This Week in Mormon Literature, August 18, 2012

A very busy fortnight. A new movie, Saints and Soldiers: Airborne Creed, is released to good reviews. Several Mormon-authored plays are performing and getting good reviews in Utah and in New York City.  A load of new books have been released, including nationally published novels by James Dashner, Richard Paul Evans, and Courtney Miller Santo. Susanna Morill analyzes messages to young Mormon women in the 1977 novel Beyond This Moment. Please send any additions or corrections to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.

Blog Posts, Podcasts, and News

Mormon Teen Lit: Susanna Morrill on Shirley Sealy’s “Beyond this Moment”. Susanna Morrill, The Juvenile Instructor. Morrill is a professor at Lewis and Clark College.I decided to read Shirley Sealy’s Beyond This Moment (Provo: Seventy’s Mission Bookstore, 1977). Amanda began the series talking about what young adult books had taught her about her body. So, when I finished Sealy’s book, I asked myself the same question: What did the book want to teach a young Mormon woman in the 1970s about her body and, more broadly, her physical existence in the world? A lot, as it turned out! . . . The book preaches messages that are clearly part of the contentious conversations in the Church in the 1970s about proper gender roles: Don’t marry outside the church, don’t be too bossy and overbearing with your husband, keep going to church because that’s the key to having a healthy family. Yet, for all this obvious push against feminism, Jane is presented as a character who is sure of herself and her convictions and who seems comfortable in her body—not exactly a wilting violet (she’s compared to an apple blossom at one point), but not your typical, liberated Mary Tyler Moore, either. A Mormon Mary Tyler Moore, perhaps . . . Jane provides the reader a roadmap for correct behavior, of course, but she also dictates what they should be feeling in their body in a moment when they might be feeling, in fact, the exact opposite of the ideal. Reading becomes a kind of private, ritual reinforcement of what the reader may well have been hearing in church, in her community, her family . . . It’s tempting to point to the oft-highlighted connection in Mormonism between spiritual and material reality to explain the way Jane experiences nature, her body, and spiritual truth.”

This Week at A Motley Vision: Sunday Lit Crit Sermon: Whitney on the role of Mormon literature (Kent Larson). Kent reprints and discusses Orson F. Whitney’s seminal 1888 sermon “Home Literature”. Theric talks about recent “alternative” LDS fiction in Unpleasant afterlives: New fiction from Peck and Perkins. William has A question for LDS who have read The Hollow City. Kent solicits suggestions of examples of The Disabled in Mormon Lit, and gets a flood of responses. Theric gives An high-school English teacher reviews How to Analyze the Works of Stephenie Meyer. He is impressed that the author successfully uses Meyer’s work as a way to teach different modes of criticism, but wishes for a Mormon criticism.

Why Mormons Should Write Fantasy Novels, by Alan Hurst (Peculiar People, Patheos.com).  “Mormons do believe in fairy tales, and it’s not just that we should be able to write them well. We need to . . . I think most people probably understand this role of the fairy story: teaching basic moral ideas. Being honest, brave, and self-sacrificing is good; selfishness and deceit are bad. Perseverance is rewarded, the truth always comes out in the end, and heroes live happily ever after. These are basic life lessons, all the more important because they are not always true in our world. The stories that teach them will do more to create a decent human being than any course in philosophical ethics . . . Once we understand that our religion teaches as much through its stories as through its truth claims, it becomes clear how dangerous it is—Tolkien would say “perilous”—to hear a well-told fairy story and be brought face to face with its vision of the depths of reality, a vision our intellect will never fully understand . . . How are we doing? The impressive number of Mormon fantasy and sci-fi writers gives me hope that we’re trying, but what I’ve read so far makes me hope we can do better. Orson Scott Card is an outstanding writer, but I haven’t seen his works plumb the depths as I would like (though the sheer volume of his output means I may just not have read it). Brandon Sanderson is likewise prolific and has created a few arresting ideas and intriguing characters, but his worlds are largely soulless, his mysteries mere plot devices, his theologies far too neat to be real and devoid of any sense of awe or wonder. The most famous Mormon fantasy writer, Stephanie Meyer, showed a hundred times Sanderson’s ambition by incarnating the pivotal Mormon idea of the eternal family, but in her hands it became unhealthy and disturbing, not least because it was divorced from our belief that eternal life also entails worship, community, and creation. As yet I have learned much more about Mormonism from Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Ursula LeGuin, not one of whom would like our theology, than from the fantasy writers who actually believe in it.”

