This Week in Mormon Literature, Feb. 10, 2012

The Whitey Awards finalists were named, the LDS Film Festival was held, LTUE is going on now, several plays are ongoing, three new Jane Austen-based novels, and the passing of Paul Swenson. All these Mormon lit news, books, and reviews, it’s killing me. Look how long this is! If you must, please send any suggestions or announcements to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.

News and blog posts

Journalist, editor, and poet Paul Swenson passed away on February 2, 2012, at the age of 76. He was a journalist at the Deseret News, editor of Utah Holiday magazine in the 1970s and 1980s, and wrote for The Event, the Salt Lake Observer, and the Salt Lake Tribune. He wrote poetry, and Signature Books published his 2003 poetry collection Iced at the Ward, Burned at the Stake. He was the younger brother of May Swenson, one of the leading American poets of the 20th century. The Salt Lake Tribune obituary.  He was an active participant in Sunstone Symposia every year. Here is a Sunstone Magazine tribute. “He was responsible for getting so many great Utah writers started in the field,” said Phyllis Barber, author of seven books, who worked with Swenson at the monthly magazine during its 1970s heyday. “He was always incredibly encouraging, focusing in on great turns of phrase in everyone’s writing, even if he didn’t like your whole piece.” Fire in the Pasture editor Tyler Chadwick’s memorial post is here. A memorial service is being planned for Saturday, February 18, at 11:00 AM, at the Twin Peaks ward house. 5290 So. Wesley Rd. (approx. 1130 East) Murray, UT 84117.

The Whitney Awards finalists were announced last week. The 2011 Whitney Awards gala will be held on May 5th in Provo, in cunjunction with the LDStorymaker’s Conference. The Academy has until April 23rd to read the finalists in whichever categories they plan to vote in.

The Mormon Lit Blitz will be held on February 15th to 29th. The story made the Deseret News. Scott Hales has been creating a series of Mormon Lit Blitz Pass-along Cards.

The 2011 Brookie and D.K. Brown Fiction Contest winners were announced by Sunstone Magazine this week: 1st: “Name” by Heidi Naylor, 2nd: “How They Get You” by Josh Allen, 3rd: “Sinkhole” by Larry Menlove, Honorable Mention: “One Traveler” by Julie Nichols. The winners will be published in upcoming issues of Sunstone Magazine.

Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) announced its 2012 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults.  Among the 99 books were Ally Condie’s Matched and Carol Lynch Williams’ The Chosen One.

The Life, the Universe, and Everything SF/F Symposium is being held February 9-11 at Utah Valley University.

At A Motley Vision, Kent discusses an 1883 sermon by Junius F. Wells on Keeping a Journal, and ebooks and the self-publishing buble. Jonathan writes about The Artist in the City of Zion at AMV, based on the passage from Added Upon about artists in Millennial Zion. Theric continues his Bright Angels & Familiars reading series with “Born of the Water” by Wayne Jorgensen. Patricia calls for submissions for the “Love of Nature Nature of Love Month” at Wilderness Interface Zone.

LDS Publisher is running a 2011 Book Cover contest. Today is the final day to vote.

Film

The 2012 LDS Film Festival was held on January 25th through the 28th at the SCERA theater in Orem, Utah.  As for the Awards, the Pioneer Award went to Craig Clyde, and the Visionary Award went to Thomas Russell. Life According to Penny, by Ali Barr, won the Short Film Competition. The Last Ride of Pancho Felipe won both First Place and an audience choice award in the 24 Hour Filmmaking Marathon Competition. McKay Stevens led the group that made it.

Kevin Burtt at LDS Cinema Online gives reviews and notes on each day.

Day 1 Kevin notes very few of the films this year contain LDS-specific content. He reviews Redemption, written and directed by Tom Russell, and gives it a B. “Redemption is a solid and moving film with a resonant theme, amply supported by some strong performances . . . The story and performances are strong, but to me the directorial and editing style detracted from the film rather than added.  Tom Russell the writer appears to be a few steps ahead of Tom Russell the director, even though it is clear he has the tools and the vision in both areas to become a premier filmmaker in time . . . Flaws aside, Redemption is a solid, thought-provoking film that has a positive message about charity and compassion for everyone.  I look forward to what Tom Russell produces in the future.”

Kevin Burtt on Day 2. Kevin reviews The Letter Writer (written and directed by Christian Vuisa) and Stand Strong (written and directed by Amy Kenney). He gives The Letter Writer a B. “Vuissa has been accused by some (…okay, me) of oversimplifying complex material to create highly idealistic movies that are just a tad detached from reality.  However, since The Letter Writer is fundamentally such a simple story to begin with, it plays more to Vuissa’s strengths.  As a result, The Letter Writer is arguably his best and most effective film . . . The Letter Writer is simple and sweet, even with a few melodramatic elements.  (Is there a bald kid next door undergoing chemotherapy whom Maggy gets to visit and inspire in the hospital?  Of course there is!  Is there a tearful conversation with her mom where Maggy shares how much she loves her?  Of course there is!)   Maggy’s unsubtle conversion from singing rock songs to church hymns and easy-listening folk music is a little eye-rolling . . . Regardless, The Letter Writer is simple, heart-warming and non-offensive — a typical Christian Vuissa film, in other words.”

