Two Mormon-authored plays are ongoing in Utah Valley, a lead actor is chosen for Ender’s Game, two new Mormon-created films are released, The Cheshire Cheese Cat gets named to Kirkus’ year-end best books list, and Zarahemla Books publishes a new short story collection by Douglas Thayer. Sorry to be late this week. I am starting to put my Year in Review column together, so I would appreciate anyone’s 2 cents about what they thought were the best Mormon-authored fiction of the year. Please send any suggestions or announcements to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.
News and Blog Posts
The Cheshire Cheese Cat, by Randall Wright, was named one of Kirkus Reviews Best Children’s Books of 2011. One of 66 books. No Mormon-authored books made the Kirkus Best Fiction or Best Teen lists.
Icefall, by Matthew Kirby, and The Cheshire Cheese Cat, by Randall Wright, were given Parents’ Choice Book Awards .
Romantic Times nominees for 2011 include Anne Perry (Career Achievement), Amanda Ashley (Career Achievement and Vampire Romance [for Bound by Night), Rebecca Winters (Harlequin American [for The Bachelor Ranger and A Texas Ranger's Christmas]), and Colleen Houck (Young Adult Protagonist [for Tiger's Curse])
“Another Early Mormon Drama”, by Kent Larsen at A Motley Vision. That’s “Larsen” spelled with an “e” (I did a Google search to see how often I have misspelled Kent’s name, and it is legion). Kent finds in the 1897 Salt Lake Herald a critical review of a play about Joseph Smith, one of the earliest examples of Mormon-authored theatre. The author’s name and the name of the play are not yet known.
“It’s Almost the End of the World as We Know It. Start Reading.”by Scott Hales at Modern Mormon Men. Scott writes about his end-of-the-year plans to read the year’s most promising Mormon literature, previewing several well reviewed recent works. He opines, “If King Noah and his goons tied me to a burning stake and demanded that I name the most important work of Mormon literature published in 2011, I would soil my drawers. Then I would say, as calmly as a man aflame can, ‘Fire in the Pasture.’ No other work published this year—or any year, for that matter—has gathered more quality Mormon writers into one volume.”
“The New Home Literature: Art for the Committed Mormon Masses”, by Scott Hales at The Low-Tech World. Scott quotes and discusses Orson F. Whitney, and goes on to say, “A false tradition has been handed to us that says Mormon literature will only appeal to the Mormon masses if it’s faithful fluff—or, conversely, faithful literature will only appeal to more “sophisticated” readers if it’s riddled with subversive content (i.e. profanity, castrations, coffee) and an undercurrent of doubt. Proponents of such falsehoods like to point out that there’s little evidence to the contrary. To borrow loosely from Whitney’s own imagery, which he borrowed from the Savior himself, such individuals are content with pouring new wine into the old bottles of yesteryear, forcing potentially fresh Mormon literature to fit within the tired stereotypes, and ruining it in the process. To be clear, I am not saying Mormon literature needs to purge itself of the subversive and doubtful. That would needlessly limit its scope. What I am saying is that Mormon literature needs to toss aside the idea that subversion and such represent the only way to merge art with faith. As I see it, there is room for all kinds of Mormon literatures.”
“An interview with David Clark, author of The Death of a Disco Dancer” at A Motley Vision. Detailed interview with the newest author at Zarahemla Books.
“Whitney Nominations Contest”, by Emily M. at Segullah. Emily asks readers to nominate books for the Whitney.
“A Good Book for Christmas”, by Angela Hallstrom at Segullah. Angela’s Christmas book guide, which includes fiction and non-fiction, by Mormon and non-Mormon authors. Mormon-authored books include novels by Robison Wells, Ally Condie, and David Clark, the Monsters and Mormons anthology, and non-fiction by Emma Lou Thayne and Jana Reiss.
“Exploring the mystery of the ‘Twilight’ books and movies”, by Geoff B. and The Millennial Star. A discussion of the Twilight phenomenon as female wish-fulfillment, featuring generous ladelfulls of loathing for the books and movies in the comments section. Props to Jettboy for a nice takedown of an ad hominem attack on Meyer by another respondent in the comments section.
