This Week in Mormon Literature, May 4, 2012

It is award season, with the AML Awards two weeks ago, and the Whitney Awards on Saturday. Matthew Kirby also gets an award of his own from mystery writers. Scott Hales talks about teaching Mormon literature to non-Mormon students. Non-Mormon bestselling author Sandra Dallas produces a novel about the tragedy of the Martin Handcart company, and receives strong praise, except for the small problem of only making characters from one of the genders three-dimensional (one out of two isn’t so bad, is it?). Carol Lynch Williams stays in her wheelhouse with a blank verse novel about a girl suffering a tragic loss, and gets starred reviews from both Kirkus and PW. Please send any suggestions or announcements to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.

News and Awards

The Association for Mormon Letters Annual Meeting was held on April 21. The 2011 AML Awards were presented, you can read the citations for each here. Among the winners were Steven L. Peck’s A Scholar of Moab for Novel, works by David Pace and Douglas Thayer for Short Fiction (Thayer’s sixth AML Award, going back to the first awards in 1977), Robinson Wells for Young Adult Fiction, Tyler Chadwick for Poetry, Andrew Hall for Literary Journalism, Michael Allred for Lifetime Achievement in Comics, Marilyn Brown for Outstanding Contributions to Mormon Letters, and an Honorary Lifetime Membership for BYU professor and literary critic Gideon Burton. There was no award for Theater this year.

The LDStorymakers Conference is being held May 3-5 at the Provo Marriott Hotel. Among the guests are speculative fiction author Kevin J. Anderson. The 2011 Whitney Award winners will be announced at the Whitney Award Gala on the evening of the 5th. The Whitney Achievement Awards have already been announced: Jack Weyland and Douglas Thayer.

Paul Colt won the Marilyn Brown Unpublished Novel Competition, which is a separate prize awarded by UVU, but which is presented at the AML Meeting, for his historical fiction Boots and Saddles: A Call to Glory. The UVU press release written by Brown said: “Because the parameters for competition submissions include any revelations about our western region, this year’s committee reviewed several manuscripts other than [by] Mormon[s].” So I guess that means Colt is not Mormon. The release continues, “Boots and Saddles recounts a little known chapter in American Gen. George Patton’s early career. History does not remember Patton as a cavalry officer . . . Boots and Saddles is also the story of the last United States cavalry campaign . . . Paul Colt grew up “as comfortable on the back of a horse as most kids are on a bicycle,” according to his bio. Jen Walhquist, the Marilyn Brown Novel Award committee chair and UVU associate professor of English, was thrilled to discover the quality of Colt’s work and his dedication to accurate western history. “He is known for developing characters that carry the reader with page-turning excitement,” Walhquist said.

Matthew Kirby’s novel Icefall won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for best Juvenile [middle grade] Mystery Novel of 2011.

Brandon Sanderson’s novel The Alloy of Law is one of five finalists for the David Gemmell Legend award for Best Fantasy Novel (which he won last year). Orson Scott Card’s novel The Lost Gate was a nominee but didn’t make the short list.

Six of the women at Segullah, Shelah, Angela, Emily M, Jessie, Melonie, Rosalyn, read the Whitney Nominated books, and gave their final thoughts on the nominated books. Shelah says their collective favorite books for each category were: General: Before I Say Goodbye by Rachel Ann Nunes. Historical: Gale Sears’s Letters in the Jade Dragon Box. Romance: Carla Kelly’s Borrowed Light, with Melanie Jacobson’s novels close behind. Mystery/Suspense: Tricky, with apples and oranges mix of straightforward mysteries and Dan Brown-type suspense novels. “I ended up putting my favorite novel in the category, Anne Perry’s Acceptable Loss, as the first choice. But one of the readers in our group found the subject matter so disturbing that she didn’t finish the book. Then we found ourselves divided among the other books in the category. I also liked Stephanie Black’s Rearview Mirror, which had interesting, complicated characters.” Speculative: Both Dan Wells’s I Don’t Want to Kill You and The Night of Blacker Darkness. Youth Fiction- Speculative: “In this very strong category (I could see any of the five books winning the award), Rosalyn and I were completely charmed by Jessica Day George’s Tuesdays at the Castle . . . We were also big fans of how Bethany Wiggins modernized the Navajo Skinwalkers legend in Shifting, and, to be honest, every other book in this category.” Youth Fiction- General: A strong category. “We particularly liked Tess Hilmo’s sweet Southern coming-of-age story With a Name Like Love, but I absolutely loved Kristen Chandler’s Girls Don’t Fly, and we also liked Sean Griswold’s Head.” Best Novel by a New Author: “We loved Tess Hilmo’s With a Name Like Love, and we also loved Melanie Jacobson’s The List.” Novel of the Year:  Hard to pick one. “We were such big fans of Borrowed Light, With a Name Like Love, I Don’t Want to Kill You, Tuesdays at the Castle, and both of the Jacobson books. Which one got our top vote? We’re not telling.”

