Novels are Springing Up All Over
By Jennie Hansen
May has burst forth with a wide selection of novels sure to suit varied reading interests. Humor, philosophy, mystery, romance, and history all appear in this month’s selections.
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The Survivors by Gregg Luke is an exciting new adventure novel with an unexpected Book of Mormon twist. David Kirkham, Ph.D. (“Kirk”) is an overworked scientist with doctorates in both ethnobotany and pharmacognosy. As a senior field analyst for a top pharmaceutical company, he spends his time hopping from one country to another searching out new formulas and cures for the world’s diseases. His jet-setting lifestyle leaves little time for his wife and daughter; consequently his marriage is on the rocks.
Between an ultimatum from his wife delivered by the hotel concierge to his room and his absorption in a Tom Clancy novel, he’s late leaving for the Phoenix Sky Harbor airport for a flight to South America to study a purported new Alzheimer’s drug developed in a small research lab in Sao Paulo. His already foul mood intensifies when he learns he missed his flight and the only flight he can get on is one to Texas on a small commuter prop plane. He’s not too happy either to discover his seat mate is a ten- or eleven-year-old Mormon girl who seems unusually calm and mature for her age.
Though accustomed to flying, he’s not accustomed to a small plane in a huge storm. Thinking a drink will relax him, he orders a mini-bottle and suffers the child’s disapproval as he drinks it. The storm gets worse, and though he knows he shouldn’t mix alcohol and a powerful sleeping pill, he figures one pill won’t hurt and he can sleep until the plane lands. Unfortunately, the storm increases in intensity, the plane is blown off course, sustains a lightening hit, and crashes in a Mexican rainforest.
Melodee (the Mormon girl), seemingly unscathed and still clinging to her backpack, goes in search of survivors. Kirk has a broken arm, a head injury, and various contusions. Between his unconscious state through the crash and Melodee’s efforts to help him before the crash, he is the only one she finds.
After waiting around a few days, they acknowledge they can’t live on the airline pretzels they find, so begins an attempt to walk out of the jungle. Predators, ferocious rainstorms, drug runners, fatigue, hunger, and a strange native tribe are among the hazards they encounter. The most terrifying aspect for Kirk is what he discovers about Melodee.
The Survivors contains the usual chases, close calls, and excitement of an adventure novel, but it is unusual to pair a thirty-something man with a pre-teen female. The presumption is that the adult assumes the caregiver role, but Luke frequently switches this premise and does so in a believable manner.
A couple of unexpected plot twists add to the intrigue and make the story hard to put down. The characters are well-developed, Kirk especially. He begins as a short tempered, self-centered, rude man quickly burning out on his stressful lifestyle, who makes difficult and slow changes, including some back-sliding. Melodee is generally realistic, though at times I found her a little too self-sacrificing even for someone with her unique situation.
In addition to being well-written, this book is superbly well copy-edited. If there were errors, I became too caught up in the story to notice. I thought there were a few too many technical and chemical names used until Kirk explained to Melodee the chemical makeup of chocolate and I learned chocolate doesn’t actually contain caffeine. The cover is dark and foreboding, hinting at the supernatural. This is unfortunate since this isn’t a book about ghosts; it’s an adventure, a little scary in places (though not that kind of scary). Overall, this was an interesting and unusual story written by a man who is himself a pharmacist.
The Boxmaker’s Son by Donald S. Smurthwaite is a mixture of philosophy and nostalgia. It won’t appeal to readers looking for plot or action; it’s not that kind of book. It’s not the kind of book either that readers “can’t put down” or “have to stay up all night to finish.” This book is best taken in small doses, allowing the reader time to think, to agree or argue, and to mull over in their minds the messages taught
Neal Rogers is an ordinary boy growing up in Portland, the son of a man who makes boxes for a living. He does the ordinary things boys growing up in the 50’s and 60’s tended to do, primarily play baseball and other such games in the street with other boys. The novel focuses on the street where Neal lives and the old rock church where he grows from deacon to missionary. The stories of those growing up years are told as a tribute to Neal’s father, Hal, who was the steady, teaching influence in the boy’s life. Hal was also a World War II veteran who shared little of that part of his life with his son, wishing only to put those terrible memories behind him.
The recognition of the father’s influence on a boy’s life is the strongest element of the story. Though Hal’s employment didn’t garner a lot of recognition, money, or prestige, the man himself was worthy of emulation. He was dependable, punctual, careful, and took pride in a job well done. He conveyed a deep conviction that one’s tasks in life should be thought out carefully, measured precisely, and constructed to endure with strength and reliability. His service in the Church was noteworthy because of his patience and compassion, coupled with genuine caring for people in all their diverse situations that he brought to each calling.
Hal carried over the same care to his role as a father. He was a master teacher as a parent, instilling love and commitment both by example and by capitalizing on teaching moments in his son’s life.
Smurthwaite makes a convincing argument for the need for fathers in their children’s lives. There is something tender and touching in the way he reminds readers of their own fathers, bringing to mind half-forgotten memories.
His reconstruction of the fifties/sixties time period awakens memories for those readers who grew from childhood to adulthood at that time ? and not all of those memories are as pleasant as those Neal remembers. I certainly don’t share his fondness for those old stone chapels with a dozen steps leading to the front door and another flight from the front door to the chapel. They were a nightmare for my mother, with her damaged knees. And those neighborhoods where everyone lived in one house all the way through school were neither welcoming nor kind to those children who moved frequently or were tied to farm chores.