He gives Stand Strong a C+. “Stand Strong is successful in being generically Christian, even though the characters are still pretty obviously LDS.  (Food storage, LDS “prayer-speak”, and reading scriptures from the LDS quad — complete with the standard footnotes — are a giveaway, even though only Bible verses are quoted in the film.)  Stand Strong has a meaningful message about how “the most important things in life aren’t things” and has its heart in the right place. However, Stand Strong is a film that’s VERY preachy — written like a Sunday School object lesson without subtlety or nuance, rather than a character-driven drama.  The family members in Stand Strong are archetypes rather than real people . . . Stand Strong is also ultra-orthodox in its view of family roles, which may alienate audiences who don’t share the filmmakers’ assumptions . . . The moral about financial management and keeping priorities straight is a timely message.  However, the lack of realistic characters and constant preaching make Stand Strong more tedious than it should be.”

Kevin Burtt on Day 3. Three reviews. The Last Eagle Scout, written and directed by Kels Goodman. “The Last Eagle Scout is all over the place in terms of plot, characters, and political satire, and it’s all VERY hit-and-miss.  I’m pretty sure this will be the most divisive film coming out of the festival:  audiences will either consider Kels Goodman an insane genius speaking truth to power in an overly PC society…or a right-wing wacko who creates “straw men” about liberal philosophies and then mocks them in support of an outdated Scouting program.  Those in the middle may oscillate between those two opinions from scene to scene.  How you react to the film will largely depend on how you feel about the importance of Scouting (and right-wing ideology) in the first place.” (Grade forthcoming in a later full review).

The Measure of a Man, written and directed by Elizabeth Bailey Waite. “A dramatized biography of George P. Bailey, written and directed by his daughter Elizabeth . . . The Measure of a Man doesn’t have a “plot” per se, just a random assortment of dramatized memories from Lizzy’s childhood.  And there isn’t any real drama — even when one of the kids gets run over by a car, it’s handled fairly peacefully.  Some of the anecdotes are amusing, but there’s still an underlying sense that the film doesn’t have anything profound to say about life or parenting.  We’re glad to see that George is a decent guy who loves his wife and his kids…however, is it significant or compelling enough to capture in a film? . . . The Measure of a Man is pleasant and well-produced, but the lack of meaningful subtext hurt the film in my eyes.” Grade: B-.

Two Brothers, directed by Rick Stevenson. “Two Brothers is part of a large-scale documentary project called 5000 Days, following groups of kids of all countries and social classes over a fifteen-year period.  This particular film follows two Mormon boys from Utah, Sam and Luke Nelson, from the time they are 10 and 8 respectively, to 20 and 22 today . . . The documentary isn’t ground-breaking, especially to LDS audiences who are already familiar with the unique elements of a Mormon lifestyle.  Still, the film is never boring, simply because we like Sam and Luke and can enjoy their successes (and empathize with their struggles) in each step of their lives.  The documentary could certainly serve as a good starting point for non-members to understand the LDS experience, but for LDS viewers it also provides a useful case study about how that LDS experience (especially the mission experience) affects LDS youth today.” Grade: B.

Kevin Burtt on Day 4. Three reviews. Unicorn City, written and directed by Adrian & Brian Lefler. It will have a general Utah release on February 24. “Described as “Monty Python & The Holy Grail” meets “Napoleon Dynamite”, Unicorn City is a film made by gamer geeks for gamer geeks.  However, even if the terms LARP, D&D, WOW, or MMORPG don’t mean anything to you, don’t let that scare you away — Unicorn City is creative, funny, and accessible to all, and easily my favorite film of the LDS Film Festival . . . The film is also well-produced considering the low budget, with good pacing and a coherent narrative.  There isn’t any deep message or meaning here, other than perhaps how gamers are attracted to virtual worlds where they have complete control over their character and destiny partly as psychological replacements for the real world where they don’t. Unicorn City is a fun film regardless of your favorite hobby, and an insightful glimpse into a unique subgroup of humanity.” Grade: A-. (Here is a Deseret News feature story about Unicorn City).

Boy With Blue, directed by David Liddell Thorpe. “An “experimental” drama shot in a 24-hour period, featuring a total of four characters who spend 99% of the movie in one room of a small apartment.  I don’t know if Boy With Blue was written originally as a stage play, but it is obviously very “play-like” in its structure. Alex and Jackie Orton are a 40-something married couple who have lost their only son to a drunk-driving accident.  Still in the grieving process three years later, they are visited one afternoon by their son’s ex-girlfriend Raeanne.  Her presence reopens old wounds but also provides greater insight into their son and themselves . . . Boy With Blue is well-written and acted, and recommended for those who like stage-play-style films . . .  Boy With Blue is not ground-breaking in any way, but a meaningful film nonetheless.” Grade: B+

Elizabeth’s Gift, directed by Rob Diamond. “Combining an emotional family drama about a lost child and grieving parents, with a thriller involving gangs and vicious arms dealers is an interesting mix and it’s not entirely a good fit tonally . . . Still, good performances and decent writing make Elizabeth’s Gift a good experience . . . Nothing ground-breaking here either, but solid film that will appeal to LDS audiences.” Grade: B.