“When Vampires Suck . . .”, by Heather at The Exponent. Soon after the
conservative men commentators at The Millennial Star take a swing at Breaking Dawn, feminists at The Exponent log their own digs at the book/movie. “The first three novels had me in what I call “Book Prison,” a state where you are so engrossed in reading that you might as well be behind bars. But Breaking Dawn was book purgatory, where, despite its awfulness, you feel so invested that you keep reading and lie to yourself that if you just keep going it’ll get better.”
New books, and their reviews
Rebecca Belliston. Sadie. Deseret Book, Nov. 11. Romance/action. Young woman flees her perfect/rich life and her revealed-as-evil boyfriend. Hides, finds romance and religion. First novel. Include in December list.
Cindy C. Bennett. Geek Girl. Cedar Fort/Sweetwater, Dec. 8. Young Adult. A troubled girl tries to turn a good boy bad, but is changed herself. Contains a significant amount of dark content, including an abusive father, an attempted rate, and drug and alcohol use. Bennett self-published the book in 2010, before it was picked up by Cedar Fort. This is her first novel published by a publisher.
Aimee at The Literate Mother: “This is one of the best contemporary YA books I’ve read in awhile. I found the developing relationships with Jen, her family and Trevor to be endearing. I could feel the struggle Jen had as she wanted to be loved, but was so afraid of being hurt and abandoned again. The emotional transformation as well as the physical transformation Jen makes is genuine and sweet. I know this book touched on many heavy, sad topics. But, for all that, it was still hopeful and happy and fun too. It was real but not overdone. The happily ever after wasn’t easy and it didn’t just fall together.”
Inkscratcher: B. “I could just not stop myself smiling, predictable as it was. I had awww moments and yay moments and I barely made it through this book without looking at the last page to see how it turned out. The first half was pretty fluffy, but when we get to the second half, we hear Jen’s story, we come to see her as layered character and want her and Trev to work out, the book takes this whole new direction with sweet moments but also a lot of heartbreak.”
Reading for sanity. “I don’t think I’ve ever given a book that was given to me free for review 5 stars. I’m breaking that record today. I loved this book. I couldn’t put it down . . . I think my favorite aspect to the story is the message that your past doesn’t define you, that change is possible, and that you should never judge a person based on an outward appearance especially during their teenage years. I loved Jen’s transformation and how Bennett made her so easy to relate to and like. I’ve never been a Goth girl, I don’t pretend to understand her upbringing from a personal perspective, but watching it for eight years now I do believe Bennett created a believable story and one that I’d gladly have on my classroom shelves.”
Mindy at LDS Women’s Book Review: 4 out of 5 stars.
Douglas Thayer, Wasatch: Mormon Stories and a Novella. Zarahemla Books, November. Literary fiction, short stories. Thayer’s third collection presents a dozen of his career-best stories, including several that have never before appeared in print. Thayer is one of the patriarchs of Mormon literature. Richard Cracroft, emeritus professor of English, BYU, says: “LDS literary fiction at its finest, written with Thayer’s crisp style and shot through with his trademark irony, tempered by his faith.”
E. M. Tippits. Paint Me True. Self-published, Nov. 7. LDS Women’s fiction. 31-year old woman feels her life is passing her by, visits her aunt to hear and paint the tale of her romance. Tippits is self-publishing this book, after having one book published by Covenant. She also publishes science fiction under the name Emily Mah.
Diane Tolley. Carving Angels. Cedar Fort, September. Short Christmas novel. Santa’s oldest elf feels useless, until his granddaughter persuades him to start carving again. First published novel. Deseret News review.
Reviews of older books
The Snow Angel, by Glenn Beck (Scott Livingston, Deseret News). “It’s clear early and often that his decision to co-write with Nicole Baart has resulted in a more richly told and poignant novel. Beck’s last holiday-themed novel from 2008, “The Christmas Sweater,” felt more biographical; raw even, as it recounted a 12-year-old boy’s discovery of parental sacrifice at Christmastime . . . Amid the seeming blizzard of Christmas books that arrive en masse each year, “The Snow Angel” stands out. It’s a deeply personal story, shimmering with the fragile hope that Christmas stirs within us. Hope for forgiveness, for redemption and in our yearning to be known.”
