This Week in Mormon Literature, January 6, 2012

Scholastic announces an ambitious new multi-author series, headed up by James Dashner, that also includes two other Mormon authors. Today there are lots of reviews and end of the year lists.  My annual Mormon Literature Year in Review posts will begin next week. Please send any suggestions or announcements to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.

News and Blog Posts

Scholastic, the powerful children’s publisher, has announced the start of a new multi-author seven-book series, Infinity Ring.  Three Mormon authors, James Dashner (The Maze Runner), Matthew Kirby (Icefall), and Jennifer A. Nielsen (Elliot and the Pixie Plot) are among those involved. See this New York Times article.  Scholastic has been looking for a blockbuster series since the end of the Harry Potter series. The last few years their main pillar has been the multi-media 39 Clues series. Infinity Ring is designed to be the next pillar. Like The 39 Clues, the new series is intended for children ages 8 to 12 and will explore historical events in both the print books and online game. Released at a time when many preteenagers own or have access to e-readers, readers could skip paper entirely, reading the books and playing the online game on a smartphone or a tablet. The books will include clues that will be needed to succeed at the games, thereby driving children into reading the books.  Scholastic approached Dashner about the concept, and he wrote a 15-page outline of the basic story and its dramatic arc, with plans that he would write both the first and the last books in the series.  Scholastic then brought in five other authors, including Kirby and Nielsen, to write the middle volumes.  Dashner’s first volume will be released in September 2012.

Kent Larson begins a weekly “Literary Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine” series at Times and Seasons, where he chooses Mormon poetry and literary texts that can accompany each week’s lessons.  Here is Lesson #2.

Scott Hales interviews Tyler Chadwick at Tyler Chadwick Uncut: “Fire in the Pasture” and Mormon Poetry in the 21st Century. Also Tyler Chadwick’s Fire in the Pasture readings and commentaries continue.

The discussion about portraying authentic Mormon-ness in literature continues, in Jake Clayson’s “Below Our Peculiar Surface” at Ships of Hagoth and Lisa Torcasso Downing’s “On Writing the Mormon Sacred” here at Dawning of a Brighter Day.

Doug Gibson, the Editorial Page Editor at the Standard Examiner reviews Monsters and Mormons at The Political Surf. “There are dozens of tales, poems, essays — even a graphic short story – in Monsters and Mormons, all worth reading late into the night.” Gibson focuses on two short stories, by C. Douglas Birkhead and D. Michael Martindale.

Several bloggers post their favorite-books-of-the-year and review summaries.  Scott Hales, Sheila at LDSWBR, Mindy at LDSWBR, Shanda at LDSWBR, The Sweet Bookshelf, Kaskawan, Laura Craner at AMV, Jessie Christensen, Fire and Ice, Shelah Books It.      

A Publisher’s Weekly profile of Robison Wells.  Also, a Salt Lake Tribune article on Dan and Robison Wells.

“Ace/Roc editor Anne Sowards received a Department of Defense Patriot Award on October 19, 2011 in recognition of the support and flexibility she provided in working with her author and Coast Guard reservist Myke Cole despite his unpredictable schedule.” (December issue of Locus Magazine, p. 9) Anne worked on The Leading Edge while an undergraduate at BYU and went to work for Ace not long after graduating.

New Books and their reviews

Bjornholt, Lexi. My Boyfriend is a Mormon Vampire. Greenjacket Books, Nov. 16.  YA speculative/humor. Parody of Twilight series.

Justesen, Heather. Family By Design. Sweetwater/Cedar Fort, Jan. 3. Romance. Blended family, husband’s military deployment.

Kelley, Carla. Enduring Light. Cedar Fort, Jan. 3. Historical romance. Sequel to Borrowed Light.

     Review at Fire and Ice. “Carla Kelly’s writing is filled with history and small little details that help readers feel pulled right into the book’s time and place . . . I’ll admit the one drawback I had is that Enduring Light is quite a bit spicier than its predecessor. There is quite a bit of information about married life with sexuality being discussed openly and because of content I would rate this a book best suited for adults.”  Review by Julie Coulter Bellon, “Overall, it was an enjoyable historical romance, however, there was a lot of sexual innuendo in this book that seemed unnecessary and was quite distracting after a while. I also felt like the tension from Borrowed Light seemed a bit lacking in Enduring Light.”

Woodbury, Eugene. Serpent of Time. Peaks Island Press (self-published), December. Speculative/historical.  Japanese medieval princess travels through time.

