Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tower of Strength by Annette Lyon

By Brittany Mangus

Below is my interview with author Annette Lyon about her wonderful new historical fiction novel Tower of Strength. I love historical novels and was very thrilled to read Annette's latest creation! I was so excited to read Tower because I went to Snow College and loved the Manti area. Anyway, because of that, I thought I would include some of my own photos in this interview.

Q: Spires of Stone was a take on Shakespeare's Much Ado. Was there a book or play that inspired the storyline of Tower of Strength?

A: The storyline for Tower of Strength grew organically after researching the Manti area and the temple. One day as I was blow-drying my hair, Tabitha appeared in my head. I knew her background and even that she hated being called, "Tabby." Then as I wrote the book, I felt a bit like an archaeologist uncovering a story that was already there. The process was very different than with Spires of Stone, where I went into the book with a pretty clear framework.

Q: This is the fourth book in your temple series. (The other books have centered around the Salt Lake Temple, the St. George Temple and the Logan Temple.) I have ancestral ties to the early pioneers who helped settle the Bear Lake Valley and who helped build the Logan Temple. What draws your interest or inspires you in the historical aspect of the early Utah temples and the Mormon pioneers?

A: My original fascination began solely with the Logan Temple, which has some family connections for me. I wanted to write about it, so I did. Then I decided that it was such a rewarding experience that I wanted to learn more about other temples and write about them. Both sides of my family came into the Church relatively recently, so I personally have no pioneer blood. Writing about the Saints who settled Utah and Arizona has made me feel connected to Church history in a way I never did before. I also have a greater appreciation for temples than I used to.

Q: I love names. How did you choose the first and last names for your characters in Tower of Strength? Do they have a special significance? At any point were they changed?

A: Tabitha showed up with her own name. Will's name changed at one point after my critique group debated on whether his original nickname fit the period, but I don't think anyone else had a name change.

I keep a running list of names from the 1800s that I've found in either old records or on headstones from that era. When I need a first or last name, I consult that list. One name I picked deliberately was Wilhelmina--it sounded a bit abrasive and uptight, so it seemed to fit her character.

Q: Did you have a working title for the book that was not Tower of Strength?

A: This may sound odd, but I don't usually have working titles. The marketing department picks the title, and it's almost never what the author submitted a book as. For me, it's hard to call a book something and then have to rename it, so I just refer to manuscripts along the lines of, "my Manti book." I was pleased with the title they picked--the towers are under construction during the story, so the title can refer to the temple, but it also refers to a major theme with Tabitha, who's had to be a major tower of strength in her own right just to survive.

Q: Margaret Mitchell famously wrote the last chapter of Gone with the Wind first. Did you know how the story would end before you finished it, or, while writing it, did the story take on a life of it's own and dictate its own ending?

A: I pretty much knew the basic story arc from the beginning, although I did discover a lot along the way. I didn't know exactly what the final scene would be and even played with the end in revisions even though I knew what would happen with all the major characters, including Mantia.

There's a significant scene near the end between Tabitha, Samuel, and Mantia that I knew about very early on. It was one of the first parts I wrote.

Check out the book trailer! Manti is interesting... (if you learn to ignore the turkey smell).

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Tower of Strength by Annette Lyon

Tower of Strength
By Annette Lyon

Covenant Communications

March 2009

Reviewed by Heather Moore

I’ve been waiting for this next historical by Annette Lyon for over a year. Even though I read it in draft form, I was excited to read the final version. It didn’t disappoint. In fact, I can confidently say that Annette Lyon is one of the best writers in her genre. Many of you know that the 2008 Whitney Award finalists have been announced. So I’ve decided to read them all—yes—it might sound crazy, but I only have 1 ½ books to go.

So you can say that I’ve immersed myself in the LDS genre this past month, or at least books by LDS writers. And sometimes these books are automatically labeled sub-par because of previous bad attempts by other authors.

But I’ve taken a critical eye, and read the genre for what it is (yes, most of the characters are LDS, yes, most of them go through faith-affirming trials, and yes, editorial comes into play with the smaller publishers).