The Road Show, by Brandon Bell (Beth Roach, AML). “This thin volume is a quick read (just about the length of a youth dance) with characters that are varied and well drawn, all the main ones realistically human and easily recognized as residing in your ward, your home or visiting teaching families, or maybe even in your own home . . . Even though the book is short and good dialogue and likable characters make the story move quickly, the message is powerful and universal: whoever we are, wherever we have been, the love of Jesus Christ is there for us and through His grace, we can feel the beauty of forgiveness and be carried into a new life.”
Jacob T. Marley, by William Bennett (Shelah Books It). “While the book isn’t overtly Mormon, there are some interesting things going on here in terms of the idea of eternal progression. Although Marley was undoubtedly a bad guy for most of his life, he still has an opportunity to make things right before the ultimate judgment. Bennett chooses to mimic the writing style of Dickens, which, for the most part, works well, although no proper Victorian would utter the word pregnant, would he? All in all, I think this book, because it’s short and deals with characters most people are already familiar with, will be a popular gift book for people who won’t be asking for The Marriage Bed or The Art of Fielding this Christmas season.”
Rearview Mirror, by Stephanie Black (LDSWBR). Shanda: “A solid 4.5 out of 5 stars from me for being a creepy story that kept me guessing until the end.” Sheila: 5 stars. “Stephanie Black is well known for her wonderful mystery/suspense books. She has won several Whitney Awards for her writing and they have been well-deserved. She always has a way of drawing you into the story from the first paragraph. Rearview Mirror starts with something happening that will leave your mouth hitting the floor. Boom! The mystery starts, and you are left wondering who “did it” after reading the first two pages.” Mindy: “Rearview Mirror is another strong offering from Stephanie Black. This book starts strong from page one and doesn’t let go. I was guessing the whodunit for the whole book. I loved how Stephanie would plant her little seeds of mystery in my head, string along a suspect, then ease me to another.” 5 stars.
The Death of a Disco Dancer, by David Clark (Bridget at The Literate Mother). “I love this book! Clark perfectly captures the torture and hilarity of navigating adolescence and the perpetual change of family ties. Simply beautiful. I read passages aloud to my husband, Rob. I read other passages aloud to my children and finally, the bathroom inspection passage, I read aloud to anyone within an audible range, even though I was barely capable of reading, due to uncontrollable laughter.”
Matched, by Ally Condie (Reading for Sanity). “I think I went into this book with expectations too high. It was recommended by many different people and many who like the same kinds of books I do. And I just wasn’t that impressed. The culprit could be that my students just finished reading The Giver, which to me is the must-read dystopian book for young adults/children. It felt like a knock off of The Giver and The Hunger Games . . . But, that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it or finish it. I’m just a bit disappointed. Maybe Crossed will be different or change how I feel. I also wasn’t wrapped up in the romance between Cassia and Ky. I don’t know why I couldn’t feel it/buy in. I just couldn’t, which made it all the more difficult to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m sure my students will love it, especially since I’ve gotten them into this dystopian lit genre now. It just didn’t do it for me. 3.75 stars.”
Tuesdays at the Castle, by Jessica Day George (LDSWBR). Shanda: “Tuesdays at the Castle gets 5 stars out of 5 from me as a well-told story that made me smile and feel young again. I would happily recommend Tuesdays at the Castle to anyone ages eight and older.” Sheila: 4 stars. Mindy: “5 out of 5 stars. I loved every page. I love that when I finished, I had a huge smile on my face. Jessica, you can write no wrong!”
Slayers, by C. J. Hill. Publisher’s Weekly: Imagine Buffy the Vampire Slayer attending summer camp (substituting dragons for bloodsuckers), and you have this exciting “fantasy debut” from Hill (a pseudonym for YA author Janette Rallison). When pampered 16-year-old senator’s daughter Tori Hampton arrives at Dragon Camp, she figures it’s a good way to indulge her lifelong obsession with the creatures. She quickly learns that she’s descended from medieval dragon slayers, has inherited superhuman abilities, and is expected to help save the world from the nigh-unstoppable menaces, which are believably conveyed as malevolent killers that must be destroyed. Out of her element and forced to train with a diverse group of fellow Slayers, Tori chafes at her unwanted destiny, until a crisis forces her to accept her role. Part urban fantasy, part superhero tale, this adventure is full of action, drama, and humor, with just a touch of romance. It’s a strong beginning with a memorable, realistic heroine who is competent without being unstoppable, fashion-conscious without being shallow, and thoroughly capable of rising to the occasion. Ages 12–up. (Sept.)
