March to the Bookstore for Great March Reads
By Jennie Hansen
If it’s a good book you’re looking for as winter ends and spring begins, “march” your way to the bookstore to pick up some great March reads.
Megan O’Conner is one of those kind, self-deprecating people who always tries to do the right thing and to please others. Her mother takes advantage of her shamelessly, and Megan she doesn’t have the spunk to stand up to her. Her father is dead and her twin sister has long since run off to seek her fortune. She lost her job and must now support herself and her mother with two minimum-wage jobs. Her boyfriend cheated on her and her mother expects her to forgive and forget because he’s a doctor and makes good money. She’s pathetically eager to have at least her twin sister like her.
The twin sister, Kristin, returns and spirits Megan away with promises of a brighter future and assurances that she really does care about her. The only drawback is that Megan must cooperate in Kristin’s scheme to fool an old woman. Megan can’t resist a chance to gain a half million dollars by merely caring for an elderly great aunt who is dying of cancer and who has promised to leave her fortune to Kristin if she will care for her during her final months. Kristin has plans to travel to Paris with her boyfriend and begs her sister to fill in for her without their aunt discovering Megan isn’t Kristin in exchange for a share of the inheritance.
Little things don’t quite add up and Megan finds Kristin’s friends aren’t as she expected. The old lady is annoyingly demanding, but either the woman has mental problems or something is going on that Megan doesn’t understand. Then Megan attends a church activity with one of Kristin’s friends, and she and the friend’s brother are nearly killed and the friend is kidnapped. To say more would give away too much of the story.
If readers are expecting a mystery, Fool Me Twice isn’t it. Almost from the start the reader knows who the good guys and the bad guys are, but as in many of Mary Higgins Clark’s novels, the view from both sides is part of the drama. The motives aren’t hard to guess either.
If the reader is looking for a heroine to admire, Megan isn’t it. She’s a wuss. The hero is a Dudley DoRight. So why do I recommend the book so highly? Like the aforementioned Clark, Stephanie Black plays her characters and the readers as intricately as a fine musician. Although none of the characters can be defined as all good or all bad, their positive and negative qualities are essential to the story. The gradual change in characters as they become stronger or more evil is handled with precision.
Those who complain of so many LDS novels being set in Utah will find the setting for this novel refreshing. It begins in Pennsylvania then moves quickly to Massachusetts, where the author lived for five years.
Black’s writing style is silky smooth and appears almost effortless. However plot elements, obvious to the reader, are not so obvious to the characters in the story. This adds to, rather than detracts from the suspense and plays into this many faceted tale, where more than one person is playing a part and there’s more than one liar.
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Bound on Earth by Angela Hallstrom reminds me of one of my mother’s favorite sayings, “No one gets through this life Scot-free.” In a series of interconnected short stories she weaves a powerful story of one family’s journey to the discovery that no matter their differences, their varied perceptions, or experiences, they are irrevocably connected to one another. Each short story chronicles one family member’s struggle with life, with the gospel, and with each other.
Three generations with just a glimpse of a fourth are introduced and we watch them grow and change, face heartbreak, and go on in spite of or because of the obstacles they face.
Many of the stories or incidents in the book are somewhat depressing, yet the overall scope of the book is one of hope and faith in the family’s ability to endure. It is a strong reminder that every family is tested in this life in various ways.
Some times a child strays from the teachings of her parents, but she is still loved. Sometimes people fail to meet their own expectations. Some women are better grandmothers than they were mothers. Some fathers are overwhelmed and some missionaries are only called to go to Kansas. Some parents are an embarrassment to their children. Major illnesses, both physical and mental, change everything.
Several of the stories contained within the larger story have been previously published and have garnered awards. Hallstrom’s style is simple and direct, yet as much of the story appears between the lines as in the printed words.
Hallstrom displays a strong literary bent in her ability to get the most from words and to evoke deep human emotions. Her characters are not stereotypical, yet they evoke a sense of “Everyman.” The characters are the story and there’s very little actual plot. I thoroughly recommend this book to all who are looking for deeper literary meaning in their fiction and a slight journey off the beaten path.
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In Mercedes’ case, a simple stop at the grocery store turns into a chance (or is it?) meeting with the man she’d fallen in love with thirteen years ago – the man who fathered her twelve-year-old son and abandoned her without a word. She’s married to another man now, one more than a decade older than her own thirty-nine years, who married her when she was sick and desperate and who loves her and the son he claims as his own. Together they have two other sons and have shared the sorrow of losing a baby daughter.
Does a woman ever forget her first love? And if she must choose between the magic of young love and the solid trust and companionship of a life shared for many years, how can she choose? Does a man have a right to claim a child he never knew existed? Should a brilliant, intelligent child be denied a relationship with his biological father, who can give him opportunities that are beyond the financial realities of a Wyoming farm couple? Complex questions of ethics, of hearts, and of fairness go on and on and are woven together to be examined from multiple points of view.
