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Family drama, professional contests and search for adventure in trio of Whitney Award finalists

These are three of the five novels that are 2017 Whitney Award finalists in the general fiction category. The Whitney Awards recognize novels by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The awards will be presented at the gala on Saturday in Provo.

"THE FATTEST MORMON: The Winnebago Chronicles, Vol. 1," by Tyson Abaroa, Createspace, $9.99, 240 pages (f)

"The Fattest Mormon" is by Tyson Abaroa.

Phil Carroll’s life changed when he was banned from all legitimate jiu-jitsu competitions, a sport he deeply loved, for alleged cheating. The circumstances weren’t totally his fault, but he understood why it had to happen. In "The Fattest Mormon," Phil makes his living roaming around the country participating in any competitive event he can find — the bigger the prize, the more likely he is to try.

Traveling in his Winnebago — a prize from a past competition — Phil finds himself on the road to the northern Arizona towns of Taylor and Snowflake. His plan is to take a shot at a small-time, big prize weight-loss contest. His confidence and experience assure him that this event will be a simple matter of preparation and execution.

After all, how many professionals will show up in the deserts of Arizona. What he doesn’t anticipate is running into a pretty Mormon woman who is also a physical trainer with her eye on the prize.

Author Tyson Abaroa, who served in the Marines and an LDS mission, invites readers to enter the world of professional contests in this surprisingly delightful story of love, redemption and competition.

While Phil tries to keep his attention on his "work," he is continually drawn to the attractive divorcee who, mostly, doesn’t want a new relationship. But when Phil enlists her help to “train” him for the contest, they both begin to see things differently. The only difficulty seems to be the return of the ex-husband, looking to rekindle the old relationship.

“The Fattest Mormon” is unique in its storyline, and the characters are interesting and believable.

It is a finalist for a 2017 Whitney Award in the general category. The Whitney Awards recognize novels by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Abaroa was born in Provo and lives in Gilbert, Arizona.

There is no offensive language, violence or sexual content, but some characters engage in generally described fisticuffs and jiu-jitsu activities.

— Mike Whitmer

"Flight of the Wounded Falcon," book six of the Forest at the Edge series, is by Trish Mercer.|

The golden years have arrived for Perrin and Mahree Shin in "Flight of the Wounded Falcon," book six of the Forest at the Edge series. Surrounded by family, the Shins' lives are harmonious and beautiful. Welcoming refugees from the world reminds the Shins of their blessings and the increasing chaos elsewhere. Hearing about the desperate state of the world, Perrin wonders if he should leave Salem and resume his military career.

Young Pere, Perrin's grandson and namesake, finds Salem dull and confining. Only in the world, he believes, can he become a hero like his grandfather. When an opportunity to leave Salem arises, he seizes the chance with little thought of the consequences. After all, a young man, spitting image of an old war hero, will not go unnoticed by General Lemuel Thorne.

Billed as "Part fantasy, part adventure, part humor, part romance, part mystery," the Forest at the Edge series is a generational saga in the tradition of The Work and the Glory series. This sixth installment is short on romance and mystery, but the adventure, humor and fantasy are still there.

This series is clearly a labor of love from LDS author Trish Mercer, but "Wounded Falcon" would have benefited from additional editing. The prose is clunky in places, and the pace of the story is weighed down by too many characters, too many storylines, and too many extraneous scenes. Nevertheless, readers looking for a family-friendly spiritual adventure story will find what they came for — and have a good time doing so.

"Flight of the Wounded Falcon" is a finalist for the 2017 Whitney Awards in the general fiction category. The Whitney Awards recognize the work of novels of writers who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

This book contains general references to war violence and sexuality but no profanity.

— Rachel Chipman

"Gilda Trillim: Shepherdess of Rats" is by Steven Peck. | Roundfire Books

“Gilda Trillim: Shepherdess of Rats” is not a novel for the faint of heart. Bordering on the absurd, this book by LDS author Steven L. Peck, has everything from drug-induced visions, hints at lesbianism, Mormon theology, ghosts and a rat-obsession. While Peck’s writing can be beautiful at times, reading pages of philosophical wanderings can be tedious.

This work of fiction is written in the form of a thesis by a defunct scholar about an award-winning badminton player and beloved philosophical author famous for her time served as a POW.

Although it’s obvious Peck has a talent for writing, the fact that this book is a Whitney Award finalist may leave many wondering about the veracity of these awards. Parts of the novel, like Trillim’s time as a POW during the Vietnam War, are truly moving. But other sections, like Trillim’s continual fascination with an apple seed, and how her obsession garnered a cult following, is disturbing.

“Gilda Trillim” contains a lot of philosophical wanderings, some of which can be soul-provoking. But most of the time, reading Trillim’s religious and metaphysical rantings get old fast and readers can be left mentally urging Peck to hurry the story line along.

By the time this dark book is over, readers will likely be left wondering if Trillim was crazy or if she was a misunderstood genius. Whatever the reality, “Gilda Trillim: Shepherdess of Rats” is a far cry from other Whitney Award finalists and should be read with an open mind.

“Gilda Trillim” is smattered with profanities and a few brief mentions of violence. This novel also contains a sexual scene, in which the gender of Trillim’s lover isn’t acknowledged. Drug usage is portrayed a handful of instances, including a long drug-induced vision. LDS theology, together with obscure quotes by past leaders, is referenced throughout the book.

It's a 2017 Whitney Award finalist in the general category, and the awards recognize novels by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It's also received an award from the Association for Mormon Letters.

Peck is a professor of biology at BYU. A Utah native, he lives with his family in Pleasant Grove.

— Elizabeth Reid