The Letter Writer (Deseret News). “A perfect fit for the Hallmark Channel. It’s simple, it’s sweet and huge problems are easily resolved before the end of the story. Other than that, it’s enjoyable . . . It’s a charming tale, but when the woes start being piled on, it gets a little out there . . . the many problems would take a great deal more resolving than portrayed, especially something like her father’s ongoing neglect. But given that Maggy was never really that bad a teenager, maybe it would be that easy. If you don’t look too hard for real life here, this flick is fine.”

Redemption (Deseret News). “A brutal but engrossing story, “Redemption” is an interesting and “mostly true” story . . . This film is beautifully shot, which is no small feat given the lack of lush landscape on Antelope Island and on the shores of the Great Salt Lake . . . an engaging and memorable film that could be destined for success.”

“Biblical Poetics” panel divides audience at the LDS Film Fest (Deseret News). “A panel discussion held last Saturday elicited a surprisingly hostile response from several of the audience members in attendance. Discussion focused on a paper co-authored by Dennis Packard of the Brigham Young University philosophy department, Jason McDonald from Church Media Services, and Preston Campbell, a grad student at New York University. Titled “Biblical Poetics for Filmmakers: A Manifesto,” the paper proposes a theoretical framework for writers and directors who are members of the Church based on the literary structure of the Bible itself. “Strictly speaking,” the manifesto states, “Bible films haven’t yet been made.” . . . Rather, according to the manifesto, “the biblical film style can be understood as a style that brings the most realism to the screen, including the realism sought, often in misguided ways, by Neo-realist, Hollywood and art house filmmakers” . . . By relying on the tried and true narrative techniques of ancient scripture, Packard argued, filmmakers would no longer have to play catch-up with audience preferences the way they have struggled to in the past. One audience member, however, questioned the entertainment value of any movie made to follow the dramatic beats of a Bible story. Is there really an audience for movies that feel like scripture? . . . For more information about biblical poetics, an online copy of the manifesto is at www.greatcinemanow.com/paper.doc. Currently, the manifesto’s authors, along with Guy Galli, are working on a feature-length adaptation of Galli’s novel “Lifted Up” to demonstrate the practical application of the principles they define in the manifesto.

Filmed in Utah is a video interview series by Warren Workman. He did several interviews at the LDSFF, including Day 1 where he talks to Jaclyn Hales, one of the stars of Unicorn City, and participated in the 24 Hour Film Festival, and talks about her performance in Mahonri Stewart’s The Rings of the Tree.

Unitards, written and directed by Scott Featherstone, was released to 20 Utah, Arizona, and Idaho theaters in January 27, and closed on February 10th. The Salt Lake Tribune gave it 2 stars out of 4. “The locally made “Unitards” never aims to be anything other than good clean fun, and it’s so innocuous it makes “The Mickey Mouse Club” look like an Ingmar Bergman movie . . . Writer-director Scott Featherstone (who plays Sam’s dad onscreen and in real life) overloads on musical montages that highlight the Unitards’ goofy dance numbers (choreographed by Sam and his mom, the directors’ wife, Lori). But the school spirit of the young cast (the bulk of them first-timers, found in auditions at Skyline High School) is infectious.”

Dan Metclaf Jr. review (ABC News producer in SLC). D+. “The Unitards narrative attempts to tap into the charm and structure of 2004′s Napoleon Dynamite, while also drawing on elements of Footloose. It fails miserably on both accounts. It would seem that some school assemblies belong in school auditoriums, and not on the movie screen. The flimsy so-called “conflict” of Unitards is about as controversial as lunchroom food fight. The script and acting lack as well, with a lot of jokes that seem intended only for Skyline Eagles or members of the Featherstone family. The dance routines also might have been funnier or more interesting if the boys had practiced a little more, or perhaps jazzed it up a little, but for the most part, the performances come across as a bunch of class clowns in drag . . . Unitards seems like a skit in an LDS roadshow, but not much of a movie.”

Standard-Examiner review. 1.5 stars. “The film is being tabbed as “High School Musical” meets “Napoleon Dynamite.” Now that’s funny. And very much not true, unless you consider a bunch of teens goofing in front of a camera high comedic art. Oh, come on, cut ’em some slack, right? That might be possible if they were showing it on a big white sheet on the back wall of the gymnasium, but they’re not. They’re playing it at the Megaplexes, charging the same price as if you were there to see “The Iron Lady” or “Mission: Impossible.” So, I’m pretty sure you’re going to feel ripped off — unless you went to Skyline High School, are a member of the Featherstone family, or have kids in the movie . . . “Unitards” is senseless, silly and unsatisfying.”  Deseret News feature story.

A Screen Daily story about the upcoming film Austenland, directed by Jerusha Hess and produced by Stephenie Meyer.  The article mentions that filming for Meyer’s novel The Host will begin in 2012. The director will be Andrew Niccol, who directed Gattaca and In Time.

