Borrowed Light by Carla Kelly, 2011, Bonneville Books, 408 pages. Though an experienced published author otherwise, this is Kelly's first novel in the LDS market, and it is definitely a page-turner. Born and raised in the Avenues of Salt Lake City and now a graduate of the Fanny Farmer Boston School of Cookery, Julia Darling escapes an engagement to a righteous but suffocatingly dull man she doesn't really love by answering a newspaper ad, agreeing to be the cook for a "mature" rancher on a Wyoming cattle spread. It is 1910 and she is 27 years old. She has always lived her religion as her parents taught her to do, but alone in the remote Rocky Mountains with her mysterious employer and the quirky strays he has hired as ranch hands, Julia's faith and courage are tested in ways she never expected. Well-plotted and finely written, this story is a compelling mix of action and humor, likable characters and human drama. A very, very good can't-put-it-down kind of read.
Until Proven Guilty by Betsy Brannon Green, 2002, Covenant, 348 pages. We all know that things are not always what they seem, but this book explores the issue in a very satisfying way, with characters you can care about, a plot that keeps moving, and a story that makes you think about the times you judged things on their appearance when you should have withheld your opinion until all the facts were known. Loved this book, and I have a crush on Jack Gamble.
Pieces of Paris by G.G. Vandagriff, 2010, Shadow Mountain, 258 pages. Posing a question of whether we can ever truly escape the past, this novel reveals several story lines skillfully, beautifully, with sensitivity and exquisite prose. Issues relating to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are dealt with in a completely satisfying way. Music has an important part in the story and as a music lover, I felt the added richness. This is the kind of book you can't put down for long, a story with layers and nuances that make you willing to lose sleep to finish reading, an engaging story of healing and reconciliation.
An Accomplished Woman by Jude Morgan, 2007, St. Martin's Press, 407 pages. This Jane Austen takeoff sparkles with the kind of conversation you hear on a Masterpiece Classics adaptation. With wit on every page and sometimes laugh-out-loud humor, the story and the characters surprise and delight. Morgan personifies the wine and has Lydia, the main character, fall to its temptation. My favorite line: Stupidity is not a necessary part of youth, though it does tend to thrive there, like fungus in a cellar. One character observes that it's no use telling another character to go to the devil because she wouldn't do it. Charm, wit, young people trolling for suitable mates in the high society of Bath, but nothing turns out like you think it's going to. Pure charming fun, smoothly written... I can hardly wait to see it on Masterpiece.
The Rogue Shop by Michael Knudsen, 2010, Covenant. This debut novel features the kind of luscious prose that glides through the pleasure center of your brain and settles in. Chris, raised in Texas by his Aunt Jean, a devout Baptist, comes to Salt Lake to attend the U on a full scholarship, having sworn on an actual Bible that he won't get mixed up with those Mormons. He gets an apartment where a couple of nice Mormon girls live next door, and the job he finds in a tuxedo rental shop introduces him to some unique characters, too. As Chris discovers his past and reconciles the mistakes of his teenage years, he also discovers his future. This book is the definition of "good read." It pulls you in and won't let you go, and you'll be glad.
Dearly Departed by Tristi Pinkston, Walnut Springs, 2010. Catch up with the members of the Omni 2nd Ward Relief Society presidency now that they've been released from their callings. They're sleuthing again, and with the same wit and humor found in Secret Sisters, the first in the series. It's like finding out what old friends are up to these days.
Unsung Lullaby by Josi Kilpack. If you've ever been close to people struggling with infertility, or faced the issue yourself, you will be able to identify with this story. It grabs your heart and won't let go even after you've read the last page and closed the book.
Mary and Joseph by Robert Marcum, 2006, Covenant Communications, 406 pages. What must it have been like to be the earthly parents of the Son of God? This well-researched, compellingly told story gives some "aha" insights into the religious and political circumstances into which Jesus was born that often came into conflict with his mission and teachings. It is not the story of Jesus that we all know from the scriptures; it is the story of his parents.
