This Week in Mormon Literature, August 5, 2012

I just became aware of a new publishing house based in Provo, Jolly Fish Press, which has announced an audacious publishing schedule of 16 books over the next 18 months.  BYU professor of animation Ryan Woodward has created the first animated comic book, with help from Dale Murphy. Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston have released both graphic novel and traditional novel versions of an Ender prequel. Tristi Pinkston tries out the serialized novel form. Mahonri Stewart’s Zion Theatre Company, Matthew Greene, The Echo Theater, and the Little Brown Theater are all opening shows this week. Please send any additions or corrections to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.

News and blog posts

Jolly Fish Press, a new independent publisher based in Provo, opened in October 2011, and recently released its first two books. A media release says, “With an editorial board consisting of a team of associate editors who’ve worked on editorial projects for Houghton Mifflin, Allyn & Bacon, Pearson’s Group, and Harper Collins to name a few, it is on the lookout for outstanding manuscripts with impeccable story-telling and writing. Jolly Fish Press currently has forty amazing titles under its name scheduled for 2013 and 2014 releases, with its first three titles releasing 2012.” While many of the publisher’s staff and authors appear to be Mormon, and Mormonism plays a role in at least two of the announced books, they are not trying to be a “Mormon market” publisher.  The main players appear to be Christopher Loke, the Executive Editor, and Kirk Cunningham, the head publicist. Cunningham reports that the company is “owned by a partnership . . .  many are invested in the company who do not wish to be disclosed at this time, besides myself and Christopher Loke.” JFP gave me a list of their books currently scheduled for publication, including 3 for 2012 and 13 for 2013. All but one of the titles are fiction, covering a wide spectrum of genres, with YA fantasy as the most common. The majority are written by debut authors. I am impressed so far with Jolly Fish Press’s professionalism, as well as its active use of social media.

BYU animation professor Ryan Woodward has created the first animated comic book, ‘Bottom of the Ninth’ (Deseret News). “When Woodward released his cutting-edge iPhone and iPad app “Bottom of the Ninth” in June, he left behind conventional notions of “what professors do” for the umpteenth time. “Bottom of the Ninth,” set in fictional Tao City in the year 2172, is the first-ever animated comic book. “By definition, animation means ‘the illusion of life,’” Woodward said. “So when I say it’s the first animated comic book, it is the first one where you can actually touch the panels and get full 24-frames-per-second animation and characters talking, moving (and) running through a 3D world. “It’s not just sliding artwork — it’s actual, full-blown animation like if you were to go watch a Pixar movie. And that hasn’t been done before.”” The book was featured in an article at Wired. “During a Facebook chat with Tyson Murphy, one of his Brigham Young University animation students. Murphy mentioned that his father, former Atlanta Braves standout Dale Murphy, might be interested in helping out. The two-time National League MVP ended up providing the voice of Murph, a former player turned announcer, and giving script feedback from someone who’s stood in the batter’s box.”

At A Motley Vision: An Interview with D.J. Butler on his steampunk novel The City of the Saints, Laura Craner on Mother versus Novelist (the MMA of mother-guilt, consecration, writing, children, and permission), Patricia Karamesines on A cursive state of affairs, and Theric Jepson on Three new singles from hot Mormon bands.

Kent Larsen’s Sunday Lit Crit series: Brigham Young on Other Languages, Rosannah C. Irvine on Mormon Literature (1939), and Elsie C. Carroll on the Benefits of Literature (1930).