Review of the 2006 film Bonneville by Randy Astle. “The tenor of the whole thing, to my eyes, is a quiet, unassuming, project, one that doesn’t put on a lot of airs but which still gives its stars weighty enough roles in what are otherwise rather cliche situations. It’s formulaic, I mean, but still eminently watchable and thoroughly enjoyable.”

Review of Joseph Smith: Plates of Gold (Trevor Holyoak, AML).

Charley has been re-released after 10 years, this time in immersion 3D (Deseret News).

Theater

Blind Dates is being performed at the Covey Center for the Arts in Provo, UT, Feb. 3-18. It is four humorous short plays, all with the same title, about blind dates gone wrong.  A 1985 one-act play by Horton Foote is being joined by one-acts by Eric Samuelsen, J. Scott Bronson and Melissa Lelani Larson. BYU Universe feature story.

UTBA review (if you are planning on seeing the play, don’t read the linked review’s part about Samuelsen’s section, it ruins the surprise). “I’ve been reviewing for UTBA for over a year now. In that time, I’ve seen some good shows. I’ve seen some great shows. I’ve seen a few perfect shows. Tonight’s performance was one of those perfect ones . . . [Bronson’s play] “Swain and Reynolds are brilliant together—their timing is perfect, their gestures so natural. I sort of forgot I was watching a play . . . There is no way for me to convey how totally hilarious Samuelsen’s play is . . . [Larson’s play] The tough, intimate, and sometimes touching commentary in this play make it the most serious and probably the most real play in this group of four one-acts. There are some laughs, but this isn’t a comedic play. This play made me hurt and feel genuine empathy for the characters. It forced us to look at relationships in a way the other three plays didn’t . . . [Foote’s play] This final play had a big heap of Texas laughs, and Foote’s Blind Date alone would make it worth it to come to Provo. However, combined with the other three, this group of plays makes for a brilliant montage of the ups and downs of courtship. It is the perfect Valentine’s Day gift for you and your honey, or maybe your honey-to-be.”

Mahonri Stewart’s Rings of the Tree: A Multimedia Play has finished its Off Broadway Theater run, and will play Friday the 10th and Monday the 13th at the Grove Theater in Pleasant Grove. UTBA review: “Zion Theatre Company’s latest venture, Rings of the Tree, is definitely daring—in subject matter, execution, technical effects, and a shocking and potentially controversial resolution. Unfortunately, this daring show has a few kinks to work out before it can be sincerely hailed for its courage . . . Most of the show’s problems came from the script and from the technical complexity . . . While the plot was interesting, unconventional, unpredictable, and definitely trending right now, it was ripe with problems—easily fixed problems, I’m sure, but problems nonetheless. It took most of the first act to figure out what was going on in the play . . . This show isn’t one I’d recommend to casual theater-goers. It’s innovative and bold, and isn’t something that will fit everyone’s taste. I’d definitely recommend it to those who appreciate a show that experiments and takes risks. This show is full to the brim with risks, and I commend the actors and production team for taking on a chance on a truly daring show.” [Mahonri says the technical problems the reviewer discussed have been ironed out since opening night.] A Student Review feature article, and Daily Herald feature article about the technological aspects.

Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, Region VIII, is being held Feb. 7-11 at Weber State University. Deseret News: “More than 1,000 students will converge at Weber State as the university hosts the 44th regional competition of the prestigious Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival . . . More than 1,000 students will converge at Weber State as the university hosts the 44th regional competition of the prestigious Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. The four productions in competition are “The Elephant Man,” Brigham Young University; “Eurydice,” UVU; “Xanadu,” WSU; and by special invitation, “The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey,” an original co-production of BYU and SCERA Center for the Arts. The shows are eligible to participate at the national festival April 16-21 at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.” Also SUU did a scene from Mel Leilani Larson’s Little Happy Secrets at the Night of Invitational Scenes.

Salty Cricket Composers’ Collective, a SLC nonprofit which supports the performance and promotion of new music, presented “Broadway Bound?” a showcase of scenes from five new musicals from Utah composers, on February 9th at the Leona Wagner Black Box theatre in the Rose Wagner Center for the Performing Arts, in SLC. The plays were Erica Glenn’s “The Weaver from Raveloe,” Rick Mortensen’s “My Rock,” Annelise Muryphy’s “Justice at Gold Dust,” Rick Rea’s “Godville,” and M. Ryan Taylor’s “The Giant’s Heart”. At least Glenn and Taylor are LDS, I am not sure about the other three.

Glen Nelson at the Mormon Artists Group writes a detailed article about John Laurence Seymour and his opera In The Pasha’s Garden, which premiered at New York City’s Metropolitan Opera in 1935. “He is the only Mormon composer to have had a work performed by the Met. It was a monumental disaster. Here is its story.”

