This Week in Mormon Literature, March 25, 2012

The Mormon Lit Blitz ends, and Everyday Mormon Writer begins. Lots of new books, including several from earlier in the year that I had missed. Several of the new books have spooky or otherworldly elements-Monsters and Mormons-type stories. Please send any suggestions or announcements to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.

Blog posts and news

The Mormon Lit Blitz came to an end, and “Stillborn” by Merrijane Rice was named the grand prize winner. There were more than 10,000 reads of the stories. Wm Morris wrote up a “Mormon Lit Blitz post-game” discussing his experiences with the initiative.

Two of the creators of the Mormon Lit Blitz, James Goldberg and Nicole Wilkes Goldberg, have now launched a new online literary venue called Everyday Mormon Writer. They have published two poems and a story so far, each with its own original piece of art or photography.

James Goldberg blogged “Form and Content”. James where he talked about “typically untypical Mormon” boyhood imaginations, and concludes, “Which may explain why the current Everyday Mormon Writer combination of Nick Stephen’s “The Garden Gate” and Jake Balser’s “Beginning Ghazal” means so much to me. There’s something that just feels natural to me about seeing two Mormons explore one of the stories we Latter-day Saints value most by borrowing old Iranian motifs and forms. And yet–I don’t think I ever would have expected to see it. Never would have expected to see two grown-up Mormon boys, each within a few years of my own age, letting their imaginations mix Sunday School with styles from lands in the middle of Asia.”

Theric reviews the fiction and essays in Irreantum 13.2.

Publishers Weekly published its estimates for the bestselling books of 2011. Last year it published figures in all categories, but this year it only made the hardcover list available online.  They only counted physical units, not ebooks. Mormon authors on the list were:

17. Snow Angel. Glenn Beck. Threshold (408,832).

37. Lost December. Richard Paul Evans. Simon & Schuster (215,823).

60. Twilight: The Graphic Novel, Vol. 2. Stephenie Meyer and Young Kim. Hachette/Yen (155,202).

91. Dark Predator. Christine Feehan. Berkley. (around 111,000)

LDS Publisher writes on Author Platforms and Timing Your Submission, and Tristi Pinkston discusses Self-Promotion.

At A Motley Vision, Wm talks about the grogginess of Mormon parents as a possible secret weapon of creativity, and Dream Logic. Theric talks about the LDS International Art Competition and a failure of web-imagination. Kent Larsen presents a 1883 quote by John Lyon on poetry and pleads for more fun and silliness by Mormons. Kent also continues his Literary Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine series at Times and Seasons, with two poems, “Aristocracy” by Orson F. Whitney and “Historical Sketch from the Creation to the Present Day, Part 3” by Parley P. Pratt.

The March issue of The Provo Orem Word includes a feature story about the small environmental/literary publisher Torry House Press, a review by Nate Robison of Steven Peck’s The Scholar of Moab, which was published by Torry House, and an excerpt from Renee Thompson’s 2011 novel The Plume Hunter, which was also published by Torry House. The Plume Hunter is about a late-19th century Oregon outdoorsman who takes to plume hunting – killing birds to collect feathers for women’s hats – to support his widowed mother. In 1885, more than five million birds were killed in the United States for the millinery industry, prompting the formation of the Audubon Society. The novel brings to life an era of our country’s natural history seldom explored in fiction, and follows Fin’s relationships with his lifelong friends as they struggle to adapt to society’s changing mores. It is Thompson’s second novel, her first, 2010’s The Bridge at Valentine, is a Romeo and Juliet story set in 1890s Idaho, with a daughter of a Mormon sheepman in the Juliet role, and a Gentile as the Romeo. Thompson was raised a Mormon, but has since left the Church.  The issue of The Provo Orem Word also features an article by BYU professor George Handley on how the natural landscape shapes our self-understanding, including our literature.

Salt Lake Tribune story on The Hunger Games and darkness in YA literature. Quotes Mormon authors Evans, Wells, Wells, and Condie.

A middle school teacher in South Carolina who read to his students from Ender’s Game is on “administrative leave” because a parent complained to the school that Orson Scott Card’s classic novel is “pornographic.”

J.T. Harwood’s painting of the Savior, “The Adoration of Ages”, exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1905, has been called “the most important religious picture painted by a Utah artist.”  Mormon Artists Group displays it, and talks about how it was made.

Daniel Peterson on his life-changing encounter with Nephi Anderson’s Added Upon.

Louise Plummer helps Anne Dee Ellis and Carol Lynch Williams judge a writing contest.

New Books and their reviews

Rebecca Coleman, The Kingdom of Childhood. Mira Books, Sept. 2011. A psychological drama about sexual obsession gone awry. It was a semifinalist in the 2010 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Competition. Mira Books is Harlequin’s imprint for mainstream books. Brooks, a member, says of her Mormon-connection “I attend a mainstream protestant church now but still have a tenuous, ambivalent connection with the LDS church”. She recently did a guest post at Feminist Mormon Housewives. Her next novel, Heaven Should Fall, is coming out in Autumn, about a soldier who comes back from Afghanistan with PTSD. Her first novel, Desperado City, was mystery/coming-of-age tale.

