It has been nearly a month since my last Week in Review. We have been moving into a funky old Japanese house, with lots of tatami mat rooms. And it has been a busy month, resulting in a huge column. The AML meeting is this weekend, several Mormons were nominated for Hugo Awards, there are millions of reviews of Whitney Awards books, there are two new zombie books with Mormon connections, Jennifer Nielson’s middle-grade fantasy has gotten rave reviews, the feature film Redemption has been playing on Utah screens, several BYU students won Student Emmys, a new Mahonri Stewart play just opened, and Eric Samuelsen ended his distinguished teaching career at BYU. Please send any suggestions or announcements to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.
News, Blog Posts, and Podcasts
The Association for Mormon Letters Annual Meeting will be held April 21, at Utah Valley University. The theme of the conference is: “Going Forth Into All the World: Mormon Literature in an International Church.” Keynote speaker will be Elder John H. Groberg, Emeritus Seventy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose LDS mission was the subject of the film The Other Side of Heaven. Panelists will talk about various authors and LDS film and literature throughout the world.
Eric Samuelsen ended his teaching career at BYU this week. He has received permanent disability status because he has polymyositis, a muscular degenerative disease which makes it impossible for him to stand and lecture. Samuelsen reports, “I intend to continue writing, continue reviewing, continuing growing and learning, and possibly, health permitting, direct from time to time.” Samuelsen, who has taught at BYU since 1992, has been the leading figure in Mormon drama for the last 20 years, writing and directing scores of excellent plays (as well as a novel and several short stories), serving as an officer in the AML, reviewing plays, books, and movies, and winning renown as an excellent teacher and mentor.
Podcasts: On KBYU’s Thinking Aloud, KBYU faculty member Megan Sanborn Jones discussed late 19th-century American Anti-Mormon Melodramas. It is a very fun discussion, including a section where Jones compares the melodramas to the current Book of Mormon Musical.
On Mormon Matters, Dan Wotherspoon interviews memoirists Joanna Brooks and Phyllis Barber about their recent works. I listed this one last time, but I finally listened to it, and enjoyed the discussion. Mormon Matters can go on a little long sometimes, but this one was fascinating throughout. I was happy to hear how both unconventional women, after some time away, now consider themselves active Mormons.
Jonathon Langford at A Motley Vision has written detailed, well-considered round-ups of the nominated books in several Whitey Award categories. For Whitney Youth Fiction General Finalists 2011 he concludes, “This is a much stronger collection of books than the general fiction finalists, with 3 titles (Miles from Ordinary, With a Name Like Love, and Girls Don’t Fly) that I’d be happy to see win the Whitney. I’d like to see a better balance gender-wise, and I’d really like to see stories representing Mormon experience, but overall, this is a category that needs no apology.” For Whitney Youth Speculative Fiction Finalists 2011 he concludes, “Another strong collection of books, with all except Shifting displaying good writing on the sentence, paragraph, and scene level, and with several featuring spot-on characterization for their specific genre. How individual readers respond to this set of finalists will likely say more about the kinds of fiction they prefer than about relative levels of quality among the writers. I think it’s more than just genre preferences, however, that make me put Tuesdays at the Castle and Variant at the top of the list in terms of writing craft.” For Whitney Speculative Finalists 2011 he concludes, “This is another strong assortment (with the exception of No Angel) that shows a broad diversity of genres. I would wish for more new names — the inclusion of two titles by Dan Wells didn’t help in that regard, though I can’t begrudge him the slots, particularly since they’re such utterly different works.”
There have been lots of great posts at A Motley Vision over the last month. Theric Jepson put together a fascinating and creative combination of review and interview concerning Eric Freeze’s debut short story collection Dominant Traits. Both Theric the interviewer and Eric the interviewee deserve credit for the insight and honesty of their discussion. I nominate this for Mormon literature post of the year. Theric also continued his Bright Angels and Familiars reading series with a discussion of “Windows on the Sea” by Linda Sillitoe. William Morris interviewed Luisa Perkins about her debut novel Dispirited, provided liner notes for his Speculations and The Elder Who Wouldn’t Stop… stories, and discussed Marilynne Robinson on beauty. Kent Larsen continued his Sunday Lit Crit series with Jedediah Grant on Learning, artist and poet Alfred Lambourne on Poetry and Education, and George Q. Cannon’s response to Edward Bellamy’s popular utopian novel Looking Backward (1887). Kent also provided A 2011 Mormon Literary Studies Bibliography. Tyler Chadwick announced the creation of his new website Fire in the Pasture: Mormon Poets / Poetries / Poetics.
Steven L. Peck posted two fun Borgesian alternative history stories at By Common Consent. “Some Thoughts on Icelandic Sea Captain Elder Arnfinnur Skáldskapur” is about a late 19th-century sea captain who experiments with changing the future through manipulated photography. In “Grace and the Literature of Gilda Trillim” he previews an “AML presentation” (I was sad not to see it in the program) he prepared about an early 20th century Mormon author whose experimental works have been forgotten in the United States, but remain influential in China and Ethiopia. Also at BCC, Ronan Head describes his travels with Peck to see the places that inspired the novel The Scholar of Moab. Jana Reiss interviewed Peck about his fiction at her Flunking Sainthood blog at Religion News Service. In other Peck news, two of his poems have recently appeared in the speculative fiction Silver Blade Magazine.
Kent Larsen’s weekly Literary Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine posts at Times and Seasons. #14, Eliza R. Snow 1841 poem “Awake! ye Saints of God awake!”, #15, Kate Thomas’ 1899 poem “If I Had Time”, and #16, John Lyon’s 1846 poem “Forgiveness”.
Ships of Hagoth discusses “High and Low in Mormon Art”, focusing on Church-made films, in particular the author’s favorite of the genre, “How Rare a Possession”.
An interview with graphic novel creators Mike and Laura Allred, talking about Madman and their Mormonism, at Bleeding Cool.
Scott Hales at The Low-Tech World unearths Susa Young Gates’ 1908 short story “The Courtship of Kanosh”, makes the pitch for Welcoming the Scapegoat Back Into the Fold; or, Why We Should Stop Being Embarrassed by “Added Upon”, and previews his AML conference talk, “Beyond Mission Stories: Voicing the Transnational LDS Experience”.
Irreantum will be accepting submissions to its 2012 literary contests until May 31, 2012. Prizes range from $100-$300 and include possible publication in the magazine. Because Irreantum is a journal dedicated to exploring Mormon culture, submissions that relate to the Mormon experience will be given preference in judging. Authors need not be LDS. Please visit for contest rules and further information.
Lisa Mangum’s The Forgotten Locket by Lisa Mangum is one of 12 nominees for ForeWard Reviews Young Adult Fiction Book of the Year. The prize is for “the best independently published works” of the year, and is chosen by a panel of librarian and bookseller judges. Apparently Shadow Mountain is a small enough publisher to qualify. The winner (or Gold Honor) will be announced at the BookExpo America. The Forgotten Locket is the third volume of a trilogy, and amazingly the first two books in the trilogy won the Gold Honor in their category in 2009 and 2011.
Emily Mah/E. M. Tippets talks about her experiment with self-publication and self-promotion, including detailed ranking numbers.
Josi Kilpack at Writing on the Wall, in honor of Tax Day, encourages other LDS authors to anonymously post how much money their books have grossed. The replies so far have been pretty small. Kilpack also talks about A Different Kind of Rejection, the kind authors sometimes get from friends and family.
New content at Everyday Mormon Writer: “Ascetic”, by Jonathan Penny (short story). “Jars”, by Amelia Wallace (poem). “Album”, by Scott Hales (short story) [See Scott’s discussion of the story here]. “The Argument My Mind Scratched on the Green Sunday-School Chalkboard”, by Travis Washburn (visual).
The March 2012 issue of Sunstone (#166), a special issue on Motherhood, is now available. It is guest edited by Holly Welker, and includes the short story “The Sisterhood” by Emily Belanger.