New Books and their reviews

 

Blue Rose and Other Chapbooks, by Michael R. Collings. Borgo Press, Jan. 13. Poetry. Blue Rose compiles ten chapbooks with publication dates ranging from the early 1980s to 2011. Includes limericks, haiku, children’s verses, extremely short poems, and an extended look into the mind and career of one of the greatest sixteenth-century poets through the mediation of his mother’s will.

Midnight in Austenland, by Shannon Hale. Bloomsbury USA, Jan. 31. Romance. Sequel to Austenland, with different protagonists.

Kirkus Reviews: “A smartly plotted mystery somewhat compensates for the fact that Charlotte’s psychological problems are entirely predictable, the rest of the characters sketchily portrayed and the arch narration a huge comedown from the real Jane’s sharp, sardonic tone. Will no doubt appeal to those fans who think that period clothes and happy romantic endings constitute an authentic re-creation of Austen’s hard-edged novels.”

Publishers Weekly: “Though a tacked-on romance and some flimsy plot twists strain credibility, Hale’s fans will be thrilled to revisit Pembrook Park and reunite with its regulars. Hale provides a welcome, witty glimpse of a side of Austen rarely explored in the many contemporary riffs on her work.”

Deseret News: “The new book brings the same modern twist to all things Jane Austen, with a dash of murder mystery for good measure . . . The sequel sees the return of a few characters . . . Aside from that, the story is considerably different and surprisingly fresh, considering a setting that doesn’t seem to leave much room for imagination beyond a Darcy-entrenched plot. There is, for example, a substantial amount of action in this telling. Hale manages to sneak thrillingly executed suspense in among the bumbling humor supplied by eccentric characters and Charlotte’s arguments with her “inner thoughts” that just about anyone can relate to . . . The writing, admittedly, does not seem up to par with some of Hale’s earlier works. It lacks the depth and sophistication of books that literary junkies like to rip apart and analyze, but that’s clearly not the author’s intention here. It is, in the end, a very fun read.”

With a Name Like Love, by Tess Hilmo. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, September 2011. Middle grade. Not a new book, but I missed it when it came out in September. It is about a 13-year old girl, the daughter of a traveling preacher, who travels with him to southern tent revival meetings. In an Arkansas town she finds a mystery and defends a woman accused of murder. It is a Whitney Award finalist. The book has received starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, and School Library Journal. One of School Library Journal’s Best Fiction Books of 2011, and one of ten books the ABA chose for “New Voices of 2011” in Middle Grade fiction.

Booklist (starred): “Hilmo’s first novel is a small gem of a book.  The mystery of who killed Jimmy’s father carries the action along, but this is really a family portrait that’s suffused with the bickering, hopes, fears and love found in big families.  The supporting cast of Binder citizens is also carefully drawn…A warm and thoughtful look back.”

Kirkus Review (starred): “Hilmo relishes her small-town setting and develops her characters with affection. Readers will become caught up in events as firmly as Ollie is. A story about the meaning of home, justice and love, beautifully told.”

Delivering Hope, by Jennifer Ann Holt. Cedar Fort, Feb. 7. General. An infertile couple and a pregnant young woman find each other. Debut author. Not related to last-year’s similiarly titled and themed Hope’s Journey.

Shanda, LDSWBR review. “While Delivering Hope is more tell than show, I was pulled into the stories of these two families enough that it didn’t really matter to me. I especially felt Allison’s anguish as she tried to decide whether to place for adoption the baby girl she wanted to keep so badly.”

Northanger Alibi, by Jenni James. Walnut Springs, Feb. 3. Young Adult romance. Second in The Jane Austen Diaries series. About a Twilight-obsessed girl and her adventures, based on Northanger Abby.

Persuasion: A Latter-Day Tale, by Rebecca Jamison. Cedar Fort, Feb. 7. Romance. Debut author. Based on Austen, of course. Author has a MA in English from BYU, taught English in High School.

Tristi Pinkston, AML review. “What I enjoyed most about this novel was the author’s solid writing style.  She describes settings and emotions with a deft hand, and in fact, I read some portions of the book aloud in a class I taught about writing emotion.  I did find myself a little bit distracted by the use of present tense for the narrative voice—I’m not a fan of present tense, personally, and I had to overcome that one particular pet peeve of mine as I started my read. But once I got over my pride and my prejudice, and instead exercised some sense, rather than sensibility, I was very well persuaded to enjoy this novel.”

Mindy, LDSWBR review. 4 out of 5.

Fractured Light, by Rachel McClellan. Sweetwater/Cedar Fort, Feb. 7. YA paranormal Girl has the power to manipulate life, fights Vykens. Debut. [I am not sure if the author is a Mormon.]

Standard Examiner review. “The overall premise is intriguing and unique, which is enough incentive to keep readers engaged in the story until the very end. There are, however, a few missteps along the way. The writing, generally speaking, is strong, but a bit confusing at times. In the beginning of Fractured Light, the writing is weaker, complete with clichéd characters and misguided metaphors that have the potential to render the novel dated. However, once the foundation is placed, Fractured Light picks up considerably; the writing is noticeably stronger; the characters find their own ground, and the story takes off into a mesmerizing world that will have readers completely enthralled in the story.”

