Summer Reading Suits Every Taste
By Jennie Hansen

Summer reading has started off with more books than I’m able to cover in one column and there’s something to suit almost every taste. The ones I’ve selected to review are diverse and will appeal to a wide range of readers.

Wet Desert by Gary Hansen is an extraordinary book. This suspense thriller begins with multiple scenarios. Grant Stevens, an engineer for the Bureau of Reclamation, gets bumped from attending an engineering conference in Kenya by both his boss and his supervisor. Three couples water ski and explore Lake Powell and its environs at the beginning of a badly needed vacation. Two rafts filled with white water enthusiasts float down the Grand Canyon. And somewhere a man sets in motion plans to blow up the Glen Canyon Dam and destroy all the dams and projects between Lake Powell and the Gulf of California.

When a massive blast knocks a small hole in the Glen Canyon Dam, shooting a slender spray across the canyon below, the trouble begins. Water pressure from massive Lake Power, slowly at first, then faster and faster, begins to tear the dam apart. Becoming the highest ranking official available, Grant Stevens begins a life and death struggle to project when the dam will fail and to protect dams, people, and fragile resources down river.

Then a second blast occurs at another dam. The F.B.I. and local law enforcement become involved. Governors, the media, environmentalists, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Mexico all become involved. Lake Powell begins to drain, drawing boats into a swiftly moving current pulling them toward the massive falls created by the dam’s failure. Beaches and docks are left high and dry, unreachable to the boats being drawn into a narrowing channel. Below the dam, the water escalates in speed, rising rapidly several hundred feet, creating massive rapids and waterfalls, and wiping out beaches and landing places.

Ahead is Hoover Dam without enough capacity to hold back the draining Lake Powell. Below Hoover are smaller dams and reservoirs, cities and farms, an Indian reservation, California water reclamation projects, and the great Colorado River Delta that once teemed with life before the water was all drained off by water projects before reaching it.

Set in the Colorado River basin from above Glen Canyon extending to the Gulf of Mexico, this story is as new and modern as today’s news headlines. It is a story of terrorism, where the terrorism is not as expected. It balances recreation against conservation, politics against common sense. It’s honest and forthright in its portrayal of the conflicts within and between bureaucracies, the media, governments, and those who devote themselves to causes. It examines the needs and desires of farmers, conservationists, recreationists, and water and power users. One thing it is not, is politically correct. It goes beyond political correctness to blunt honesty and a recognition that there are few right or easy solutions.

I could compile a long list of this book’s faults – like most self-published books it has plenty – but there’s far more that is good and well-done that outweighs the poor copy editing, unimpressive title, repetitive imagination sequences, too nice ending, and other technical errors. It reminded me a great deal of reading a Tom Clancy novel with its introduction of various aspects of the story, but it is faster paced and the device doesn’t slow down the story. But like Clancy, the author welds together diverse story lines and characters into one highly suspenseful tale that has the reader reluctant to miss a word or to set the book down.

The imagery is vibrant, enabling the reader to see and imagine every aspect of the story, yet this is handled so smoothly that there is no hint of purple prose. Character development is handled well. The reader is given enough information to see and relate to the various characters without becoming bogged down with background trivia that might otherwise slow down the rapid pace of the plot.

This book is not specifically LDS, and with a national publisher and competent editor, could easily be a top national seller.

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Jeff Downs has an intriguing new mystery/suspense novel out called Chaos, which revolves around a mathematical theory concerning probability and randomness. It’s not necessary to be a rocket scientist to understand, but the story does keep readers on their toes – or the edge of their seats.

Jason is a returned missionary and single young teacher beginning his second year teaching at a Colorado junior high school. One day he receives a strange threatening message in his mailbox in the faculty lounge. Then he goes home to find his apartment trashed, drug paraphernalia spread across his bed and a phone call threatening his life. He’s been framed for the murder of four police officers and approaching sirens warn of his imminent arrest. He runs, suspecting he needs time to clear himself, rather than to expect open minds from officers who have just lost four of their own.

Afraid to use his credit card or take his car, he flees with nothing but his 72-hour-kit and a mountain bike. After hiding out for several days in the mountains, he accepts that he needs help, but can not turn to his family, friends, or anyone else the police may be watching. He remembers a previous girlfriend and feels impressed to call her. An exciting chase ensues, where he is sometimes the hunter and sometimes the prey. The former girlfriend comes through for him but at considerable loss and sacrifice on her part.

There are strong elements of the need to listen to spiritual promptings in this book, but this element is handled without the corniness that sometimes creeps into fiction when handled less skillfully. Copy errors are minimal and mystery/suspense fans will find this novel absorbing and difficult to put down. Both adults and older teens will enjoy this one.

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Tangled Roots by G.G. Vandagriff is a genealogy mystery. It’s also an intriguing murder mystery. It takes up where the author’s previous novel Of Deadly Descent left off in 1996. In the more than a decade since that time, great strides have been made in the way genealogy is researched via the computer. The author is aware of those changes, but chose to continue her series in that time period using methods common at that time.

Alex and Briggie are partners in a genealogy research business where they trace family connections in order to aid in solving mysteries. They are called in to search out a teenager’s background to provide her doctors at the institution her parents have committed her to with a more complete picture of the family dynamics which they believe are behind the girl’s problems. In the process they discover several murders, a kidnapping, and a web of lies and deceit revolving around the family fortune.

There’s an old-fashioned quality to this mystery not seen in most of today’s faster paced mysteries, but that doesn’t mean it has less appeal. Much of the action has a genteel, removed from the forefront quality, with more taking place off-stage than on. A family tree is shown at frequent intervals with the data updated each time the characters discover new information, giving the reader a ready reference from which to draw conclusions and attempt to solve the mystery. Readers who enjoy playing sleuth and attempting to solve the mystery before the author reveals answers will particularly like this story. And genealogy enthusiasts are not the only ones who will find themselves intrigued by an ever-expanding family tree.