New speculative fiction stories:
Brandon Sanderon and Ethan Skarstedt, “Heuristic Algorithm and Reasoning Response Engine”, which appears in the new military SF anthology Armored, edited by John Joseph Adams.
Emily Mah, “Darwin’s Gambit,” in Analog, June 2012. Hard science fiction, about a girl raised on Mars who has agrophobia, a spaceship about to crash, and a limited number of spaces on an escape shuttle.
New Books and their Reviews
Jerry Borrowman. Steamship to Zion. Covenant, April 2. Historical. British LDS immigrants to the US travel by ship through Panama and San Francisco.
Jaclyn M. Hawkes. The Most Important Catch. Spirit Dance Books, March. Romance/suspense. A woman on the run seeks protection with a NFL player.
Marie Higgins. The Sweetest Touch. Canyonland Press, March 31. Regency romance.
Michele Paige Holmes. My Lucky Stars. Covenant, April 2. Contemporary romance. Third in the series that started with Counting Stars.
Kenny Kemp. Dad, are you there? Cedar Fort, April 10. Allegorical novel. Short (80 pages) about a father and son.
Kevin Krohn. Latter-Day of the Dead. Self-published, March. Horror/thriller. A zombie outbreak in a rural Utah polygamous compound.
Alicia Leppert. Emerald City. Cedar Fort/Sweetwater, April 10. Paranormal romance. Debut novel. A suicidal girl finds something to live for in a forbidden love.
Bloggin’ ‘bout Books review: C-. “It’s difficult to describe Emerald City, because, really, it has no plot. The main characters lack concrete story goals, which means the tale has no driving force behind it, no direction. It rambles here, there and everywhere, losing oomph with every purposeless turn. This is a newbie mistake, one I see often in first novels. Still, it makes a huge impact on the reader’s enjoyment of a story, especially since the novel also suffers from lifeless prose, flat characters and some pretty big leaps in logic. My biggest issue (besides the no-plot thing) is with Olivia. I’m not sure I’ve ever met a more pitiful heroine. She’s sympathetic, at least at first. But her wallowing gets old pretty darn quick, especially when it becomes apparent that that’s all she ever does . . . Given all my complaints, you might think I detested every word of the story. Not so. The book’s premise, while not all that original, has plenty of potential. As do the characters. In fact, most of what’s wrong with Emerald City could have—and should have—been fixed through a session or two with a good, tenacious editor. Leppert has a lot to learn, for sure, but I did catch enough glimpses of capable writing throughout her debut to convince me that she will learn and she will improve with each book she writes.”
Fire and Ice review: 3.5 stars. “I found myself wondering who and what Jude is throughout most of the book until we get his back story over 20 chapters in. I really enjoyed learning more and wish we would have been filled in a bit sooner. From there this romance with a twist of Urban fantasy takes off. It’s a darker read until then as Olivia is treading through the absolute hopelessness of clinical depression and suicidal ideation. I like that she addresses her issues through seeing a psychiatrist and going on medication when she so clearly needs it. But I think this is an older read for 17- adults because of the sad tone and traumatic life events Olivia faces.”
Shanda (LDSWBR) review: 4 stars.
Jean Holbrook Matthews. Precious Cargo. Covenant, April 2. Suspense. Terrorism and a crime ring engage in kidnapping in the Philippines.
Bryce Moore. Vodník. Tu Books, March 28. YA Fantasy. Includes Slovak and Roma characters. The author’s full name is Bryce Moore Cundick, but he is publishing this debut novel under the name Moore.
Kirkus Review: “A first encounter with racism blends well with a compelling fantasy adventure (although Tomas’s family, lacking any Romani culture or traditions, reiterates some of racism themselves; his mother explains how they are worthy of praise because they are “not like other Roma”). A shy boy blossoms in this surprisingly witty debut.”
School Library Journal Young Adult reader review: (15 year-old reviewer) “The originality of the myths is a good change of pace from Greek or Roman myths. The story reminded me of how there are still new voices in writing. This was no “boy meets girl over summer break” or “humans dating vampires” story. The author has created a great new type of mystery and legend, and I’m one reader who can’t wait to see if this story continues to develop. I’d be proud to have this book in my personal library.”
Finding Wonderland review: “The folklore mythologies presented in Vodník are fresh and brand new (well, to most Westerners in the Americas), the character development is realistic and steady, the pacing is a tiny bit erratic, due to the onslaught of details, but it’s fairly consistent. The balance between funny and serious is well done, and the voice is wry and self-deprecating and endearing.”
YA Reads: “When I first started Vodnik I was pleasantly impressed. It just seemed like a book that I was going to love. Tomas’s character was a little strange, but I appreciated the overall feel of the novel. I was fascinated that a character could be immune to both fire and water damage, and I was curious about how Bryce Moore would play off of that. My fascination only lasted so long, though. Within the first hundred pages the novel started to become rather cheesy. The story focused on a specific fairy tale, the vodnik, who drowned people to put their souls in his teacup collection . . . It almost seemed as if this novel would be great for teenage boys. However, I am not sure if this book would appeal to anyone above the age of sixteen . . . One thing I did notice was that this book has the same feel as Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Now, I absolutely hated the Percy Jackson series, so there could potentially be a lot of fans of this novel. I would recommend that any young teenager give this book a chance . . . This book has a silly feel to it that the younger generation, and fans of the Percy Jackson series, would greatly appreciate.”
Jennifer A. Nielsen. The False Prince. Scholastic, April 1. Middle grade fantasy. First in “The Ascendance Trilogy.”
Kirkus Reviews: “Ruthless ambition, fierce action and plotting, complex characters and lots of sword play and hidden passages keep pages flipping. Readers of this multifaceted, well-crafted tale will eagerly await Sage’s further adventures.”
Publisher’s Weekly: (Starred review) “This highly enjoyable medieval fantasy from Nielsen, set in the medieval kingdom of Carthya, centers on 15-year-old Sage, an angry and pugnacious orphan, who is unexpectedly purchased by Conner, one of the king’s regents . . . Sage is deftly characterized through humorous first-person narration, quickly establishing himself as a beguiling antihero . . . Secondary characters are equally fleshed-out. This is an impressive, promising story with some expertly executed twists.”
BookPage: “A fast-paced, exciting adventure . . . Nielsen has written a terrific story that carries readers along to the very (surprising) end and will leave them clamoring for the next book in her trilogy.
School Library Journal (Fuse #8 blog): “As a children’s librarian I read a lot of malarkey meant for the kiddos. On the down side it makes me a jaded reader. On the upside it has given me the gift of a 10-year-old’s impatience. If I’m struggling to read a particularly dull section in the first chapter then I can usually bet dollars to donuts that a kid is going to feel the same way. If, however, I pick up a book and immediately encounter a charming thief with a roast under his arm running hell-for-leather as meat cleavers are thrown in the direction of his skull, THAT I’ll pay attention to. The mark of a good action/adventure children’s book is easy. You need action and adventure. The mark of a GREAT action/adventure children’s book is difficult. You need action and adventure sure, but also a bit of brains and wit if you can get it . . . Coming as close to the definition of a children’s psychological thriller as possible, Nielsen creates a story that will feel simultaneously new and familiar all at once. No mean feat . . . With enough twists and turns to keep a well-oiled brain humming, Nielsen trusts in the intelligence of her readers to follow along her delightfully complicated path. Their reward is a truly enjoyable book, start to finish.”
Los Angeles Times: “Most children want to be recognized as someone special. Jennifer A. Nielsen takes that desire to an extreme with a romp of a medieval-themed, middle-grade novel. This kickoff to her new “Ascendance Trilogy” is a swashbuckling origin story about orphans forced to compete with one another for a chance to take the crown . . . Befitting the book’s title, it isn’t only the prince who is false. Many of the book’s characters reveal themselves to be something other than what they’ve been in this well-paced novel. Individual characters’ loyalties and secrets are revealed throughout the story, including a major bombshell that will confirm engaged readers’ suspicions and get them ready for the boys’ next adventure.”
Jennifer A. Nielsen. Elliot and the Last Underworld War. Sourcebooks, April 1. Middle Grade Fantasy. Book 3 in the Eliot series.