Targets in Ties, by Tristi Pinkston. Walnut Springs, Jan. 30. Cozy mystery. 4th in the Secret Sisters series. Set in Mexico.

Ambush, by Obert Skye. Shadow Mountain, Jan. 24. Middle Grade fantasy. Third in the Pillage trilogy.

Passage on the Titanic, by Anita Stansfield. Covenant, February. Historical romance. A stand-alone novel.

Olivia, by Julie Wright. Deseret Book, Feb. 3. General. The first in the Newport Ladies Book Club, a series about a group of friends. The next three volumes, which will be released in three month intervals, are by Josi Kilpack, Annette Lyon, and Heather Moore.

Reviews of Older Books

Brodi Ashton, Everneath (The Literate Mother). Review includes content rating system for parents.

Elizabeth Bentley, A Wandering Star (Marilyn Brown, AML). “Despite a beginning that seemed more philosophical than eye-catching, Bentley’s novel is a work to wrap your brain around. I was pleasantly surprised to read fiction that grappled with LDS cultural philosophy. Although I was impatient to “get to the story,” I saw that her intellectual gymnastics realistically portrayed the activities of our study groups . . . We get an excellent picture of why dedicated membership in the Church and careful adherence to chastity and family values is the intellectual’s best choice. The truth that any artist’s life is a work of art in itself–and should be exemplary–is my favorite soap box topic. She also champions literary study as a viable component of our culture . . . Beth is not afraid to use the tools of resonant literature. For example, her metaphoric use of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse echoes her conception of her “pale rider” friend. Most LDS writers are writing science fiction, fantasy, romance, or young adult; perhaps because they want to sell something. This is totally understandable, as most of the Mormon audience does not read intellectual fiction. But obviously, the time for “meatier stuff” is coming!”

Prudence Bice, The Kissing Tree (Publisher’s Weekly). “In Bice’s sweet second novel of the Old West, a young woman rediscovers her western roots . . . Georgiana’s fiery Irish temperament is the perfect foil for Ridge’s easygoing personality as this simple and wholesome romance unfolds to a satisfying conclusion.”

Marilyn Brown, Fires of Jerusalem (Jennie Hansen, Meridian). “Not too many people know much about Jeremiah the Prophet . . . Brown is more explicit in describing the evil the people have fallen into than most LDS writers describing this time period. Their sins go far beyond taking a few too many steps on the Sabbath to being almost unthinkable in their baseness and denial of God. The cruelty toward Jeremiah and to others unfortunate enough to cross the paths of power-mad individuals from soldiers to royalty are more graphic than some readers may find comfortable. The novel is equally strong in delivering a message of obedience, faith, and commitment to God. Though the author leans toward more tell than show, she has a compelling style that keeps the reader turning pages and being drawn into the story. Her weakest point in my opinion is her abrupt scene changes and awkward segues from one scene or chapter to another. This often left me wondering if I’d missed a page and turning back to check. Her research is impressive and she has done an excellent job of making it easy for a reader to separate fictional elements from factual and the fictional elements and people are presented in a plausible manner.”  (FoxyJ): “I think this book had potential, but I just couldn’t get into it. I felt like none of the characters were developed well, especially the main character. I also felt like the author was trying too hard to describe the entirety of Jeremiah’s life and I found myself wishing we could spend more time thoughtfully examining particular episodes instead of trying to get through 70 years in one book.”

Shannen Crane Camp, The Breakup Artist (Tristi Pinkston, AML). “It’s a light read, but also contains moments of reflection as Amelia comes face-to-face with some of her own demons . . . there were editing issues throughout the entire novel. I noticed repetition, missing punctuation, rambling—things that distracted me from the entertainment of the story. I wished the editing had been more precise. The story deserved it. Overall, this was a fun read with personable characters, some great subtle themes, and a believable character arc that flowed from beginning to end.”

Tyler Chadwick, editor, Fire in the Pasture: twenty-first century Mormon poems (Harlow Clark, AML). “Susan Howe uses that same word, abundance, in her foreword to the new anthology, “Fire in the Pasture,” a word that occurred to her over and over as she read the poems–over and over perhaps, and the poems are worth reading and rereading, for the abundance of joy, of technique, of form and forms, for the exuberance of a poem like Aaron Guile’s “Sister Mary-Kate O’Donnell,” which suggests the darkness of abundance too great to contain.”

David Clark, Death of a Disco Dancer (Bob Gibson, Standard Examiner blog). There’s good Mormon fiction out there. If you know where to look for it . . . There are amusing anecdotes in Death of a Disco Dancer, but it’s at heart a bittersweet tale. When you live too long, death is demeaning, and taxing for those who love you the most. And it’s a challenge to find the good in that stranger who once loved you, so reach out at every shard of memory that offers a glimpse of their humanity.

Sarah M. Eden, Friends & Foes (Deseret News). “Eden’s trademark wit and droll humor wind their way into every page of this book. The characters are delightful, and their playful interactions are captivating. Eden is truly a master of creating personalities for her books that draw readers into the story and make them feel at home. As the tale progresses, readers will find themselves lost in the kind of Regency love story that won’t fail to make the heart grin.”