It’s not unusual for the more literary novels to use literary devices to establish a particular style, give emphasis, or draw attention. Smurthwaite has done this extensively. I found the use of repetition, fragmented stories, and incomplete sentences annoying and counter-productive in a novel that pays tribute to a man who is careful and precise. I found myself wishing the author would pay as much attention to the rules of writing as his character’s father does to building boxes. I’m not a Picasso fan either, though I recognize his brilliance. It’s a matter of taste, I suppose.
The copy in The Boxmaker’s Son is remarkably clean, save for the deliberate sentence structure errors. It’s a book that will appeal primarily to older readers, literary readers, and those who like to read only a paragraph or chapter at a time. I recommend it for readers of all ages and tastes as a refreshing change-of-pace novel. It is filled with solid concepts concerning parenting, relationships, faith, and real life skills. I also predict it will become the darling of book clubs.
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As Time Goes By is an exciting new World War II novel by Jerry Borrowman. It’s a spinoff from ‘Til the Boys Come Home, featuring the Englishman Philip Carlyle and his family – particularly his sons, Michael and Dominic. Michael is tall, athletic, intelligent, and has come to grips with his dual citizenship. He’s a Navy lieutenant, well on his way to his own command. Dominic is tall, far from athletic, has been expelled from numerous schools, keeps everyone around him in turmoil, wishes to be an actor, and only enlists in the British Army Signal Corps to avoid being drafted in America. He can’t seem to decide if he’s British or American. Philip, too, is part of the war effort as a member of the House of Lords; he is assigned responsibility for the security of the war room.
Covering primarily the years before the United States entered the war, this novel is rich in detail concerning Britain’s battle to retain their country, free from Hitler’s Germany. Unprepared for war, they see their allies crumble one after the other as Hitler’s army ruthlessly overturns governments. Soon they stand alone, enduring daily bombing, but refusing to give up. Buoyed by Winston Churchill and the king and queen, they struggle against incredible odds to save their country.
On a personal scale, members of the Carlyle family face both discrimination and good-natured teasing over their conversion to the Church. They are also teased over the fact that Philip, a viscount, is married to an American wife who has ties to two countries.
With the bombing of London a daily reality, the younger children, Grace and Dominick, are sent to America to their aunt in Arizona. Dominick soon wears out his welcome and both find a way to return to England. Philip’s wife, Claire, turns the manor house into a convalescent home. Injuries, heroism, betrayal, fear, sacrifice, honor, and even romance become a part of their life, lived under pressure.
Borrowman writes convincingly of men and women who are barely old enough to be counted as adults rising to the height that has earned them the title of “the greatest generation,” but he gives equally sensitive treatment to those who fall short of expectations, who have lesser reserves and what is perceived as shallower ambitions. He writes of class distinctions that are foreign to the American-born Carlyle children, irrational fear that drives one to do the opposite of what he wants to do, and the ideological forces that drive some to betray what the profess to love most.
This is a fast-paced, gripping novel, perhaps Borrowman’s best. It is well-researched by researchers on both sides of the ocean and carries powerful messages concerning the value of freedom, family loyalty, duty, and both the strengths and weaknesses of individuals. It has only a couple of those pesky electronic errors. Characters are well developed and the plot unfolds in a compelling manner. Its greatest drawback is that it doesn’t end; it just stops. Obviously, there will be a sequel, but the light-hearted stopping point at a crucial point in the war is a little jarring.
Backtrack is proof that Betsy Brannon Green well deserves her fans’ enthusiastic endorsement as LDS fiction’s top female mystery/suspense writer. Once again the mystery has its roots in Haggarty. From there it branches into a white-knuckle race for survival in the Smoky Mountains, where four women have gone for a reunion and an escaped convict has fled for sanctuary.
Meanwhile, back in Haggarty, Miss Eugenia has uncovered her own mystery, one none of her friends are willing to take seriously. Characters face both physical and emotional dangers in this fast-paced novel. There is a nice balance between small town comfort, witty lines, and breath-taking danger. Copy errors are minimal. The author has included five pages of recipes.
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Bullies in the Headlights is the newest release by Matthew Buckley (not his real name). Those who laughed uproariously over Chickens in the Headlights won’t be disappointed in this one. It’s more of the same outrageous family humor, featuring a family with seven children under the age of ten, all boys, as told by eight-year-old Matthew Buckley. In this novel the Buckley boys are threatened, beaten, and generally terrorized by four boys in the Hagbart family. They try everything; fighting back, avoidance, tricks, and everything else they can think of until they find the one best way to deal with bullies. This well-written book will be enjoyed by the entire family and I thoroughly recommend it for all age levels.
Scottish Legend by Sherry Ann Miller is the newest release in Granite Publishing’s Love Notes series. This is a series of clean romances published in the smaller mass market paperback size. This one is not specifically LDS.
The Survivors, by Gregg Luke, Covenant Publications, soft cover, 276 pages, $15.95
The Boxmaker’s Son by Donald S. Smurthwaite, Deseret Book, hardback cover, 192 pages, $16.95
As Time Goes By by Jerry Borrowman, Covenant Publications, hardback cover, 387 pages, $22.95
Backtrack by Betsy Brannon Green, Covenant Publications, softcover, 306 pages, $15.95
Bullies in the Headlights by Matthew Buckley, Covenant Publishing, 196 pages, $14.95
Scottish Legend by Sherry Ann Miller, Granite Publishing, 222 pages