Stephanie Nielson. Heaven is Here. Hyperion, March. Memoir. Nielson, a well-known blogger of the NieNie Dialogues, tells the story of her life before and after a horrific plane crash.
Tristi Pinkston, AML. “This book is very honest. Stephanie doesn’t put herself forward as a heroine–she shares exactly what she was thinking, how she felt, the very real emotions she experienced as she went through therapy, more surgery, learning how to do everything over again, reconnecting with her children. This honesty, however, makes her a heroine of the best and truest sort . . . “Heaven is Here” is an amazing book about an amazing person and family. You will be inspired, you will cry, you will appreciate life so much more, and you will grab your children and your spouse and squeeze them a little tighter. Most of all, you will come to a greater understanding of the Lord’s tender mercies and realize how they are granted in your life every single day.”
Reading for Sanity. 5 stars. “Reading this book was a revelation I did not expect. I’ve been a devoted follower of Nie Nie Dialogues since days after their plane crashed and thought I knew everything there was to know about Stephanie, her faith, and her story. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Heaven Is Here spoke to me on so many levels – as a wife, mother, and woman of faith – and consistently moved me to tears of sadness, laughter, and joy. Stephanie’s love of life, her testimony of Christ, and her courage in the face of seemingly insurmountable trials reminded me to take greater joy in my own life, to appreciate each moment spent with family, and motivated me to become a more faithful disciple of Christ . . . Heaven Is Here is one of the most inspirational books I’ve ever read and proves that hope can be found even in the midst of profound devastation. Nie is my hero.”
Erik Olsen. Cobble Cavern. Cedar Fort/Sweetwater, April 10. Book 1 of the Flin’s Destiny Series. Middle grade fantasy/adventure. High school boys get trapped deep under Ireland, and discover an unknown civilization. It was self-published in 2010.
Krazy Book Lady: “A creative and fun read. The world and situations that Erik Olsen created were interesting, thrilling, and quite unique. There were times that I was on the edge of my seat, so to speak, and glued to the book because I could not wait to find out what happened to the group. It was filled with monsters, nasty antagonists among the group, and fascinating world that I could see vividly in my mind from Olsen’s wonderfully descriptive writing. There were only two things that detracted from my enjoyment of the story. The first was the over-abundance of characters and the manner in which they were written. The main characters were fun and had distinct personalities, but the secondary characters tended to blend together.”
Chris A. Peck. In Days We End. Self-published, April. Zombie apocalypse speculative. A Utah (unstated, but clearly Mormon) family tries to survive the near elimination of the human race. Originally written as a (still-ongoing) daily blog, which I read regularly.
Contributors to this anthology include Shannon Hale, Rick Walton, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dene Low, Brad R. Torgersen, Nancy Fulda, Kristen Landon, Lisa Mangum, Kristyn Crow, Clint Johnson, and Dean Hale.
G. G. Vandagriff. The Duke’s Undoing. Orson Whitney Press, April 18. Regency romance.
Rebecca Winters. The Marshal’s Prize. Harlequin, April 3. Contemporary romance (sweet). A Federal Marshal tries to protect a woman and her son.
Reviews of older books
The deadline for voting for the Whitney Awards is in just a few days, which is why there are so many reviews below. Don’t forget Jonathon Langford’s reviews of Whitney Youth General ,Youth Speculative, and Speculative nominees.
Tracy Hunter Abramson. Smokescreen. (FoxyJ). 3 stars. “I had a hard time getting into this book at first because I don’t usually read suspenseful thrillers and because this is one in a series. Thankfully it was still able to stand on its own quite well and I generally enjoyed it reading it.”
Tracy Hunter Abramson. Smokescreen (Shelah Books It) Enjoyment Rating: 6/10. “I really didn’t like Lockdown or Crossfire, Traci Hunter Abramson’s books that were nominated in the Mystery/Suspense category in the last two years, so my sights were set low for Smokescreen, the fifth book in the Saint Squad series. The books in the series follow a set formula– there’s a group of LDS Navy Seals, and in each novel Abramson focuses on how one of the men in the group falls in love with a woman who happens to be at the center of an international terrorist plot. If you can look past the implausibility of the entire concept (which was a difficult thing for me, in the first two novels), then the books are actually pretty entertaining . . . While the character development for Quinn and Taylor was pretty good, I think it’s a shame that the other characters in Abramson’s books are so flat– by this time we know everyone really well, and they can serve as more than just vehicles for the plot to move forward. Finally, Abramson chose to reveal certain details and withhold others in a way that was annoying. Quinn has a skeleton in his closet (literally, kind of) and while Abramson gives us most of the story early on in the book, she keeps other information for a reveal about halfway through, and that felt kind of like a cheap move. All in all, I was entertained and found myself rooting for Taylor not to get killed by the baddies.”
Heidi Ashworth. Miss Delacourt Speaks Her Mind (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books) B-. “[It] is an enjoyable Regency romance. The story is predictably lighthearted and humorous, with characters who aren’t exactly original, but who are entertaining nonetheless. Though the plot gets a little silly (all the confusion between the characters could have been cleared up easily if they had just spoken plainly to one another), I still found the book to be a fun, easy read, the kind I like to enjoy between more demanding books. Like I said, it’s not all that original or surprising and yet, it definitely has its charms.”
Brodi Ashton. Everneath (Jessica George) 5 stars. “I LOVED this book! This was a creepy, fabulous twist on the myth of the underworld, mixing Persephone’s story with Orpheus and Eurydice. Not only that, it was good YA. These were believable teens, talking in believable ways. There were enough details about school to make it seem real, without driving the reader crazy with minutiae. The bad guy really needed to be punched, repeatedly, about the head and genitals, and (this sounds horrible but its true) I loved how messed up Nikki was by her time in the Everneath. The little details about her hands shaking, and the way she just felt so fragile, were amazing. Now that paranormal romance has its own department at Barnes & Noble, there are a lot of formulaic books out there. It’s like, cue love triangle, cue reveal that he’s a supernatural being, and begin trendy playlist! This is not one of those books, though. This is a real standout, with some VERY unexpected twists and some truly skillful writing.”
Cindy C. Bennett. Geek Girl (FoxyJ). 3 stars. “I first checked out this book simply because I liked the cover. It’s quite different from what you usually see on Cedar Fort books. The plot itself was fairly stereotypical (opposites attract and find they actually like each other), but the writing was fun and I had a good time reading it. Sometimes I wanted a bit more introspection from the characters, but since they are high school students that was probably a bit too much to ask for.”
Stephanie Black. Rearview Mirror (Shelah Books It) Enjoyment rating: 7/10. “There’s a lot going on in this book. I like the characters– and particularly like that Black has the courage to create Mormon characters who are flawed, even very flawed and damaged. In years past, it seemed that many of the Whitney mystery/suspense novels shied away from having a Mormon pull the trigger/plunge the knife/shove the old bag in the water, and that isn’t the case here (I think I can say that without revealing too much). The story is also interestingly complicated in many ways, with great side stories that tie into the main narrative. But the romance part of the story felt forced and didn’t work too well for me.”
Marilyn Brown, Fires of Jerusalem (Tristi Pinkston, AML). “The first several pages read more like a literary novel than anything else, but then we step back from that voice and take on a more traditional historical tone as we delve deeper into the story . . . If I were to choose a target audience for this novel, I would recommend it to students of history. I found it to be a serious, uplifting undertaking, and I learned things about Jeremiah and the city of Jerusalem at his time that I didn’t know. Some of the sins as fictionalized toward the front of the book might be too much for a younger reader, although they are not gratuitous in nature, but rather, included to set the stage for the times and to show why the people needed prophets so badly.”