Mormons of the North: A Review of Nephi Anderson’s “The Castle Builder”. Scott Hales, The Low-Tech World.  A review of Anderson’s third novel, set in his home country of Norway. “In many ways, The Castle Builder is like Marcus King, Mormon in that it is a conversion novel about a young man who forsakes the earthly esteem of his community for the eternal esteem of Christ. Both Marcus and Harald share the trademarks of the Andersonian hero: sensitivity, intellect, ambition, and moral courage . . . What differences the two characters share are suggested subtly through The Castle Builder’s theme of class inequality and its Norwegian setting. Unlike Marcus, in other words, Harald is one who works from the bottom up, a perspective that makes him sympathetic to democracy and the injustices of a religious system that damns those who never had a fair chance at hearing the gospel of Christ. For him, Mormonism becomes the solution to the disadvantages of his birth . . . The Castle Builder shows—along with Added Upon and Anderson’s A Daughter of the North—that Mormon literature has an old undercurrent of stories about international Mormonism. Indeed, The Castle Builder is particularly noteworthy because it features only one American character—the Norwegian-American missionary Elder Olsen—and its main characters choose to stay in Norway rather than immigrate to “Zion” in Utah.”

Missionary Poetry, 1852. Scott Hales, The Low-Tech World. From the Autobiography and Diary of Appleton Milo Harmon. Missionaries compose poems on the eve of a transfer/homecoming.

Writing Excuses Podcast #7.32. “Eric James Stone, Nebula winner and “graduate” of NASA’s Launchpad workshop, joins us to talk about astronomy in our world-building. We talk about tides, habitable zones, planetary orbits and axial tilts, stellar life-cycles, and other fun factors for authors to take into account.”

NPR: Your Favorites: 100 Best-Ever Teen Novels. A NPR poll of the Best-Ever Teen Fiction, which finished with 75,220 votes. Harry Potter and the Hunger Games trilogy were at the top. Others that placed included: #27. Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer. #54. Hush, Hush Saga by Becca Fitzpatrick. #74. The Maze Runner series by James Dashner. #78. Matched series by Ally Condie. #80. The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale.

Literary Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine. Kent Larson, Times & Seasons. #33: The Epitaph. A 1881 poem Richard Alldridge, which describes brotherhood in the midst of a corrupt society, like that found in Heleman.

Mormons, Mommies, and Romance Novels. Feminist Mormon Housewives. Podcast discussion. “Join Lisa, Sara, and Malia as they explain to interested observer Lindsay, the appeal of Romance Novels and Erotica and their relationship to feminism.”

Steve Walker’s The Power of Tolkien’s Prose: Middle-Earth’s Magical Style (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009) was a finalist in the 2011 Mythopoeic Awards.

New Books and their reviews

Traci Hunter Abramson. Code Word. Covenant, Aug. 1. Romantic suspense.  Saint Squad series #6. One of the Navy SEALs meets a young LDS woman who is trying to escape her Chicago Mafia family.

Amber Argyle. Witch Born.   Starling Publishing (self), August. YA Paranormal. Sequel to Witch Song, which was published by Rhemalda Publishing.

James Dashner. The Kill Order. Delacorte, Aug. 14. YA Speculative. Prequel to The Maze Runner.  Tells how disease ravaged the Earth, and how the glade was created. Deseret News feature story.

