Escape Bad Weather with a Good Book
By Jennie Hansen

While the weather seems to be in extreme mode around the world, both extremely hot days in some places and a surplus of rain in others suggests July might be a good time to curl up with a good book. Most of this month’s novels carry serious messages, though one is light and fun. All are excellent escapes from excessive weather woes.

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Sheep’s Clothing by Josi S. Kilpack is one of those books I wish every teenager, every lonely woman, and every parent of young Internet users could have a chance to read. It’s not only a gripping story, but one that might save some unsuspecting family from a great deal of grief.

Kate Thompson is the mother of six children. She grew up an only child with a mother who was short on mothering skills. Kate’s dream is to have a large family of seven children. She wants her children to have the siblings she used to dream of having. She loves being a mother and feels certain there is one more spirit waiting to come to their family. As much as she wants another child, she doesn’t plan the accident that starts number seven on the way.

Her husband Brad isn’t so sure about another child. He’s looking forward to the day when eighteen-month-old Chris is out of diapers, the children are a little older, and he and his wife can do more together. He’s gone a lot, and when he’s home life seems to revolve around the needs of small children. Of course, their oldest daughter, fifteen-year-old-Jess, helps her mother a lot, but there’s a big gap between her and the next oldest child. Kate’s last pregnancy had been high risk and the two of them aren’t getting any younger, so another pregnancy isn’t high on his wish list. He’s not sure he believes Kate didn’t plan her current surprise pregnancy.

Jess is just at that age where the transition from junior high to high school ends some friendships and often creates new ones. Her best friend, who is slender and athletic, discovers new interests and new friends when she joins the track team and unintentionally leaves Jess behind. Jess is shy, uninterested in sports, and the oldest of six children, soon to be seven. She feels like all she does is babysit and attend a gymnastics class she hates, but which her mother insists is good for her. She feels lonely, left out, and resents babysitting so much.

No one seems to understand her until she meets Emily in an online chat room. The friendship blossoms and they have so much in common. Emily even introduces her to her cousin, Colt, and soon Jess has a boyfriend who loves and understands her like no one else ever has. The only problem is that Emily and Colt aren’t who Jess thinks they are.

With her usual “right to the point” style, Kilpack doesn’t pull any punches. This novel hits hard when it comes to the tricks and manipulation that drag unsuspecting people into the reach of predators. She also doesn’t mince around the fate of those who fall into the clutches of such depraved individuals. Readers expecting a sugar-coated ending won’t find it, but they will find valuable pointers on strengthening families and giving support even when the world seems turned upside down.

One thing I like about the characters in this story is that victims aren’t made to appear stupid. They’re realistically gullible and trusting at times, but that element is kept within the bounds of normalcy. Some readers may find this story a little too real, a little on the gritty side, and complacently think it’s not a subject that concerns them. They probably are most in need of this timely wake-up call.

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Revenge and Redemption by Brad E. Hainsworth is a US Civil War novel that focuses on the western aspects of the war and the struggle over Vicksburg. Events are seen from the viewpoints of Yankee Colonel Clay Ashworth and Southern Major Wolf Striker. Their wives also are major characters, and there’s strong input from Brigham Young, Porter Rockwell, and other Utah leaders. Hainsworth broadens the usual scope of events that occurred during the war period by bringing in France’s attempt to control Mexico, Cochise’s Apaches, and the Mexican bandits that burned and looted haciendas and settlements along the US/Mexican border.

This book is more than a war story. It also highlights two troubled marriages and the growth and adjustments necessary when love alone is not enough. The reader also follows the thoughts, rationalizations, and changes that occur as Wolf Striker comes face to face with his past, the ideals he once held, and his attempts to return to those ideals and change his life.

Clay Ashworth returns home from the battle at Glorieta Pass to learn his young wife is pregnant and suffering severe difficulties. After all she goes through, their baby daughter dies seconds after birth, leaving both parents distraught. Connie cannot handle her grief and returns to Mexico, searching for the peace and comfort of her childhood. Weeks later Clay receives a telegram from President Lincoln summoning him to Washington D.C., where he is assigned a dangerous mission as a spy in the Vicksburg area. A dangerous bandit has his sights on claiming both her family’s ranchero and Connie too.