Marcus, King of Ordeals: A Review of Nephi Anderson’s “Marcus King, Mormon”. Scott Hales, The Low-tech World.   A review of Anderson’s second novel, from 1900.  It “enjoys a less exalted place in Mormon memory [then his better known first novel, Added Upon (1898)]. Unlike its predecessor, it is a historical novel that limits its narrative scope to the drama of a few American characters in their second estates. Marcus, the novel’s namesake, is a Presbyterian minister who renounces the pulpit, converts to Mormonism, and travels west with the pioneers . . . Like a character in a Greek romance, his locations change frequently while his character stays the same . . . [This] lessens Marcus’ appeal for readers who demand characters with complex interiorities and regular crises of faith. Like Added Upon, Marcus King, Mormon is proxy fiction that asks readers to place themselves in the narrative and experience various ordeals as if they themselves were the protagonist. Anderson, therefore, keeps Marcus as uncomplicated and universal as possible . . . Quaint though it may seem today, Marcus King, Mormon is not a bad novel compared to other popular works of its time. Writing in a sentimental fashion, Anderson fills the novel with stock characters, unlikely coincidences, melodramatic love triangles, and fainting. Though predictable, it reflects a sincere attempt to mainstream Mormonism for a Mormon community that was becoming increasingly assimilated to American ways. More importantly, it serves as a nice example of how early Mormon writers appropriated the novel—a literary form that was, in Anderson’s day, commonly used to promote an anti-Mormon agenda—and shaped it to respond artistically to their critics. Indeed, like other Andersonian protagonists, Marcus is the antithesis of the oversexed brutes founds in the salacious anti-Mormon novels of the late nineteenth century. Rather than lording over women and murdering apostates, Marcus pursues women only reluctantly and treats apostates with sympathy and forbearance . . . Marcus King, Mormon deals with the realities of 1850s Mormon sexuality in a circumspect way. Images of Mormon polygamy are absent, for example, and Marcus remains celibate almost to the very end of the novel, although Brigham Young does counsel him midway through “to get a wife, or two […] as soon as possible” . . . What the novel lacks in popularity and cultural significance, it makes up for in its earnest commitment to the power of true conversion and moral courage.”

Mormon Communalism and the Arts”. Scott Hales, The Low-tech World.  Scott riffs on a quote by Dean L. May on the Mormon tradition of communalism, and asks, “Do Mormons lag in individual creative expression because of some cultural unease about individualism?”

Mahana, You Naked: Johnny Lingo and the Politics of Nakedness”, Amanda, The Juvenile Instructor. The first substantive post in a series about Mormon literature and the creation of a history of Mormon girls. Amanda compares the way the Mormon film Johnny Lingo displays Polynesian bodies, compared to the way the novel Charley portrays white Utah Mormon ideas of modesty. “How do films like Johnny Lingo affect the way that white, middle class Mormons think about their Polynesian brothers and sisters? Just as importantly, how do such films affect the way that Polynesian Mormons think about themselves and their bodies? What is it like to be a part of religion that places such a high value on the covering of bodies and yet constantly displays the bodies of some individuals?

Short stories

Theric Jepsen.  “Lovely, Fearful Symmetry”. Surreal Grotesque, Issue Two.  Horror.

New books and their reviews

Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston. Formic Wars: Silent Strike. Marvel, July 25. Science fiction graphic novel.  Illustrated by Giancarlo Caracuzzo. Formic Wars is a prequel to Ender’s Game, and it was written as a comic book initially. Marvel released a series of twelve comics total, which were compiled into hardback graphic novels: the first 7 are called The Formic Wars: Burning Earth and the rest are in this book, The Formic Wars: Silent Strike. A novelized version by Card and Johnson, Earth Unaware: The First Formic War, was also recently released.

Bri Clark. The Scent of a Witch, The Familial Witch, Glazier.  Astraea Press, 2011. Paranormal.  Astraea Press is a new e-publisher (since 2010) that publishes “wholesome” romances and other PG-rated genre fiction.

Jennifer Griffith. Big in Japan.  Jolly Fish Press, July 28. General adult/sports.  Fourth novel, she had three at Spring Creek from 2004 to 2007.  An obese Texan man finds himself in Japan, and gets the opportunity to become a sumo athlete. Finds adventure and romance, while experiencing a new society.

Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine. 5 stars. “The dialog is fun and the big American’s adjustment to Japan is often humorous. Buck gains a couple of friends, also sumos-in-training, who are great characters. Most of the minor characters are distinct and greatly enrich the story. Griffith gives us a different picture of Japan than most of us have previously seen. This is not the cherry blossoms and tea houses version, but the crowded shops, strange food, political maneuvering, and grunginess of that country’s national sport. Murder, blackmail, and danger create an intense plot that will keep many readers on the edge of their chairs or burning the lights far into the night. Though there is a nice romance included in this novel, I wouldn’t assign this one to the Romance genre. It’s more high action sports drama. It’s also a study in human ethics and has a broad appeal to men as much, perhaps more, than to women”

Blogginonbooks. “All of the action in this book continues to strongly build right up to the final match and the perfect, happy ending. The author collects up all loose ends, forming them into a perfect bow and making sure that the ending is satisfying to the reader on every level.”

Tracy Hickman. Blood of the Emperor. DAW, July 31. Fantasy. Third in The Annals of Drakis series. Dragons, empires, and rebels. Hickman’s third book in two months.