James Gough, Cloak (Wired). “Please don’t take my comparison of James Gough’s Cloak to the Harry Potter series negatively — I mean it in the most complimentary of ways. Gough has created a world that young adult readers are sure to enjoy, but what I really enjoyed about this opening book is the complete lack of magic. Everything has an explanation, even if it at first seems a bit supernatural. This is a world where the out-of-the-ordinary characters that Will encounters all have a reason for being. The mythology that Gough provides to explain this new world that Will has discovered is filled with plenty of backstory, and the plot that develops fast hinges on convincing the reader that a hidden world could exist and stay hidden easily enough. Thankfully, Gough’s writing style makes it easy to accept this premise.”

Stephanie Humphreys, Double Deceit (Jennie Hansen, Meridian). “This book has all of the elements of a good suspense novel. The heroine has taken an emotional battering and has no confidence in herself, but struggles on to achieve a sense of self worth and the ability to be independent . . . As is often the case with short romantic suspense novels, character development doesn’t run deep, but is satisfactory for the needs of the story . . . The plot moves at a comfortable pace and I was left questioning only a couple of points which would give away too much of the story to discuss here. The suspense is stronger than the romance, but fans of either genre will not be disappointed by this book.”

Krista Lynne Jensen, Of Grace and Chocolate (Jennie Hansen, Meridian). “It starts out like hundreds of other romances with a silly, childish prank and a career oriented protagonist, but it does get better, a whole lot better . . . I like this new writer’s style; she makes the story close and personal, uses language well, and shows a great deal of talent. She builds excitement well and writes knowledgeably about several issues. There are aspects of this story that disappointed me, however. The story is too dependent on coincidences. I can accept that Jill and Scott were perhaps destined to meet again, but so many times? Having Trey, Scott’s brother, connect with the sister is a little far- fetched. I had a hard time accepting the immediate connection between Jill’s father and the baby when he’d always been so distant from his own two daughters. And after the buildup, the resolution scenes aren’t what they could be with one too dependent on chance and the other too far removed from the protagonist.”

Heather Justesen, Family by Design (Tristi Pinkston, AML). “The themes of the story are familiar. We’ve all heard of two best friends getting married, of the need for a marriage in order to gain custody of children, and people falling in love unexpectedly. What makes this story unique is Heather Justesen’s own writing style.  She has a unique turn of phrase and the ability to describe things in a way that makes her books unlike anyone else’s.  It’s distinctive and a pleasure to read.  And, if I were to be totally honest, I would have to say that I did rather appreciate the moments of sweet romance throughout the story.  Perhaps I might even go so far as to say that it sounds to me like Tucker is a pretty good kisser. If you’re looking for a family drama with romantic elements and plenty of tear-jerking moments, I daresay you would enjoy “Family by Design”.”

Mindy, LDSWBR. 4 out of 5 stars. “I absolutely loved this book. The characters are so well written and the story flows with a great amount of feeling and heart.  Each character is important, and I appreciated the author’s eye for detail.”

Kenny Kemp, The Wise Man Returns (FoxyJ). “This book was a surprise to me; the main character and the setting were so vividly rendered that I still find myself thinking about them several weeks after finishing the book. I didn’t like the ending very much but the first two-thirds of the book were just wonderful.”

Melissa Lemon, Cinder and Ella (Deseret News). “The charm of the book lies in the clever reinventing of the classic Cinderella tale that it barely resembles . . . Still, the story does stumble. In some ways it has a middle-grade feel, yet one scene in particular, in which it is implied something may happen, feels as if it is meant for older readers . . . The romantic elements lack chemistry — it’s questionable that young female readers used to dashing teen heroes will connect with either of the eventual love interests. One lacks a nobility of character that may leave the reader surprised that he is chosen.”

Anneke Majors, The Year of the Boar (Shelah Books It). Enjoyment rating: 6/10. “Majors has set an ambitious goal for herself in juggling the elements of story and a setting all over the world (there are scenes in Texas, Montana, China, Japan, France, and Africa, and I don’t think that list is complete). I think her writing is clear and concise throughout, but I ultimately found the stories very hard to follow. If I’d read them as individual vignettes, I think my expectations would have been different, but I was expecting the stories to tie together, to be more novelistic, and I think there’s enough evidence that there is supposed to be some kind of cohesive message from the piece as a whole, but it was hard for me to glean what it was. As a very well-written series of family stories, I think the piece succeeds . . . I really, really applaud Majors for choosing to tackle a Mormon history that isn’t a Utah history. I love the places that this book points in our shared future as Mormon writers, and for that reason I think it’s an important book.”

Steven L. Peck, The Scholar of Moab (Rachel Helps, Deseret News). “Steven L. Peck’s “The Scholar of Moab” is darkly humorous and literary . . . The different voices of the varied cast are distinct and caricatured. Despite the humorous undertones, the elements of magical realism leave a feeling in the reader of wonder and suspicion at the possibilities of everyday life . . . “The Scholar of Moab” is a delightful, philosophical read that many will have a high probability of liking. Fans of magical realism and Western settings would also find much to their liking. For a Utah resident, there is something special about reading novels that take place in the state. Luckily, this novel, though intimately tied to its setting, has more to offer than a familiar place: It treats familiar conflicts with humor and poignant suffering.”

