The Mormon Lit Blitz is coming into the homestretch, and James Goldberg is working on a way to keep the joy coming. There are a lot of reviews appearing of Whitney Award finalist novels, as Academy members scramble to read all of the books required to vote. Brandon Mull, Bree Despain, and Dan Wells produced new YA novels. Please send any suggestions or announcements to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.
News and blog posts
The Mormon Lit Blitz provided two great weeks of short Mormon literature. Voting for Grand Prize is open until the end of March 15th. Go and vote today. The most read piece had over 2000 reads. Wm encouraged voting with his Five easy, short steps for Mormon Lit Voting.
Jonathan Langford analyzes the Whitney General Fiction Finalists for 2011 at A Motley Vision. He gives an excellent review of each book, and gives his thoughts on the totality. He concludes, “This is a decent set of books, and most of them would make good gifts for the reading but not too adventurous Mormon on your shopping list. With the exception of Before I Say Goodbye, however, none of them truly stood out qualitywise. Can’t we do better than this?” There then followed a very spirited discussion about the finalist books, and judging criteria. Several reviewers have been trying to read as many of the finalists as they can before voting is due. I link to several in the review section below.
Theric Jepson restarts the Bright Angels & Familiars reading series with a discussion of Levi Peterson’s “The Christianizing of Coburn Heights”. It might be my favorite story from the collection, but it scuttled a Mormon lit reading group I once tried to start.
Also at AMV, Kent Larsen offers “Brigham Young on The Serious Family” for his most recent Sunday Lit Crit Sermon. It quotes from a Brigham Young 1853 sermon in which he draws a lesson from a contemporary play he had seen at the Social Hall in Salt Lake City. Wm discusses the critical reception of Mormon-themed works in “Essentialism disguised as authenticity.”
Brad R. Torgersen offers “On Not Quitting” at The Fictorian. He discusses his difficult early career, and the road to his Nebula nomination.
Scott Hales comments on Douglas Thayer’s unique writing style and conventions.
Steven Peck’s The Scholar of Moab has been nominated for the Montaigne Medal, an award for thought-provoking independent books, and also was favorably reviewed in the most recent March issue of Provo/Orem Word. Peck’s independent Utah publisher Torrey House Press was also introduced in a feature article in the same issue.
Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought Spring 2012, 45:1, is now available for purchase. It includes poetry by Elizabeth Willes, creative nonfiction by A Motley Vision’s William Morris (“Speculations: Wine/Oil”), and a story by Karen Rosenbaum (“Requiem in L Minor”). Dialogue is also opening past issues to free downloads on a rolling basis. The most recent issue made available is Spring 2010, 43:1, which features Levi S. Peterson’s story “Badge and Bryant, or, the Decline and Fall of the Dogfrey Club”, and Lisa Torcasso Downing’s “Straight Home”.
LDS Publisher, who has a newly revamped website which mergers her former LDS Publisher and LDS Fiction sites, answers questions about picture books and common reasons for a rejection from a publisher.
New books and their reviews
The Secret Life of Copernicus H. Stringfellow, by Lorin Barber. Cedar Fort/Sweetwater, March 13. YA adventure/fantasy/humor. A genius boy goes around doing good. First novel.
Caller ID, by Rachelle J. Christensen. Cedar Fort, March 13. Suspense. Second novel.
Fire and Ice review, 4 stars.
The Savage Grace, by Bree Despain. EgmontUSA, March 13. YA paranormal romance. 3rd in the Dark Divine werewolf series. March 13, 2012.
Deseret News: “The story is certainly a wild one and maybe a little too ambitious . . . Just go with it, and it’s a lot more fun.”
The Heirs of Southbridge, by Jennie Hansen. Covenant, March. Historical romance/western.
Banana Split, by Josi Kilpack. Shadow Mountain, March 6. The seventh volume in the Sadie Hoffmiller Series of cozy/culinary mysteries.
Seeds of Rebellion, by Brandon Mull. Aladdin, March 13. YA fantasy/adventure. Second in the Beyonders series.