The most actively discussed post on A Motley Vision the last two weeks has been Scott Hales on teaching Mormon literature, an interview with Hales about his experience as a graduate student teaching a unit on Mormon Literature to non-Mormon students at the University of Cincinnati as part of a course entitled “American Religious Landscapes”. Scott outlines his hopes and concerns for the course, the texts used (short stories from the anthology Dispensation) and the reaction of his students. A lively discussion follows, which includes some capsule reviews of Mahonri Stewart’s recent play A Roof Overhead. Kent Larsen’s “For I am not Embarrassed by the Writings of Mormonism …” at Times and Seasons riffs on a part of the Hales interview where he says that the non-Mormon students enjoyed the short stories, while a group of Mormon seminary students he taught refused to take Mormon-authored poetry seriously. Scott talked about the class earlier at this blog and at his own blog. Scott also provided Name That Mormon Novel: Meme Edition at his blog. It is a hard game, I got less than half of the memes.

Also at A Motley Vision, Theric interviewed comic artist Jake Parker about his work and his recent Kickstarter campaign. Kent Larson presents two Sunday Lit Crit Sermons: Nephi Anderson on Purpose in Fiction from 1898 (Anderson, the author of Added Upon is pro-purpose), and John Widtsoe on the Reading Habit from 1939. Kent also updates his annual Poetry in Print bibliography of Mormon-authored poetry collections in print.

Kent Larsen and Ardis E. Parshall continue to mine old Church periodicals for literary works. Kent’s Literary Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine series continues with #17: The Seer, a 1845 hymn text by John Taylor honoring Brother Joseph and his seership, and #18: O give me back my Prophet dear, an 1845 poem/hymn text by John Taylor about Brother Joseph and martyrdom. Ardis introduces A Daughter of Martha, and 8-part soap opera/serial from the Improvement Era, 1931-32, and several poems.

New Books and their reviews

Michelle Davidson Argyle. The Breakaway. Rhemalda Publishing, May 1. Young Adult Suspense. A girls is kidnapped, but prefers the company of her criminal captors to hear old life, plays a dangerous game to make one of the captor think she is falling in love with him.

Whitney Boyd. Tanned, Toned, and Totally Faking It. WIDO, April 10. Chick lit. A woman learns to deal with her sudden celebrity. Debut novel.

Cami Checketts. Dead Running. Self-published, April 21. Suspense. Woman on the run from mercenaries. Checketts published a novel with Cedar Fort in 2009.

Sandra Dallas. True Sisters. St. Martin’s Press, April 24. Historical fiction. About four women in the Martin company handcart company, by a bestselling non-Mormon author. Polygamy is a major issue in the book.

Denver Post interview with Dallas about True Sisters. She talks about the research in the pioneer journals she did at Church Archives.

Jennie Hansen (Goodreads). 2 stars.  “I found this book disappointing. What is billed as a story about the Martin handcart company turned into an anti-polygamy rant and a put down of Mormon men, especially those in leadership positions. The plot is disjointed and told from so many points of view it lacks cohesiveness. There is no sense of sisterhood except between the two biological sisters . . . At times the writing is brilliant; other times it wanders so much it loses any real impact.”

Publishers Weekly: “Dallas (The Bride’s House; Prayers for Sale) tells the story of the Martin Handcart Company through the eyes of several fictional women characters, who come to life in the author’s imagination as real flesh-and-blood participants. Although the first half moves slowly, Dallas’s character exposition is strong, and the latter half becomes more gripping as the catastrophe unfolds. One shortcoming is the novel’s sometimes one-dimensional male characters, who are pompous, selfish, or weak. But the focus is on strong women and the beautiful relationships they can create even in impossible circumstances. As such, this is a memorable story.” 

Kirkus Review: “Together with a detailed cast of supporting characters, they bear and bury children and other loved ones, finding a kind of sisterhood and inner strength. They are further burdened (and bound) by the rampant sexism of the new faith, which encourages polygamy and views new women as “fresh fish.” Dallas’ vivid prose makes the journey’s escalating hardships feel real, as Anne “no longer kept track of time or distance, just pushed the cart in a kind of daze, her mind as much a blur as the snow that fell.” Readers enticed by Big Love will be particularly interested in the origins of this insular community. This fact-based historical fiction, celebrating sisterhood and heroism, makes for a surefire winner.”

Daniel Harring. Oldsoul. Pendrall Publishing, April 24.  YA Paranormal. A young policeman discovers he is a vessel for hundreds of reincarnated souls, learns to communicate with one, and gets involved in a battle between post-mortal spirits. Debut novel.

Jenni James. Prince Tennyson. StoneHouse Ink, April 16. Middle grade inspirational novel, 126 pages. 10-year old girl loses her dad in the Iraq War, Mother breaks down, girl decides to prove whether or not there is a God. StoneHouse Ink is branch of Ampelon publishing in Boise, a Christian publisher.

Josi Kilpack. Daisy. Covenant(?), April 28. Newport Ladies Book Club #2. General women’s fiction. The second in this 4-book series written by four authors. I am not sure if it is officially published by Covenant or Deseret Book, since the two branches of the same company made some kind of deal for this series written by authors from the two branches.