Reviews of older books

Cold River, by Liz Adair (Reading for Sanity). 3.75 stars.  “There were several aspects of the story that I enjoyed.  The beginning chapters caught my attention right away, and although the next few started to wane, it picked right back up and I finished much quicker than I’d expected.  I loved the setting of the backwoods Pacific Northwest.  The author’s depiction of the community is quite believable . . . I had three main qualms about this story. First, I figured out what was going on early on — before I was even halfway through the book. Second, the romance wasn’t that believable. After all, how can you really develop a relationship without interaction? And finally, the writing wasn’t bad, but it also wasn’t amazing. Despite my reservations about the story, I was surprised that I left this book still thinking about the characters.”

Jacob T. Marley, by R. William Bennett (Heater O, Mormon Mommy Wars).

Jacob T. Marley, by R. William Bennett (Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books). B-. “, I found myself enjoying Jacob T. Marley much more than I thought I would. It’s a hopeful, warm-hearted story that helped me feel the spirit of Christmas. I can’t say I absolutely loved it, but I did like this unique take on Dickens’ immortal yuletide tale.”

Rearview Mirror, by Stephanie Black (Deseret News). Boy, the Deseret News sure publishes some poorly written reviews sometimes.

The Break-up Artist, by Shannen Crane Camp (Jessica, Bookworm Nation). “If you just want a quick escape and not dwell too much on the details then this is a fun read . . . There were just too many things that didn’t make sense for me to love this story. Again, if I just read it without thinking then I really did think it was fun. I liked the idea and the writing was well done, I do look forward to seeing what else Shannen Crane Camp will come up with next.”

The Death of a Disco Dancer, by David Clark (Scott Hales, The Low-Tech World). “Sadly, the deacon years of the male Mormon experience are not often depicted in Mormon fiction . . . The novel follows eleven-year-old Todd Whitman as he stumbles—or, more precisely, limps—towards a Kenny Rogers-infused “Pubescent Apocalypse” . . . It’s Todd’s relationship with his grandmother that forms the central nervous system of the novel. Without the chapters devoted to their midnight family history/dancing sessions, the book would be a fun novel, but not necessarily a good one. Which is odd, because my favorite part of The Death of a Disco Dancer is its sophomoricism, its endless string of crotch humor and juvenile sadism. Todd and his friends, after all, are at an age when the usual childhood games have become boring, so new and more exciting games have to be found. They’re also at an age when puberty has made all things below the belt the punch-line of every half-understood joke. Throughout the novel, Todd’s mind never wanders too far from jock straps, bathrooms, and bodily functions . . . But The Death of a Disco Dancer is not just about wiener jokes and gym class anxiety. As Todd witnesses his grandmother’s mental decline, and especially its effect on his mother, he gains insights about life and death that would have gone unobserved or overlooked if he had been any younger . . . The Death of a Disco Dancer is David Clark’s first novel, and part of me hopes that he becomes this century’s Douglas Thayer, whose literary influence seems to pervade the book’s prose. Todd Whitman has a strong, distinct narrative voice that captures perfectly the innate obnoxiousness of early adolescence. Also, Clark incorporates Mormon elements so seamlessly into the novel that one wonders why he felt the need to include a straight-laced “Unofficial Glossary of Selected Mormon Terminology” at the end of the book . . . The strength of The Death of a Disco Dancer: its heartfelt, realistic tribute to that age when life truly begins.”

Escape from Zarahemla, by Chris Heimerdinger (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine). “Heimerdinger does an excellent job of keeping the background of his time travel series within the framework of the Book of Mormon passages from which he draws each novel and relegates real historical figures to minor roles that fit their scriptural role and time period . . . The plot is fast and spell binding and though the major issues of this volume are resolved, there are enough questions left hanging to keep readers anxiously awaiting the next volume.  I missed the fascinating footnotes found in previous volumes, but enjoyed this book a great deal.”

Possession, by Elana Jacobson (Fire and Ice). 5 stars. One of its Best of 2011. “Elana Johnson is genius. She’s crafted characters that push and pull you in all directions. There is not a clear cut line between what is bad and what is good. The last 1/3 of the book feels like a choose your own adventure quest for the truth, full of action and suspense. Possession is an ingenious mix of dystopian, paranormal and science fiction that had me thinking long after I finished the book. If you’re a fan of Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, prepare yourself for something even more mind blowing.

Not My Type, by Melanie Jacobson (Fire and Ice). 5 stars. One of its Best of 2011. “You will fall head over heels in love with her characters and the adventures of Indie girl who braves the crazy world of online dating for her job as a local journalist. This is one of the most fun books I’ve read all year.”