Marilyn Brown, Fires of Jerusalem (Shelah Books It) Enjoyment Rating: 5/10. “I used to read a lot of biographies when I was a kid, and I frequently had the experience of getting really interested in a story the biographer was telling, only to have the chapter end and five years pass in that character’s life, and never pick up the story again. In that sense, Fires of Jerusalem, a historical novel about the biblical prophet Jeremiah, feels more like a fictionalized biography than like historical fiction. The 240-page book tries to encompass the entirety of Jeremiah’s life, with huge gaps from teenager to young man to great-grandfather, and it would have been a much more satisfying read if Brown had focused on a single time period and tried to create a story rather than hitting the highlights of Jeremiah’s life.”
Rachel J. Christensen. Caller ID (Jennie Hansen, Meridian). “The plot moves rapidly and deals with a modern problem faced in several western states with the discovery of marijuana plots hidden on public forest land that are often tended and guarded by illegal workers. Christensen uses the tools of modern technology such as smart phones and computers in a way that makes her stories contemporary and real. Elements of her ending may be frustrating to some, but carries a strong touch of modern realism. She is rapidly becoming a writer to watch for in the Mystery/Suspense genre and mystery fans will enjoy this one, especially those who like a hint of romance added to the mix.”
Julianne Donaldson. Eadenbrook (Reading for Sanity). 4 stars. “Before we start the review, stop and admire this book cover for a second. I think it’s gorgeous! It makes me think of lazy summer days, romance, and Mr. Darcy . . . Like many romance novels, Edenbrooke is far from perfect in a literary sense. The narration was in first-person, past tense (which led to a lot of “I” statements), the story was rather predictable, the writing lacked complexity, and the main character was rather dense* when it came to recognizing her own feelings or understanding the motivations of others. However, once I really got a chance to dedicate myself to the story, I stopped noticing the little imperfections and quirks (or rather, I forgave them) and was pleasantly swept away by the romance . . . A sweet and simple romance – perfect for those searching for a little light, blush-free, romantic reading.”
Sarah Dunster. Lighting Tree (Laura Craner, AMV). 3 stars. “Set against the backdrop of “The Cedar Incident” and the prejudices of small town pioneer Utah Lightning Tree is a dramatic story that will keep readers turning pages until every nightmare is brought to light. Most of the strength of this novel come from the characters created by Dunster. Maggie is a pleasing blend of sarcasm, spunk, and idealism . . . As historical fiction, this book is closer to Ann Rinaldi than Herman Wouk. Or, to put it in Mormon terms this book is closer to Gale Sears than Margaret Young/Darius Gray . . . it is more of a period coming-of-age novel than strong historical fiction . . . Questions about pride versus self-reliance and self-righteousness versus love and family make Lightning Tree a good read and great discussion fodder. It’s your everyday Cinderella story and so much more.”
Sarah Dunster. Lighting Tree (Cathy, Fire and Ice) 3 stars. “I liked Maggie’s story and the characters in it. Provo’s really a small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business and that makes for some pretty interesting situations. Having said that the story itself felt a little disjointed, which I guess was probably how Provo was during this time of unrest for them.”
Richard Paul Evans. Miles to Go (FoxyJ). 2 stars. “I have never read anything by Richard Paul Evans before and I expected to dislike this book. The good news is that I didn’t dislike it; the bad news is that I didn’t really like it either. It was really boring; I felt like there was a lot of “telling” rather than “showing” and that nothing much happened. I understand that it is the middle book in a series and that it is supposed to be a person’s diary, but that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t have a plot.”
Julie N. Ford. Countdown to Love (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books) C-. “I should probably mention right off the bat that I’m not a fan of The Bachelor or anything of its kind. Maybe that’s what made Count Down to Love so difficult for me to enjoy. Or maybe it’s because the novel got so far-fetched, melodramatic and contrived I could hardly stand it. I think I would have actually found a behind-the-scenes look at reality t.v. interesting, but Ford skimps mightily on the “insider” details, focusing instead on the developing relationship between Kelly Grace and Dillon. Which might have been okay, except that the romance was totally predictable. Now, I realize it’s a romance, so the guy and girl are going to get together, but to keep my attention, an author has to make me wonder if the couple can really overcome all the odds that stand in the way of their Happily Ever After. Ford didn’t do that. I think the real problem with the book, though, is that Kelly Grace has no real goal, nothing admirable she’s trying to do, nothing to make the reader root for her.”
Julie N. Ford. Countdown to Love (Jullie Bellon) 4 stars. “Holy cow. That book sucked me in so fast before I knew it it was 2:30 a.m. and I was finishing the last page. It was funny and heartwarming and fluffy and fiery. I loved it.”
Shannon Hale. Midnight In Austenland (Gamila). “I liked Midnight in Austenland more than Hale’s first novel in this series Austenland. I felt like the plot was much more interesting than the first book, and the main character Charlotte seemed more real and grounded in this novel for me . . . So, yeah, this cute romance with a little dash of mystery and a little dash of creepy old ghost stories delighted me. I read it in only a few days whenever I needed a break and I found it refreshing, just as Charlotte did, to focus on something other than daily life. The book is pretty clean, but has a few awkward adult humor moments that would make me not recommend it for young teens.”
Jennie Hansen. If I Should Die (FoxyJ). 3 stars. “I thought the mystery element of this book was well-done and I was kept guessing until the end. This book was more romantic suspense than straight mystery and I wasn’t expecting so much focus on the love story, but it is a good, quick read.”
Jennie Hansen. If I Should Die (Shelah Books It) 6/10. “If I Should Die is part suspense, part murder mystery, and part romance . . . This book didn’t quite come together for me– first of all, it seems a little bit unlikely that Linda’s killer had to come from their subdivision, and the rest of the story wasn’t unified enough for me. And from now on, I’ll always be looking over my shoulder when I run.”
Jennie Hansen. The Heirs of Southbridge (Julie Coulter Bellon, Meridian). “The strength of the book lies in the glimpses of the frontier and the ways of the old West on the cattle trail. Hansen does well in making the chase for outlaws and subsequent shoot-outs seem like the reader is right there in the thick of the action. The details really give the book a distinctive feel and a richness that is sometimes glossed over in this genre.”
Tess Hilmo. With a Name Like Love (FoxyJ). 4 stars. “I didn’t expect to like this book so much because I got tired of Quirky Southern Books a while ago. But the story is really well-done and I think it is one of the better middle-grade novels out there. I liked that the protagonist had a good relationship with her family, that the plot involved a boy and a girl who become friends without romantic innuendo, and that someone managed to write a historical novel set in the South that actually wasn’t about civil rights (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s been done a lot and I think it’s good for kids to read about Southern states in other contexts besides just that of race relations).”
Tess Hilmo. With a Name Like Love (Shelah Books It) 8/10. “[The book has] great writing. This story is quite different from the others in the Youth Fiction General category because the rest of the stories are contemporary tales, and all of the other four have some element of romance in them (yes, it’s a stretch to call Miles from Ordinary a romance, but I’m doing it anyway). This story, on the other hand, almost feels like it’s for a younger audience (despite the fact that Ollie is fourteen). In fact, the place it occupies in the YFG category feels a lot like the Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George occupies in the Youth Fiction Speculative category. It’s a quiet book, it doesn’t try to hit you over the head with snappy dialogue or funny events. It meanders; it’s earnest. It’s also the book I’d most want my daughter to read.”
Joni Hilton. Funeral Potatoes (Deseret News). “As she has done in the past, the author has mixed humor with pathos to create an interesting group of people who can teach us all a thing or two about life . . . Those who have read Hilton’s previous works will be reminded of her delightful sense of humor and her ability to see past the surface level of family life. The tenderness she uses in helping readers understand the challenges experienced by each member of the family is indicative of her ability to read things as they truly are.”
Michelle Paige Holmes. Captive Heart (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books) C. “I didn’t expect to enjoy Captive Heart nearly as much as I did. But, to my surprise, the novel offered an exciting, well-told story along with characters who sprang to life, quickly capturing my heart. Holmes did the romance the right way, too, taking time to really develop the relationship between Emma and Thayne, so that it felt authentic. True, the story itself gets predictable (it’s a romance), contrived (Really? Emma’s mother just happens to be deaf?), even melodramatic at times (the ending), but I still found it enjoyable. The main thing that stopped me from really loving Captive Heart is that I couldn’t figure out why the kidnapping was necessary in the first place. Considering what I found out about Thayne along the way, it just seemed like the most difficult, illogical way he could have possibly chosen to accomplish his purposes. That gaping plot hole bugged big time. Still and all, the novel kept me entertained. If it weren’t for that one little (okay, huge) problem, I would have really, really liked this one.”