Lynn Kurland. All For You. Jove, April 24. Speculative (time-travel to medieval times) Romance.

Betsy Love. Soulfire. Walnut Springs, April 9. Book of Mormon historical fiction. Set in King Noah’s City of Nephi, Zephenia loves Alma the Elder.

Anne Perry. Blood Red Rose. Barrington, Feb. 14. Timepiece series #3. (Young adult time travel). Rose turns up on a slave ship trading after the abolition of slavery.

—–, Dorchester Terrace. Ballantine, April 3. Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series # 27.

Booklist: “The Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series continues to roll smoothly along. It’s now 1896, and Thomas, in charge temporarily of Special Branch, has the unpleasant job of turning his investigative eye on his own people, looking for a mole in the organization. . . . As usual, the plotting is rock solid, with a terrorism-themed mystery that will resonate with contemporary readers, but it’s the characters and their environment that make the book such a pleasure to read. Perry’s Victorian England is well drawn, a broad-stroke portrait that gives readers the spirit of the time and place without getting mired down in too much detail, and Charlotte and Thomas remain two of the most vividly conceived protagonists in the historical-mystery genre. Another fine entry in an always entertaining series.”

Kirkus Review: “Slow to catch fire, but full of pleasing twists once it does—one of Perry’s most successful attempts to cloak contemporary geopolitical anxieties in plummy faux-Victorian periods.”

Book Reporter: “We find the Pitts dealing with a situation unlike any they have been presented with to date. Specifically, this is the issue of operating within a higher social caste as a result of Thomas taking over as the new chief of Scotland Yard’s Special Branch . . . It is moments like this that allow Anne Perry to excel. She has consistently depicted all layers of the social spectrum — from the wealthy to those inhabiting the underground of London’s dark streets — but this may be the first foray into her characters moving from middle to upper class . . . Plot questions, along with many juicy moral dilemmas, drive the plot forward as the always clever Anne Perry infuses Dorchester Terrace with the right amount of intrigue and complex relationships that have made this prolific series one of the finest in modern mystery fiction.”

Jolene Perry. Knee Deep. Tribute Books, April 25. Young Adult. Romance and an abusive relationship. Third novel, second with this small non-LDS publisher.

Aprilynne Pike. Destined. HarperTeen, May 1. YA Paranormal Romance. Volume 4 (final volume) of the Wings series about faeries and other creatures.

VOYA: “In this last installment of the Wings series, destinies and betrayals are unearthed at breathtaking speed. The series is action-packed, and the final chapters of the story are no exception. A thrilling page-turner, many readers will read the book cover-to-cover, barely daring to breath. The novel explores the borders between friendship and romantic love, and self-sacrifice and self-preservation, and it does not shy away from the complicated nature of such relationships and choices . . . The book ends on a hopeful note and perhaps even the possibility of a continued series.”

Kirkus Review: “The bloom is off the rose in the conclusion of a paranormal romance featuring faeries who are, biologically, plants . . . Cliché (“A true hero knows love is more powerful than hate”) and purple prose (“A single tear, glistening in the moonlight, slid down her porcelain cheek”) sprout up, overwhelming vivid images and one particularly clever textual misdirection. Despite claiming a “deadly fast-forward” pace, fight scenes drag. Laurel hopes her love triangle will become a neat square (with David finally noticing Chelsea), but just before—before—a strong closing chapter, Pike interrupts with an Author’s Note, counseling, “if you prefer your endings happy… maybe you should stop reading here.” This bizarre Note disrupts the fiction and sabotages the last chapter’s emotional power—and its content. With mediocre exposition and with battles superseding the previous volumes’ fluttery abstinence-romance scenes, this won’t attract new fans, but it will gratify loyal followers by providing closure.”

Suze Reese. ExtraNormal. Valarian Press, April 22. YA Paranormal Romance/Science Fiction. A girl from another planet comes to Earth on a student observation program, falls in love with two boys. Second novel, her first, under a slightly different name, was published by a LDS publisher in 2008. This is the debut novel from Valarian Press, a new publisher which claims to be “a cooperative of talented authors who are interested in helping one another grow and flourish in their art.” The website lists three staff members, it remains to be seen whether this is a legitimate attempt to create a micro-publishing house.

Theresa Sneed. Earthbound. Walnut Springs, April 26. Prequel to No Angel.  Pre-existence spirits struggle over the question of Choice in a dramatization of the War in Heaven.

Carol Lynch Williams. Waiting. Simon & Schuster, May 1. After her brother’s death, a teen struggles to rediscover love and find redemption. Includes frank and complicated discussions of faith and sexuality. Written in first-person blank verse.

   Kirkus Review: Starred review. “Williams, as always, keeps her prose, this time arranged on the page as prose poems, sensitive, intelligent and completely absorbing. She slowly peels back the veils on London’s, her father’s and her mother’s psychology, eventually revealing the strong and the weak and, ultimately, how Zach died. The family she depicts are former missionaries, giving the book strong spiritual undertones that should appeal to religious as well as general audiences. Exceptional.”