Publisher’s Weekly: “Coleman creates a stark psychological drama in this charged story of a sexual relationship between a teacher and an underage student . . . As Judy’s life barrels toward a dark end, it becomes a chore for the reader to remain sympathetic to her increasingly drastic plight. It’s dark, fast-moving, and, for the most part, nicely creepy with a solid noirish vibe, though Judy’s transition from a Mrs. Robinson figure to something much more maniacal is a bit of a stretch.”

Publisher’s Weekly (an earlier review from the magazine by a different reviewer, before it was picked up by Mira): “This emotionally tense, increasingly chilling story of late-90s suburban frustration unwinds into tragedy . . . This is a scalding, engaging portrait of people at two very different stages of life, caught in a trap of their own making.”

School Library Journal: Starred review. “An enthralling read… recommended for fans of Jodi Picoult’s realistic, ethics-driven novels.”

Shelah Books It. Enjoyment rating: 6/10. “While the story itself is uncomfortable (as we see Judy and Zach’s relationship get more and more dysfunctional), I found myself torn between enjoying the richness of the details of the story and being put off by the style of the narration . . . I feel that while the book is supposed to feel unsettling, the narrative strategy reflected that unsettled feeling a little too well. Overall, I feel it was a rich, multi-layered, interesting story about a difficult subject. Coleman knows her stuff. But the book was too troubling for it to be an enjoyable read.”

Michaelbrent Collins. The Haunted. Self-published, March. Horror.

Julianne Donaldson. Edenbrook. Shadow Mountain, March 27. Regency romance. First novel. Jane Austen-esque love story.

Sarah Dunster, Lightning Tree. Cedar Fort, April 10. Historical fiction. Set in 1858 Utah, a girl seeks to understand her family tragedies. First novel. She has had several pieces of short fiction and poetry published in Fires in the Pasture, Segullah Magazine, Dialogue, and Wilderness Interface Zone. She has recently blogged about her difficulty in getting her next novel published in the LDS market because of its content (violence and some mild sexuality).

Wm Morris interviews Sarah Dunster at AMV

Segullah (Angela Hallstrom). Looking for a Book Club Pick? Try Sarah Dunster’s Lightning Tree. “I really liked it. Really liked it! A historical novel (not always my favorite genre) published for a mainstream Mormon audience by one of the big three Mormon publishers (who sometimes let me down, I’m just saying). I was so happy to turn that last page, satisfied and confident in my ability to enthusiastically recommend this book. Lightning Tree is well written, complex, multi-layered, readable, and willing to tackle hard aspects of LDS history. The characters are well-drawn and utterly believable, painted in all my favorite shades of grey. There’s mystery, history, romance, tragedy, and all sorts of compelling themes ripe for discussion. In short, if you are in a Mormon book club — Relief Society approved or not — this is the novel for you to recommend the next time your turn comes around . . . There were also a few wobbly scenes that left me unsure where the action was in space and time, and I had to go back and reread before I could establish who was talking to whom and what was taking place . . . But these complaints pale in light of why the novel excites me. The people who inhabit this book are flesh and blood. There aren’t any moustache-twirling villains. Our heroes make mistakes, sin, and struggle, and while they do change, as all good characters must, there aren’t any 180% about-face experiences once a character sees the light. They remain flawed, broken human beings who are struggling to make sense of a difficult life. The novel wears its Mormonism lightly: the characters’ religion is an integral part of the story, but this is not agenda-driven fiction.”

Shelah Books It review. Enjoyment Rating: 8/10. “Dunster’s book is an interesting look into trauma, repression, fitting in, and what it means to belong to a family. While the book is set against the background of Mountain Meadows, and many of the issues Maggie is dealing with are echoed in the way our church has or hasn’t acknowledged their role in Mountain Meadows, Dunster does a great job telling a story without editorializing. I felt that I was getting Maggie’s story, not the story of how evil those Mormons were or how the poor Mormons were maligned and misunderstood. In fact, the only “message” that I get from the book as a whole is that everything, even our memories and the people who love us, are more complicated than we given them credit for, for good or for bad. All in all, I think The Lightning Tree is a well-written, important, unsentimental work of historical fiction. Its Mormon setting is important, but I think that the book would have lots of crossover appeal to those interested in western history, and not just to a Mormon audience who wants a faith-affirming story.”

Eric Freeze. Dominant Traits. Dofour, March 15. Short story collection. There was a Canadian edition published by Oberon Press in late 2011. Freeze teaches at Wabash College in Indiana. He received a PhD at Ohio University, where he studied under Darrell Spencer. Blurb: “Enslaved by their own fears, the characters in this riveting collection are straining for redemption. Their choices reflect the well-worn patterns we carve for ourselves through our idiosyncrasies—our dominant traits. A basketball coach teaches moral ambiguity; a divorcé clutches at sanity; a mother struggles with her son’s paternity; a childless man regrets his youthful onanism. Through their shared experiences these tangible characters undergo the sad, hilarious search for wholeness and security. Set in the stark isolated landscape of Southern Alberta, Eric Freeze’s debut collection is a deftly-crafted study of desperate mortals careening through their liminal moments, grasping for certainty.”