Tristi Pinkston, Hang ‘em High (Deseret News). “A fun-filled mystery with unforgettable characters and a suspenseful plot . . . “Hang ‘Em High” is an easy read that will appeal to those of all ages. The fearsome trio of women are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which makes the story even more appealing. Though outrageous at times, the author captivates the reader with the plot twists in the story.”

Gale Sears, Letters in the Jade Dragon Box (FoxyJ). “I think the main problem is that it is marketed as adult fiction, but the level of the writing and the age of the protagonist (and the plot) make it feel very YA. In fact, a somewhat younger YA. It’s a good book, but I think I was expecting something a little more meaty than what I got.”

Douglas Thayer, Wasatch: Mormon Stories and a Novella (Shelf Actualization). “On the face of it, you could say that Thayer is firmly entrenched in telling only one kind of story, as almost all of these selections feature coming of age tales told from the perspective of the Mormon male. But to dismiss the collection on those grounds would be to do the author and the reader a great disservice. There’s considerable range lurking beneath the surface. Whether it’s the magical realism of “Brother Melrose,” or the black comedy of “The Gold Mine,” Thayer explores themes of life and death, survival and forgiveness, faith, doubt, friendship, heroism and more . . . The author has described himself as having “a mind that deals in images.” His straightforward prose certainly conveys those images clearly, and above all, evokes a strong sense of place. The mountains, rivers and elements of Wasatch are maybe more accurately described as characters than as settings. They shape and challenge his protagonists, and in some cases give them their very purpose. I were to level one criticism of the writing, it is that Thayer has a strong affinity for leading with dependent clauses. This isn’t a problem in and of itself, but when two or three such sentences are grouped together, it can be a little distracting.”

New York Times Bestseller lists, February 5th, 12th, and 19th (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

#8, #26, #27 SHADOWS IN FLIGHT, by Orson Scott Card (3rd week). Did not make the E-book list. #14, x on the Combined List, Reached #124 on the USA Today List, for one week. Card’s Uncle Orson Reviews columns, including his opinions on current literary theory, are discussed in the NYT “Inside the List” column.

Trade Fiction Paperback

#22, #23, #25 HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET, by Jamie Ford.

Mass Market Paperback

#12, #27, x SPIRIT BOUND, by Christine Feehan (4th week on the main list). Down from #7. Sisters of the Heart, vol. 2. On the USA Today list for 5 weeks, peaking at #18.

x, x, #16 LAIR OF THE LION, by Christine Feehan (1st week). #44 at USA Today. Re-release of a 2002 book.

Children’s Paperback

#3, #8, #8 MATCHED, by Ally Condie (20th week). Down from #4.

Children’s Series

x, #8, #10 THE MAZE RUNNER TRILOGY, by James Dashner (8th week). Hoping on and off the list.

THE TWILIGHT SAGA, by Stephenie Meyer  Off the list after 203 weeks, it will be back.

Hardcover Graphic books

TWILIGHT: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL, VOL. 2 by Stephenie Meyer and Young C. Kim fell off the list after 14 weeks.

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4 Responses to This Week in Mormon Literature, Feb. 10, 2012

  1. Th. says:

    .

    I don’t know how you do it, Andrew. Seriously. I can’t imagine doing what you do.

  2. Jonathan Langford says:

    Whew! What a lot is going on! Thanks again, Andrew, for keeping us up to date on it all!

  3. Melissa Leilani Larson says:

    Thanks for this Andrew! Such great stuff.

    I wanted to mention that KCACTF Region VIII had its award ceremony last night. BYU and UVU were incredibly well represented: BYU had 4 students make it to the final round of the Irene Ryan acting scholarship competition; UVU had 3. BYU student Becca Ingram won the top acting prize for the region and will be going on to compete at the national level in Washington D.C. in April. BYU students Ben Isaacs and Jen Stewart won for Classical Acting and Best Scene Partner respectively. BYU student Shelby Luke won the Costume Design competition (I believe she will also be going to D.C.) for her work on PETER PAN. BYU, UVU, and USU all won a slew of awards in design and tech. UVU’s Wendy Gourley will compete in D.C. with her dramaturgical work on EURYDICE. By the end of the festival, everyone was still talking about the spectacular showings of UVU’s EURYDICE and BYU’s THE ELEPHANT MAN.

  4. Andrew Hall says:

    The Nebula Award nominations for 2011 are out, and there are two Mormon authors among the nominees.
    Novelette:
    •“Ray of Light,” Brad R. Torgersen (Analog Science Fiction and Fact, December 2011)
    Short Story:
    •“Movement,” Nancy Fulda (Asimov’s Science Fiction, March 2011)
    The winners will be announced at SFWA’s 47th Annual Nebula Awards Weekend, May 17 to May 20, 2012.
    http://www.sfwa.org/2012/02/2011-nebula-awards-nominees-announced/

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