   Publishers Weekly: Starred review. “First-person stanzas convey the emotions and memories of high school student London as she grieves over the suicide of her older brother, Zach . . . Exposing the heartbreak of a broken family, the complexities of denial, and the healing power of friendship, Lynch’s writing is characteristically gritty but also inspirational as London challenges her mother’s misplaced anger and creates her own route to recovery.”

   Chris Crowe: “This is a wonderful story about dealing with loss, all kinds of really hard loss. Williams places the reader inside the head of a sensitive, wounded young woman who is struggling to deal with the loss of her older brother and with the collateral damage his suicided caused to her family. It’s a moving, gripping read.”

Jennifer Shaw Wolf. Breaking Beautiful. Walker Books for Young Readers, April 24. YA coming of age/mystery. A teenage girl survives a car accident which kills her abusive boyfriend.  Debut novel.

   Publishers Weekly: “Wolf’s debut impressively weaves Allie’s chilling memories with present-day drama. Part romance, part mystery, this solid outing offers a persuasive portrait of guilt and recovery.”

   VOYA: “Shaw gets inside the head of a girl suffering guilt, loss, and relief at the death of her abusive boyfriend; and crafts a realistic journey through, not only recovery, but also the mine field of anger and blame from Trip’s friends and family. Shaw’s characters, both adult and teen, are well-drawn . . . With just-right pacing, the author pulls all the threads together for a surprising, but satisfying ending. Teenage girls, especially, will find this novel an illuminating story, but it is more than “chick lit.” Any young person can identify with Allie’s struggle.”

   School Library Journal: “Teens will be consumed by the mystery, and romantics will hope that Allie and Blake can make it even though it seems that the town is against them. The author has done a good job of helping readers understand the accident as it is told in flashbacks yet intertwined with present-day events. The story unfolds in a convincing manner.”

Reviews of older books

N. C. Allen. The Legend of the Jewel. (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books). B+. “Legend of the Jewel works well as a standalone, but even better as the first installment in an exciting new series. Isabelle’s a compelling heroine, someone who’s tough, though grieving and vulnerable. The romance between her and James develops in a believable manner, while never feeling dull or stale. Although this is LDS historical fiction, it’s not preachy (really, it hardly mentions religion at all); it’s just a fun, clean mystery that’s well-written and entertaining. I loved it.”

Heidi Ashworth. Miss Delacourt Has Her Day (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books). B-. “Like Miss Delacourt Speaks Her Mind, this second novel in the series is a fun, lighthearted Regency romance. The characters may not be wholly original, but they’re likable and compelling. The plot gets silly at times, but really, Miss Delacourt Has Her Day is lots of fun. I enjoyed this light, easy read about a resolute young woman, her dashing fiancee and all the loops through which they have to leap before they can achieve their Happily Ever After.”

Marilyn Brown. Fires of Jerusalem (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books). C. “I remember slogging through the book, turning pages (well, scrolling through screens on my Kindle Fire) as quickly as I could so that I could move onto something more exciting. So dull was this reading experience for me that I remember almost nothing about it. Except that the story’s chock-full of historical detail, while it skimps mightily on things like plot, character development, and engaging prose . . . I think what the novel really lacks, above all, is dynamic storytelling. Because, I’m telling you, I had to fight to stay awake through this one. Now, I absolutely admit that I’m not a huge fan of fiction based on scripture and that I never would have picked up this book if it hadn’t been chosen as a Whitney Award finalist, but still, the book had a whole lot of unrealized potential. It could have been a riveting page-turner, it just…wasn’t.”

David Clark. The Death of a Disco Dancer (MacEvoy, Shelf Actualization). “I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised. This book will lull you into thinking you’re reading a reverie of sophomoric highjinks, funny enough to keep your inner 11-year old in stitches. But before you know it, you’re steeped in a poignant coming of age story that deals with themes of love, family, faith, forgiveness, and death. Clark alternates between the main narrative, the summer joys and pitfalls of Todd Whitman’s Arizona youth, and intercalary chapters set in the present-day, as Todd and his siblings gather to say goodbye to, and bury, their mother. The intercalaries provide further meaning and a touching backdrop to the main story of the novel . . . As for that world, the Mormon milieu that might make some readers wary, I’ll just say that there is no tortuous exposition or preachy explanation to be found anywhere. This book will appeal to anyone who’s ever been eleven years old. And since it’s the story of a pre-pubescent boy, there’s nearly as much mention of the Dallas Cowboys and the Phoenix Suns as there is of the family’s religion. Any question you might have about certain terms or topics can be answered by the short glossary Clark provides at the back of the volume. It’s a book that should not be pidgeon-holed as something it is not. What it is, is a compelling peek into the world of a 1981 pre-teen, who’s doing his best to figure life out as adulthood barrels towards him. The Death of a Disco Dancer is a poignant and entertaining read, with characters you can’t help but care about. And as we pointed out yesterday, Clark’s easy, colorful prose is at once hilarious and heart-rending. Do yourself a favor and read it.”