Booklist review: “A husband struggling with guilt over his infertility, a mother revealing to her son his father’s true identity, and a college student working a labor-intensive summer job figure in just three of the dozen excellent stories in this collection. From the convenience-store worker to the high-school teacher and basketball coach, from a young man facing his Hutterite relatives to a Mormon father confronting a group of goth-style teenagers, the collection spans a wide variety of ages, occupations, and religions, making each story unique. Freeze’s focus isn’t on his characters’ jobs or belief systems, though, but on the way that their fears shape them; for example, the stage actor who becomes increasingly introverted the more he believes other cast members dislike him, and the mother who is scared that her son will have no better a life than his parents’. With clean description and great attention to detail, Freeze produces realistic, believable people and delves deeply into their psyches to create truly enjoyable character studies that really make the reader think.”

DeNae Handy, editor. Tell Me Who I Am. Stansbury House Publications, March 10. Collection of essays on home, life, family, and identity by LDS authors and bloggers. The collection features essays from: Melanie Jacobson, Luisa Perkins, Becca Wilhite, Ken Craig, Annette Lyon, DeNae Handy, Debbie Frampton, Jana Parkin, Karen Burton, Patrick Livingston, Stephanie Sorensen, Cari Banning, Christopher Clark, Josh Bingham, Michelle Budge,and Gideon Burton. Stansbury House appears to be Handy’s own self-publishing venture.

Cindy M. Hogan. Protected. Self published, March 24. Thriller/romance. Sequel to Watched. About a high school girl on the run from terrorists.

Deseret News review. Favorable.

Fire and Ice review: 5 stars.

Melanie Jacobson. Twitterpated. Covenant, March 1. Romantic comedy. A businesswoman finds romance from a LDS online dating service. Jacobson’s third novel, her first two are both currently finalists for Whitney Awards.

Shanda at LDSWBR. 5 stars. “How many ways can I say “I LOVED Twitterpated? I have enjoyed every one of Melanie’s books, and Twitterpated was just as much fun as her other novels . . . If you enjoy fun romance that is clean but still toe-curling, I highly recommend Melanie Jacobson’s books: The List, Not My Type and Twitterpated. She has easily earned her spot on my favorite romances bookshelf. Whatever you do, Melanie, DON’T STOP WRITING!”

Fire and Ice. 4 stars. “Melanie Jacobson once again left me smiling and laughing at the clever dialogue between her characters. I could relate to the storyline since I myself was knee deep in a post degree career and in my late twenties when my mother signed me up against my wishes for LDS Singles online . . . I whole heartedly recommend all of Melanie’s books to readers looking for a light hearted, clean romance. She is so talented at fleshing out real life people and situations that are perfect for our generation.”

Angie Lofthouse. Defenders of the Covenant. Walnut Springs, March. LDS YA Science fiction. Alien invaders enslave earth, and a group of LDS teens fight back. Lofthouse has published a dozen sci-fi and fantasy short stories. This is her first published novel.

Elana Johnson (blurb): “Defenders of the Covenant kept me rooting for the good cause with its masterful blend of science fiction and religion. Fans of LDS fiction will find a home here, as will the die-hard enthusiasts of sci fi, and it’s all told with just a hint of romance which makes it a captivating read from beginning to end.”

Kate Kae Myers. The Vanishing Game. Bloomsbury, February. YA mystery/thriller. A girl tries to solve the mystery of her missing twin brother. First YA novel.

VOYA: “Jocelyn’s voice rings true as a resilient yet damaged survivor of abuse and neglect. The memories of Seale House are painful for Jocelyn and she frequently turns away before all the details are revealed, which raises the suspicion that she may be an unreliable narrator. The narrative cuts back and forth between a dangerous present and nightmarish flashbacks to the past, the puzzle pieces never quite fitting into place. A gripping mystery with strong but flawed characters, the book is impossible to put down. The reader races to keep up with the plot only to get walloped by a mind-blowing twist ending that turns the entire story upside down. Recommend this to teens who like intrigue, mystery, and suspense.”

School Library Journal: “This story tries to do a lot, but not all of it works well because of the sometimes-trite writing. There is a hint of fantasy, with pulsating walls and an evil force like the house in Poltergeist. Someone is causing mysterious burns, as in Stephen King’s Carrie. And surprising parentage is revealed, as in Star Wars . . . Jack’s elaborate logic puzzles, codes, and origami-based clues may challenge some readers; Noah’s martial-arts abilities will draw others in; and a bomb adds more action. Those who stick with the original story line—whether Jack is dead or alive—will find out. If Myers chooses to write a sequel, perhaps one or two of these story lines, more fully explored, would leave readers just as satisfied with the rest of the book.”

Steven L. Peck. A Short Stay in Hell. Strange Violin Editions, March 23. Novella, post-mortal speculative/horror. Peck first self-published it in 2009, it is being re-released by Strange Violin Editions. A Mormon dies, finds himself in a Zoroastrian hell, a library of infinite size.