This book is deserving of a far wider audience than romance fans alone. I found some aspects of the plot predictable and the middle seemed to drag just a little, but overall the story is deeply satisfying and one of Nunes’s finest works. Though the book falls in that vague category labeled “Women’s Fiction,” I think it will be enjoyed by many men as well as the expected teen and adult female audience.
If there were any copy editing errors, I was too absorbed in the story to notice and I suspect other readers will also appreciate the technically clean presentation as well as the insightful and honest story. Many readers will identify with the hard choices the various characters in Fields of Home face. They will also appreciate the depth and complexity of human emotion exposed in this book. Whatever, your reading tastes, give this book a try; I think most will be pleased with what they find in it.
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Pamela Carrington Reid’s Shades of Gray is another novel set in a location far from the Wasatch Front. While on a visit to her grandparents in New Zealand, thirteen-year-old Samara meets a charming stranger, Adam Russell, who introduces her to photography and she introduces him to the Gospel and her belief in the eternal family.
Years pass and Samara remains committed to becoming a photographer, but her golden vision of her family deteriorates. She grows to detest her father for his unfaithfulness to her mother and his dictatorial ways; her respect for her mother lessens because of her continued tolerance of her father’s extended absences and his affair as well as her dependence on prescription drugs; and the brother she once adored slips into the hopeless world of drug addiction. There’s a young man she cares for, but she’s uncertain whether marriage is for her. She wants to travel and photograph the world.
Adam’s life hasn’t gone as expected either. Though he gained a testimony of the Gospel, his commitment to his career has left him lonely and divorced from his wife. When he sees a photograph in a magazine submitted by the girl he met almost a decade earlier, he rearranges his schedule to travel to the Australian Gold Coast to see her again. Something magic seems to happen when the two meet again and they both learn important truths about faith, dysfunctional families, forgiveness, and love.
Shades of Gray carries an important message about expectations versus reality, forgiveness, healing, and dreams. It is well written with almost lyrical descriptions of the “land down under.” It’s a book that can be enjoyed by both teens and adults, but may be of particular interest to those of an age to be leaving college behind for the real world. The author doesn’t back off from the physical and emotional realities of dealing with addictions nor from the questioning uncertainty of fragile family relationships, part-member families, or the bonds of friendship.
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Two books from Bonneville Books arrived too late in 2007 for significant consideration for Whitney Awards, but both merit attention. Makeover by Shannon Guymon is a romance and on first glance appears to be a light-hearted fun read. It is fun, but it also contains greater depth than assumed.
Sophie Reid is a hairdresser who works for her mother in her hair salon. Ten years earlier her father abandoned them for a younger, wealthier woman and Sophie has been stuck with a once-a-month ordeal of spending an evening with her father, his wife and child, and a houseful of snooty, rich paternal relatives.
When Sophie goes to the airport to meet the missionary she has waited for faithfully for two years, she discovers another young woman is there to meet him as well and the missionary introduces the other girl to his parents as his fianc. Hurt and humiliated, Sophie turns to her best friend Jacie, who has a steady supply of “five basic steps” plans for dealing with broken hearts, resuming dating, and dealing with relatives. Dating again isn’t as difficult as expected, but unfortunately the men in her new life come with baggage.
Finding Faith by Terri Ferran is written for younger women. It begins while Kit Matthews is still in high school, though she’s also a part-time college student. She resents being uprooted from her California friends during her senior year and forced to transfer to a high school in Logan, Utah. Everything from her lack of friends, a Cache Valley winter, and finding herself in the middle of a bunch of Mormons she can’t begin to understand add to her sense of isolation.
She meets a young man, Adam, and his sister, Rachel, who make a major impact on her life, but all too soon she finds herself telling Adam good-bye as he leaves on a mission. She loves Adam but doesn’t understand why he must leave and she doubts she can support his decision to go or encourage him while gone when she doesn’t believe in his religion.
To complicate matters farther, Adam’s big brother returns from his mission and the two are at constant odds with each other while Rachel falls in love with one of the big brother’s former companions.
Both books have their share of light-hearted dialog and are a pleasant way to relax for a few hours. Both also have characters who are likeable and who face challenges in their lives, but overcome those challenges to become stronger, better women with keener understandings of themselves.
Fool Me Twice by Stephanie Black, published by Covenant Communications, soft cover, 293 pages, $15.95
Bound on Earth by Angela Hallstrom, published by Parables, soft cover, 197 pages, $11.65 (online price)
Fields of Home by Rachel Ann Nunes, published by Shadow Mountain (a Deseret Book Imprint), soft cover, 302 pages, $16.95
Shades of Gray by Pamela Carrington Reid, published by Covenant Communications, soft cover, 248 pages, $15.95
Makeover by Shannon Guymon, published by Bonneville Books, soft cover, 245 pages, $15.99
Finding Faith by Terri Ferran, published by Bonneville Books, soft cover, 306 pages, $15.99