Kirkus Review: “Blending past, present and future, this is a gritty and unnerving look at a post-apocalyptic world that both recalls early classics of the genre and looks forward to Dashner’s already-established trilogy. For fans of the original books and of the genre as a whole, a must read.”

Kirkus Reviews blog: “Much of The Maze Runner consists of scenes in which the main character, you know, runs through a maze. Which is great fun, as Dashner’s real strength is in his action sequences. While the second two books in the trilogy also feature quite a lot of action, it takes a backseat to world-building, character development and dialogue…which are not nearly as strong. Consequently, unless you’re hooked on the overarching mysteries behind the Maze and WICKED, the Maze Runner books are less and less enjoyable as the series progresses. Now, there’s a prequel . . . Wholehearted fans of the original series will be happy with this offering—it’s similarly fast-paced, with lots of action, gallows humor and dangerous futuristic gadgets. Meanwhile, those who were less enamored with the Maze Runner books will have many of the same complaints about The Kill Order. Namely, that the plotting is borderline inane; that much of the prose is repetitive and/or clichéd; that we’re always informed of the characters’ emotions, rather than allowed to feel them; and that the tension that results from well-crafted action sequences is drastically lessened when the reader doesn’t care about the characters.”

Kindal Debenham. Badger and Iron Angels. Wandering Leaf Publishing (self), August. Science Fiction. Sequels to Wolfhound.

Richard Paul Evans. Michael Vey: Rise of the Elgen. Mercury Ink, Aug. 14. YA Speculative. Sequel to Michael Vey: Prisoner of Cell 25. Deseret News feature story.

Donald D. Fraley. Thirty-Six. Golden Wing Enterprises, July 26. Religious Speculative/Suspense. The first in the Thirty-six multi-author series. An artifact found at an antique store turns out to be a Jewish holy relic that triggers shared dreams and prophetic visions, and could hold a key towards the protection of the world. The other scheduled authors are Anthony Duston, Jared Garrett, and Gregg Luke.

Sheryl Johnson. Table for Two. Covenant, June 19. Romance. Woman takes a job working for a non-member widower. Debut novel.

Connie Lewis, Deseret News. “A Mormon romance with likable characters and an engaging plot . . . The plot wears a little thin as Jana take so long to come to a resolution. Some of the plot points are a little repetitive, but overall “Table for Two” is a satisfying read and a fun summer diversion.”

Carla Kelly. My Loving Vigil Keeping. Cedar Fort/Bonneville, Aug. 14. Historical romance. 1899 Utah. “Della’s giving up all the comforts of bustling Salt Lake City to teach school in a rural coal mining camp. Finds romance, faces tragedy. Based on the true story of the Scofield mining disaster.

Rosemarie Howard, Deseret News. “The characters have depth; dialogue flows easily and feels authentic. It’s evident the story is well-researched and told by an author who has written many other such novels.”

Gregg Luke. Deadly Undertakings. Covenant, Aug. 1. Mystery/Suspense.  Assistant to the state medical examiner in Salt Lake City investigates a series of murders.

Annette Lyon. Paige. Covenant, Aug. 4.  General/Women’s. Newport Ladies Book Club series, vol. 3. After a bitter divorce, an LDS mother of two moves to California, joins the book group, tries to reinvent her life.

Kristen McKendry. Beyond the White River. Covenant, Aug. 1. Historical romance. An independent woman returns to her small Western hometown, with a group of orphaned children she has collected. Finds romance, and a difficult past is revealed. Fourth novel.

Donna L. Peterson. Pip Goes to Camp. Cedar Fort/Bonneville, August. Middle Grade. Second in The Misadventures of Pip Isaac Penn series.

Matt Peterson. The Epic Tales of a Misfit Hero. Cedar Fort/Bonneville, August. Middle Grade, humor. First novel. 12-year old Mormon boy must become a hero on a Boy Scout backpacking trip.