Jenni James. Persuaded. Inkberry/Walnut Springs, July 17. YA romance. The Jane Austen Diaries, Vol. 3.

Kathy, Bookworm Nation. “I thought the author did a great job mixing the charm from the original Persuasion into this modern retelling . . . Persuaded stuck pretty closely to the original, which I liked, but was still its own story. I thought Amanda and Greg had good chemistry and had some nice moments together.”

Christopher Loke. The Housekeeper’s SonJolly Fish Press, May 17. General/mystery.  First novel. Pike is a founder of Jolly Fish Press.  “As journalist Victor Lee sits down on the other side of the prison glass his only questions are why 72 year old Eleanor Rose would commit murder. Twice. But as the interviews progress Eleanor draws Victor into her world and the lines between right and wrong become blurred. Victor learns secrets from Eleanor’s past, and from her life as a housekeeper in a small Mormon town. In his quest for the truth Victor sees past the word ‘murder’ to the bond between mother and son. However something doesn’t quite ring true with Eleanor’s story. Can he expose her lie and should he?” Set in a Mormon community.

(Alicia Cunninigham, Deseret News) “Loke is a gifted storyteller, and readers will be thoroughly engaged through all 277 pages. In her prison meetings with Victor, Eleanor is determined to tell her story her own way, and it keeps readers interested, ready to read the next page and excited about new revelations to come in the next chapter. But this is not a lighthearted book for a sunny summer day. “The Housekeeper’s Son” is full of murder, physical and sexual abuse, suicide, a teenage pregnancy, animal abuse, as well as a same-sex forbidden love affair. In addition, the small section discussing Eleanor’s trial will make any attorney cringe for its amateurish mistakes and should have been better researched or left out entirely. After many meetings and hours together, Eleanor finds a way of telling Victor the truth, and what actually happened that horrible night is a fascinating twist and well worth the journey.”

Lisa Orchard, The Super Spies and the Cat Lady Killer. Astraea Press, March 12. YA Mystery.  First novel.

Lisa Orchard, The Super Spies and the High School Bomber. Astraea Press, July 25. YA Mystery. 2nd in the series.

Tristi Pinkston. Taking Out the Trash. BigWorldNetwork, July 21. Cozy mystery.  An Estele Watkins Mystery, vol.1.  Pinkston’s first national novel, without LDS content. Big World Network began in early 2011, created to offer books in an episodic format, one chapter at a time, like a television series. They print the books in paper and as an e-book after the story is complete

Tristi Pinkston. Turning Pages. Walnut Springs, July 27. YA romance.  Two young people fall in love while working at a library.

Chantele Sedgwick. Not Your Average Fairy Tale. Crescent Moon Press, August 1.  YA contemporary fantasy. First novel. Adventures of a male “fairy godmother.” Crescent Moon is a “boutique publisher of sci-fi and the paranormal.”

Kiersten White. Endlessly. HarperTeen, July 24. Paranormalacy series, vol 3. YA Paranormal.

Kirkus Reviews: “Fashion-conscious Evie continues her fight for paranormal creatures’ freedom and rights. Evie’s adventures will make little sense to readers unfamiliar with the earlier books in this trilogy . . . The details of the plot are not logical or important, but Evie’s voice amuses, as when she describes prom: “Reth kidnapping me, confronting Vivian and almost killing her, nearly sucking the soul out of Lend…yeah, prom hadn’t been quite what I’d hoped.” Unfortunately, the device that truly distinguished the earlier books, Evie’s disconcertingly funny transitions from cool teen chick to supernatural fighter and back, is largely missing here. Fans will like knowing who all the creatures are by name, but newcomers will wish for a cast of characters. Ending the trilogy, White leaves some space for further adventures while tying most loose ends into pretty bows. Modestly inventive but a bit of a letdown.”

YA Librarian Tales:  “Endlessly does have much of the humor that made Paranormalcy and Supernaturally such fun books to read. Unfortunately, this book just seemed to drag. It truly fit the title of Endlessly for me in that the book never seemed to want to end. I truly think this could have easily been a two book series because yet again, Evie is in peril. Lend is in peril. Jack is making mischief and Reth has secret motivations of his own. This time though, Evie needs to send all the paranormals back to where they originally came from. That is her true mission apparently. It sounds all well and good but unfortunately, Evie dithers about making this decision even though it is clearly the right thing to do. I was getting very fed up with her . . . The humor, when present, was spot-on and made me laugh, but even that was stretched a bit too thin in this book.”

