It has been nearly a month since my last column, and the number of new books are piling up. Among them are three nationally-published novels, Matthew Kirby’s Icefall, Robison Wells’ Variant, and Randall Wright and Carmen Agra Deedy’s A Cheshire Cheese Cat, all of which received starred reviews from either (or both) Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus Reviews.
Blog posts and news
At A Motley Vision, Kent Larson, may have found that Lyman Littlefield wrote the first piece of Mormon fiction, although the text is not currently known to exist. Wm Morris, in “Evidences of Uneasy Assimilation” talks about Elna Baker saying she is no longer a practicing Mormon, and some other things, on the topic of Mormon assimilation into American culture. The piece started a lively comment conversation. Theric and Wm gave updates on their soon-to-released projects Fire in the Pasture and Monsters and Mormons.
The prodigious reviewer Blair Hodges praises the story and poetry collection The Fob Bible at By Common Consent.
A significant amount of criticism and even hatred of Orson Scott Card was offered over his short novel Hamlet’s Father, someone finally got a copy to review. Moriah Jovan gives a detailed review at By Common Consent. She defends it from the charge that he equates pedastry with homosexuality. However, she did not like the book much, because of its lack of artistry. “The other (major) thing I found problematic was in its execution: To call this a retelling is…generous. Hamlet’s Father is basically Cliffs Notes with entertaining dialogue and some backstory thrown in to answer the question “Why?” which is, to be fair, the novella’s raison d’être.” She gave it only two stars.
The Appendix Podcast has a pair of episodes with Janette Rallison filing in for the ailing Robison Wells.
Brandon Sanderson interview at Fantasymagazine.
Scott Hales, at the Low-Tech World, gives us “500 Words on the ‘Nine Old Men of Mormon Literary Criticism’” (Eugene England, Bruce Jorgensen, and seven others who published pioneering Mormon literary criticism in the 1970s and 1980s). In Forgive My Momentary Bursts of Cultural Envy; or, Why Mormon Literature Needs Its Own Henry Louis Gates, Jr. he talks about Gates’ uncovering of lost African-American literature, and wishes for a similar project in Mormondom, while also noting the work of Ardis Parshall, the Mormon Texts Project, and Peculiar Pages are doing to start us in that direction. Scott also became a permanent blogger at Modern Mormon Men, and his first post is “Why I Read Realistic Mormon Literature,” where he talks about his history with Mormon literature.
Theric reviews a book-length interview with comic book author Mike Allred about his career, and reviews an Allred comic book.
Deseret News article on Shannon Hale and the recent filming of Austenland, a movie based on her novel.
Sherry Allred. Nephi and the Sword of Laban. Peery’s Egyptian Theater, Ogden. Oct. 4-8. Part 1 of a new Book of Mormon musical series. Starring Chase Petersen as Nephi.
Mahonri Stewart, Legends of Sleepy Hollow. Zion’s Theatre Company, Oct. 7-15. Castle Ampitheater, Provo. Daily Herald feature story. Stewart adapted the Washington Irving story.
Saturday’s Warrior Nostalgia Post at FMH. Lots of fun comments.
New Books and their reviews
Traci Hunter Abramson, Obsession. Covenant, Sept. Romantic Suspense. Young celebrity flees to a remote part of Arizona for privacy, adventure with a serial killer and a FBI agent. The FBI agent is related to characters in Abramson’s previous novels.
B. K. Bostick. Huber Hill and the Dead Man’s Treasure. Cedar Fort, Oct. 8. YA adventure. First novel.
Michael Collings, Shadow Valley Borgo Press, Aug. Horror. “A horror novel that touches on the influence the past can bring to bear on the present…using as a primary metaphor the fact and the fancies of polygamy.”
Larry Correia and Mike Kupari. Dead Six. Baen, Sept. Action/Adventure. A veteran is recruited by the government to conduct a counter-terror operation in the Persian Gulf. Mass-market paperback. This is the first book for Kupari, who is currently on active duty in Afghanistan.