Pride and Popularity, by Jennie James (Fire and Ice). 4.5 stars. One of its Best of 2011. “Pride and Popularity not only won my heart, it also addresses withholding judgment, the risks of online sites for young teens, and the importance of involved parents. The characters are real, the teen perspective spot on.”

Lydia, by Wanda Luce (Shelby Scoffield, Deseret News). “Lydia” is a sweet book that echoes the storylines of “Pride and Prejudice” and “Sense and Sensibility.” Nonetheless, the plot of the book lacks substance. A big chunk of the book is dedicated to describing Lydia’s loneliness and longing for love. It quickly gets boring with such a hormonal main character. The book does have strengths. Luce shows a solid understanding of British culture and masters the description of it. Though not comparable to Jane Austen novels, “Lydia” is fitting tribute to the people of 18th century England. Though the book has its silly moments, it is a quick and entertaining read.

The Scholar of Moab, by Steven L. Peck (Shelah Books It/FMH). “ I’m impressed with the ambition of the book. Even though its length, at just about 300 pages, isn’t epic, it feels epic in scope. I think part of the reason is because the book, which centers on the story of Hyrum Thayne, the high school dropout turned “scholar,” encompasses so many different voices. Readers not only get Hyrum’s private journal, misspellings and malapropisms and all, but they also hear poems from his wife, Sandra, poems and letters from his gal-on-the-side, Dora, letters from one half of the conjoined twins who worked as cowboys in the LaSal mountains outside of Moab during Hyrum’s stint blowing stuff up for the government, notes from the unnamed redactor, and likely letters, transcripts or other written work from other voices. I had so much fun reading all of these different voices, and Peck’s ability to write from the perspective of so many different characters was really impressive . . . The Scholar of Moab is rich, nuanced, and complicated. It expects a lot of its readers, and I appreciate that there is a growing body of books out there by and for (but not only for) Mormons that are embracing these complexities.”

Flunking Sainthood, by Jana Reiss (Shelah Books It). 7/10 enjoyment ratting. “While AJ Jacobs (in The Year of Living Biblically) sets out to accomplish his goal of growing his beard or not having sex or whatever he had to do for a month, I always felt as a reader that Jacobs was looking for the weird and quirky things that happened to him so he could tell funny stories about it. He wanted to entertain us. Riess is also funny, but it’s a wry sort of funniness. The humor comes out of her analysis of the situation, not out of the weirdness of the situation itself. Most of all, Riess is earnest– almost painfully so at times . . . Overall, Flunking Sainthood was an interesting read, and a thoughtful approach to a format I generally don’t like in books (the one goal per month memoir). At times, I found myself wishing that her chapters were longer, and I definitely wanted her to go give herself more credit for the things she did accomplish, but the end result is a thoughtful and thought-provoking read that has made me want to test out certain facets of spirituality in my own life.”

Alloy of Law, by Brandon Sanderson (Locus Magazine). “This adds emotional immediacy to an urban tale where criminology, villainous fanaticism, and the latest ‘‘-mancy’’ all play their part. But when scenes of adjustment and investigation for his hero, a loyal sidekick, and a studious young woman lead them into desperate peril, Sanderson’s tendency toward cartoon-ninja action takes over. . . . Whatever may be different about the magics, familiar tropes of fantasy drive characters and plot.”

The Alias, by Mandi Tucker Slack (Deseret News). “The novel is well-paced and suspenseful, with a few twists and turns in the story that prevent it from becoming too predictable.”

Just Shy of Paradise, by Carole Thayne Warburton (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine). “This book has some mystery, a little history, and a delightful love story. It contains some interesting facts about a northern Utah Native American tribe and the travesty inflicted on them by an overzealous military officer, introduces a little understood medical condition, realistically describes beautiful Cache County, and details fishing lore. There is even a hint of mysticism. The story is well-plotted and moves at a comfortably fast pace after a slow start. The characters are interesting with the main characters moving slowly toward greater maturity and development . . . Readers who enjoy romance mixed with outdoor adventure will particularly enjoy this one.”

The Compass of God, by David G. Woolley (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine). “The action moves forward in a comfortably fast pace and even though this volume is only a small slice of the overall epic story, it is satisfyingly complete, while leaving the reader anxious for the other pieces of  the larger story.  The romance between Ishmael’s daughter, Nora, and the oil trader, Ammon, is a little too much Katharina and Petruchio to be realistic, but it does generate a great deal of sympathy for the woman students of the Book of Mormon know will later become Laman’s wife. Woolley excels in providing a rich background for his novels.  The reader already knows the basic details of the story, but the scriptural account becomes easier to understand and visualize as the laws, politics, customs, geography, history, and intrigues of the day are brought into the story in an easy to understand, real, and plausible way.  For the reader who wants a deeper analysis of the background story, Woolley provides more than sixty pages of detailed historical notes and bibliography.  This historical notes section is fascinating and informative with well-documented research.”