Melanie Jacobson. The List (Shelah Books It) 7/10. “When I picture a woman reading a romance novel, I picture either a teenager or an older, married woman. I don’t picture Ashley’s peers, the unmarried-but-looking twentysomethings. I guess I figure that that demographic is actually out having romances and can’t be bothered reading them. But Jacobson’s books feel like they would actually appeal to college students. She has the dialogue and the pacing and just the right amount of detail. She also has really likeable protagonists. I’ll write more about this in my review of Not My Type (which I actually liked better), but I think that Jacobson really has her finger on the pulse of what the characters in her stories would like to read.”
Melanie Jacobson. The List (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books) B-. “You know how I’m always dissing on LDS novels, calling them melodramatic, cheesy and unrealistic? Well, I’m not going to hurl my usual accusations at The List. Which isn’t to say the book doesn’t have its issues, because of course it does. Still, it’s much better written than most of the contemporary LDS novels on the market today. For one thing, it has a fun, lighthearted tone that promises a story that’s quick, upbeat and, most of all, entertaining. Plus, its heroine actually has a discernible voice. And a personality! Amazing! Ashley’s confident, sure of herself in a way most fictional females are not. Plus, she’s snarky, something goody-goody Molly Mormon/Peter Priesthood story people usually are not. As a character, I must say I find Ashley Barrett quite refreshing. Irritating, but refreshing. What’s not to like about her, then? Well, here’s the thing: she’s selfish. And shallow . . . Without that unfortunate aspect of the story, I would have enjoyed The List a whole lot more. Still, Jacobson’s debut impressed me with its fun tone, its more realistic depiction of LDS life, and the fact that the cast was made up of more than just the usual cookie-cutter Mormon characters. All of which convinces me that Melanie Jacobson can and will create LDS novels I actually want to read.”
Melanie Jacobson. Not My Type (Shelah Books It) 8/10. “When I finished reading Borrowed Light, the first book I picked up in the Whitney Romance category, I was convinced it had the category sewn up. I thought it might be a contender for my favorite novel of the year, not just my favorite romance. So I’ll admit that I approached the other books in the category with the bar set high– I needed them to wow me in order to even put them in the running. And with Not My Type Melanie Jacobson did wow me. With great, rounded characters, tight writing, humor, an interesting storyline, and just the right amount of social commentary about life on the Wasatch Front, Jacobson delivers so much more than just a romance novel. In fact, this is a book that I might have overlooked as a casual reader because of its category– it feels less like a romance novel than just a strong contemporary novel about a girl trying to find her way in life.”
Melanie Jacobson. Not My Type (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books) B. “Like The List, Not My Type offers a fun, lighthearted story about a girl struggling to understand who she really is and what she really wants. Unlike the former, the latter gives us a much more likable heroine, someone who’s self-deprecating and sympathetic, with a focus that extends beyond just herself. The warmth and humor that has become Jacobson’s trademark writing too, comes through loud and clear with this one, making Not My Type a quick, enjoyable read with a lesson about gratitude that’s difficult to ignore. The story did get a bit contrived, with some bits that were difficult to believe, but all in all, it’s a happy book that’s clean, uplifting and, unlike other LDS romances, not totally nauseating. As a matter of fact, I quite enjoyed it.”
Jennie James. Pride and Popularity (FoxyJ). 3 stars. “This book wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, which I know is faint praise. I was impressed by the author’s ability to retell Pride and Prejudice in a modern setting without the plot or characters feeling too forced. However, the language all sounded like a bad imitation of the movie Clueless and I don’t think that teenagers currently talk like that.”
Jennie James. Pride and Popularity (Shelah Books It) 6/10. “Pride and Popularity is a nice, clean, lighthearted YA novel. If you’ve read Pride and Prejudice or watched Clueless, you can probably imagine how James has transformed Austen’s story to work in a high school setting. And it does work– the book is cute, and light, and funny. But it’s not Austen– it lacks the subtle social criticism that is Austen’s genius. Although I liked the book and can definitely imagine my own daughter enjoying it, it felt almost too light and fluffy in comparison to the other books in the category.”
Carla Kelly. Borrowed Light (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books) B+. “Before reading Borrowed Light I’d never heard of the author, let alone read one of her books. Which is a darn shame because, frankly, I loved this one. It’s one of those novels that has everything—adventure, mystery, romance, humor, even spirituality. Don’t be turned off by that last one because the religious aspect of the story is interwoven so well with everything else that it doesn’t come off as didactic or heavy-handed. In fact, it’s that balance between all of the different story elements that make Borrowed Light so enchanting, so compelling and so thoroughly enjoyable. It might be a little far-fetched (Would a single LDS woman in 1909 really have been comfortable—not to mention safe—living out in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of men? Would her conservative, protective parents really have given her their blessing to do so?), but I don’t care, I loved this book. And, believe you me, it won’t be the last Kelly novel I read.”
Carla Kelly. Enduring Light (FoxyJ). 3 stars. “After reading and loving Borrowed Light last month I was happy to go right into the sequel. Like sequels sometimes do, this did disappoint a bit simply because the major narrative arc of their story (falling in love)was already completed. It was still fun to read some more about the characters and to spend a little more time with them (even if they were newlyweds and spent half the book making veiled remarks about sex).”
Josi S. Kilpack. Banana Split (Tristi Pinkston, AML). “The setting of this book is described very convincingly, from the foods and the use of Hawaiian words to the trees, beaches, and oceans. I could easily picture myself there, which was a real treat, as are the inclusion of Sadie’s recipes, for which this series is famous. It was a very interesting plot twist to see Sadie this weak and vulnerable. I believe it allowed the author to explore new sides of her heroine and to bring out even deeper strengths we didn’t know Sadie had. Strength isn’t always made manifest in the way a person goes and goes without stopping. Strength is sometimes shown to its best advantage when we see someone who has fallen get back up, and that was very well shown in “Banana Split.””
Josi S. Kilpack. Banana Split (Jennie Hansen) 4 stars. “Though not an enthusiastic fan of Sadie in the first few books in this series, she won me over a little bit more with each successive adventure until Pumpkin Roll sealed the deal. Ironically I had difficulty with her role in Banana Split as a frightened, insecure elderly woman teetering on the edge of a total breakdown. All in all Sadie Hoffmiller is a fascinating character and Kilpack has done an exceptional job of showing growth and change in a series character when such characters generally stay quite static . . . The plot is paced well and I was pleased to see Sadie take a stronger role in rescuing herself than she has done previously. Though she takes a few foolish, impulsive risks, the motivation to do so is stronger than in previous books.”
Josi S. Kilpack. Banana Split (Mindy, LDSWBR) 5 stars.
Josi S. Kilpack. Banana Split (Christine, Fire and Ice) 5 stars. “This is another strong offering from Josi. The best thing about her books is not only do they get better and better, but they are unique in their own way and can stand alone. Sadie is a different person in his book. She is hurting, mentally and physically. It’s quite a change to see her react the way she does, my heart just ached for her. What I love most about Sadie is, even though she has forgotten this, she is a very strong lady.”
Lindsey Leavitt. Sean Griswold’s Head. (FoxyJ). 4 stars. “The Whitney nominees for Youth Fiction this year are all really good; I can tell it’s going to be hard to choose when it comes time to vote. This was another book that manages to cover familiar tropes of YA literature in new and refreshing ways. There were some things I didn’t like about it, particularly the protagonist’s best friend, but it had many strengths. I especially liked the way the romance developed as a more natural outgrowth of friendship–I wish I could have had something like that as a teenager.”