Ronan Head (BCC):  “The central conceit is brilliant and there’s a real sense of pathos for our author’s desperate attempts to find and maintain human connections in an ageless place. I read it in one setting, desperate to find out if hell has an End. Peck has a real flair for capturing the yearnings of the human spirit, hell-bound or no. Full marks too for the creation of the book’s villain — the beautifully evil Dire-Dan and his most excellent method of torture: kill — wait for resurrection — kill again. Repeat for a century.”

The Artolater: 5 stars. “The book is great on a number of levels – it has a really fun version of Hell as is, and the book really instills the right about of depth and despair inherent in the concept while leaving room for some humor and light-heartedness. While I don’t know if I can go so far as to say that there’s a deeper message here, there’s plenty of thoughts and ideas that come about from reading this regardless, whether it be about the reality of humanity, the inanity of seemingly pointless tasks, or just the concept of what may very well be infinite or forever . . . I cannot recommend this book enough”

Raging Biblioholism: 4 stars. (A good, detailed review, but I could not find a suitable snippet to quote).

Luisa M. Perkins. Dispirited. Zarahemla Books, March 17. YA dark fantasy. First novel. Blurb: Cathy sees things that are invisible to everyone else. Her new stepbrother’s bizarre behavior. A ghostly little boy. An abandoned house in the woods. But she doesn’t see how they’re all connected. And what she doesn’t see might just kill her.

Glen Nelson (Mormon Artists Group): “Its storytelling is propulsive, taut—without a single unnecessary word—vivid, romantic, and fascinating.”

R.B. Scott. Closing Circles. Gray Dog Press, January. Contemporary mainstream novel. First novel by Scott, a journalist who as a Time Inc employee for years, published scores of articles in Time and its sister magazines. He also recently had a non-fiction book on Mitt Romney’s background published. Gray Dog Press is a small regional publisher in Spokane, Wa.  Blurb: “Closing Circles touches on everything from politics to the secret service to the Summer of Love to quack psychiatry to racism in the Church as it explores the life of Jed Russell, a young Mormon journalist recently blindsided by divorce. A rollicking, brutally candid novel of a young Mormon journalist’s attempt to liberate himself from a failed marriage and the confounding influences of his religious culture and family.” Scott says he hopes to give outsiders the kind of perspective on Mormons that Phillip Roth gives for Jews.

  Spokane Examiner review. “An insightful look into a writer’s attempts to come to terms with his failed marriage [and] his struggles as he tries to write his first novel and his background as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints . . . The parts where Russell talks about LDS teachings have a lot of value in and of themselves because they provide great insights into why someone would want to be a Mormon even if he or she might not be totally onboard with some of the traditions and practices.  If nothing else, the book would be useful for helping non-Mormons understand friends and family who are active in the LDS church a little more. But “Closing Circles” wouldn’t be as effective or as good if it was only about the LDS church.  The novel is by turns wry, depressing, outrageous and uplifting.  It needs things such as the hilarious descriptions of Russell’s paranoia about catching diseases from New York toilets or the parts about his relationship with Rebe to create a more complete portrait of Russell’s life.”

Reviews of older Books

Andrea at Literary Time Out continues to plow through the Whitney Awards “Read ‘em All” Challenge.

Youth Fiction General: Sean Griswold’s Head: 5. Pride and Popularity: 5, With a Name Like Love:4, Girls Don’t Fly: 3, Miles from Ordinary: 2.

Speculative: A Night of Blacker Darkness: 4, The Alloy of Law: 3.5, The Lost Gate: 1, I Don’t Want to Kill You: No rating

Mystery/Suspense: Rearview Mirror: 4, If I Should Die: 3, Acceptable Loss: 1

Jennie Hansen also blogs about the Whitney nominees.

The Book of Mormon Girl, by Joanna Brooks. Reviews by: Marilyn Brown (AML), Juli Caldwell and Erin McBride (Meridian), Ralph C. Hancock, part 1 and part 2 (Meridian), EmJen (BCC), Shelah (Segullah, 8/10), Dave Banack (Times and Seasons), The Blue Bookcase.

The Lost Gate, by Orson Scott Card (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books). C. “Orson Scott Card books are always hit and miss for me. Some I love (Pathfinder, the Women of Genesis series), some I loathe (Ender’s Game, Saints). The Lost Gate, the first entry in OSC’s new Mithermages series, falls somewhere in between. While I enjoyed the idea of the book, I wasn’t so impressed with its execution. I liked the beginning and end, both of which had enough action to satisfy, but got irritated with the middle, since it just got … weird. As for the book overall, the writing is bumpy, the characters are so-so and OSC’s intense world-building gets in the way of the actual story. So, yeah, I found this one disappointing. Not too surprising, considering my love/hate relationship with Card novels, but still, I always hope.”