Kirkus Reviews: “Plenty of hard-fought skirmishes and an entertainingly diverse supporting cast keep this quest fantasy’s middle volume on the right track . . . The author threads glib banter (“Everybody should get to clobber a princess at least once”) and quirky twists into his already-speedy plot to ensure that there’s never a dull moment. He brings the episode to a close with an ominous but refreshingly lucid prophecy that sends cast members off on separate missions to set up the closer’s climactic confrontation. Full measures of swordplay and sorcery, along with a healthy grain or two of salt added to keep things from getting overly earnest.”
Deseret News: “It will have readers flipping pages as fast as they can to see what happens next . . . The book’s strength, the diverse peoples and races and locations, also can be its weaknesses, with so many different attributes that readers may find themselves questioning what is what. The strong characters, however, like Galloran, will have readers attaching themselves to, and even Ferrin, the witty deceiver, will have readers rooting for his success.”
Night Sky, by Jolene Perry. Tribute Books, March 1. YA romance. Her second novel, this time with a small non-LDS publisher. A bit “hotter” romance than usual for the LDS market.
Mindy, LDSWBR: 4 stars.
Espionage, by A. L. Sowards. Covenant, February 29. Historical adventure. World War II commandos sneak into France before the Normandy Invasion. First novel.
Partials, by Dan Wells. Balzer & Bray/ HarperCollins, February 28. YA dystopian. Wells’ first real YA novel.
Publisher’s Weekly: “Wells prefers immediate impact to consistent world-building (for instance, the skin of corpses in a rat- and rot-infested apartment building has somehow been preserved), but it’s an intriguing world nonetheless . . . Though long on historical description and political debates, readers who enjoy SF-oriented postapocalyptic stories will relish this one.”
Kirkus Reviews: “Teens battle human extinction in a post-apocalyptic thriller . . . The rollercoaster plot takes precedence over character at times, and the generally realistic world occasionally strains credibility. The rushed ending promises a sequel, progressing the story enough that readers are certain to return.”
VOYA: “[The] novel is an ambitious attempt. The story’s main idea is solid, but gets lost in the mix. There are so many sub-groups that the reader has to deal with, that it is hard to keep track of who is doing what and why they are fighting each other. This reviewer was also confused about how Wells broke up the novel into three parts, with part two beginning three months later, and then part three, four hours later. It feels as if Wells wanted to cover a lot of material in a short amount of time. If dystopian YA fiction is your thing, skip this one. There are many others out there that are more worth your time.”
LA Times review: “Reading “Partials” requires especially careful attention. There are a lot of characters to memorize and so many factions vying for power that it’s sometimes difficult to keep their motives straight . . . Complicated but intriguing, “Partials” is a solid story about loyalty, trust and the interdependence of species that sparks enough curiosity that readers will probably want to see this series through to its end.”
Wall Street Journal review: “The setting is so unremittingly grim that at first glance the book seems scarcely distinguishable from the great mass of futuristic dystopian novels for teens, with their flinty (mostly female) protagonists and wrecked civilizations . . . Mr. Wells has recombined familiar dystopian elements, added original ones and thrown in dashes of dry wit to create a sprawling, action-packed medical thriller full of big ideas and exciting reversals. Daring, determined Kira is no ordinary teenage girl, and readers ages 14 and older will, I suspect, be only too eager to follow her into the pages of a planned sequel.”
Crater Lake: Battle for Wizard Island, by Steve Westover. Cedar Fort/Sweetwater, March 13. YA adventure. Second novel.
Reviews of older books
Andrea at Literary Time Out is one of a number of bloggers participating in the Whitney Awards “Read ‘em All” Challenge. She has short reviews of 20 books so far. I will just list her scores (out of 5), you can go to the link to see the reviews.