Linda Weaver Clarke. Deseret Intrigue (Gamila’s Book Reviews). “I wished that I had enjoyed this book a bit more, but struggled on account of the fact that the author’s style relied quite a bit on telling rather than showing. This problem affected every aspect of the book from description, dialogue, characterization, and plot . . . I had a hard time with the dialogue too, which I often found to be of the maid and butler variety and very info dumpy. The characters were also very repetitive about the whole thunder god plot line . . . Despite these problems, the author managed to make the ranch a fairly interesting setting and tell and decent mystery story in the process.”

Julianne Donaldson. Edenbrooke. (Publishers Weekly) Stared review: “Inspirational publisher Shadow Mountain launches the G-rated Proper Romance line (romance “at its very best—and at its cleanest,” the introduction promises) with this delightful and completely engrossing Heyeresque Regency debut . . . This beautiful love story will warm (only) the reader’s heart.”

Julianne Donaldson. Edenbrooke (An Equivalent Centre of Self). “I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised. I’m a long-time fan of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer–and this is the first regency I’ve read in years to come close to Heyer’s deftness with language and characterization of regency era life (of course, Austen remains pretty inimitable) . . . I thought the romance here was delightful and would recommend this to anyone who likes a good romance.”

Julianne Donaldson. Edenbrooke (Mindy-LDSWBR). 5 stars. “This book is an absolute delight. I loved everything about it. Especially the twirling . . . Not only is this a great romance story, there is some page-turning suspense as well. The author did an excellent job with the setting, and language of the characters.”

Sarah Dunster. The Lightning Tree (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine). “Lightning Tree by Sarah Dunster is filled with mixed messages. It’s a compelling early Church history story, but leaves a few holes . . . Much research has gone into the historical background of this book and the setting, clothing, and buildings of the era have a feeling of reality. The plot is interesting though the ending is a little too predictable. I found some of the characters inconsistent . . . [Hansen discusses specific details that she found illogical or inconsistent.] My biggest disappointment with an otherwise well-told story is the absence of faith during the trials these people faced. Yes, there were a few admonitions to Maggie to pray, but she never exhibited any faith in God and her foster family certainly didn’t, but the story would have been strengthened if there had been more evidence of belief and reliance on their hard-earned testimonies by at least the kind, good people like Maggie’s friend and his mother. Faced with the possibility of leaving Provo with her foster family, Maggie doesn’t seem particularly concerned about leaving the Church. In spite of the author’s excellent writing skills, the story of an important time in Church history seems a little flat without a spiritual element . . . [Hansen discusses copyediting errors] In spite of the problems I’ve mentioned, this is a compelling story that will stay with the reader.”

Tony Graff. Juniper Crescent (Tristi Pinkston, AML). “They have taken DNA from animals and placed it in human bodies, and that animal DNA has given those people a second chance at life . . . This story was a real think-piece for me. We have a father desperate to spare his daughter from suffering. We have a girl who just wants to be normal. They make a choice that will not only cause suffering, but will keep her from being anything but normal, and society persecutes them for their decision . . . This book was written for a national audience, but the author is LDS and there are no themes that would offend an LDS reader. The editing left a lot to be desired, but the story concept was amazing and I stayed glued to it the whole way through. “Juniper Crescent” is the first in a series that will follow the Isis patients on their journeys, and I can’t wait to read the next one.”

Heather Justesen. Family by Design (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine). “Justesen has a charming way of depicting the interaction within families, including extended families. She also portrays well the pressures piled on families separated by military deployments, the demands of work, and the fears and misunderstandings that occur in blended families. She manages well the uncertainties, hopefulness, dreams, and insecurities that accompany falling in love. The mystery behind Rena’s problems at work adds extra spice to the story. This book will be enjoyed by those who like subtle love stories, family fiction, and those who like a bit of fast action and mystery.”

Heather Justesen. Family by Design (Deseret News). “Rena is a likable and relatable character that the reader can’t help but root for . . . “Family by Design” could be criticized for being a bit predictable and overly sentimental . . . . Anything that could go wrong does go wrong, yet Justesen finds a way to make everything work out for the characters in her novel. That aside, it is an enjoyable, uplifting read to which both those who are Mormon and not audiences can relate.”

Jennie Hansen. The Heirs of Southbridge (Deseret News).

Jennie Hansen. If I Should Die (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books). D. “After my husband read If I Should Die he described it as a “Mormon Desperate Housewives.” Since I kind of love that idea (I mean, how many times have you wondered if your totally-together Relief Society president or your perfect Peter Priesthood neighbor was hiding a deep, dark secret?), I was excited to read If I Should Die. Then, I actually read it and … yeah. Despite the intriguing Desperate Housewives vibe, the novel’s another run-of-the-mill Mormon mystery. It’s not just predictable (I knew the murderer the minute I “met” her/him and I’m usually clueless when it comes to guessing whodunit), it’s also far-fetched and poorly constructed. The characters are cliché, the dialogue is stiff, the red herrings way too obvious. Altogether, a disappointing read. A bummer, too, because I really do like the idea of a Mormon Desperate Housewives. I just know my R.S. president’s hiding something. No one can be that sweet, spiritual and giving …”

Martine Leavitt. Keturah and Lord Death. (An Equivalent Centre of Self). “I’d picked this up a year or two ago but somehow couldn’t get into it–reading it again now, I have no idea what my problem was. This time around, I devoured the book. It was beautifully written (there were some gorgeous lines), but more than that, the storyline between Keturah and Lord Death was powerful and engrossing . . . What she finds–about herself, her home, her friends, and her one true love, is moving and surprising. I really loved this book.”