The Walk, by Richard Paul Evans (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books). C. “Preachy? Check. Predictable? Check. Ooey-gooey? Check, check, check. The Walk must, therefore, be inspirational fiction at its finest, right? Maybe, but what I found was a whole lot of tell-not-show storytelling, flat characters and underdeveloped relationships. Alan’s idea to walk to Florida made no sense to me since he seemed to have no real, concrete motivation to do so. The biggest problem for me, though, was that, while there was enough going on in the beginning of the book to keep the story moving forward, the majority of the novel is spent on the road with Alan. Which would be okay if the details were interesting, but they’re just not. Reading about every town he crosses into, every diner he enters, and every meal he inhales gets tedious and boring. I had to drag myself through it, kicking and screaming, until the end, when something exciting finally happened . . . It’s definitely a feel-good book, so if you like that kind of thing, you’ll probably dig this one. But, for me, The Walk was too unrealistic, too saccharine and too preachy. The author, I think, was trying so hard to teach a powerful life lesson that he forgot how effectively that can be done through the subtleties of good storytelling. Which, come to think of it, is my absolute biggest beef with inspirational fiction. So, yeah, while I can appreciate the aim of this genre, I’m still just not a fan.”

Miles to Go, by Richard Paul Evans (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books). C+. “Since The Walk by Richard Paul Evans failed to impress me, I didn’t have a lot of hope for its sequel, Miles to Go. I figured the same things that bugged me about the former would probably bug me about the latter and I was right. Evans’ writing was still more tell than show, more sap than substance. His characters remained flat, their relationships so underdeveloped they never felt real. Because of the mysterious Angel, the first half (or so) of the book at least had enough action to be somewhat interesting. Not so for the rest of the novel. All in all, I liked Miles to Go a teensy bit more than The Walk, but, truthfully, I really wasn’t wild about either. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, inspirational fiction is just not my genre. I want a story, not a sermon.”

The Evolution of Thomas Hall, by Kieth Merrill (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books) B-. “Inspirational fiction is really not my thing. I’m not opposed to pick-me-up type novels, I just want them to go easier on the sap and heavier on the substance, if you know what I mean. The Evolution of Thomas Hall by Academy Award-winning filmmakerKieth Merrill does this better than any of the other titles it’s up against in theWhitney Award competition. Which isn’t to say it’s perfect. It’s not. At 454 pages, the novel’s laborious, both overwritten and under-edited. Plus, it features a character who’s just not all that likable—even after he “evolves.” Still, the book’s more readable than I thought it would be, probably thanks to short chapters and enough action to keep the plot moving along (if not swiftly). Although I didn’t love it, I found The Evolution of Thomas Hall thought-provoking and uplifting, a book that’s faith-promoting but not as cloyingly preachy as other books of its type.”

Dispensation: Latter-Day Fictions, edited by Angela Hallstrom (Scott Hales, BYU Studies).

The Pictograph Murders, by P.G. Karamasines (Mahonri Stewart, AMV). “The characters in the novel were well drawn and intriguing, especially Alex (and, interestingly enough, her Siberian husky Kit), as well as the portrayal of the Native American mythological figure Coyote. Character driven in a magical realism setting, this was an achingly beautiful novel, despite masquerading as a thriller. The evocative language Karamesines uses, especially when describing Southern Utah’s emotional beauty or using her archetypal brush to paint new visions on Native American mythology. Being a lover of mythology, cultural exchange, and poetic prose, this book was right up my alley. Beautifully written, intelligently plotted, and deeply satisfying, I would heartily recommend The Pictograph Murders to nearly anyone.”

Banana Split, by Josi S. Kilpack (Deseret News). “Josi Kilpack has matured as an author, and so her heroine and the story are richer and honed more skillfully. The story is nicely told without too much rushing . . . The story is well told, and it quickly becomes a page-turner read.”

On the Road to Heaven, by Coke Newell (Mahonri Stewart, AMV). “Diving into this story of Kit West, a living off the land, vegetarian, Thoreau-like naturalist, was great fun and gave plenty of opportunities for philosophical and spiritual introspection. Kit’s conversion to the LDS faith followed a very non-traditional route that I found refreshing. It was kind of like the new “I’m a Mormon” commercials, where you get to see non-traditional Mormons who break stereotypes, but who are nevertheless very strong in the faith . . . This novel deserves all the awards and accolades it’s been adorned with and was one of the major novels that cemented Zarahemla Books well deserved reputation for publishing quality Mormon literature.”

Before I Say Goodbye, by Rachel Ann Nunes (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books) B-. “The boldest premise I’ve ever seen in a novel published by Deseret Book . . . The bishop’s old girlfriend comes swishing into town, determined to get his attention, despite the fact that he’s married and in a position of authority. It’s downright … racy. Of course, there’s more to Before I Say Goodbye by Rachel Ann Nunes (including a not-very-surprising surprise) than meets the eye, but still, you have to admit it’s a bold kind of story for Deseret Book to have taken on. Even the characters have a little bit of bite to them. Rikki’s got an edge, of course, but Becca, Dante’s perfect Mormon wife, has one, too. It’s probably not enough of one to be totally believable; still, it gives Nunes’ portrayal of LDS life a realistic feel. Because of these things, I liked the novel a whole lot more than I thought I would. It’s still predictable and syrupy, with some bumpy writing in places, but overall, I found it to be a sensitive and touching read.”