Elitist Book Reviews: It reads like the good Clancy novels where the focus is on character and and story rather than textbook-like, useless details. There is a lot of action here. Kupari writes like a pro I never expected from a first-time author, and Correia writes like the pro author I’ve come to expect. This novel is actually pretty grim. The body-count is really high. Both Kupari and Correia manage to keep the tone dark and serious, all the while giving the reader enough humor to keep things from being too depressing.
Therese Doucet, A Lost Argument: A Latter-Day Novel. Strange Violin Editions, Sept. Literary fiction. A BYU freshman falls in love with philosophy, and parts ways with the LDS Church. The author is an ex-Mormon, but not antagonistic. Strange Violin Editions is her new publishing house, where she hopes to publish non-Mainstream literature centered around Mormonism. She has a novel by BYU Professor Steven L. Peck coming out in 2012.
Sarah M. Eden, Seeking Persephone. Covenant, Sept. Regency Romance. Won the Whitney Award for Best Romance in 2008, when it was self-published. Now picked up by Covenant.
Shanda (LDSWBR): “I give Seeking Persephone 4 stars out of 5 for great writing, memorable characters, and a wonderfully romantic story.”
Becca Fitzpatrick, Silence. Simon & Schuster, October 4. YA paranormal. 3rd in the bestselling Hush, Hush series.
Heather Frost, Seers. Cedar Fort, Oct. 8. YA paranormal fantasy. Features angels and demons, and the classic fantasy novel love triangle. Debut novel.
Mindy (LDSWBR): 4 stars. Sheila (LDSWBR): 4 stars.
Jaclyn M. Hawkes, The Outer Edge of Heaven. Spirit Dance Books, Aug. Contemporary Western Romance. Her second novel, the first was with the now defunct Granite. It appears to be self-published.
Jennie Hansen (Meridian Magazine): 5 stars. “It’s clever and funny. It’s not all humor, however. There’s a touching love story along with several social issues, a lot of action, and a dreamy silhouette cowboy on a horse at sunset cover . . . This story moves at a lively pace. The main characters are likable, and the dialog is often hilarious . . . The author does a credible job of showing the part faith plays in dealing with difficult situations, especially when the right thing to do seems to run contrary to church teachings.”
Matthew Kirby, Icefall. Scholastic, Oct. 1. Middle grade, alternative historical mystery. Set in medieval Norway, with Vikings. Second novel.
Publisher’s Weekly (stared review): “Kirby follows The Clockwork Three with a tense mystery that blends history and Norse myth . . . Kirby turns in a claustrophobic, thought-provoking coming-of-age adventure that shows a young woman growing into her own, while demonstrating the power of myth and legend. Kirby’s attention to detail and stark descriptions make this an effective mood piece. Readers may be drawn in by the promise of action, which Kirby certainly fulfils, but they’ll be left contemplating the power of the pen versus the sword—or rather the story versus the war hammer. Ages 8–12.”
School Library Journal blog: “There’s a certain breed of middle grade fiction novel for kids that defies easy categorization. Call them fantasies without fantasy. These strange little novels pop up from time to time encouraging readers to believe that they are reading about something fantastical without having to throw magic spells, ghosts, or singing teacups into the mix . . . Icefall, much to my surprise and pleasure, has legs. Both adults and kids have really responded to Kirby’s writing here. Considering that we’re not dealing with a notebook novel or a story involving witches, wizards, vampires, zombies, or the future in any way, shape, or form, this is interesting to me. Who would have thought that a story involving a Viking-like girl with low self-eteem would garner such love? I credit Kirby’s writing . . . Kirby debuted as a middle grade novelist last year with his original and amusing The Clockwork Three. That, compared to this, was a book with epic intentions but was, in its way, very much a debut novel. With Icefall, Mr. Kirby’s writing has matured. There’s a depth to it that sets the book apart from the pack. This is a story that stays with the reader for long periods of time. Maybe folks will find it a bit predictable or slow at times, but with its reliable writing and killer ending (literally), this is a book that establishes Mr. Kirby as a writer to watch closely. I like where this fellow is going and I like this novel. And so will the kids.”