Kenneth Pike & Isaac Stewart. Jacob’s Journal of Doom: The Good, the Bad, and the Hilarious Life of an Almost-Deacon. Deseret Book, July 31.  Middle grade humor. Diary of a Wimpy Kid style. Jacob having a hard time, good friend helps him. Should he invite him to Scouts and Church? Kenneth Pike’s debut book, he is the husband of Aprilynne Pike. Stewart has done the interior art in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn and Stormlight series, and has worked on 3D animation for educational videos, graphic design, and video. Deseret News review.

Julie M. Smith, Times & Seasons. Julie starts with a review by her 11-year old son. “The art in this book is more three-dimensional than the art in Diary of a Wimpy Kid, however. The stories themselves did not compare very much; I thought this book was too innocent. I’m thinking he should have tried to be more mischievous because I think it would be better if he did stuff that was kind of breaking the rules because it would be funnier that way . . . I didn’t like it or dislike it; I was kind of iffy.” Julie then adds, “I am somewhat suspect of the idea of taking popular secular books and Mormon-ifying them. I’m afraid it will send the message that the secular version is somehow wrong and it also can skate the line of plagiarism . . . And what’s the point of a “Mormon version” if it has scatalogical humor and booger humor in it anyway? But, flipping through this book, I was surprised at how funny it was and how much it was willing to poke at Mormon culture (“[Mom] says we’re supposed to have a ‘house of order,’ but I think she just likes making weird crafts. I think we have two family home evening charts, and there are like six different chore charts on the refrigerator.”) It was also surprisingly edgy in places (“In church today, we had a lesson about missionary work. Brother Juke said us boys should prepare to serve a mission when we turn 19. He told Amity she could be a missionary if she turned 21 before she got married. She said that was sexist.”) So I guess, in the final analysis, I’m kind of iffy on it, too.”

Courtney Miller Santo. Roots of the Olive Tree.  William Morrow, Aug. 7. General/Women’s. An inter-generational group of women who live on a California olive grove. Their bonds and secrets are exposed when a geneticist arrives to study the key to their longevity. First novel. Santo teaches creative writing at the University of Memphis. Her first published work was as short story in the Spring/Summer 2011 edition of Irreantum.

Kirkus Reviews: “Five generations of unusually long-lived women have family troubles in Santo’s oddly static debut. With fourth-generation Deborah just paroled after 20 years in jail for killing her husband, and her daughter Erin about to have a child with no husband in sight, not to mention matriarch Anna (age 112) only one death away from being the oldest person in the world, there ought to be more excitement in the house they share overlooking their olive groves in northern California. Instead, there’s simmering resentment and whiny adolescent complaining, which sounds especially self-indulgent coming from 42-year-old Deborah. Granted, her mother, Callie, is thoroughly nasty almost all the time, despite the painkillers she constantly pops for a leg crippled in a bizarre accident, which the author refers to in frustrating fragments over more than 200 pages before finally deigning to tell us exactly what happened. Deborah’s violent quarrel with Callie in the hospital where Erin is giving birth is the novel’s only truly dramatic scene; the fact that Deborah then jumps parole, disappears and is barely ever referred to again is regrettably typical of Santo’s clumsy handling of plot and character. The geneticist who comes to study Anna and her descendants in the hope of discovering the secret of their longevity at first seems like something of a nut, judging by a Washington Post column jarringly inserted in the text. Amorous emails exchanged between him and Callie do little to improve our opinion of either, though we’re later invited to think of their affair as a life-changing event. Other events that seem to merit attention, such as the birth of Erin’s son breaking the line of four firstborn daughters, are not commented on at all. Transcripts of news videotape and a closing folktale are other examples of the author’s failure to maintain coherent structure, pacing or tone. Some nice descriptions of the olive groves, but this is too scattershot to make for emotionally satisfying fiction.”