Watched, by Cindy M. Hogan (Aimee at The Literate Mother). “Watched was fast paced and exciting. It had the tension that moves the story along and a bit of teenage romance too . . . I pushed through it so quickly because I just had to know what would happen. I suspected everyone, my heart was pounding, I forgot to write my review notes. That’s some good story!”
The Wise Man Returns, by Kenny Kemp (Beth Roach, AML). “The Wise Man Returns” is a fascinating, thoroughly researched historical fiction novel for anyone who has ever wondered where the wise men came from or what happened when they returned home after witnessing Jesus Christ in Bethlehem.”
The Scholar of Moab, by Steven L. Peck (Blair Hodges, By Common Consent). “The Scholar of Moab is the most engaging Mormon novel I’ve read since Levi Peterson’s The Backslider, though its approach is radically different. Peck convincingly merges the genres of magical realism and American West fiction by invoking the power of personal testimony—not his own, but those of his characters through their letters, journals, poetry, and interview transcripts. Using these disparate voices, Peck concocts a strange and tragicomic brew of naivety, philosophy, faith, discovery, and loss.”
Why I Stay: The Challenges of Discipleship for Contemporary Mormons, edited by Robert Rees (Harlow Clark, AML). ““From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away? Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.” (John 6:66) I’m sure I had read that verse a few times but I hadn’t noticed it. It hadn’t moved me. Sometimes you have to take a gem out of its setting for it to shine. Several of the writers in Robert Rees’s new anthology “Why I Stay: The Challenges of Discipleship for Contemporary Mormons” quote this passage, and Rees ends his essay, and therefore the book, with the passage, followed by a story about what it means to stay, the story of Levi Savage choosing to go with a handcart company leaving too late in the season, choosing to suffer their doom with them. . . . This is the kind of book that you put down as you finish an essay, saying, “I finished that essay and it’s only another mile till my stop,” then you pick it up again, saying, “I’ve got a whole mile. I might as well start the next one.”
Brandon Sanderson, The Alloy of Law (Deseret News). Feature/review.
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey. BYU (SCERA Theater), Nov. 25-Dec. 19. By Ward L. Wright, Randall Wright, and Marvin Payne. World premiere, based on the 1995 children’s picture book by Susan Wojciechowsk. Bluegrass/folk music. There is another recent musical adaption of the book, adapted by Timothy Gregory, with Music & Lyrics by Michael Mahler, currently playing in Chicago.
Deseret News review: “The songs for “Jonathan Toomey” sound lovely and it’s great to hear them performed live by each of the on-stage performers, under musical direction by a skilled Madison Mitchell, at this community theater production. If only the songs were more memorable and able to reveal the characters presented. While some spoken lines are incorporated directly from the author’s storybook, some of the fun wordplay — Toomey “went about mumbling and grumbling, muttering and sputtering, grumping and griping,” Wojciechowski has written — is lost and could have made the lyrics more lively and impactful . . . The authors of this musical are to be credited, however, for maintaining fidelity to the book’s charm and sincerity.”