Kirkus Reviews: “Interesting, well-developed characters abound, and Solveig’s strong narrative voice adds authenticity as she grows into her new role, not just telling stories of the mythical Scandinavian past but creating tales to alter the behavior of those around her. Valid clues and occasional red herrings heighten the sense of mystery. The chilly, claustrophobic, ancient setting is vividly created, and the sense of impending doom generates a gripping suspense overarching the developing—and deteriorating—relationships among the group, marking Kirby as a strong emerging novelist. Recommend this one to teens who crave a good mystery set in an icily different time and place. (ages 11-18)”
Deseret News: “Kirby skillfully increases the tension of the story in spurts as sharp as shards falling from the glacier. The mystery of traitors and the unraveling of the evil schemes leads to a happy-ever-after conclusion, which readers will probably find satisfying. The theme that places “Icefall” among one of the best reads of the season is Kirby’s integration of storytelling, the oral tradition that becomes the basis of recovery in this northern tale of war. And storytelling is the recovery. As Alric dedicates his stories to the listeners, he becomes a teacher who treats the legends as art so that they will not be lost on the next generation.”
Jessica George: 4 stars “This is a wonderful book that fully captures the rhythms of life in a Norwegian hall in winter. The class system, the food, stories, it’s all there. The writing is flawless, and the story unfolds with a steady pace, neither rushing to give us “MORE ACTION!!!!” nor too slowly (and causing boredom). In short, this is the sort of book about medieval Norway I wish I could have had when I was twelve. Simply fabulous, and I truly hope that there is either a sequel, or that Kirby chooses to return to this setting. He has wonderful eye for the details that make every day life fascinating, and I would love to see him take on this time period again.”
Lael Littke, Keepers of Blackbird Hill. Shadow Mountain, Sept. General. Woman tries to save her family home, but discovers family secrets, and falls into jeopardy.
E. J. Patten, Return to Exile. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Sept. Middle Grade Fantasy. The Hunter Chronicles, vol. 1. 12-year old boy discovers his family is involved in a secret world of monsters and super powers. Debut novel.
Publishers Weekly review: The frenetic story line, flurry of revelations and secret identities, and large cast occasionally make this debut novel, the first book in the Hunter Chronicles series, hard to follow, but Patten more than makes up for it with his original mythology, easy sense of humor, and action-packed sequences. Amid the innumerable vampire, zombie, and werewolf stories available, it comes as a breath of fresh air.
Kirkus: It’s a muddle, and readers are as likely to flounder as Sky does . . . Patten parcels out the details of a confusingly complex back story and the impending crisis du jour—a creature of, supposedly, stupendous evil poised to escape a time trap on the aforementioned estate—in driblets, while splashing the plot with extreme but oddly nonfatal violence and tongue-in-cheek dialogue. “And trust me—it’s not as hopeless as it looks. It’s much, much worse. Ready?” Splashes and splatters likewise frame Rocco’s chapter head spot art. Young readers won’t be able to tell who’s on which side, and they won’t much care.
Jolene B. Perry, The Next Door Boys. Cedar Fort, Oct. 8. Romance. First novel.
Mindy (LDSWBR): 4 stars.
Theresa Sneed, No Angel. Walnut Springs, Sept. Paranormal romance between angels. Debut novel.
Bethany Wiggins, Shifting. Walker Childrens, Sept. Young Adult Speculative. First novel. 18-year old girl, about to age out of the foster care system, is secretly a shape shifter. Runs into trouble with Navajo skinwalkers. Walker Books is a major British independent publisher.
Kirkus: A slow and derivative plot mars this already lackluster debut . . . What should be a driving force of the novel—the conflict between Shifters and Skinwalkers (evildoers who use stolen skins to change into animals)—is not explained until the very end. More information or an author’s note about this Navajo legend and other Native American beliefs mentioned throughout would have been helpful.
Robison Wells, Variant. Harper Teen, Oct. 4. YA dystopian thriller. First of a trilogy. Wells has published several novels for the Mormon market, this is his first national novel. He is also one of the founders of the Whitney Awards, as well as the Six Writers and a Frog blog and the The Appendix podcast. He is the brother of author Dan Wells.
Publisher’s Weekly (Starred): In a chilling, masterful debut, Wells gives the classic YA boarding school setting a Maze Runner twist . . . Though Wells doesn’t provide much detail about Benson’s past, his honesty and determination to escape make him a compelling protagonist, and it’s easy to get drawn into his fellow students’ plights as well. There are plenty of “didn’t see that coming” moments and no shortage of action or violence. With its clever premise, quick pace, and easy-to-champion characters, Wells’s story is a fast, gripping read with a cliffhanger that will leave readers wanting more.