Acceptable Loss, by Anne Perry (Shelah Books It). Enjoyment Rating: 7/10. “I’d heard great things about Anne Perry’s Victorian-era William Monk series, although I’d never read any of the books until Acceptable Loss, which is the 17th book in the series. 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 . . . 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.”

Targets in Ties, by Tristi Pinkston (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine). “[The protagonists] don’t change a lot through the book or from book to book. Their characters are quite firmly set, but they’re unpredictable, curious, and innovative. Their dialog is clever and humorous. It fits them perfectly. The plot rolls along from one disaster to the next and the ladies are quite ingenious at finding solutions to their predicaments. Ren provides some funny lines as well with his avid addiction to movies and ability to quote lines from his favorites. The plot is convoluted and fast paced with the action and dialog providing humor as much as mystery and suspense. My only criticism of this light, fun read is the occasional lapse into allowing the point of view character to see more than is humanly possibly such as the expression on her own face, a feat that can really only be accomplished with a mirror.”

The Hero of Ages, by Brandon Sanderson (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books). A. “I love the Mistborn series. The first two books enthralled me, as did the third. The world Sanderson creates in the series is so complex, so detailed and so utterly compelling that it’s difficult not to get lost in it. Like the novels that came before it, The Hero of Ages offers a little bit of everything—adventure, romance, mystery, fantasy, etc. There’s so much going on in the book that it never gets boring. And that’s saying a lot for a 724-page novel. The bottom line is this: Sanderson is a master storyteller, absolutely in a class by himself. Anything the man writes, I will read. Amen.”

Passage on the Titanic, by Anita Stansfield (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine). “Though Stansfield has set her books in a wide variety of times and places, she is best known for her exploration of emotional reactions to life’s problems rather than to intricate plots. She is fearless in attacking difficult situations, both contemporary and historical, that affect women. She is also known for the crying sessions her characters routinely have, but in this book the tears are better controlled than in her previous books and the characters are given more legitimate reason to cry. Readers who are plot oriented may feel bogged down by the long, detailed emotional explorations. Many readers enjoy this type of book which is often referred to as the “woe-is-me” genre which concentrates not as much on plot or characters as on delving into sympathy arousing situations which arouse strong emotions. A surprising number of readers love books that provide an excuse for a good cry. Several top national market writers are among those who do very well with this type of book and Stansfield has developed a strong following, however, even her legion of fans may have mixed feelings toward this book.”

Gifted, by Karey White (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books) C-. “Ugh. Describing the plot of Gifted by Karey White is difficult because, really, it has none. It’s simply the tale of a child who changes everyone who comes in contact with her. The premise isn’t bad at all, it’s just not developed well enough to make a compelling novel. Add in flat characters, a meandering storyline and the author’s preference for telling vs. showing and the book just doesn’t stand a chance. Which is a bummer because the cover really speaks to me—unfortunately, it’s the only thing about Gifted that does.”

The Wedding Letters, by Jason F. Wright (Shelah Books It). Enjoyment Rating: 6/10. “This is the second year in a row that Jason Wright has had a book selected as a Whitney Finalist in the General Category. Last year’s finalist, The Cross Gardener, was one of those books I wanted to chuck against a wall . . . It was sappy, it was overly detailed, it had angels–in short, it was everything I disdain as a reader . . . But yesterday I decided I wanted to close out the category, so I picked it up. This morning, 326 pages later, I finished it. It wasn’t bad. In fact, I kind of enjoyed it. Just because I’m giving the book a (grudging) thumbs up doesn’t mean I don’t acknowledge some problems with it. First of all, it seems to be a conscious imitation of a Nicholas Sparks novel– an epic romance against all odds, complete with grand plot twists. Wright acknowledges this several times . . . I think that Wright needed to spend a little more time really building up the love/drama/sexual tension between Noah and Rachel so readers would really want that dramatic ending. I knew it was coming, everyone knew it was coming, but I wanted to want it more, cheesy as it may be . . . My prediction is that The Wednesday Letters will win the General category. It’s definitely inspirational fiction, as are all of the novels in the bunch this year. Once I stopped trying to read the books as literary fiction and started trying to accept them for what they were, too many details and cheesy endings and all, I can see that this story in particular, is very likeable and that many readers who want a good story and don’t want their ideas or their intellect challenged too much as they read will love the book.”  [Andrew says: I doubt it will win. It has gotten mediocre reviews from almost everyone I know who is a Whitney voter. I would say Nunes is the favorite, with Merril and Evans also having a chance.]

Salvador, by Margaret Blair Young (Mahonri Stewart, AMV). “The story is highly character driven, resulting in some breath taking moments where events take dramatic turns and unpredictability is delicately created. Young uses evocative and beautiful language, and explores some complex and sophisticated questions regarding Mormon spirituality, theology and morality. It’s a stunning novel, one that cemented a suspicion that I already had– Margaret Blair Young is one of the Church’s best writers.”

