s well-edited and plotted, holds an audience well, and is timely.  The cover of this book, however, is probably its greatest drawback.  Other than a vague, shadowy shape to one side of the orange and green Egyptian style block wall and passage image, the cover has nothing to do with the story.

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Glory from on High by Marcie Gallacher and Kerri Robinson is the third volume in A Banner is Unfurled.  This church history series is painfully and spiritually realistic as it is based on the actual diaries of the two authors’ ancestors.  This third volume details the trying events of the Kirtland years, 1834-1837, when the Church’s greatest enemies come from within and many dear friends and leaders lose their testimonies.

The Johnson family is split in their loyalties as the Saints make the final push to finish the temple.  Great spiritual manifestations strengthen Julia and her children’s testimonies and drive Ezekiel farther away.  When tragedy strikes and one of their dear children dies, their separation becomes physical as well as emotional.  Ezekiel moves to the next town and Julia and the children are left to fend for themselves. 

Weddings, births, missions, illness, and death encompass their lives while around them is the constant threat of harm from the Church’s enemies.  With the completion of the temple and the miraculous events that transpire there, Julia’s and the older children’s testimonies are strengthened and they receive hope of one day being united with their family members who have passed away. 

But with the formation of the Kirtland Safety Society, trouble stalks the faithful as they move rapidly from land rich, but coin poor, to just plain poor.  Local merchants refuse their scrip and will not sell to them even if they have cash. 

Joseph Smith is blamed by many for the failure of the Mormon bank.  Multiple attempts are made to imprison and disgrace him and the various family members are tried as they’re confronted by this failure.  The Saints are being forced out of Kirtland, but how can they leave their temple?  And how can the Johnsons bear the separation that will occur when some of the family moves on with Julia, but Ezekiel and a daughter wed to a non-Mormon are left behind?

Many of the members of the Johnson family were schoolteachers, and most kept detailed journals.  Several members of the family wrote poetry and composed music.  Many of those original poems are used to introduce chapters or highlight high or low points in the individual family members’ lives.

This series is exceptional.  It is not only well-written, but the authors also have access to research that enriches and authenticates the events of early Church history.  It holds the reader, young or old, men and women, spellbound as it captures not only the events, but also the doubts, fears, and joys those early church members experienced.  Not only is this a spiritually rewarding read, but from an historical point of view it is also a fascinating study of the day to day life of Americans of the early- to mid-nineteenth century.

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Kristen McKendry lives in Canada, but has set her first novel, Promise of Spring, in the Texas Panhandle.  Her heroine, Melinda Keith, is a young woman who has been hurt by a devastating brief marriage and divorce.  She also suffers from too much advice from a micro-managing mother. 

Needing to prove to herself that she can survive on her own and to avoid her mother’s domination and the possibility of chance meetings with her ex-husband, she decides to buy a small panhandle farm where she can put her fervid environmental theories into practice.

Two years on the farm have produced a strong sense of independence and she has managed to build a nearly self-sustaining way of life raising vegetables, pigs, chickens, rabbits, and a small apple orchard.  She takes advantage of sun and wind for most of her energy needs and has started a small experimental forest project.  She has also formed a comfortable friendship with a neighboring rancher, Jack, who is also divorced, and who lives almost across the rural country road from her.  She’s comfortable with her life; then a young widower with a two-year-old son inherits the ranch that adjoins Jack’s property. 
Ryan Delaney and his small son are forces Melinda hadn’t reckoned on.  They cause her to rethink her self-isolation and to re-examine her needs and values.  When what seem to be small acts of vandalism escalate into serious sinister acts, Ryan and Melinda join forces to discover what or who is behind the attacks on their animals and their way of life.

This is a charming romance with an interesting setting that will appeal to many female readers.  The action is low key until the last few chapters.  The greater portion of the story is given to exploring healing from death and divorce and the building of new relationships.  There are several religious concepts utilized in the story, but they too are mostly low key and there is more attention given to environmental preaching than to religious preaching. New age and romance readers will particularly enjoy this one.

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Home Again at Last by Jerry Borrowman, published by Covenant Communications, hardcover, 330 pages, $22.95

Silhouette by Nancy L. Cratty, published by Covenant Communications, softcover, 234 pages, $15.95

A Banner is Unfurled, Vol. 3, Glory from on High, by Marcie Gallacher and Kerri Robinson, published by Covenant Communications, hardcover, 309 pages, $21.95

Promise of Spring by Kristen McKendry, published by Covenant Communications, softcover, 197 pages, $14.95

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