Kirkus Reviews: Hard to put down from the very first page, this fast-paced novel with Stepford overtones answers only some of the questions it poses, holding some of the most tantalizing open for the next installment in a series that is anything but ordinary.
VOYA (starred review): Variant is an exciting, edge-of-your-seat read that combines psychological themes from works like Lord of the Flies, The Hunger Games and Ender’s Game in a truly unique way. There are a couple of twists that are truly surprising and up the emotional ante of the story. From the moment Benson enters the academy until the very end, readers are caught in a tight, tense thriller. What is the academy and why are the students there? Wells does a good job of both universe-building and character development, as the rules unfold and character roles become clearer. There is a slow unfolding of academy secrets that proves to be just the right pacing. In the end, Benson may escape the walls of the school but he stumbles upon an even bigger mystery. Variant should join the ranks of today’s must-read science fiction and fantasy series. This is a highly recommended addition to any collection for teens.
Booklist: This is good old-fashioned paranoia taken to giddy extremes, especially when a totally implausible—but nonetheless enjoyably insane—twist upends the plot in the final act. Take Veronica Roth’s Divergent (2011), strip out the angst, add a Michael Grant–level storytelling pace, and you have this very satisfying series starter.
Bloggin’ ‘bout Books: Grade: C. “It feels so familiar it could have been subtitled The Maze Runner Goes to School. Although the story’s got a twist toward the end that differentiates it from James Dashner‘s popular series, I still wanted more originality from this debut novel. Also subtlety and complexity and just more depth overall. That being said, I’m intrigued by the possibilities suggested by the ending of Variant. While I didn’t love this first book in the series, I’ll give the second one a chance, if only to see how Wells explains everything that’s happened thus far. Despite my hang-ups with Variant, it’s still got me asking that most ancient and compelling of questions: “What happens next?” In spite of myself, I need to know. So, yeah, I’m lukewarm about this one, but still willing to give the series a chance.”
Woolley, David G. The Compass of God: The Promised Land, Vol. 5. Covenant, Oct. Book of Mormon historical fiction. The story of Lehi’s family continues. The series goes back to 2000.
Randall Wright and Carmen Agra Deedy, The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale. Peachtree Publishers, Oct. 1. Illustrations by Barry Moser. Middle grade animal fantasy. A cat and mouse ally to get food at a tavern frequented by Dickens. Starred reviews from PW, Kirkus, and SLJ. Peechtree is an independent national children’s publisher.
Publisher’s Weekly (Starred review): “Moser’s graphite illustrations are realistic and wonderfully emotive, especially in combination with the novel’s fresh dialogue, typographical flights of fancy, and wordplay. Expertly realized characters and effervescent storytelling make this story of unlikely friendship, royal ravens, and “the finest cheese in London” a delight.”
Kirkus Reviews (Starred review): Moser contributes splendid black-and-white illustrations that manage to be both realistic and funny, recalling Robert Lawson while retaining his own style. Readers with great expectations will find them fully satisfied by this tongue-in-cheek romp through a historic public House that is the very opposite of Bleak.
School Library Journal (Starred review): The fast-moving plot is a masterwork of intricate detail that will keep readers enthralled, and the characters are well-rounded and believable. Language is a highlight of the novel; words both elegant and colorful fill the pages: alacrity, scrivener, thieving moggy. And then there are the Dickensian references: artful dodging of Hansom cabs, Dickens saying he has great expectations. His amusing diary entries, revealing both his writing difficulties and his thoughts about Skilley, and the occasionally fanciful page layouts add to the humor. Combined with Moser s precise pencil sketches of personality-filled characters, the book is a success in every way. It should be a first purchase for libraries interested in bringing young readers to the marvels of Dickens via the back or, should I say tavern door.