Theater

State of the Union: A Staged Reading of a New Play by Erik Orton, is being presented by The Sting & Honey Company at The Waterford Black Box Theatre, 1590 East 9400 South, Sandy, UT, on March 24, 7PM. Javen Tanner will direct. Admission is free. The production has been offered the Off-Broadway Duke Theatre on 42nd Street in NYC for a six week run between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve this year. Blurb: “State of the Union tells the story of Thomas Kane, a prominent Philadelphia lawyer, who endeavors to avert a war by negotiating peace between Brigham Young and President Buchanan. After a series of concerning reports, President Buchanan believes the Mormons to be in rebellion and dispatches an army to replace Young as governor. Young, unadvised of the change, believes the approaching army to have malicious intent and determines to fight. Kane, a friend of both Young and the President volunteers to race out ahead of the army and head off a bloodbath.”
The production features the special guest musician Mark Abernathy from “The Sabre Rattlers”.  A successful Kickstarter campaign was held to raise $600 to fly Abernathy from NYC for the performance.

Eric Samuelsen discussed the 2011 BYU reading. “What was interesting to me was the way the play suggests where we are in Mormon drama and perhaps Mormon literature . . . [It is set in] 1857-8, when Thomas Kane, a non-LDS friend of the Church with federal connections, helped mediate a dispute between the Utah territory and the federal government.  Although Brigham Young was a character in the play, he’s not the main character, although certainly an interesting and compelling one. The play went to some lengths to provide a balanced and nuanced perspective on that important time in our history.  Orton had clearly researched his play carefully, and although historical plays can and do take some liberties with history, I thought Orton was meticulously fair and accurate. I think the play reflected where we are right now in LDS history.  The impact of the New Mormon History movement–Leonard Arrington and Juanita Brooks et al.–has been a remarkable, perhaps even revolutionary narrative shift.  Books like Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling, or Walker, Turley and Leonard’s Massacre at Mountain Meadows, which would have been unimaginable thirty years ago, have been published with the full imprimature of the Church.  State of the Union locates itself within this newer narrative.”

The Zion Theatre Company continues its production of The Hobbit at the Little Brown Theater Company, Springville, UT, March 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.

UTBA review: “The play was staged simply in a small space, with a two-dimensional mountain range the only backdrop for most of the action. The real set decoration came in the form of the puppets themselves, which were carefully crafted by Caitlin Shirts. I’ve never been much of a puppet person, but I enjoyed the Japanese Bunraku style in which the puppets were handled, where the arms were manipulated by sticks, and the puppeteers wore shoes that attached to the puppet’s feet, allowing them to walk their puppets along the stage as they moved. Two puppets that stood out for me were the dragon Smaug and the creepy Gollum, which was realistic enough to frighten the little girl sitting next to me as he slithered and sniffed his way into the audience . . . One highlight for me was the lighting and sound design, done by Sara Harvey and Brian Randall, respectively. Though the space was minimal, the use of color, music, and sound effects were well thought out and executed. I especially enjoyed the use of a live band, “Head For The Hills,” which provided not only pre-show mood music, but music throughout the entire play during set changes and narration. The music was traditional English folk music, played on fiddles and Renaissance-style guitars . . . I would recommend this show for parents who would like to introduce their children to one of the greatest storytellers of all time, or for parents who are just looking for a fun activity to do with their kids. The play is short, about 40-50 minutes long, which is perfect for children. Tolkien enthusiasts might also enjoy the show, no matter what their age.”

Film

Scout Camp (Kevin Burt at LDS Cinema Online Review). C. “While it is not as in-your-face as The Last Eagle Scout, Scout Camp will likely appeal to the same audience: current and former Scouts who will smile and reminisce about their own positive Scouting memories . . . Scout Camp has a bit of an identity crisis. It is not really a comedy: the scouts’ antics are slightly exaggerated, but there are no “wacky hijinx” or real comedic situations at the camp. It’s not really a drama either, without any true dramatic incidents or tension. For most of the film, we’re not even sure what the “plot” is, if even the film has one . . . In the end, Scout Camp serves as a reasonably realistic depiction of scouting experiences at camp (both good and bad) and will appeal to current and former scouts. However, the lack of interesting drama or comedy will likely bore non-Scouters.”

Down and Derby (Kevin Burt at LDS Cinema Online Review). C+. “Down and Derby, by comparison, has no such identity crisis: it knows it wants to be a madcap over-the-top comedy from the first scene . . . I like the fact the movie selects a tone and sticks with it, although Down and Derby often mistakes manic energy and over-acting for “comedy”. Good satire needs closer ties to reality to be effective, and the contrived and over-the-top situations hurt both the satire and the humor . . . Down and Derby, like Scout Camp, will probably appeal to families who have experienced Scouting (and the Pinewood Derby competitions) themselves. The lack of realism and over-the-top situations will likely limit the audience beyond that.”

Bestsellers

New York Times Bestseller Lists, March 25th and April 1st (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 Paperbacks

#29, #27  HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET, by Jamie Ford (74th week). Holding steady.

Mass Market Paperbacks

x, #25 ENDER’S GAME, by Orson Scott Card.  It pops up on the extended list occasionally.

Children’s Chapter Books

x, #1 SEEDS OF REBELLION, by Brandon Mull (1st week). The second volume in the Beyonders series debuts at #1. The first volume also debuted at #1, and lasted 8 weeks on the list. #43 on the USA Today list.

x, #10 CROSSED, by Ally Condie (10th week). Back on the list for the first time since Jan. 22nd.