The Compass of God, by David G. Woolley (Tristi Pinkston, AML). “I’ve never seen such detailed author notes before, speaking to Woolley’s dedication to his project and desire to share that knowledge with his readers. It also explains why the series has been so spread out, with books appearing in 2000, 2002, 2003, 2008, and now 2011 – you can’t crank out books with this kind of detail overnight. It takes time, preparation, and a lot of hard work. I enjoyed this look at Book of Mormon history from a fictional perspective. The elements that are fiction seem highly plausible, and the parts that are based on scripture align with how I’ve always imagined the scriptures when I’ve read them. Woolley has a unique way of placing his words that gives him an identifiable author fingerprint. I also noticed that he tends not to use the word “said” when writing dialogue, choosing instead to give the character an action to denote the speaker. This works well most of the time, although there were places where a simple “said” would have been less distracting. “Compass of God,” and the whole series, is best suited to readers who wants a deep look into Book of Mormon times, traditions, and cultures. It is not a book to be read in one afternoon, but more slowly, thoughtfully.”

Exiled, by RaShelle Workman (Sheila, LDSWBR). 3 stars. “Exiled is one of those books I have such mixed feelings about. I love the cover of the book and it truly grabs your interest. The first 1/3-1/2 of the book I wasn’t thrilled about and would give it 3 stars. I found myself putting it down a lot and reading other things. I wasn’t pulled in as fast as I like to. There is some graphic violence in the book from aliens killing humans. It was disturbing and I wasn’t ready for it. The last 1/3 of the book I REALLY liked and would give it 4 stars. It had a very satisfying ending. I liked it so much I can’t wait to read the sequel . . . Those that love science fiction and romance will really enjoy reading this book. If you are looking for something more original and different from all of the dystopian/paranormal books you have been reading, Exiled will be a good read for you.”

Magazines

Sunstone: Issue 165–December 2011

Includes the short story “Grove Street Extension”, by David G. Pace, and the article “Is the Rameumptom Just a Rameupmtom?: A Freudian Approach to the Sugar Beet,” by Mathew N. Schmalz, which I assume is about last decade’s The Onion-style Mormon news parody web site.

Irreantum, Fall/Winter 2011 is now at the printer.  Josh Allen is editor of this issue.

FICTION

Darin Cozzens “The Last Blessing of J. Guyman LeGrand”

Laura McCune-Poplin “Anonymity”

Mark Brown “The Iron Door”

POETRY

Tyler Chadwick “I once found religion at the dollar store”;

“Self portrait with closed eyes”; “Landscape, with a Cricket’s

Chirr”; “Litany, with Wings”; “Pater Noster”

Jared White “Celestial Bodies”; “Speaking in Tongues”; “After

Reading Exodus”; “Poetry as the Art of Theft”; “Walking through

Winter in Rexburg, Idaho, after William Blake”

CREATIVE NONFICTION

Suzette Gee “Being Alone: Variations on a Theme”

Kathryn Lynard Soper “Seeing Stars”

Melissa McQuarrie “When Trees Fall”

Kerry Spencer “Who Peeks Through the Veil”

REVIEWS

Laura Hilton Craner “Everything That Actually Matters is Real: Anneke Major’s The Year of the Boar”

Kevin L. Barney “Saint Jana: Jana Riess’s Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor”

Doug Talley “The Architecture of a Poem: Lance Larson’s Backyard Alchemy”

Renew your subscription at: http://irreantum.mormonletters.org/Subscribe.aspx

Film and TV

Review of Christmas Angel (2009) by KevinB at LDS Cinema Online. B-. “Like many Christmas movies, Christmas Angel is a simple, feel-good experience with no true “villains” and little conflict.  (The worst thing any character does is “take a quote out of context”.)  While dealing broadly with issues such as sadness, loneliness, and death — non-trivial things during the Christmas season when the suicide rate notably rises — Christmas Angel focuses on the positive side of humanity, emphasizing good people and the feelings of service and charity . . . Viewers will be reminded that service is important, especially in the Christmas season, but are provided by examples of service that will be largely beyond their capability to provide.  As a Christmas story of good people helping others, Christmas Angel is decent (if unremarkable); if only the details of the story didn’t rely on the giver being part of the proverbial 1% rather than the 99%.”