School Library Journal blog: Animal stories. Done well and you get something like Charlotte’s Web or The Incredible Journey. Done poorly and you cannot name for me a more annoying genre. Some days it seems to me that every great children’s author eventually tries their hand at the style to varying degrees of success. Burned one time too many I’ve taken to just avoiding books with animals in them altogether unless there’s something that seems to be extraordinary about them. So when The Cheshire Cheese Cat came into my possession, I was inclined to put it aside. Then a friend and an editor both assured me it was lovely. And then there was the fact that Carman Agra Deedy, author of such great picture books as 14 Cows for America had co-authored it. Finally, it’s not every day that the great Barry Moser illustrates a new work of middle grade fiction. Add in the fact that there’s a Charles Dickens connection and I cracked. I read it. And reader, it was worth the reading . . . As with any book starring the furry, it all comes down to personality. If you don’t believe in the characters then you haven’t anything to connect to. Here, the critters are infinitely interesting. Pip’s oversized vocabulary makes for a nice side element in the tale. If Skilley comes off as a kind of hired muscle, Pip is the brains behind the operation. From his first utterance of words like “sepulcher” and “perpetual internment” you can see that he is a cut above the general mouse population. Interestingly, once Pip start throwing out one hundred dollar words, the book follows suit. I caught words and phrases like “stygian darkness” bandied about without comment . . . The writing, you see, is quite good here. There are passages that lift it above the usual children’s literary pack. At one point Skilley has treated Pip abominably and he is told to own up to it. “It is not enough to say you are sorry. You must utterly own the terrible thing you have done. You must cast no blame on the one you’ve injured. Rather, accept every molecule of the responsibility, even if reason and self-preservation scream against it. Then, and only then, will the words ‘I am sorry’ have meaning.” That’s just a great passage (and not bad advice either) . . . This is a true collaboration. One that mixes history, animals, mystery, and literary references in abundance. Kids of all ages, genders, and stripes will take to the book. It also happens to make for a handsome readaloud. Recommend it to any child looking for just a good read. It is, precisely, that.
Reviews of older books
Julie Coulter Bellon, Ribbon of Darkness. Shanda (LDSWBR):” If you like action, suspense, and international intrigue, you will definitely enjoy Ribbon of Darkness. It played out like a movie in my mind as I read, making for some pretty intense action sequences, especially near the end. I give it 4 stars for suspense that kept me turning pages late into the night.”
Julie N. Ford, Count Down to Love. Jennie Hansen, Meridian. 5 stars. “Count Down to Love is plotted well and maintains a high level of excitement throughout. . . . Kelly is a great character and her development from a meek “do-as-she’s-told” girl to a woman with a mind of her own is especially well done. I was particularly pleased that the author didn’t rush a happy ever after ending, but let Kelly follow her own self-discovery time table . . . There’s something phony and shallow about a television show dedicated to a bevy of women vying for one eligible bachelor and Ford did an excellent job of depicting this side of such a premise. She gives more attention to immodest clothing, making out, and implied sexual conduct than is usual in an LDS novel and readers may find this off-putting. Overall, this novel is light, entertaining, and carries an important message concerning self-worth and self-determination. Don’t be misled by the silly, too-pink cover which seems to imply the novel is merely amusing, feminine fluff. It’s a lot more than that.”
Jenni James, Pride and Popularity. Another Valor refugee, now self-published. Sheila (LDSWBR). 4 stars.
Betsy Love. Identity. (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine). “Mistaken identities and amnesia are not new to fiction plotting and Love does well in setting up a juxtaposition of two lives and establishing an interesting web of intrigue. However, the two women are such polar opposites in character and background that even amnesia doesn’t feel believable for one to slip into the lifestyle of the other. It’s not really believable either for another character to suddenly fake, in a believable way, being a temple worthy Elder in the Church without someone checking for a membership record. The beginning of the book is erratic and takes way too long getting to the identity switch the reader knows is coming. The whole conversion angle is unrealistic coming on the heels of the excessively negative picture the reader is given of the converts throughout the book prior to their sudden interest in the Church. Even with the areas I found unbelievable, I was impressed by the author’s ability to maintain tension and the great dialog. Excessive literary license didn’t prevent me from enjoying this fast paced mystery novel, nor do I hesitate to recommend it to those who enjoy adventure and mystery/suspense.”