Melinda R. Morgan. Etudes (Karen Hamilton, AML). “I don’t know if Morgan was inspired by the Twilight series or not, but the basic outline of the plot follows those books. However, that is where the two books end in similarity . . . This is a very well written book. The characters are nicely developed, so that they are three dimensional and seem to be real. As the story progresses the situations that the characters find themselves in are realistic, as are their reactions to them. The landscape of this story is rich in detail and pops off the page.”

Steven L. Peck. A Short Stay in Hell (Book Pleasures). “Peck’s vision of Hell is arresting and increasingly surreal. It’s a captivating re-imagining of this famed final end for the morally culpable. There don’t seem to be any profound lessons for living, nor significant moral precepts at work here – just a guided tour through a very strange world and the expected mental discombobulating one would logically experience in such tortuously genteel environs. It might all mean something deeper, but what I got from the book was simply the unsettling thrill of a vicarious trip through an original and bizarre afterlife.”

Misty Moncur. Daughter of Helamen. (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books). C. “Daughter of Helaman has the potential to be a really exciting and inspiring story, especially since it features a heroine who’s not only tough physically, but valiant spiritually. The problem is that Keturah’s a little too tough. She shows little vulnerability and even less humility. Worse, she achieves her goal with almost no resistance—and in the middle of the novel, too! Plus, Keturah spends the majority of her time in training, not doing any real life-or-death type fighting. While her skirmishes with Gideon keep things interesting for awhile, nothing real really happens until the very end of the book. Now, I’m guessing this is because Moncur’s setting us up for a sequel, but still, nobody likes stories where nothing happens. Unfortunately, Daughter of Helaman qualifies. I would have liked the book a whole lot better if Keturah actually had to work to achieve her goal, if she had to suffer a little humiliation, if she had to struggle a bit to get what she wanted. As is, the heroine achieves her goal way too easily, the climax of her story comes way too soon, and I stopped caring about what happened to her way too early. I wanted to love this one, I really did, but I got bored with it long before I had a chance to get into it, you know? And that’s a real bummer because I think this one has definite potential. It just didn’t quite reach it, not in my mind, anyway.”

Rachel Ann Nunes. Final Call (Tristi Pinkston, AML). “I have to admit, this wasn’t my favorite of Rachel’s books (that would actually be “Where I Belong”). The editing was a little loose, which surprised me, and some of the plot points weren’t developed as much as I’ve seen from this author in the past. That said, the story was intriguing and held my interest throughout, and as I said, I’m looking forward to the sequel. Autumn is a likable character with her penchant for organic foods, her refusal to wear shoes unless it’s freezing outside, and her fierce devotion to her family and determination to follow her heart wherever it takes her. She is one of the more unusual, creative characters we’ve seen on the market in recent years, and it’s been fun to get to know her throughout her adventures.”

Gale Sears. Letters in the Jade Dragon Box (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books). B-. “As she did in her last novel, author Gale Sears again takes a unique moment in not only world history, but also in LDS history, and weaves an inspiring fictional story based on the real people who experienced it . . . While the novel lacks a bit in plot and depth, I found the historical detail fascinating. Overall, the book is a fast, compelling read that I found both interesting and entertaining.”

Michael Wallace. The Righteous (Laura Compton, AML). “A plural wife plotting escape from the polygamous community of Blister Creek in southern Utah opens this novel, pulling readers quickly into the middle of secret combinations and blood atonement murders . . . As a suspense/thriller mystery, “The Righteous” is a page-turner with characters complex enough to wrestle with questions about living in a patriarchal, polygamous society in the 21st century. Occasional philosophizing adds depth to characters who often get short shrift in this genre. Wallace takes a page from Stephen King, using descriptions of violence strong enough to upset in a way violence should, but leaving enough unsaid to allow imagination to fill in the gaps (or not). LDS readers may find the inclusion of pre-1990 temple ceremonies troubling, but perhaps not as disturbing as the descriptions of penalties applied.”