Reviews of older books

Orson T. Badger. Leaving Home (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine). 3 stars. “A dystopian science fiction novel written to portray the evil that befalls a society that fails to protect freedom . . . This story is set twenty years in the future and for me suspends belief a little too far socially, politically, and scientifically. The Church plays no role whatsoever and I’m sure this is to make the book more appealing to those who don’t subscribe to LDS religious views, but share the author’s conservative political views. It was hard to feel attached to any of the characters because the story is told from so many points of view and with such a large cast of characters it was difficult to keep them all straight or discern much growth in any of them except David who does become more confident and realizes his lifelong dream of becoming a pilot. The fiction arc works well, but there are long stretches where the story moves very slowly with too much detail that is not really pertinent to the story. There are also many really great action scenes, but some readers may be disturbed by some of the more gory sequences.”

Braden Bell. The Kindling (Emily’s Reading Room).  4 stars. “An exciting, page-turning mound of magical middle grade fun wrapped up in one funny, yet sometimes dark, fantasy novel–just as promised . . . At times the story felt a bit jumbled, almost like it wanted to be written in first-person but had to be changed up to give the tri-character viewpoints that were prevalent throughout. Like the previous sentence, some areas felt a bit unclear. But honestly, I wasn’t bothered by the small details. Kids will eat this up. Don’t read it as YA; read it as middle grade and enjoy it! The Kindling is imaginative and fun, and also full of teaching moments. I could feel that Bell wanted kids to be entertained, but that he also wanted to inspire in the reader a love of learning. There were little tidbits of knowledge peppered throughout the story and I loved it. Bell makes learning seem cool and exciting, just as it’s meant to be.”

Orson Scott Card, Alvin Journeyman, Heartfire, and The Crystal City (Ben Crowder) “Some people had told me that the Alvin series tanked after the first couple books, but that wasn’t my experience. I enjoyed all six books about equally, I think. The later books are different, of course — more political and philosophical — but there was still plenty of cool magic. I particularly liked it as a fictional look at building Zion.”

Joyce DiPastena. Dangerous Favor (Deseret News). “A romantic mystery set in medieval times, complete with tournaments, knights and castle intrigue. A clever mixture of mystery and political intrigue unfolds, adding a level of interest and complexity often missing from romance stories . . . DiPastena has done a lot of research on medieval times, and it shows. The story is full of details that add to the flavor and setting of the novel, and she manages to do so without letting her research get in the way of the story. Names, places, foods, customs, conversations and historical events of the time are all period-accurate, woven in a non-obtrusive way.”

Terri Ferran. Choosing Charity (Sheila, LDSWBR).

Betsy Brannon Green. Murder by the Way (Shanda and Sheila, LDSWBR). 4 stars. “The beginning of the story was more “tell” than the rest as Kennedy reviews the events of the last little while, but the writing is good. Once things got going, it didn’t take long for me to find the rhythm of the story . . . Once again Betsy’s books are full of mystery, intrigue, humor, and of course a lot of good food that the characters are cooking and eating.”

Shannon Hale. Austenland. (Jennifer, The Literate Mother). “A completely satisfying, light, funny read! . . .  I read Austenland on the beach and I couldn’t have picked a more perfect book for my alone time in the sun. Jane is so easily likeable, a little insecure when she shouldn’t be, spunky, but genuinely sensitive and kind to others. It is great fun to watch the romances play out in the story and a perfect ending makes this my new favorite summer book!”

Jennifer Nielsen. The False Prince (Bookshelvers Anonymous). “But I’ve been searching for years for a book like this. Years. You all know how much I love The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner . . . ever since falling in love with Gen and his crew, I’ve been searching for a book with the same feel . . . Sage is just that cool. He’s an orphan and brazenly proud of his independence. He’s rude and unmannerly. He’s a liar and a coward. He’s opinionated and loud and never knows when to just shut up. He’s also brave, in his own way. He won’t stand for bullies or traitors . . . I don’t have much to say about the plot and the writing other than to say that I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Watching Sage fight Conner at every turn while systematically also pushing his way to the top was very entertaining . . . Negatives… I think the info dump that was part of the Big Twist could have been handled in chunks rather than one big stack. Also, as I said, I did guess the Big Twist (and some of the little twists, too, though not all of them). I’m sure a few people would be miffed at the similarities between The False Prince and The Thief, but I’m not one of them.” Also reviews at Reads for Keeps and One Librarian’s Book Reviews