General: Before I Say Good-Bye: 4, The Evolution of Thomas Hall: 3.5, Miles to Go: 3.5, The Wedding Letters: 3, Gifted: 2 Romance: Not My Type: 5, Captive Heart: 5, The List: 4, Borrowed Light: 3.5, Count Down to Love: 3.5 Historical: Daughter of Helaman: 4, Letters in the Jade Dragon Box: 3.5, Isabelle Webb: 3, Fires of Jerusalem: 1 Youth Fiction General: Pride and Popularity: 5, With a Name Like Love:4, Girls Don’t Fly: 3 Youth Speculative: Variant: 5, Shifting: 4, My Unfair Godmother: 4 Speculative: The Lost Gate: 1, I Don’t Want to Kill You: No rating Mystery/Suspense: Rearview Mirror: 4, If I Should Die: 3.
Mike Allred, et al. Madman 20th Anniversary Monster HC (Theric review).
Orson Scott Card, The Lost Gate (Shelah Books It). 6/10. “There’s nothing at all wrong with this book– Card knows how to write, and the plot works, he gives an appropriate amount of detail. But change the mages to battle room instructors or frontiersmen and you basically have Ender’s Game or Seventh Son. If I didn’t know the plots of Card’s other books, this might not bug me, but I do, and it does. I also really, really dislike a book that doesn’t have a satisfying ending in and of itself but merely sets up the action of the next book. I know that’s an accepted convention in speculative fiction, but it does tinge my enjoyment of the novel.”
David Clark, Death of a Disco Dancer (Shelah at Feminist Mormon Housewives). 9/10. “At the very top of the literary hierarchy, there are the entertaining works of literary fiction. I read enough books that I feel confident in saying that this category is the one most authors strive for, but very few attain. In Death of a Disco Dancer, David Clark’s first novel, he shoots right to the top of the hierarchy . . . Clark is able to do something that few authors have achieved so far– his book is a book about Mormons but not necessarily for a Mormon audience. He talks about Mormon elements in a familiar way, but while the book is about subjects that are central to the Mormon experience (eternal families, repentance, secrets, coming of age) they’re presented in a universal way. Todd feels older than eleven to me, at least based on what I see going on with my own eleven-year-old. I would have found his thoughts and concerns more believable as a ninth grader than as a seventh grader, unless Clark acknowledges early on that Todd is an unusually precocious eleven-year-old (or else a 40-something looking back on his experiences at eleven). There are some anachronistic elements, Elmo didn’t exist in 1981, for example, but overall the book feels tight and well-edited. It’s rich and complex and totally compelling. I read the 300+ page book in less than a day, and not because I had to, but because I wanted more. I hope Clark gives us more.”
Kristen Chandler, Girls Don’t Fly (Shelah Books It). 9/10. “Think Refuge married with a YA novel, and you’ve just about got it. There are a few things that didn’t work for me in the novel. The middle is a little bit slow. The relationship she develops with the graduate student who she works with is a little bit icky. Some readers will be uncomfortable with the frank discussions of sex and a scene that very nearly involves a sexual assault. There’s also a smattering of adult language. I felt that all of these details were necessary and important for the narrative and didn’t seem gratuitous. Also, the villain is a Mormon, which might not make this a popular choice for the Whitneys. The best thing about Girls Don’t Fly is the way Chandler unfolds Myra’s growing realization that she is a doormat. . . . There are plenty of books written about spunky, outspoken girls, but not enough about the girls in the back of the class who never raise their hands, not enough books about the Myras of the world. I’ve now read 15 books for the Whitneys, and Girls Don’t Fly is my favorite so far. Maybe that shouldn’t come as a huge surprise since Wolves, Boys, and Other Things That Might Kill Me (also by Chandler) was my favorite book last year.”
Kristen Chandler, Girls Don’t Fly (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books) B-. An upbeat, funny novel about one girl’s struggle to find herself amidst all the chaos of her life. A self-proclaimed “doormat,” Myra has to learn to speak up for herself, fight to have her own needs fulfilled, and choose for herself what—and who—is most important in life. Her plight will resound with anyone who’s ever felt torn between duty and desire (and who hasn’t?). Although the story does get a little melodramatic and far-fetched at times, Girls Don’t Fly is, overall, a fun, empowering novel that encourages self-nourishment while lauding the importance of family, friendship and following your dreams.”