The ending isn’t entirely satisfactory. Some of the dangling threads may be resolved in a future novel, but some needed greater clarification in the present one. There’s a low key triangle romance that plays in the background between Alex and two men who play important roles in her life that goes unresolved. I suspect most readers would like to know more about what becomes of the fortune that led to the murders and the direction several characters lives will now take.

Built on an interesting premise that many of life’s present problems can be resolved through a better understanding of the past and a person’s roots, this novel will appeal largely to genealogy enthusiasts, mystery fans, and most certainly to those who felt frustrated ten years ago when the series was interrupted by the author’s long illness. However, today’s readers can still enjoy the novel without having read the earlier ones.

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Traitors and Tyrants by Russell Jones is a church history novel set primarily in Missouri and Illinois beginning around 1839. The main character is Otis Harmon, a young farmer with a team of Percheron horses. He only wishes to farm, raise horses, and someday settle down with a wife and kids.

As a boy, his friendship with a young Mormon girl gets his father killed and eventually makes him a target of Governor Boggs and his murderous henchman, Tyrone Glaze. Caught up in the events surrounding an attempt to murder Joseph Smith, Otis has to run for his life and cleverly outwit his pursuers. Along the way, he meets three different women he feels responsible for and helps them to escape their unbearable situations. One is Hannah, his long ago friend who throws with uncanny accuracy, who has taught herself to shoot, and who harbors a deep hatred for Missouri men in general and those who murdered her parents and brothers in particular.

Maggie, who is obviously about to have a child, and her ill father are stuck in the mud. Otis takes pity on them and uses his huge horses to pull their wagon clear and learns Maggie’s condition is the result of a gang rape by Missouri raiders. Sarah’s husband attempts to trade her for Otis’s horses, then beats her when Otis refuses the offer, causing her to run away and eventually be jailed for theft.

This is a well-told story that reminds readers of the persecution, unfairness, and miserable conditions under which early Church members lived and died prior to their expulsion from Far West, then Nauvoo. Even though most Church members are familiar with the overall events of this era, Jones creates an absorbing plot. The fictional characters are realistic and well-developed. The real characters and events are the ones that are a problem.

The author fails to reference any of the events and actions involving Boggs and those around him, leaving the reader uncertain where the line is drawn between fact and fiction. Those familiar with the betrayal of the Prophet by the Law brothers, Bennett, and others once in Joseph Smith’s inner circle, will be able to separate fact from fiction, but the casual reader will not. Jones does a little better with Joseph and Hyrum Smith because most of the events are chronicled well enough in general Church history sources to lend authenticity to their actions and words. There isn’t even an author sketch to lend credibility to the author as an historian.

Several other flaws detract from what is otherwise an extremely well-written and absorbing historical novel. The copy editing is lacking and the page formatting with double-width indentations is distracting.

I enjoyed this story and don’t hesitate to recommend it to readers, but I can’t help wishing more attention had been giving to citing sources and copy editing.

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Grab a box of tissues and at least a pound of chocolate. You’ll need them for Counting Stars by Michele Paige Holmes. Counting Stars is a traditional romance with plenty of melodrama. It hinges on a nightmare situation. Jane is thirty, single, and feels her Prince Charming is never going to come along even though she desperately wants a husband and children. Her only prospect is a former drug abuse client, Jay, who managed to get her fired and wreck her chances of getting the degree she’s been working toward. He claims he’s changed and proposes they meet in one year after he’s proved himself.

She meets Paul, who is dying from cancer. His only relative is a twin brother, Peter, serving in Iraq who hates him for marrying his fianc. Paul just lost his wife, who was pregnant with twins, when she was hit by a drunk driver. Paramedics managed to save the babies, but not her. She becomes Paul’s friend and a mother to his premature twins. Complications arise and every clich major movie romance plot is brought into play. It sounds corny, but Holmes makes it work.

This book is long, drags in a few places, but overall is well-written with a touch of humor and characters a reader can care about. Though there are a few humorous scenes, the book is primarily presented as serious drama. The plot is convoluted and, though a romance, is not always predictable. The “borrowing” from romantic movie plots is clever and well done. It won’t appeal to those who dislike tearjerkers on general principle, but it is more than a melodramatic tearjerker and will appeal greatly to those who loved Casablanca, Sleepless in Seattle, The Princess Bride, Love Story, Titanic, Legally Blonde, and a number of other chick flicks. Technical errors are practically nonexistent in the copy. A noteworthy new romance writer has definitely arrived.

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Three Tickets to Peoria by Nancy Anderson, Lael Littke, and Carroll Hofeling Morris is the second book in the Company of Good Women series. It is the continuation of the relationship of three women who meet at a women’s conference at BYU and become long-distance friends who support each other through their various life trials and dysfunctional relationships. It will primarily appeal to adult women who enjoy popular women’s fiction.

Wet Desert by Gary Hansen, published by HoleShot Press, 360 pages, $14.95.
Chaos by Jeff Downs, published by Covenant Communications, 247 pages, $15.95
Tangled Roots by G.G. Vandagriff, published by Deseret Book, 294 pages, $14.95
Traitors and Tyrants by Russell Jones, HNKS Publishing, 270 pages, $13.95
Counting Stars by Michele Paige Holmes, Covenant      Communications, 388 pages, $16.95
Three Tickets to Peoria by Nancy Anderson, Lael Littke, and      Carroll Hofeling Morris, published by Deseret Book, 364      pages, $15.95