Stephanie Worlton. Hope’s Journey (Shelah Books It). 3 stars [Shelah has gone from her 1-10 scale to a GoodReads 5 star scale, hoping to avoid grade inflation]. “Hope’s Journey is an important book, I’d even say a necessary story that our culture needs to hear. Worlton documents the ambivalence that both Alex and Sydney feel, the confusion and anger that they both experience, the judgment that Sydney experiences every day as her belly grows, the double standard that allows Alex to remain relatively free from judgment and even to date other people during Sydney’s pregnancy, the pressure Sydney feels to put the baby up for adoption, the economic realities that face teen parents, and the role that prayer and repentance play in their lives. It’s an interesting, nuanced story, and Worlton admits that it was influenced by her own experience becoming a teenage mother. I think it’s one that should be widely read by Young men and Women, not as a cautionary tale but as one that shows the full ramifications of an act that Worlton doesn’t even mention by name . . . That said, the book wasn’t always easy to read. I don’t fault Worlton for this as much as I fault Cedar Fort, which published the novel. I’ve read a lot of Cedar Fort books over the last few years, and they all suffer from a lack of thorough editing. In this case, the most problematic thing for me is Alex’s voice– he’s characterized as a handsome high school jock, but his prose, especially his thoughts, are really flowery– they’re not the way an 18-year-old guy would talk . . . And then there are the excess of adjectives, the dialogue that doesn’t really work, the minor misspellings. These are the kinds of things a good editor should catch. It’s kind of a shame, in this case, because it’s an accessible, instructive, interesting story, but it could have been better than it is with a really close, careful editing.”

Short Fiction

Space Battles, a new science fiction anthology edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt, contains two stories by Mormon authors. “Bait and Switch” by Jaleta Clegg: A cadet brought aboard a warship winds up manning weapons when the ship comes under attack. “Guard Dog” by Brad R. Torgersen and Mike Resnick: A father protecting Earth from threatening invaders finds himself fighting the last person he expected.

Theater

The Zion Theatre Company wrapped up its run of Mahonri Stewart’s A Roof Overhead at the Little Brown Theater in Springville. Margaret Blair Young reviewed the production on this blog. She wrote, “Stewart’s characters are all strong, all opinionated, and all delightfully quirky in ways that help the audience suspend disbelief. An audience member could come to the play over several performances and glean new insights to his various themes of diversity, family bonds, and the dimensions of maternal influence. The play is beautifully directed and acted, and the stage is so small that the audience feels as though they are a part of the production.”  Russell Wane’s review in the Utah Theater Bloggers Association was more critical. He wrote, “Because this is a new script, I feel like I have to comment on Stewart’s work as the playwright. Stewart is certainly capable of crafting some powerful scenes, like when Sam and Ashera are invited to dinner, or when Naomi returns from her mission. However, much of the dialogue is forced and unnatural (the best example of this is seen in the Fieldings’ reactions towards Ashera’s name). Stewart is also heavy handed in his foreshadowing . . . Stewart . . . seems intent to write a work that serves as an imitation of the larger conflict that observant Mormons feel in modern American society. This is a society where they want to be accepted, even as it grows more divergent from LDS viewpoints and practices. As a microcosm of modern LDS life, I feel like A Roof Overhead has its moments. However, sometimes the play feels too allegoric. The characters seem like symbols and not real human beings . . . Overall, A Roof Overhead has its flaws, but the cast and director do a fine job with the material they were given. It’s a suitable show for the intimate Little Brown Theater.”

In March the Plan-B Theater Company, based in Salt Lake City, published Even More Plays from Behind the Zion Curtain, a collection of four plays by Utah playwrights, all of which were premiered by Plan-B in the last three years. It includes Boarderlands, by Eric Samuelsen, which received Salt Lake City Weekly’s 2011 Arty Awards for Best Theatre Production, Best Original Play and Best Theatre Performance

Film

Richard Dutcher announced a new initiative, Project 23, by which he intends to make a feature film, titled The Boys at the Bar, and train 23 aspiring producers in film production. Meanwhile, last week’s run of his film Falling at the Broadway Centre Cinemas in Salt Lake City has been held over for another week. Dutcher talked about the film and how his “faith (or lack thereof) informs his art” in a podcasted interview with public radio station KCPW.

Bestsellers

New York Times Bestseller Lists, April 8th to May 13th. 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. [I did not do the bestsellers last time, so I have a lot to catch up with].

Hardcover Fiction

x, x, #15, #29, #32, #34 DORCHESTER TERRACE, by Anne Perry (1 week on the full list). 1 week on the USA Today list, at #116. Latest in the Pitt mystery series.

x, x, x, x, x, #33 TRUE SISTERS, by Sandra Dallas (1 week).  Non-Mormon author’s novel about the Martin Handcart company.

Hardcover Nonfiction

x, x, #14, #22, x, x HEAVEN IS HERE, by Stephanie Nielson with Amy Ferguson (1 week on full list). 1 week on the USA Today list, at #108. Memoir.

Trade Fiction Paperback

#20, #24, #33, #31, #34, x HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET, by Jamie Ford (75th week on the full list). Dropped off the extended list for the first time in over a year.

Mass Market Paperbacks

#16, #33, x, #35, #22, x ENDER’S GAME, by Orson Scott Card (5th week on the full list). Also reaching the bottom of the USA Today list. #148 this week. I do not see a lot of other 25-year old novels popping up on the list.

Children’s Chapter Books

#5, #7, #7, #6, x, x  SEEDS OF REBELLION, by Brandon Mull (5th week).3 weeks at USA Today, peaking at #43. Second volume in the series. The numbers are down from volume 1, which lasted 8 weeks on the chapter book list.

x, x, #10, x, x, x CROSSED, by Ally Condie (9th week).