Julie N. Ford, Count Down to Love (FoxyJ). “This book was definitely my least favorite this month. First of all, there were way too many typos (more than one mention of being left at the “alter”). Second of all, the chronology of the plot was confusing, and that’s one of my pet peeves in books. There were too many jumpy transitions and things that confused me. Mostly I just didn’t care that much about the characters and I didn’t feel like I got to know either of them very well.
Jessica James George, Tuesdays at the Castle (Shelah Books It). 8/10. “The book is well-written and fun, and reads really fast. George did a great job of making Celie’s world feel believable, without spending too much time on the world-building aspects of the story. But . . . this is the one book in the bunch [Whitney Category] that is for a middle-grade (or even younger) audience, while the other finalists are all firmly YA. As a middle grade novel, I think it’s a success, but the fact that it is middle grade also means that it’s shorter, with bigger type and a simpler storyline. I think it’s does a great job doing what it sets out to do, but I’m not sure how well it will stack up against its more complicated competitors.”
K. C. Grant, Venom (Deseret News). Venom is a cozy mystery with enough romance and suspense slowly burning in the background to keep any reader hooked. Samantha’s ability to maintain her high moral values in the midst of the corruption she unwittingly walked into makes for a great backdrop for the novel. Additionally, Grant’s writing is excellent. Her descriptions of Mexico City are breathtaking and so vividly portrayed that readers will feel like they are seeing these sights for themselves. Grant has created an intriguing tale that fans of romantic suspense and cozy mysteries will absolutely adore.”
C. J. Hill, Slayers (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books). C. “The idea of a group of dragon-slaying teens intrigued me, but the story just couldn’t keep my attention. It’s too long, for one thing, and the characters never develop enough to feel like anything more than names on a page. I didn’t feel a real connection to any of them, nor did I feel any connection between them, which made the Tori-Jesse-Dirk love triangle especially irritating. While Slayers did have a few exciting parts, mostly it just bugged. My conclusion? I’m still a big Rallison fan, but the jury is still out on C.J. Hill.”
Tess Hilmo, With a Name Like Love (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books).B. “It’s a warm, atmospheric book with vibrant characters, earnest prose and strong, but subtle messages about the importance of faith, family and friendship. Although religion plays a central role in the story, With a Name Like Love isn’t preachy at all, just affirming. A wholesome, uplifting read, this middle grade novel can be enjoyed by both children and adults.”
Joni Hilton, Funeral Potatoes (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine). “The beginning of this story seemed a little slow to me and I wasn’t sure if all the explanation about funerals was the author acting as narrator or the main character’s view, a character who hadn’t been introduced yet. A much too long list of characters and their backgrounds followed. Also too much information that had already been given in the Acknowledgments was repeated. Once I got past that first chapter, Hilton’s humor took over and I enjoyed it, laughed out loud several times, and thought of several people to whom I’d love to give a copy of this book. The characters are fun, the plot wanders a little, and sometimes some of the messages come across as preachy, but overall this is an enjoyable book.”
Michelle Paige Holmes, Captive Heart (Shelah Books It). 7/10. “Other than the fact that Thayne is infuriatingly close-lipped about [the male protagonisgt’s] motives and his past, and Emmalyne is more accident-prone than anyone in real life, the book was a fun adventure. I can’t help but compare it with Borrowed Light, since both feature city-girl heroines who fall in love with a rugged country man with a past, and while I enjoyed Borrowed Light more, I do give Holmes props for careful research and an ability to really create a sense of place in Captive Heart.”
Jennie James, Pride and Prejudice (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books). D. “I gave [the book] a D because it deserves it. On the bright side, the novel is quick, clean and teaches some good life lessons. On the not-so-bright side, the writing is terrible, the editing sloppy, the characters flat, the dialogue unnatural, and the plot nonexistent. I could go on, using words like cheesy, predictable and unrealistic, but you get the message. If the book wasn’t a Whitney Award finalist, I wouldn’t have read past the first page.”
Jennie James, Northanger Alibi (Sheila, LDSWBR). “I can’t wait for my daughter to read this book. I know that she will like it as much as me. I am happy to recommend this book to my daughter, her friends, and blog reader’s daughters. Northanger Alibi is a clean romance, with many “giggle” moments, and the wittiness and appeal found in Jane Austen’s novels, but with a fun modern twist.”