Utah Theatre Bloggers review: “The show moved as well as it could, but I had a problem with the simple story. You might think this would make for a charming play, and it would—if this was a junior high or high school offering. But for a professional theater, it was too uncomplicated . . . There were some delightful ensemble dances that got the energy going. Choreographer Andrea Gunoe’s choreography was delightful—from the Virginia Reel type dances to a beautiful and tender ballet number. Costume Designer Alanna Kruger’s costumes were dazzling, though my husband felt they were all a little too similar to one another. I’m a sucker for hoop skirts and bonnets, so I thought all the women looked awesome. The men looked good, too, though they all looked a little too pristine for life on the prairie . . . The singing in the show was passable, but not stellar. This is somewhat unfortunate, as this is a musical with a lot of songs. It was almost operatic, as there was far less dialogue than there was singing. The music itself is technically bluegrass, but I was hoping for far more of the upbeat, pickin’, stompin’ type of bluegrass. Most of the music in this show is lovely, but somewhat uninspiring. For this reason, as well as the rather slow pace of the show, I wouldn’t recommend this show for children under the age of maybe eleven or twelve. There isn’t enough going on to keep their interest and attention . . . I liked this show, but wanted to adore it, and wonder if it was brought to production too soon . . . I am giving this show one thumb up and one down. There isn’t anything technically wrong with the show, and there is much that is very right. But it is slow and it isn’t for young kids.”
Joyful Noise, by Tim Slover. Covey Center for the Arts, Brinton Black Box Theatre, Provo, UT, Dec. 2-17. Directed by David Hanson. Historical fiction about Handel and the writing of The Messiah, first produced in 1996.
Utah Theater Bloggers review: “The script tells a beautiful story of redemption for both Handel and Susanna. From a director’s standpoint, I would have made different blocking choices and tightened up the musical moments. The play isn’t perfect, but what show is? It is the imperfections that make live theater so unique and powerful. There wasn’t a bad seat in the house to enjoy the cast’s sincere acting, and a nod goes to director J. Scott Bronson for the seamless and quick transitions from scene to scene. Covey’s Joyful Noise isn’t a grand production. It takes place in the small Brinton Black Box Theater with a cast of only eight. Actually, the intimate setting perfectly reflected the message of the piece. It is a message of the humble and pure love of the Savior: reflected also in the simplicity of the set, in Susanna’s pure voice, and in the moving climax when Susanna stands to sing for the first time since her sins were made public. Before the king and bishop, she sings, “He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” Silence came over the theater as those of us in front of and on the stage were touched by the immense sacrifice of the Atonement. I highly recommend Joyful Noise to any and all. Go into the theater ready to embrace a simple, beautiful story and you will be moved and inspired.”
The Letter Writer. Written and Directed by Christian Vuissa. BYUtv, Nov. 2011. 87 minutes. Vuissa made a short film version of the story in 2006. Blurb: “The film tells the inspiring story of Maggy Fuller, a rebellious and troubled teenager, who receives a life-affirming letter in the mail from an unknown source. When she tracks down the writer of the letter—an old man in a rest home she has never met before —she decides to become a letter writer herself. But when the old man suddenly dies, she must search for her own purpose in life in spite of the fact that she is all on her own.” No specifically Mormon content. Premired on BYUtv on Thanksgiving. It will be rebroadcast on Sunday, December 11, 7:00 pm MST, Monday, December 12, 12:00 pm MST, and Saturday, December 24, 3:00 pm MST.
The Letter Writer review, by The Independent Critic. A-. “The wonder of The Letter Writer is subtle. It lands upon your heart like a gentle rain. The weird thing about a Christian Vuissa film, and it’s certainly true with The Letter Writer, is that you’re sitting there watching the film thinking to yourself “Boy, this is rather fundamental and basic” then, seemingly out of nowhere, tears are streaming down your face and you’re realizing what a beautiful film has unfolded before your very eyes . . . As usual, Vuissa surrounds himself with a gifted production crew that helps give The Letter Writer a feeling of warmth that is rich with humanity.”
Stand Strong. Written and directed by Amy Kenney, produced by Shawn Kenney. Direct to DVD, October. 91 Minutes. Illumin8ted Productions. About a man who defines himself by his possessions, who then faces family and financial crises, and he and his family discover what real success is.
KSL story about Amy and Shawn Kenney, who are Mormon filmmakers who make Christian films. They are currently working on their second film, Uphill Battle, about a single mother raising two teens after a divorce due to her husband’s addiction to pornography and infidelity.