Children’s Paperback

#4, #3, #5, #7, #6, #6 MATCHED, by Ally Condie (32nd week).

x, #4, #10, #8, x, x A WORLD WITHOUT HEROES, by Brandon Mull (9th week).

Children’s Series

#10, #7, #8, #9, #5, #8 THE MAZE RUNNER TRILOGY, by James Dashner (20th week).

Deseret Book bestsellers

  1. Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson
  2. Passage on the Titanic by Anita Stansfield
  3. Banana Split by Josi S. Kilpack
  4. The Heirs of Southbridge by Jennie Hansen
  5. Final Call by Rachel Ann Nunes
  6. Caller ID by Rachelle Christensen
  7. The Newport Ladies Book Club: Olivia by Julie Wright
  8. The Wedding Letters by Jason F. Wright
  9. The Walk, Book 3: The Road to Grace by Richard Paul Evans
  10. The Newport Ladies Book Club: Daisy by Josi S. Kilpack
  11. Letters in the Jade Dragon Box by Gale Sears
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6 Responses to This Week in Mormon Literature, May 4, 2012

  1. Wm says:

    Perhaps Kirkus needs a fair-minded, tough LDS reviewer in its stable.

  2. Scott Hales says:

    Mormons reviewing books about Mormons?!? What kind of insight could they offer? Geez!

  3. Kenneth Pike says:

    A quick note (correction?)–looks like you missed that VOYA’s review for DESTINED included a star of critical acclaim (which is the second star for the Wings series, the first being from Booklist on SPELLS). A star from VOYA and Kirkus hated it… that usually means very good things for sales!

    • Andrew Hall says:

      Thanks Kenneth. Do you know a way to find new VOYA reviews, and if they have stars or not? I got the review from bn.com, and it did not say about the star. Now I see the Amazon page mentions the star, but they do not quote the whole review. And it does not come up on the VOYA website (which seems to only have books up to 2011). Is there a good place to find them?

      • Kenneth Pike says:

        Short of actually subscribing to VOYA, I don’t know (and actually I don’t think even the older reviews on VOYA’s website explicitly list stars–their review system is a little more complex than that of their competitors). The big reviewers do tend to share reviews with the publisher in advance of publication; for example HarperTeen reported the VOYA review to Aprilynne (including the fact that it was “starred”) in late March. But without subscribing directly, reviews you see online are always a bit of hearsay.

        Something to keep in mind about finding reviews on bookseller sites in particular is that they tend to come from multiple submission sources, i.e. reviewers and publishers both (and authors, too, in the case of Amazon). This can result in some interesting comparisons of focus. If you take a look at Robison Wells’ VARIANT page at BN.com, for example, you’ll see that it has two VOYA entries. One is the full-text entry from VOYA but with no mention of his star, much like the one on Aprilynne’s DESTINED page. The other is a shorter quote from that same VARIANT review, but the heading on the condensed review specifically notes that the VOYA review is starred. My guess would be that HarperTeen’s marketing people submitted the snippet that focuses on the star, while VOYA submitted the full-text review minus the rating.

        Which means that timely reporting probably renders occasional omissions like this one a bit inevitable (unless you wanted to take up a collection for some editorial review subscriptions, I suppose). I don’t think it’s anything to be overly concerned about. But probably worth being aware of.

  4. Andrew Hall says:

    The Whitney Awards gala, wrapping up the LDStorymakers Conference, was held last night. You can see the list of the winners at: http://whitneyawards.com/wordpress/2011-winners/
    Best Novel of the Year
    I Don’t Want to Kill You, by Dan Wells
    [This is the second year in a row Dan Wells won Best Novel of the Year. He won in a tie last year with Brandon Sanderson.]
    Best Novel by a New Author
    With a Name Like Love, by Tess Hilmo
    Best General Fiction
    Before I Say Goodbye, by Rachel Ann Nunes
    [This was Nunes' fourth nomination and first win.]
    Best Historical
    Letters in the Jade Dragon Box, by Gale Sears
    [This was Sears' fourth nomination and first win.]
    Best Romance
    Borrowed Light, by Carla Kelly
    [Kelly's first nomination and win.]
    Best Mystery/Suspense
    Rearview Mirror, by Stephanie Black
    [This is the fourth year in a row that Black has won this catagory.]
    Best Youth Fiction – General
    With a Name Like Love, by Tess Hilmo
    [Debut novel]
    Best Youth Fiction – Speculative
    Variant, by Robison Wells
    [This was the first nomination and win by the founder of the Whitney Awards.]
    Best Speculative Fiction
    The Alloy of Law: A Mistborn Novel, by Brandon Sanderson
    [This was Sanderson's 7th nomination and 4th win.]

    Jack Weyland was the Outstanding Achievement Award Winner, and Douglas Thayer was the Lifetime Achievement Award Winner. Their citations can be found at:
    http://whitneyawards.com/wordpress/achievement-award-winners/

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