Betsy Love. Identity (Tristi Pinkston, AML). “At first glance, a storyline about mistaken identity seems a little cliché, but I was kept involved in the story with the lush descriptions, the twists and turns, and by the end, I liked Amelia a lot more than I did at the beginning. She has a good character arc that brings her from pampered princess to someone I could cheer on. I did feel that elements of the book were a bit preachy as Savannah’s family tried so hard to remind their “daughter” of the truthfulness of the gospel. It’s difficult, in fiction, to convey a scene where a devout believer is sharing their testimony with someone who does not believe and to keep the balance between storytelling and preaching. That said, however, I enjoyed the read, especially the twists at the end, and I would recommended the book to anyone who would like to take a mental vacation to the sandy beaches of Mexico and escape the clutches of a ruthless villain while they’re at it.”
Gregg Luke. Bloodborne (Shelah Books It) Enjoyment Rating: 6/10. “If you like the drama of Dan Brown (to whom Luke gives an over shout-out in the book), combined with the medical knowledge of Michael Crichton, and the suspense of Dean Koontz (who is also alluded to in the book), I think you get what Luke attempts to achieve in Bloodborne . . . While the writing is fairly clean and the story moves quickly, it feels SO derivative. I enjoyed Dr. Cross’s character, but most of the other characters either felt wooden or problematic. This is a book to take at face value, but not one that seems to reward a deeper reading.”
Gregg Luke. Bloodborne (FoxyJ) 1 star. “The first chapter of this book was great, but when I started the second chapter I actually burst out laughing due to a bizarre plot twist that was completely unexpected and poorly executed. This book was somewhat painful to read, but mercifully quick to get through.”
Mindy Moncur. Daughter of Heleman (A. L. Sowards) 3.5 stars. “What I liked about this book: Moncur does a good job with the religious aspects of the story. Sometimes authors throw religion into the story and it bogs the plot-line down, but I felt the religion in this story added to the characters and the plot. The writing was good and the characters were well-developed. There were also some nice themes dealing with forgiveness and I thought the backstory about her father was interesting. What I didn’t love about this book: Teenagers. I like them in real life, but not always as narrators in books. Keturah seemed like a teenager from this century, and I thought that was a little bit of a stretch for the time period. On the other hand, it might make her easier to relate to for current teens. I thought she should have just been content to help her mom as a healer when the army moves out, but Keturah is so certain she’s supposed to fight. She’s almost bloodthirsty, which is an interesting contrast to her firm faith that the Lord will protect the little Ammonite Army.”
Steven L. Peck. The Scholar of Moab and A Short Stay in Hell (Scott Parkin, DoaBD). A detailed, well-thought review. “But the reading itself was so entertaining, the explorations of individual viewpoint and thought so compelling, the simple creativity of the characters and situations so intriguing that I have become an active fan of the author’s work. Dr. Peck approaches questions with a direct, unflinching, and beautifully concise presentation that cuts through existential haze, starkly reveals the core of those questions, and invites a fresh look and consideration. The text itself is at least as interesting as the narrative it delivers.”
Steven L. Peck. A Short Stay in Hell (The Future Fire-A British online speculative fiction review journal). A detailed, thoughtful review. “Faith and religion cannot be ignored in this context. Peck’s background is one of and evolutionary ecologist and Mormon, and he has energetic ideas on how evolution is not precluded by his faith, and also compiles a lively blog on his faithful life. Thankfully, the religious slant does not detract from the story, and this novella is not a polemic on one faith, given the very public confidence of Mormonism. In order to find meaning in a place with none except what you bring to it, the hero makes leaps or breaks from some of his previous beliefs. One gets a feeling that the thought experiment is an active for the author; he presents non-Mormon ideas and meets them with his own, filtering this through his hypothesis. The hero is inevitably seen as an avatar for Peck’s thinking on drinking, sex, marriage and godhood. The idea of a principled, apparently normatively calm and centred character (the implication being this is the result of disciplined faith) gives an aura of credibility to the facts presented from his POV . . . The style is practical; it gets its point across in a remarkably short space of time. The author’s gift is to start us thinking, and if we want to, leave us still thinking beyond the close of the book.”
Paul Rimmasch, The Lost Stones (Jennie Hansen, Meridian). “The conspiracy theories may be a little hard to swallow and some of the writing is a little amateurish, but an important point is made in that only the Lord knows what happened to the stones and that they and other architectural evidence are not necessary to developing faith in the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon . . . It seems to me that the characters are a little slow to suspect the many accidents they narrowly escape aren’t merely accidents. The various settings are hardly noticeable until the group reaches the Grand Canyon where they come to life, especially in the rappelling scene. The characters could be fleshed out a little more, especially John. There was no real reason for his nationality and background to be so mysterious. The best part of the book is the way the author documents early archeological discoveries in both North and South America . . . I found the conspiracy and environmental themes annoying and not well developed. The story line is a little inconsistent, but easy to follow and the plot holds the reader’s attention.”
Branson Sanderson. The Alloy of Law (Shelah Books It) 6/10. “As I read The Alloy of Law, I my main thought is that it would make a perfect video game. You have this world that’s almost like ours, but not quite, and these guys who look like normal guys, except they have superpowers and can “power-up” when they get shot, and the fight. Oh how they fight. They fight and fight and fight and fight and fight. They fight for paragraphs, pages, and chapters. They fight in excruciating detail. I found myself just wanting to swoop my finger past all the fighting and get back to the story. But in this case, I think a lot of the story was the fighting. So if you’re a fan of steampunk, or the other Mistborn novels, or of video games, I think you’d love this book. But for me, it was more of a challenge than the other Sanderson books I’ve read in previous years.”
Branson Sanderson. The Alloy of Law (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books) A. “As much as I loved the first books in Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy in some ways, I liked The Alloy of Law even better. It’s got everything I admired about the earlier novels, just with a more lighthearted tone, an intriguing mystery, even a little steampunk goodness. It’s the Mistborn world made funnier, sexier and, if possible, even cooler. I know, right? Pure awesomeness . . . Even if you’re not into sci fi/fantasy-ish novels, you’re going to dig this one. It is sci fi, but it’s also got a lot of crossover appeal since it has a Victorian feel, dystopian elements, a steampunk vibe and just, I don’t know, lots of crazy-good stuff. Sanderson knows how to tell a balanced story, creating appealing characters, fascinating worlds and scenes that combine action with mystery with humor with romance with … everything. Bottom line: Love Sanderson, love this book. Raving fan girl out.”
Branson Sanderson. The Alloy of Law (Gamila). “I think Sanderson made a very good decision to give his characters less epic powers for this less epic story. I found myself becoming immersed once again in his wonderful fantasy world and discovering new and interesting powers in his magic system. I loved that there were more balls, more witty banter, and more dramatic fight scenes. The story definitely lived up to my expectations for Sanderson’s writing and for the Mistborn series.”
Theresa Sneed. No Angel (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books) D. “It’s difficult to describe the plot of No Angel, Theresa Sneed’s first published novel, because the fact is, it’s confusing. Not to mention just … odd. Plus, the story’s got some serious plot holes, very clumsy editing and one supremely unlikable main character, all of which made the book difficult for me to read. I know it’s supposed to be an uplifting, inspiring read and I guess it is, or would be, if the writing were better. As is, the whole presentation just drove me crazy. The horrible truth: I raced through No Angel because I couldn’t wait to move on to something else.”
Theresa Sneed. No Angel (Shelah Books It) 5/10. “I started reading this book reluctantly– in general, I stay away from books that delve into some of the “it’s impossible to know this” areas of Mormon theology, but the early chapters of No Angel were quite good– quick moving and tight. I found myself grudgingly approving of it– it felt like it could be more like Defending Your Life than Saturday’s Warrior. But the last third of the book takes a decidedly weird turn, and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. If the book had been more about Jonathan’s relationship (and not a romantic relationship, which I found icky) with Celeste and less about him trying to overcome guardian angel prison, I think I would have liked it better.”