So when I started reading Annette’s book, my antenna was on high. One thing I know is that Annette has learned the craft of writing, she understands the rules of fiction and she willing accepts feedback from alpha readers, editors, etc. Yet, she is able to produce such a natural story-telling style, that Tower of Strength runs seamless from scene to scene.

In Tower of Strength, I really enjoyed the characters. Tabitha is widowed at a young age and moves to Logan (from Manti) in order to start over with her infant son. Six years later, she’s asked to return and take over the town newspaper in Manti. I loved the historical tie-ins that Lyon includes—from the prejudice of some of the town members of having a “woman” head up the newspaper, to the building of the Manti temple.

Also impressive is the research that Lyon has done on this time period—to the common dialog phrases used at that time, to the clothing, the food, the thoughts and attitudes of some of the early settlers.

I was most impressed with the complex characterization of Tabitha and how she comes to terms with falling in love again. Samuel, an emigrant from England, is a fun, jaunty character who has his own past and lost love to overcome. He provides a lot of comic relief during the story with his complete lack of ability to care for horses—which happens to be his job. Also, Tabitha’s mother-in-law, “Mother Hall”, is another favorite character in which the reader has a complete change of heart toward this woman by the end of the book.

Overall, I’d highly recommend Lyon’s Tower of Strength, a nice anchor to her four-volume historical temple series.
To see my reviews of Lyon's other historical temple books, visit:

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Last Waltz by GG Vandagriff

The Last Waltz
By GG Vandagriff

Shadow Mountain, March 2009

Review by Heather Moore

Modern teenagers of today might think people of early twentieth century Europe were a simple lot. After all, they rode in carriages, wrote letters by hand, and attended formal balls. The nobility did little else but gossip and discuss Parisian fashions. Yet, in GG Vandagriff’s newest novel, pre-World War I Austria explodes with intrigue, volatile politics that would eventually bring the Austrian people under Hitler’s rule, and a love story that proves that a woman’s heart is as vast as the ocean.

In 1913, Amalia Faulhaber is just nineteen years old, engaged to a Baron who will secure her family’s social status. Her life is predictable as she follows the pattern set by the aristocracy. Then her fiancĂ© breaks their engagement, telling her he must follow his childhood dream and join the Prussian army. He leaves for Germany that same day. Amalia is devastated, but even worse, humiliated. She hides the break-up until she can deliver a valid explanation to her family.

As she is struggling with feelings of being rejected, she meets two men. One is another Baron—an Austrian who promises to choose her over his country. The other, a Pole, who holds the same ideals as Amalia and haunts her dreams and every waking moment.

But a terrible misunderstanding drives Amalia to make a mistake that she will pay for a lifetime. Soon after, World War I breaks out, and Amalia is forced to face her ghosts and heal from tragedy. She copes by working as a nurse, becoming a witness to unspeakable horrors.

Her family loses their position in society and politics and war take over any hope of Amalia ever marrying for true love. Austria is thrown into chaos as various government ideals struggle for power. Family members are forced to choose sides. Fortunes are lost. Jews are persecuted. Amalia’s only salvation is developing a relationship with the Lord. And she must learn to trust again.

Before reading this book, I’d never given too much thought to those who lived in pre-Hitler controlled Austria. Of course, I’ve seen the Sound of Music enough times to understand that those who did not swear allegiance to Hitler were in mortal danger. Yet, the events leading up to this historical time were fascinating. The Last Waltz was truly an epic love tale, spanning four decades of Amalia’s life—following her through triumph and tragedy. She’d lost so much, yet came out so strong. And through all of her temptations she remained a virtuous woman.

If I was to nitpick one thing, I would have liked more time and attention spent on the literal last waltz that took place near the end of the book.

Overall GG Vandagriff has a talent for immersing the reader in a different time and place. I was interested to read her biography and discover that she’d lived and studied in Austria. The Last Waltz is also a novel that was thirty years in the making. I’m grateful it finally made it to me.