Stephanie Nielson. Heaven is Here (Shelah Books It). 5 stars. “I didn’t want to read this book. I thought I already knew Stephanie Nielson, and knew her story. I’ve read her blog from time to time, and read her sister’s blog, and while I felt bad for what she must have felt, as a mother, to suffer such terrible injuries, and admired the way she didn’t shrink from putting herself back in the public spotlight after her accident, I wouldn’t say I was her greatest fan. I found her blog by turns too Pollyannaish and too focused on the “things” in her life . . . What surprised me is that Nielson doesn’t shy away from talking about how hard it was for her, particularly how hard it was to look at herself in the mirror and to rebuild her relationship with her children, who didn’t want to look at her . . . One of the things that I admired most is the way that Nielson lives the gospel. She doesn’t just believe it– it’s part of her whole existence. It’s the reason why she’s so close to her extended family, who took over in the months when she and Christian were recovering. It’s the reason why she was able to come out with a stronger relationship with her husband when 80% of couples in similar situations can’t weather the strain. It’s the reason why she fought for her relationship with her children. It’s the reason why she lived and found herself on the top of a mountain one year later. So I am, at long last, a NieNie convert. I can’t promise that I’ll read her blog every day, but I do admire her strength, and even more than that, her willingness to go to the hard places in telling her story.”

Jolene B. Perry. Left to Love and My Forever (Mindy, LDSWBR). 4.5 stars.

Aprilynne Pike. Wings (Jillian, Six Mixed Reviews). 2.5 stars. “This was an okay read. The characters weren’t really believable and the story was a bit slow. I can’t stand it when the kids get into a mess and go to some boy (or girl) they’ve barely met instead of their kind, supportive parents. Doesn’t make sense except to progress the romance… and the romance factor in this was pretty lame as well . . . Sadly Lacking.”

Luisa Perkins, Dispirited (Mormon Artists Group). Part of a summer reading series.  There are several unsigned reviews. One says, “Cathy is a strong, unique character. She is Nancy Drew with a dose of X-Files and Stephen King tossed in. I have a sixteen-year old daughter, and I am going to make sure she reads this novel. Cathy is the kind of character that my daughter should meet.”

Dan Wells, The Hollow City (SF Signal). 4.5 stars. “Dan Wells is a rising star in the fiction world . . . Now comes The Hollow City, a standalone thriller unlike any you have ever read. The Hollow City is to schizophrenia, what the John Wayne Cleaver trilogy is to sociopathy. That is to say, Wells takes an improbable hero with a very serious mental dysfunction and respectfully and accurately crafts an engaging tale of suspense . . . Schizophrenia is chilling in its effects; a mix of real stimuli and fabricated mental constructions that leave victims unable to separate reality from their own imagination. Essentially it is an official stamp that invalidates everything Michael has to say. And really that is the scariest thing of all about The Hollow City. Wells was able to tap into this greatest fear that I never even knew I had. What if you were labeled as crazy and no one would believe a word you had to say? Nobody will listen to you but everything you experience is still real to you. It’s a frightening consideration . . . The plot is white knuckle and full of complexity. It can’t be a cake-walk to write from the perspective of a man with schizophrenia (maybe) but Wells pulls it off. To delve too deeply into the story would ruin the sneaky surprises you have in store but I will say that there are Faceless Men, giant maggots, cultists, electronic surveillance, and dark conspiracies. The only question is whether or not any of it is real…Wells is able to keep up the startling revelations and addictive insanity all the way till the end. It is the ending though that had me knocking off a half star for what would have otherwise been a solid 5-star rating. After all the build-up the ending felt rushed and contrived. To be fair, it isn’t the silly sort of ending you would get from some of M. Night Shyamalan’s more recent work but it still isn’t quite on par with the rest of the novel. One thing is for certain. The Hollow City will haunt you in a way that ghosts and demons and alien abductions will never be able to. Your own mind may just be your very worst enemy and Michael’s journey will leave you feeling a little bit crazy yourself. But in a good way!”