Children’s Paperback

#5, #5 MATCHED, by Ally Condie (26th week). Up from #7. This series has shown more staying power than any Mormon-authored YA since Twilight.

#10, #7 A WORLD WITHOUT HEROES, by Brandon Mull (5th week). First volume of the Beyonders series. Down from #6.

Children’s Series

#6, #8 THE MAZE RUNNER TRILOGY, by James Dashner (14th week). Holding steady. The Maze Runner (vol. 1) was #149 on the USA Today list, its second week on the list.

#10, x THE TWILIGHT SAGA, by Stephenie Meyer (208th week). Down from #4.

DESERET BOOK BESTSELLER LIST

  1. Banana Split by Josi S. Kilpack
  2. Passage on the Titanic by Anita Stansfield
  3. Final Call by Rachel Ann Nunes
  4. The Great and Terrible Six-Volume Set by Chris Stewart
  5. Funeral Potatoes by Joni Hilton
  6. Royal Secrets by Traci Hunter Abramson
  7. Shadows of Brierley, Vol. 4: In the Valley of the Mountains by Anita Stansfield
  8. Letters in the Jade Dragon Box by Gale Sears
  9. The Newport Ladies Book Club: Olivia by Julie Wright
  10. Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson
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10 Responses to This Week in Mormon Literature, March 25, 2012

  1. Scott Parkin says:

    Typo note—Steven Peck wrote _The Scholar of Moab_ (not Scott Peck).

    Excellent (and expansive) content, as usual. Thank you.

  2. Th. says:

    .

    I need to buy more books . . . .

  3. Scott Hales says:

    Also, one more clarification:

    Everyday Mormon Writer is James and Nicole’s project, and I had no part in its launch–aside from being really excited about it.

    • Andrew Hall says:

      Okay, fixed them, along with my bi-weekly massacre of Kent Larsen’s name. I’ve got to stop writing these posts after midnight.

    • James Goldberg says:

      Scott was a creator of the Mormon Lit Blitz, though, so technically the correction should be corrected. ;)

      The Lit Blitz was run by Scott Hales, James Goldberg, and Nicole Goldberg. Two of the coordinators of the Lit Blitz (Nicole and James Goldberg) also founded Everyday Mormon Writer.

      Which, incidentally, will be featuring a very cool Scott Hales short story sometime between now and the AML Conference.

  4. Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

    I was considering reading Ender’s Game w my 10 year old when we finish the one we’re working. Now I simply MUST go on a porn hunt. (Yes, I still read to him and read to my older kids until about the age of 14. I read The Scarlet Letter to my 17 year old or it wouldn’t have gotten read.)

    Also, I read Eric Freeze’s Dominant Traits this week. Very good. This is a guy who’s been publishing in some respected journals outside the Mo Lit world, and yet some of these stories are directly about Mormons. If you’re a short story reader or writer, its worth the cost, IMO.

  5. Th. says:

    .

    Sheez, Lisa. How did you get it so quickly? I had it a day or two before it was released. And while I agree it’s good, I’m only halfway through. You’re so speedy!

  6. THANK YOU, Andrew and others. What valuable research. We enjoyed THE HOBBIT at the Little Brown Theatre. Alert, ON GOLDEN POND will feature a resurrected Henry Fonda (truly!) at the Little Brown Theatre, 248 S. Main in Springville, May 4-21st on Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays at 7:30 p.m.

  7. Andrew Hall says:

    No Week in Review this week, I have been moving into a new house a couple of miles away from our old apartment, and the new semester starts today. I will get one done next weekend.
    A couple of big pieces of news I wanted to get out there.

    The Hugo nominations were just released. Each one is one of five nominees.
    Brad R. Torgersen’s story “Ray of Light” was nominated for Best Novelette. It has also already been nominated for a Nebula in the same category. Torgersen was also nominated for the The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.
    Nancy Fulda’s “Movement” was nominated for Best Short Story. It was already nominated for a Nebula in the same category.
    Writing Excuses, Season 6 (podcast series), produced by Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Howard Tayler, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Jordan Sanderson, was nominated for Best Related Work, the second year in a row for that team.
    Schlock Mercenary: Force Multiplication, written and illustrated by Howard Tayler, was nominated for Best Graphic Story, the fourth year in a row that he was nominated in the category.

    Redemption, a film written and directed by Tom Russell, and functioning as on-the-job training for BYU film students, opened at 12 Utah theaters on April 6. Covenant Communications is handling the distribution. It was previously titled, “For Robbing the Dead”. It is about French immigrant Jean Baptiste, who is caught stealing from graves in the Salt Lake City cemetery. The authorities exile Baptiste to Antelope Island, where his only human contact is Henry Heath, the lawman who arrested him. In Russell’s telling, Heath must battle his doubts about his faith, forgive and be charitable to Baptiste even though one of the graves he robbed was that of Heath’s young daughter.
    Reviews: Deseret News: 3 stars, SL Tribune, 2 stars, LDS Cinema Online, B, ABC4.com, B-.

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