The Napoleon Dynamite animated series premieres on Fox on Jan. 15th.

Jonah and the Great Fish, directed by Denis Agle Jr., was released on DVD on Nov. 11, 2011. Part of the Liken the Scriptures series, it stars David Osmond, Katherine Nelson (played Emma Smith in Prophet of the Restoration), and Jeremy Elliot (Charley). Performed at SCERA Theater in 2010, where they filmed the DVD production during the day, and performed for a live audience at night. 86 minutes. Desret News reviewDaily Herald article: The [Liken the Scriptures] series was a fairly hot property locally in the early-to-mid ’00s, but up until November, it had been five years since the release of the previous film. “We had put out eight movies over the course of four years, culminating with ‘Samuel the Lamanite,’ ” said filmmaker Dennis Agle, who has creatively propelled the series since its inception. “We were ready to start production on our ninth title.” The problem, Agle said, was that a lot of the backing for that pending ninth film was from people who had made their money investing in real estate. Is there anyone who can’t guess what happened from there? After much of the financing for “Jonah and the Great Fish” dried up, the production went into a holding pattern. And actually, Agle said, that ended up being a blessing in disguise. “It made us really think about the way we approach these films,” he said. With the aim of improving the product, Lightstone arranged staged readings of its “Jonah” script for “Liken”-friendly audiences.

Unicorn City, which will be have a theatrical release in Utah in late February, has a new trailer up. The film is directed and co-written by Bryan Lefler, and produced and co-written by Adrian Lefler, Bryan’s brother. BYU faculty member Tom Lefler (Bryan and Adrian’s father) and Kate Bretschneider are the executive producers

The 2012 LDS Film Festival will take place from January 25-28, 2012 at the SCERA Center in Orem.

Marco Lui’s The Book of Life is now available for purchase at Kieth Merrill’s Audience Alliance website. KevinB’s review of the film (B+) can be seen here.

Bestsellers

New York Times Bestseller lists, January 1st and January 8th (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.)

Hardcover Fiction

#20, #19, THE SNOW ANGEL, by Glenn Beck (10th week). Down from #17.  #31 on the Combined Print list. #69 at USA Today, down just slightly from #62.

#31, x LOST DECEMBER, by Richard Paul Evans (7th week). Down from #27. #130 at USA Today, down from #80.

Trade Fiction Paperback

#21, #25 HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET, by Jamie Ford (73rd week). Down from #13.

Mass Market Paperback

x, #21 ENDER’S GAME, by Orson Scott Card

#31, #27 THE LOST GATE, by Orson Scott Card.  Paperback release. The hardback spent two weeks on the extended list earlier this year.

Children’s Paperback

#5, #5 MATCHED, by Ally Condie (14th week). Has stayed steady at #5 for four weeks now.

Children’s Series

#5, #5 THE TWILIGHT SAGA, by Stephenie Meyer (200th week). 

Hardcover Graphic books

#7, #8 TWILIGHT: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL, VOL. 2 by Stephenie Meyer and Young C. Kim (11th week). Down from #2.

Deseret Book bestselling fiction

1 Jacob T. Marley  by R. William Bennett

2 Letters in the Jade Dragon Box  by Gale Sears

3 The Great and Terrible Six-Volume Set by Chris Stewart

4 Shadows of Brierley, Vol. 4: In the Valley of the Mountains  by Anita Stansfield

5 The Wedding Letters by Jason F. Wright

6 The Promised Land, Vol. 5: The Compass of God by David G. Woolley

The Snow Angel by Glenn Beck

8 Sadie by Rebecca Belliston

9 Pumpkin Roll by Josi S. Kilpack

10 Before I Say Goodbye by Rachel Ann Nunes

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4 Responses to This Week in Mormon Literature, January 6, 2012

  1. Katya says:

    I got to see the print version of the article about Dan and Rob when I was in Utah for Christmas. Good times. (It includes a great picture that’s not in the online version, alas.)

  2. Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

    Andrew, I love these posts as always, but I’m a Torcasso, not a Toscano. Lisa Torcasso Downing. Not the first time the mistake has been made, trust me. Maybe someday Margaret Toscano will accidentally be assigned a by-line name of Torcasso, which has happened to me in reverse. I kinda doubt it.

    • Jonathan Langford says:

      Clearly it’s time to introduce some kind of hybrid surname. Toscasso, anyone?

      (Runs, fleeing, with hands over head for protection…)

  3. Jonathan Langford says:

    Note: “Jesse Christiansen” should be “Jessie Christensen.”

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