Theater

The Zion Theater Company is presenting The Death of Eurydice and Other Short Plays, by Mahonri Stewart (the company’s founder) at the Off Broadway Theater in Salt Lake City on August 10, 11, 13, 17, 18 at 7:30 pm. These are the same plays that were produced at the OBT in November 2011 as Jinn and Other Myths.  The Death of Eurydice is taking the slot previously held by ZTC’s production of Swallow the Sun, which has been moved to the Castle Theater in Provo for late August/ early September.  The press release says, “Rachel Baird, who has played the title role of Eurydice in “The Death of Eurydice” three times was able to bring the play Europe when it was accepted to the Feats InterNational Theatre Festival in Geneva, Switzerland last year where it was received enthusiastically and emotionally by the European audiences it played to.” BroadwayWorld.com preview. Meanwhile, the ZTC’s September production of  Persuasion will be previewed during the event “Summer in the Garden with Jane Austen” on August 6, 2012 at the UVU Alumni House front garden.

#MormonInChief, by Matthew Greene, appears at the New York International Fringe Festival, August 10 -26. Here is an interview of Greene by William Morris at A Motley Vision. Also a Playbill.com preview, including casting information, and a similar article at TheatreMania.

The Little Brown Theatre (Springville, Utah) presents Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream as a musical, with music produced by Marilyn Brown. August 10-20.

Accident, West Virginia, a farce by Jeffery Lee Blake, was performed at the new Echo Theatre in Provo, May 31 – June 16. Jeff and Juliana Blake founded the Echo Theatre in March 2012 at 145 N. University Ave, the site of a previous skate shop/ music store. “The theater is right in the middle of competition for entertainment — literally. The Echo Theatre is sandwiched on either side by the Velour Live Music Gallery and the Muse Music & Cafe. Then there’s the Covey Center for the Arts only a few blocks away . . . The Echo Theatre will be a place for Provo’s aspiring playwrights, directors and actors to call home.” UTBA review: “I really wanted to like this show. I really did. I know that when reviewers go see a show, we should be open-minded and unbiased, but I wanted this show to do great things. You see, Accident, West Virginia is playing at the Echo Theatre, which is a relatively new establishment in central Provo. With the recent sale of the Provo Theater and the closing of the Center Street Theater, the theater scene was starting to dwindle, with the Covey Center being the last available space for plays to be staged . . . Staging an original script is always a brave endeavor and one that should be respected. That being said, this play was still rough around the edges. One of the biggest issues was a lack of trust in the actors and the audience. The play was extremely explicit in its exposition with characters explaining some of the secrets from the onset of the show . . . Finally, and maybe of most concern, many of the jokes felt forced. It felt like Blake’s script was trying really hard to be funny, but this led to many of the jokes having way too much build up for very little payoff. I felt that the characters were almost expecting there to be a rimshot after things they said. However, the staleness of the jokes can’t be attributed entirely to the script. The comedic timing of the entire night seemed off and the actors, for the most part, didn’t really seem to be grounded in their characters . . . Accident, West Virginia was difficult to watch. I did laugh a few times here and there, but not all that often. For a two and a half hour long farce, a smattering of laughter just doesn’t cut it. There were some commendable performances and it is great that Utah County has a new venue producing theater. But I feel like there’s still a lot more that can be done with this production company.” It had a more positive review in the The Salt Lake City Weekly, but their website is not working.

2012 Echo10 Festival, a festival of 10-minute plays, will be held on August 16th, 17th, and 18th at 7pm at The Echo Theatre, Provo. There will be around 19 plays. Among the authors are Scott Bronson and Dennis Agle.

Shelter, by Brittany Bullen and Newell Bullen, was produced as part of the New York Musical Theater Festival, July 26-29. Two reviews.

Simone M. Scully: Every year, audiences attend the festival, hoping to find the next new hit and see it before everyone else does. So is Shelter, a new rock/pop musical from Salt Lake City, the next big hit? Unfortunately, no. Or at least, not yet. Overall, the musical felt a little under-developed. Despite the use of only a few set items to imply location – a powerful choice for several of the numbers – the transitions often lagged, making the piece feel unnecessarily long. In addition, where large cast sizes can often be an asset in musical theater, they seemed to hinder Shelter in places. The sheer number of characters on stage, coupled with simplistic and repetitive choreography, made some of the scenes feel a little messy and claustrophobic. Furthermore, given that Shelter sought to portray itself as a political piece . . . the musical fell short of its stated mission. It never fully delved into the issue of homelessness and the struggles faced when rehabilitating. Instead, it got distracted by the romantic subplot and employed contrived resolutions to solve the problem in order to finish with a “hopeful” and uplifting ending. The implication that one woman could quickly solve her homelessness problem by ‘fixing her face’ and becoming a ‘Mary Kay”-like beauty consultant is simply unrealistic and implausible. Nevertheless, Shelter did show promise. Many of the songs, including “Shelter” and “Hope” were phenomenal. There was a lot of heart and energy on stage, and several of the cast members delivered stellar performances. In particular, Latoya Rhodes (playing Jeanine) delivered a very solid, nuanced performance and Brittany Bullen, in the role of Gloria, had by far the strongest voice, leaving us wishing she could sing more than one ballad and not be mute for most of the production. Most importantly, the “Shelter Reprise”, at the end of Act I, was one the most beautiful, powerful, and ultimately devastating, stage pictures I have ever seen.”