Carla Kelly, Borrowed Light (FoxyJ). “This was my favorite of the five romance books I read this month, and the one with the most explicitly Mormon content (it has mixed reviews on Amazon for this reason). I really liked it. The story is not just about a man and a woman falling in love with each other, but about a woman learning to be her own self and to find her own testimony. It just felt much more mature and meaty than any of the other books I read.”
Misty Moncur, Daughter of Helaman (Shelah Books It). 6/10. “What to say about this book? It’s very readable. I think there are probably lots of readers out there who would enjoy it a lot. It seems to end right at the point where the action starts . . . I’ve decided I am not a big fan of Book of Mormon “historicals” because there is so much about the history of the Book of Mormon that is not known, and all of the books seem to have a modern, American sensibility to them, but I’m not sure how that kind of situation could be remedied.”
Rachel Ann Nunes, Before I Say Goodbye (FoxyJ). “I liked the idea of the story in this book, but hated the execution. First of all, the main characters all felt like stereotypes and reacted to situations in stereotypical ways. I kept waiting for those stereotypes to be challenged or turned on their heads in some way, but they never were. Also, there were way too many points of view. I’ve read a few books like that lately and I’ve decided that it rarely works. You never get a chance to really connect with a character and to feel like you can understand them. Lastly, too much of the character growth in this book was spelled out by the characters themselves rather than being shown naturally through their actions. I wanted more showing, less telling.”
Anne Perry, Acceptable Loss (Shelah Books It). 7/10. “Perry does a great job of seamlessly integrating the relevant events of the previous sixteen books, as well as setting the scene of a dark, dangerous Victorian London, in the opening chapters. While I always felt that I didn’t understand the depth of the relationships between the Monks and the Rathbones, it was easy enough to pick up on the story. The problem for me is that there wasn’t all that much of a story . . . I think that a plot like this one can work well for a dedicated reader to the series, especially since I’ve gleaned from Acceptable Loss that Perry is interested in the long-term development of her characters, but I found it somewhat unsatisfactory to read in isolation. However, the book is rich in detail and the characters are interesting enough that I’m almost persuaded to pick up the series from here and keep on reading.”
Kieth Merril, The Evolution of Thomas Hall (Shelah Books It). 7/10. “In a lot of ways, The Evolution of Thomas Hall reminds me of the writing of The DaVinci Code, with a lot less fighting and hiding, and if Robert Langdon opened himself up for conversion. Both books real with the intersections between religion and art. Merrill’s background as a filmmaker is evident– this is a book that could be a film. It also reminds me of The DaVinci Code in the way that it’s written– it would be quick-paced if it weren’t for all the details. However, there’s a level of complexity to the plot and the narrative that’s absent in the other General category finalists, as well as attention to detail in the editing process.”
Janette Rallison, My Unfair Godmother (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books). B. “Janette Rallison infuses My Unfair Godmother with the same warmth and humor that made the first book in the series such an enjoyable read. Tansy’s a funny, sympathetic heroine whose adventures are original and entertaining. While she learns some important lessons from her adventures, the book never feels preachy. It’s just pure, vintage Rallison—warm, upbeat and lots of fun. I loved it.”
Anita Stansfield, Passage on the Titanic (Deseret News).
Carol Warburton, Whisper Hollow (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine). “Warburton deals with the [Tennessee] mountain people with tenderness and respect, never resorting to hillbilly clichés. She captures their pride and independence in a touching way. For those of us who grew up with a bit of mountain country in our own backgrounds, the descriptions and mannerisms touch a tender spot. The major characters are well-developed and real with believable strengths and flaws. Some of those traits provide added layers to the various personalities. It takes a couple of pages before a strong hook is applied to the first chapter, then the story explodes into action. The plot slows down in the middle, but not enough to bore the reader. The last few chapters will leave the reader gripping the book with white knuckles.”