Wolf was severely wounded at Glorieta and is left behind because he is unable to travel. The Union Army medics care for him in a limited fashion and he ends up at Leavenworth. He escapes, though grievously ill, and attempts to make his way to Vicksburg – where he hopes to warn the Confederate Army of the Union’s approach and find his Southern Belle wife, whom he hasn’t seen for many years.

The pacing is great in this novel and though there is a large cast of characters, their identities are not hard to keep separate. The glimpse of the western elements of the war between the North and South brought freshness to a story that has been told many times and it certainly made it more interesting to this western reader. The historical detail is fascinating and well-referenced. The male characters are multi-dimensional and realistic. I found their strengths and weaknesses, their growth, and soul-searching extremely well done.

The two wives’ characters show less depth and some stereotyping. I was surprised when the author said they were completely different from each other since I saw them both as a little shallow, immature, and spoiled. The biggest difference I saw was in Ellen Stryker’s flirting and manipulation and Connie Ashworth’s impulsive childishness. Basically the women are only there to provide motives for their men’s actions and are not major characters in their own right.

I found a few typos, but not many. Revenge and Redemption will appeal to many readers, but primarily to men, young and old, and to history buffs. This was a rewarding read and I highly recommend that those who enjoy in-depth novels give this one a try.

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The Bishop’s Bride by Elizabeth W. Watkins is light and fun and well worth the reader’s time. Andrew McCammon receives a calling to become bishop of his ward. There’s just once catch – he has to get married. He’s been a widower for three years, but hasn’t given any thought to dating or marrying again. He gets more warning of his new calling than most, three weeks, but in that time he’s supposed to meet someone and, at the very least, become engaged with a wedding to follow in under two months.

Jeanette Parkinson moves back to her parents’ duplex after their deaths and is promptly asked to speak in sacrament meeting. She manages to speak while fighting a mammoth migraine and then escapes as quickly as possible afterward to go home to take medication and sleep it off. She arrives on her street to find her house in flames and the police waiting to question her since the other half of the attached house sheltered an illegal drug lab. It’s too much; her head is exploding, and she becomes embarrassingly ill. That’s when Andrew and the current bishop arrive.

Andrew and Jeanette have a hard time finding even ten minutes alone. There’s Andrew’s children and grandchildren, the police chief, the Relief Society president, a couple of unidentified corpses, a drug investigation, and other assorted helpers and hinderers who get in the way.

This book carries an extra appeal for me since I once lived in a ward where a new bishopric was called and the first counselor was given three months to get married. Everyone in the ward tried to help with almost as much chaos as Watkins’s romantic leads incur. Along with the fun, this story carries several serious messages, which are presented in a delightful way. The characters are likable and realistic – my favorite is the Relief Society president. The plot moves quickly, the pages are error free, and the story will appeal to all ages.

Chosen by Steven A. Cramer can only be loosely classified as fiction. The fiction portion is only the frame for a treatise on the steps to repentance. Elder Curtis is six months into his mission when he begins to have problems because of feelings of guilt over information he failed to share with his bishop before putting in his papers for a mission. He worked hard to overcome a pornography addiction and had avoided such material for six months before his mission and has continued to avoid it since.

He doesn’t understand why the issue has come back to haunt him, but expects to be sent home when he finally confides in his mission president. What follows is a set of well-written, simple instructions for gaining a deeper testimony of the Gospel through repentance.

SHEEP’S CLOTHING by Josi Kilpack, published by Deseret Book, 303 pages, $15.95

REVENGE & REDEMPTION by Brad E. Hainsworth, published by Deseret Book, 333 pages, $16.95

THE BISHOP’S BRIDE by Elizabeth W. Watkins, published by Covenant Communications, 218 pages, $14.95

CHOSEN by Steven A. Cramer, published by Cedarfort, 194 pages, $14.99