Backstage: “Twenty minutes into “Shelter” the cast breaks into a hymnlike song called “Noah’s Prayer,” and the musical finally takes off and soars. Then it sinks back into the well-meaning but clunky piece we hoped we’d escaped. This pattern prevails throughout the show, making it seem like a trip in a car during which the driver frantically alternates between the gas and the brake until you get woozy. It’s frustrating because when “Shelter” is occasionally aloft we get a glimpse of the stirring, socially aware musical that its creators intended . . . Brittany Bullen’s book is meant to draw attention to the plight of women and families who wind up in homeless shelters, and that’s admirable. But doing so obliges her to depict all the various types of people and situations one might find in a shelter rather than restricting her story to actions growing out of conflicts between characters. It also forces her to rely on external events, like Josh’s death, to drive the narrative . . . Many of the songs in “Shelter” are lovely, but their impact is blunted because most are given abrupt endings. Without musical buttons, the spell created by the actors is broken, and audiences wonder how to respond. Musicals should glide, of course, not limp.”

Film

Charley 10th anniversary re-release on August 10. The remastered release will feature all-new scenes filmed with the original cast to augment story elements in the original film.

‘Book of Jer3miah’: BYU Web series bridged media, social gaps (Deseret News).

“Somebody’s Hero” is written and directed by Darin Beckstead (Deseret News). [I do not know if the maker of this film, who is from Utah, is Mormon or not.] “The writer-director’s father gave him a print of the popular Liz Lemon Swindle painting, “Even Superman Needs a Dad.” After his father passed away, the movie became a tribute that first premiered on Father’s Day. Echoing his experiences, Beckstead created one of the main characters to be a young boy struggling to fill the void left by his deceased father. “Somebody’s Hero” aims for tongue-in-cheek humor but has a straightforward approach to the material. There are easy targets to criticize: single-dimensional characters and the bland script. However, considering the small budget, the film is a success on an After-School Special level. The noble intent of “Somebody’s Hero” is to reinforce the concept that everyday individuals can mentor a child’s life, even without performing able-to-leap-tall-buildings-in-a-single-bound heroics in caped-crusader costumes.”

Bestsellers

New York Times Bestseller Lists, Aug. 5th and 12th. I also note where the books are on the USA Today bestseller list, which lumps all books, hardcover, paperback, fiction, non-fiction, into one 150 book list.

Hardcover Fiction

#14, #30 EARTH UNAWARE, by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston (2nd week).  USA Today: #88 (1 week). New Ender prequel, also available as a series of comic books.

Mass Market Paperbacks

#13, #15 SAMURAI GAME, by Christine Feehan (4th week). Down from #4. Down to #79 at USA Today in its 4th week. New volume in the Ghostwalker series.

#18, #12 ENDER’S GAME, by Orson Scott Card (13th week). Slightly stronger.  Stable at #113 on the USA Today list (17 weeks).

Children’s Hardback

#9 CROSSED, by Ally Condie (11th week). Back after dropping off for a couple of weeks.

Children’s Paperback

#6, #10 MATCHED, by Ally Condie (45th week).

Children’s Series

#6, #8 THE MAZE RUNNER TRILOGY, by James Dashner (33rd week).

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2 Responses to This Week in Mormon Literature, August 5, 2012

  1. Th. says:

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    The MAG reviews of Dispirited, unless noted otherwise, are by Glen Nelson.

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    Thanks again, Andrew, for your lists. How much would we miss or forget if not for these!

  2. Th. says:

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    I was just looking at the Jolly Fish site and was immediately impressed by how good the Big in Japan cover is. The other two are okay or at least in keeping with current trends, but it’s nice to see a new publisher willing to spend the money for good design. So important.

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