Bethany Wiggins, Shifting (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books). B. “I know, the story sounds just like every other YA paranormal on the market. But, guess what? It’s not plot that makes Shifting stand out, it’s characterization, specifically that of Maggie Mae Mortenson. Debut author Bethany Wiggins crafts her heroine carefully, taking the time to make sure readers know Maggie Mae, feel for Maggie Mae, and care about what happens to Maggie Mae, before throwing her into the perilous conflict that lies at the heart of the story. As a result, she’s one of the most sympathetic (but strong) characters I’ve ever encountered in teen fiction. I felt her pain so thoroughly that I didn’t really care if her story lacked originality or got predictable or had some plot holes. Maggie Mae made it engaging and enjoyable.”
Julie Wright, Olivia (Gamila’s Book Review). “I feel like the author’s writing has improved even more from the last time I read one of her books. I loved Cross My Heart, but sometimes felt that several portions of the book felt awkward or were less polished. The writing in this book never took me out of the story, I always wanted to come back and read more whenever I had to put it down. The characters are strong, the conflicts relatable, and the personalities involved were interesting and felt realistic. I am so excited to read the rest of this series and see how these wonderful authors portray the book club from different points of view.”
Little Eyolf by Henrick Ibsen, translated by Eric Samuelson and directed by Barta Heiner played February 28–March 10 in the BYU Margetts Theatre. The story tells of a tragedy that divides a Norwegian family after the appearance of a mysterious visitor. The play emphasizes the terrible consequences of poor decisions, the power of strength and the importance of family.
The Zion Theatre Company will perform The Hobbit at the Little Brown Theater Company, Springville, UT, March 16, 17, 19, 23, 24 & 26. The production is a mixture of puppets and human actors. The Tolkein book was adapted by Markland Taylor, and the play is directed by Brian Randall, based on a concept by Mahonri Stewart. Here are some preview videos.
It’s not Mormon literature, but I wish I was in Provo to see BYU’s production of Merrily We Roll Along, one of my favorite Sondheim musicals. This Deseret News article talks about how Andrew Joy became the first BYU undergraduate to be the sole producer of a mainstage show, how he was able to negotiate script changes with the rights holders and the university to make the show BYU-appropriate. It briefly mentions the director, Scott Eckern, as directing his first play at BYU after gaining national attention in 2008 when he resigned his position as Artistic Director of the California Musical Theater, after anger erupted in the national theater community for his donation to the pro-Proposition 8 campaign. Finally, I babysat one of the lead actors when he was a toddler.
There will be a reading for A Second Birth by Arial Mitchell on Thursday, March 15, from 11-1 pm at F-201 (BYU). This play is being considered for a main stage production on next year’s season.
Tom Russell reports that Monterey Media has acquired Redemption (a.k.a. For Robbing the Dead) from Shoreline Entertainment for national and international release. It is unknown whether they’ll do DVD, cable, online, theatrical, or something else, but the film will definitely be moving beyond the Wasatch front once it finishes its run here. The premiere will be in Ogden on April 6.
BYU Media Arts (Film) has a new website.
Unicorn City is still in 4 theaters in Utah this week, after two weeks in the theaters.
“Sketching the Prophet: Portrayals of Joseph Smith in Film,” by Mahonri Stewart, reviews three recent cinematic Josephs, and muses on the difficulty of the job.
New York Times Bestseller Lists, March 11th and March 18th (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.)
Trade Fiction Paperback
#18, #28 HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET, by Jamie Ford (74th week). Up from #32.
Mass Market Paperback
#33, x LAIR OF THE LION, by Christine Feehan (4th week). Down from #29, then off.
#4, #6 A WORLD WITHOUT HEROES, by Brandon Mull (3rd week). First volume of the Beyonders series. Up from #7.
#7, #7 MATCHED, by Ally Condie (24th week). Staying steady.
#6, THE TWILIGHT SAGA, by Stephenie Meyer (205th week). 5 4
#9, #5 THE MAZE RUNNER TRILOGY, by James Dashner (12th week). Up strong.
FABLEHAVEN, by Brandon Mull fell off the list.
Hardcover Graphic books
TWILIGHT: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL, VOL. 2 by Stephenie Meyer and Young C. Kim. Off the list after 16 weeks.