Dove Foundation review of Stand Strong, 4 out of 5 doves. “Here is a powerful drama that is as contemporary as today’s newspaper. Matt Webster has a good job and a beautiful home. His wife and three children enjoy a lot of “things”, like dirt bikes, a boat, shopping trips, etc. Soon their overspending and Matt’s precarious job situation, not to mention the economy, places the whole family in difficult situations . . . Matt’s mother and his brother Josh are strong Christians, and Josh continually offers to pray for Matt and, being a financial expert, offers to help him straighten out his financial decisions. Matt has a lot of pride and refuses. However, when Matt and his family are forced to live with Josh and his family, Matt begins to realize that his pride has caused a lot of their difficulties. Matt’s wife Tara also begins to learn about family priorities as she watches Josh’s wife Sarah lead her home and children. When an unexpected event occurs and one family member has a close shave with death, the entire family turns to God and is soon amazed by the miracles which come. The teens are portrayed realistically in this story as they have some attitudes in the beginning of the film, and the mother and father argue. But as the story continues the changes which take place are very evident. The film might be a bit intense for the very young, but this movie has a lot to say for every member of the family. We are pleased to award “Stand Strong” our Dove “Family-Approved” Seal. This one just might change your life and is guaranteed to build up your faith.”
Ender’s Game, the film adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s novel, is scheduled to be released in March 2013. Asa Butterfield, the lead actor in the new movie Hugo, has officially signed on to play Ender. Harrison Ford is also rumored to be in discussions to play Colonel Hyrum Graff.
The animator Annie Poon has revised her website, making all her animations now available online and in one place.
I am listening to the KUER Radio West podcast interview with BYU Professor Jeremy Grimshaw, about his new book Draw a Straight Line and Follow It: The Music and Mysticism of La Monte Young, published this month by Oxford University Press. It is the first narrative study to examine Young’s life and work. Young, the patriarch of the minimalist music movement, spent his formative years in Utah and Idaho, and draws upon Mormon esoterica amongst his influences. Sounds very interesting. Grimshaw previously authored a work of creative non-fiction, The Island of Bali Is Littered With Prayers.
Deseret Book bestselling fiction
New York Times Bestseller lists, December 4th, 11th
(I also note where the books are on the USA Today bestseller list, which lumps all books, hardcover, paperback, fiction, non-fiction, into one 150 book list.)
#11, #11 THE SNOW ANGEL, by Glenn Beck (5th week). Down from #9. #25, #35 on the Combined Print & E-book list, down slightly from #24. #43, #53 on USA Today. Holding on quite strongly.
#14, #16 LOST DECEMBER, by Richard Paul Evans (4th week). Fell off the Combined Print and E-book list. #60, #82 on USA Today. Showing less staying power than Beck.
#27, 33 THE ALLOY OF LAW, by Brandon Sanderson (3rd week). Down from #7. Fell off the Combined Print & E-book list and USA Today list after one week. So big sales on the first week, but then a pretty rapid decline.
Trade Fiction Paperback
#26, #26 HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET, by Jamie Ford (71st week). Down a tick from #24, a perennial.
Mass Market Paperback
#35, x TOWERS OF MIDNIGHT, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. (4th week)
CHRISTMAS IN COLD CREEK, by RaeAnne Thayne, fell off the USA Today list after one week.
Children’s Chapter Books
#9, #5 CROSSED, by Ally Condie (4th week). Down from #3, but then bounced back well. #78, #76 at USA Today, down from #51. Very strong numbers.
#3, #1 MATCHED, by Ally Condie (10th week). Surging up from #5, Condie is having a great couple of weeks.
#7, #4 THE TWILIGHT SAGA, by Stephenie Meyer (196th week). Surging again with the release of the newest movie. Breaking Dawn is #15 and #22 on the USA Today list, and the other three volumes are also on the list father down.
THE MAZE RUNNER TRILOGY, by James Dashner, fell of the NYT list after 5 weeks and off the USAT list after 4 weeks.
HUSH, HUSH SAGA, by Becca Fitzpatrick fell off the NYT list after four weeks and off the USAT list after six weeks.
TIGER’S CURSE, by Colleen Houck fell off the NYT list after one week and off the USA Today list after two weeks.
Hardcover Graphic books
#2, #1 TWILIGHT: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL, VOL. 2 by Stephenie Meyer and Young C. Kim (7th week). Back on top after two weeks at #3 and #2.