Toni Sorenson. The Shaken Earth (Shanda, LDSWBR) 4 stars. “The people who truly make The Shaken Earth memorable are the side characters. Though we see everything through Yolisha’s point-of-view, it is Webster, Mona, and even Gessy, that make the story. I knew very little about Haiti or it’s history, but I learned along with Yolisha during Webster’s lessons as he cooked. I witnessed the struggles of the people even before the earthquake, and how much worse it became afterward. There was depravity and crime, but there was also strength and resilience. I can honestly say this is a book I won’t soon forget.”
A. L. Sowards. Espionage (Julie Bellon) 4 stars. “I was amazed at the level of detail throughout the entire book, for the military missions, the characters, and the French town of Calais. As a reader I became quickly invested in Peter’s life as he struggled to reconcile his LDS upbringing with his feelings for what he was doing during the course of the war . . . There was plenty of action in this book, as you might expect in a novel set during a war, but there are some fairly graphic torture scenes and quite a bit of killing as well (although the killing isn’t very graphic per se. We mostly see the blood etc. left behind). I liked the spy stuff a lot and it was so authentic it was easy to lose myself in 1944 France. My only complaint was the middle of the book was a bit long which slowed the pacing down somewhat, but all in all, I really enjoyed this book.”
Douglas L. Talley. Adam’s Dream: Poems for Latter-day Saints (Tyler Chadwick, AML). “In this collection Talley weaves his experience and desires as a husband, father, and son into hymns, parables, prayers, and lyric meditations on relationships among humans and between humans and God. In the process, he revisits metaphors and narrative forms we often use to describe, to understand, and to commune with God and His kingdom. Talley thereby takes up language as a form of worship—meaning that he not only uses his poems to *praise* God, but also to *emulate* God, whose words create worlds out of chaotic matter . . . And with “Adam’s Dream” he has crafted an altar of words around which we might gather as he translates the language of angels into an extended, eloquent, fervent prayer that our souls and our families might be touched and transformed by the simple beauties and the language of holiness.”
Douglas Thayer. The Tree House (Laura Craner) 4 stars. “This one really grew on me. Doug Thayer’s iceberg (Hemminway-esque) style is always hard for me to adjust to, but once I do I always enjoy it . . . This book is a really excellent example of Mormon stories being told through a liminal character. Harris is not a charismatic, clean cut stereotypical Mormon man. He hangs back, is never particularly comfortable with his priesthood, and has periods of inactivity (but isn’t angry about it). The story is gentle even though it deals with grisly topics (Vietnam War) and was a satisfying read. However, I was so convinced that Harris was going to come to a bad end (read: suicide in the tree house) that I have trouble remembering the actual ending–but it is happy. Still not as great as The Conversion of Jeff Williams but good and highly recommendable.”
Douglas Thayer. Wasatch: Mormon Stories and a Novella (Reed Russell, AML). “The unique voice of Douglas Thayer in this wonderful new collection is LDS literary fiction at its very best.”
Dan Wells. A Night of Partial Blackness (Shelah Books It). 7/10. “While so many of the other books [Whitney nominees read while on a trip to China] I read blended together, this one really stood out. And for that, I give it major props . . . A Night of Blacker Darkness is zany and weird and wonderful, and all of the things that make it zany and weird also make it a little bit frustrating to read. As a reader, I found myself having to suspend disbelief in a lot of ways. Well, duh, you say, it’s a book in the speculative category about vampires and John Keats! But it’s also written in a very twenty-first century style. In fact, it reminded me a lot of the Downey/Law incarnations of Holmes and Watson, where everything is so witty and fast-paced it feels almost anachronistic. Regardless of the anachronisms, I thought the book was great fun.”
Dan Wells. A Night of Partial Blackness (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books) A-. “[It] is even more zany, even more fun than it sounds. It does get a little ridiculous, a little grotesque, a little insane, but the crazier it gets, the funnier it gets. I love—and totally agree with—what Brandon Sanderson said about it: ‘…[A Night of Blacker Darkness is] quirky and strange, but very amusing and borderline genius.’ Amen, brother.
Dan Wells. I Don’t Want to Kill You (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books) B. “Like the first two books in the trilogy, I Don’t Want to Kill You explores the idea of people choosing their own destinies, in spite of all the things that might be working against them. This intriguing premise is what elevates the novels above other horror stories. In addition, John is a character who probably shouldn’t be sympathetic, but is, simply because he’s trying so hard to overcome his baser instincts. He’s a fascinating hero, one for whom I always find myself rooting, even when he’s having homicidal thoughts toward his mother (shudder). So, while the John Cleever books make me distinctly uncomfortable, I still think they’re sort of brilliant. Just in a gross, disturbing kind of way.”
Dan Wells. Partials (Mary Kowal). “The plot is smart and does not go easy places. What I find particularly interesting is the way Dan is playing with various SF tropes. This is a world in which there are no new children. Other writers have explored that idea, but Dan pairs it with another idea — that of engineered artificial humans. Through the course of the book, which is action packed, he gets into how one defines self and how the Other shapes that definition of ourselves.”
Bethany Wiggins. Shifting (Shelah Books It). 7/10. “Shifting is well-written and engrossing. I definitely found myself captured by the story, and was even more impressed when I read that the paranormal stuff in the story, the Skinwalkers, come directly from Navajo legend. Wiggins does a great job setting the story against a backdrop that’s rich in Navajo history. My main quibble with the story, and it’s a small one, I think, is that Maggie waits so long to let readers know what exactly is going on with her.”
Carol Ann Williams. Miles From Ordinary (FoxyJ). 3 stars. “Williams is a very skilled writer and I always enjoy her books. That being said, I felt like this book wasn’t much different from any of her other books that I have read. I also thought the plot felt fairly insubstantial, like this could have been told in a short story rather than a novel.”
Jason Wright. The Wedding Letters (FoxyJ). 2 stars. “This is another book I didn’t particularly hate, but that I didn’t particularly love either. It mostly left me feeling ‘meh’, even though I could tell that it was trying hard to make me feel something. I couldn’t connect with any of the characters–they felt like stereotypes rather than real people and I just didn’t understand some of their motivations at all. This was also another book that suffered from being a sequel in which characters constantly reference things that happened in a previous book, but they are never well-explained to new readers.”
Jason Wright. The Wedding Letters (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books) B-. “The Wedding Letters is predictable, of course. Cheesy, too, although not quite as much as I expected it to be. As you would guess, the short novel’s also warm, positive and uplifting. The great romance between Noah and Rachel falls a little short for me, as it feels a bit spark-less, but I really grew to like the Cooper Family as a whole . . . All in all, though, I enjoyed this read. Wright’s books are kind of hit and miss for me, so I was glad to discover that this one was more of the former than the latter.”
Julie Wright. Olivia (Jennie Hansen, Meridian). “This is the first book in a four book series and isn’t at all what I expected. In fact, I sort of put off reading Olivia because I expected it to be just another of those women support group stories, but I’ve always enjoyed Julie Wright’s books so I began reading, and she didn’t let me down . . . Wright has a compelling style that keeps the story from becoming mere psycho-babble as stories based largely on characters instead of plot too often tend to do. The novel is not without plot; it is just more focused on the awakening and personal growth of Olivia. The friendships with the other women in the book group are important, but not as important as the insights gleaned from discussing books and identifying with the characters in those books. This book kept me turning pages as rapidly as any action novel.”
Julie Wright. Olivia (Deseret News). “Julie Wright portrays Olivia’s dysfunctional marriage relationship in exhausting detail. While Olivia’s development into a more confident woman is a relief, her mid-novel insights into her own perfectionism and spousal neglect are sadly unexplored. Women in book clubs seem to enjoy reading about other women in book clubs, and the books have many fans of the “main character enjoys a good cry” variety. It’s perfectly acceptable to enjoy this kind of fantasy, as long as readers recognize books like this one for what they are — a fantasy.”
Pretty Darn Funny, a comedy web series, premiered in early April. Two episodes have been made available so far. It stars Lisa Clark, is directed by Jeff Parkin, created and produced by Jeff Parkin and Jared Cardon (the creative team behind the dramatic web series The Book of Jer3miah), and written by a team lead by Nick Thacker. It is “presented” by Deseret Book. Season 1 follows Gracie Moore, a mom who gets more than she bargains for when she forms an all-female comedy troupe in efforts to clean up the local comedy scene. It features a cast of colorful, loveable characters. Each 6-8 minute webisode is released weekly.