Secret Sisters by Tristi Pinkston, 264 pages, Valor Publishing, 2010 - Completely fun, a total palate-cleanser. After you've been into books about vampires or superhero capers, get into what the Omni 2nd Ward Relief Society presidency does in their spare time - spying.
The Butterfly House by Marsha Preston, 2005, 301 pages. Seeking refuge from her lonely life in a friend's home, Bobbie Lee learns all about butterflies from Lenora Jaines, her classmate Cincy's mother. As an adult, Bobbie is forced to revisit the past and face the tragedy that tore them all apart. This first novel is a masterfully told story of friendships and family secrets. Gripping, engaging story.
Zinnie Stokes, Zinnie Stokes by Donald R. Marshall. Deseret Book 1984 - 144 pages. This book is so nice they named it twice. Though it may be dated in some respects, it's pure pleasure to read a compelling story couched in such fine prose. Gavin Terry, a recent widower, takes his six year old son on an odyssey into the past to confront some sins that need forgiving, amends that need to be made, and some old prejudices that still cloud judgment. Marshall creates characters you care about. Now out of print, this book may be available in a public library. I got mine at a thrift store.
No Going Back by Jonathan Langford is a difficult novel to read, but worth it. It's the story of Paul, a gay Mormon teenager and the decision he makes to be a faithful, chaste Latter-day Saint. Definitely not a young adult book, this is a must-read for adult leaders who deal with teens. It gives church doctrine on the topic but it doesn't preach or shake a superior finger in your face. Most outstanding in the book is Paul's bishop who loves and guides him with the kind of compassion many of his peers don't have. A view of this life as simply a portion of a total eternal life gave me a greater understanding of a problem I hope I never have to deal with, and helped take away some of my own fear and ignorance. Published by a small Utah publishing house, Zarahemla Books, you'll have to go to their website to purchase the book because Deseret Book doesn't carry it. More's the pity.
Don't You Marry the Mormon Boys by Janet Kay Jensen - An award-winning novel about two medical students at the University of Utah who fall in love - he committed to his LDS faith, she committed to returning to provide medical services to her polygamous community. They break up when they graduate and each has a job to go to, but things change and when their paths cross again, they realize they still are attracted to each other. Polygamy is incidental to the story, a vehicle for motivating the character to action, without being a central focus. Folk music is important in the story, which is where the title comes from. And the characters in the backwoods Kentucky story line are priceless.
The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas - A "friends staying loyal to friends" story turns into a mystery, but you have to be tolerant of the 1930s social values a group of quilters in the Dust Bowl of Kansas. Sometimes it seems to wander a bit. All the women had their charming eccentricities, but I really got interested when the main character's husband appeared. He's a guy I could really like.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows - This is, to use EnglishMajorSpeak, an epistolary novel, one written in the form of letters to and from the characters. It takes place on the Island of Guernsey in the Channel Islands (that's in the English Channel between England and France, and although closer to France belong to England) and reveals what happened when the Germans occupied it during World War II. It's funny and dramatic and has all the elements of a very satisfying novel.
Rift by Todd Robert Peterson - A story of stubborn men who take a personal grudge way too far, this takes place in Sanpete County, Utah, a place I'm somewhat familiar with, which adds to the enjoyment. One LDS reviewer said this is how LDS fiction ought to be written, so naturally I had to read it, being a purveyor of LDS fiction myself. I didn't like the way the book was marketed, however; it made it sound like it was going to be racy or daring somehow, but it was an endearing story that made me feel I should be sittin' and whittlin' and spittin' with the main characters out front of the barber shop.
To Have or To Hold by Josi Kilpack - What begins as an unconventional bargain between two people who each need what the other has to offer turns into a gripping story of honor and commitment. Skillfully written; it starts out as her story and somewhere in the middle it becomes his. Then it ends as their story. I don't know how Josi did that, but it's very satisfying.
Counting the Cost by Liz Adair - A New Mexico cowboy who loves the land and adheres to a strict code of personal behavior falls in love with the beautiful but abused wife of one of the ranch management team. This is the kind of book that stays with you for a while.