Andrea Pearson, The Key of Kilenya. One of the Valor refugees, now self-published. (Sheila, LDSWBR). “You can tell while reading this book that the key audience are boys between the ages of 10-15. Lovers of Fantasy and strange new worlds, will really love the imaginative creatures and all of the exciting situations that Jacob finds himself in. I found that the story had a slow start for me, and picked up when Jacob and his new friend, Akeno, go on a journey to look for the Key of Kilenya. There is a lot of world building going on as Andrea introduces new plants, monsters and races of people. Some were kind of confusing to keep track of, but as the story progressed pieces started falling together more.”
Traci Pinkston, Hang ‘em High. (LDSWBR). Shanda: “4 stars out of 5 for helping me see that you’re never too old to learn and change, for making me smile, and for leaving me excited for the next book in the series.” Mindy:” I loved this book. Every page had something witty and funny. Tristi’s writing is so consistent, and her characters are so full of heart and humor. Ida Mae is my favorite, but I love how all the characters are written in their own unique and special way. I won’t give away too much, but my favorite part is when the ladies are trying to break in a window. Laugh out loud funny. 4 stars out of 5. ” Sheila: “This book gets 4 1/2 stars!! Awesome fun!! ”
Clair M. Poulson, Hunted. Deseret News.
Clair M. Poulson, Vengence. Deseret News.
Frank Richardson, Sudden Peril (Deseret News). Boy, these Mormon Times/Deseret News reviews are lame. They mostly focus on the appropriateness-level of the book.
Gordon Ryan, Reprisal (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine). The fifth and final volume of Ryan’s Spirit of Union series of historical fiction, the first three of which were published by Deseret Book. Ryan recently revised and republished the first three novels, and released two more, through Smashwords. The series is now called The Callahans. This final volume is set during World War II. Hansen: “Ryan’s narrative style is not as personal as I would like and he could do more showing rather than so much telling, but the scope of this series covers such a broad spectrum of time and space this style prevents bogging down on trivia and expedites the rapid chronological progress of the story. Reprisal holds the reader’s attention well and delivers some facts concerning the war many of today’s generation may not know . . . History buffs will particularly enjoy this volume.”
Catheryn Tew, The Perfect Token (Deseret News). “Cathryn Tew has captured the LDS college dating and marriage scene . . . A fun, easy-to-read young adult romance novel, “The Perfect Token” is definitely G-rated.”
Magazines and short stories
Brad R. Torgersen’s story “Ray of Light” is the cover story of the Dec. 2011 issue of Analog. Set in a post-alien apocalypse Earth. Negatively reviewed in Locus Online, which called it a “perfunctory piece.”
BYU Studies, 50:3, is now available. It includes poetry by Dixie Partridge and Lon R. Young.
Last week LDS Publisher ran her annual Christmas Short Story Contest. Readers’ Choice awards went to Brenda Anderson, Jennifer Ricks, and Kasey Eyre, while Publisher’ Choice awards went to Brian Ricks and Teresa Osgood. LDSP will include the award-winning stories in a published collection which she will produce in Fall 2012 (along with stories from other years). 26 stories, each with a critique from LDSP, can be found on her site.
|Michael Collings’ story, “The Calling of Iam’Kendron” (a prequel to the novelWordsmith) is in the new Wildside SF anthology, Yondering.|
New York Times Bestseller lists, Sept 25, Oct. 2, Oct. 9, Oct. 16
#3. #12, #22, #27 DARK PREDATOR, by Christine Feehan (4th week). Another in her paranormal romance Carpathian series. #8 on both the E-Book Fiction list and the Combined Print and E-Book lists, then off those lists the next week.
Trade Fiction Paperback
#18, #21, #19, #18, HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET, by Jamie Ford (67th week). Down from the mid-teens in early September.
Mass Market Paperback
Children’s Chapter Books
#8, x, x, x MICHAEL VEY: THE PRISONER OF CELL 25, by Richard Paul Evans (5th week). Fell off the list after 5 weeks.
x, x, #5, #7 MATCHED, by Ally Condie (2nd week). Out in paperback.
x, #4, !10, #9 THE MAZE RUNNER, by James Dashner (27th week). Off the list for one week, then back on the list, with its sequel.