The DVD of the 2009 web series The Book of Jer3miah was released March 27th.
The feature film Redemption opened in 12 Utah theaters on April 6. It closes this weekend. The film was written and directed by BYU faculty member Tom Russell. Margot Kidder, Jon Gries, Edward Herrman among the actors. The blurb says, “Redemption follows the story of Henry Heath, a lawman on the western frontier in 1862. After the grieving sheriff buries his only child, he learns that Jean Baptiste, an impoverished French immigrant, has been robbing the graves of the recently deceased. Torn between duty, outrage, and guilt about his own past, Heath becomes Baptiste’s only defense against the bloodthirsty contempt of the community and the brutal isolation of the inhospitable Antelope Island where Baptiste has been exiled. Through his reluctant service, Heath is forced to examine his own beliefs about mercy, justice, and redemption. Can Heath show compassion and forgiveness toward the man who seems the least deserving of Christian love?”
The film, which at one point was known as For Robbing the Dead, acted as a hands-on teaching project for BYU film students. It is being distributed by Covenant Communications, the first time they have distributed a feature film that I know of. It was filmed in conjunction with FirstLight Independent LLC, so it can make a profit, unlike earlier BYU films. Here is a Deseret News feature story on the history behind the story.
Reviews: Salt Lake Tribune: Sean Means. 2 stars. “Tom Russell takes a long-forgotten piece of Utah history and finds a spiritual drama lurking within . . . 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. Russell enlists some familiar Hollywood faces — including Barry Corbin (“Northern Exposure”) as a judge and Margot Kidder (“Superman”) as Baptiste’s mentally-ill wife — but the real star is the gorgeous scenery of Antelope Island. Alas, even that’s not enough to keep us engaged through the film’s sluggish pacing.”
ABC4.com, Dan’s Review. B-. “First, let me assure most people that Redemption is better than most local productions on many levels. It is beautifully shot, making hostile, barren landscapes like Antelope Island seem compelling. The script isn’t bad, but the story spends a lot of time on peripheral events, which makes the film drag on a little, especially in the beginning. Did we really need to know about Baptiste’s slight connection to the attack on the territorial governor? Speaking of the story, while writer/director Thomas Russell goes into such intricate detail on the seemingly unimportant events surrounding Baptiste, it’s odd that he chose to take great liberties with his actual fate . . . The casting and acting performances of Redemption are equally puzzling. It’s odd that less-than-obscure actors like Hermann and Gries signed on to barely-there cameos in a local Utah production . . . The local and lesser-known actors all do fine jobs (Freeman and Adamson), but are slightly contrasted with more seasoned heavyweights like Margot Kidder and Barry Corbin. Corbin’s performance outshines just about everyone as a man who mentors Heath and deals with his own feelings about the people he’s killed. So, Redemption has some things going for it, but it’s also a film that is equally frustrating. It’s a worthy attempt for a local production, but perhaps not quite ready for wide release.”
LDS Cinema Online: B. Redemption is a solid and moving film with a resonant theme, amply supported by some strong performances. As a writer, Russell plays the two main characters correctly: neither the “hero” or the “villain” are portrayed in black-and-white manner, and the ‘grayness’ of humanity, in fact, becomes the thrust of the story. Heath is a decent guy who does what is right, but he’s been involved in violent encounters where the “right” and “wrong” may be in question. Maybe he needs forgiveness and mercy as well? . . . Redemption is not perfect. Whether due to theater audio issues or a strong accent or both, a fair amount of Jean Baptiste’s dialogue was unintelligible for me; an obstacle when Baptiste’s dialogue forms a core part of the film’s message. Russell also uses some strange camera angles and haphazard editing that disrupt the flow of the film. Many scenes seem to start or end a second or two too quickly, while others linger two seconds too long without any reason behind it. The story and performances are strong, but to me the directorial and editing style detracted from the film rather than added . . . Flaws aside, Redemption is a solid, thought-provoking film that has a positive message about charity and compassion for everyone.”
Deseret News (Sharon Haddock): 3 stars. 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.
Three Brigham Young University student-made films brought home a record haul of five student Emmys last weekend from the 33rd College Television Awards (see article from Deseret News). The three first-place wins also set a new mark for the school’s film programs. Their spoils from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation included best comedy for “Mr. Bellpond;” best children’s program for “My Hero;” and second place for best documentary for “I Am Not My Body.” A. Todd Smith, director of “Mr. Bellpond,” also won best director, and Mark Williams, director of “I Am Not My Body,” won the Seymour Bricker Family Humanitarian Award. BYU isn’t shy about winning Emmys, with last year’s “DreamGiver” winning two student Emmys and “Inspector 42” winning best drama and best director in 2010. Best comedy winner “Mr. Bellpond” tells the story of Mr. Bellpond, who mysteriously loses his wife but is told she may still be alive. In order to receive more detailed information, he must compose a new masterpiece. Mr. Bellpond also won Winner of Best of Fest and Audience Favorite at the recent BYU Final Cut Film Festival. BYU News video story on the movie.
Richard Dutcher’s Falling will be premiered Friday, April 27, at the Broadway Centre Cinemas in downtown Salt Lake City, UT. This premiere launches the film’s 2012 art house theatrical release. Mr. Dutcher will be present, along with stars Virginia Reece and Maria Eberline, and will answer questions and speak about the film in a Q&A following the screening. Falling was filmed in 2005, and had a couple of screenings in 2008.
At LDS Cinema Online, Kevin Burtt reviews the 2011 DVD The Children of Joseph. His concluding grades are: As a PR piece aimed at Utah Mormons: B, and as a historical documentary: D.
At LDS Cinema Online, Kevin Burtt reviews the recently released 2009 documentary Cleanflix, about the 1990s company that sold edited Hollywood movies, before legal suits stopped their operations. He concludes, “Regardless of your opinion on edited movies, Cleanflix does a good job of mixing an entertaining story with compelling ethical questions for discussion.” Mormon Matters also just released a podcast discussion of Cleanflix and the documentary, featuring Cleanflix filmmakers Joshua Ligairi and Andrew James, host Dan Wotherspoon and panelists Richard Dutcher and Brent Beal.
The premiere of Mahonri Stewart’s A Roof Overhead is being produced by Zion Theatre Company on April 20, 21, 23, 27, and 28 at the Little Brown Theatre in Springville at 7:30 pm, with a Saturday matinee on the 28th. The press release says, “A Roof Overhead is the story of the Fielding family who have hit hard times, so they have let out their basement apartment to a stranger, Sam Forest. When Sam’s militant atheism comes into conflict with the Fieldings’ Mormon values, the differing world views they each hold conflict until things become increasingly personal. “I think the play is topical,” said the play’s director and cast member Randy King, “It’s quite up to the minute and addresses issues that are current in society. The issues aren’t only applicable to Mormonism, but to any belief system. The play deals with the conflict between belief and militant atheism—and the lack of tolerance on both sides. The play addresses those issues broadly, but also in a very personal way. It doesn’t paint either side as all good or all bad, and confronts the challenges of being a believer and a non-believer. Yet it’s not only serious, but it’s got some awfully good comedy in it.” Tickets for the show are $11 for general admission and $9 for students and seniors. Tickets can be purchased or reserved at www.ziontheatrecompany.com or by calling (801) 367-8700. The Little Brown Theatre is located at 248 South Main Street, Springville.
Here is a feature article on the play at the Daily Herald. The play will also be a part of Arizona State University’s Binary Theatre’s 2012-2013 season in Tempe, Arizona.
The BYU Mayhew Playwriting Award Winners are Jessica Spencer for the play Give and Take, and Annie Pulsipher for the play Voodoo You Do.
Ahh, I just remembered I have not done the best-seller lists. Well, it is too late at night, I will try to add them on to the post later next week.