Lisa Downing review: “Debut author Santo invites us into the hearts and minds of each of these five dynamic women, devoting elegantly crafted sections to each of their points of view, so that, by the turn of the last page, we feel each of their heartbeats as our own and find comfort in our own willingness to forgive them their trespasses. It is a reminder that women who are mothers and daughters are also sisters sharing life’s journey. The Roots of the Olive Tree is a fine piece of women’s fiction and I recommend it to readers who enjoy novels with depth. But you should know, this is not a romance, though there is a certain amount of courtship and love-making. This is not a mystery, though secrets are both concocted and exposed. It is not a book of crime fiction, though wrong-doings–including murder–are woven into the fabric. This is a slice of life. Of reality. The prose is delightful, and whether you like to read your fiction poolside with a cool one or in your den with a highlighter in hand, you will find pleasure in The Roots of the Olive Tree . . . There are oddly placed inserts from the geneticist’s storyline that seemed not only distracting, but which border on inconsequential. But those were only moments–a paragraph or page here or there–and they were few and far between . . . The ending was poignant and poetic and satisfying. The literary nerd in me ached to grab a pen and begin underlining images and ideas that held meaning beyond the surface. I wanted to cheer for Anna, Bets, Callie, Deb and Erin. But I also wanted to cheer Santo. She’s done a fantastic job with her debut novel. In fact, her imagery, her characters, her setting all seemed like a movie in my mind.”

Julie Nichols, AML-List: “The story is complex, the characters lively and fierce . . . There’s the skeleton of a fairly complicated plot line, and there are the characters. Interesting premises, promising action! About two-thirds of the time, the promise comes close to being fulfilled. Remember, it’s a first novel, family-focused and women-oriented and full of drama and intrigue, so it deserves generosity and celebration. But I would be too generous if I gave it more than three and a half stars. The two threads of the plot line aren’t really related (except that everyone’s related). The characters come and go quickly. Though each section is told from a different daughter’s point of view and in a different season of the year, the women all have similar secrets, similar struggles, similar habits of speech and behaviour . . . The family angst gets a little tiring . . . There are other questions: are/were the marriages of these women worth remembering? I got a bit lost keeping track of who was married to whom (especially since the men are peripheral, dead or in nursing homes) and why it mattered. People are brought up who are never mentioned again, as the various women remember their childhoods and youth, which memories seemed not to be clearly enough distinguished from each other. Situations arise late that aren’t hinted at, the need for them not established . . . actuality, credibility–not issues here. The setting, Hill House, and the olive orchards, are well drawn. Geography is attended to accurately: we go to a prison, to Australia, all over the house and orchard, and don’t get lost. Santo has researched well the process of growing olives. For me, the obstacles are in the characters’ stories–too much surface matter in too little space for each character’s story to have full symbolic and emotional resonance with each others’ stories. Assuredly, a deep bow to the fact that it’s a first novel, a very lucky one, written by an extremely likable person. Kudos, Courtney Miller Santo! I suspect you can and will do even better in the future, and I’m glad you have the chance.”

Reviews of older books

Brodi Ashton. Everneath (Gamilia’s Book Review). “I really liked how the author set up the love triangle in a way that made the book feel different from other books in the same genre. Her attraction to Cole was directly related to how he could take her pain away because of his magical abilities and the author put the Nikki in a position where it felt realistic that she would make the choices she did . . . The mythology in this one was fun because while it included Greek and Roman myths the key to the myth’s magic was Egyptian. So I liked that twist and the fact that hints to the secret society the author created were found in many different myths from several different cultures. So yeah, I would totally pick up the sequel to this one.”

Michaelbrent Collins, Apparation (Hellnotes). “Apparition is rightly ascribed to the horror genre; but in this time of increasing multi-genre and cross-genre titles, could also be readily described as a suspense/action thriller with supernatural content. Whatever the genre label, this novel is, without resorting to any excess or voyeuristic, gratuitous ‘torture porn’ elements, one of the most intense and frightening novels this reviewer has read in many a year . . . As far as style and readability, it is evident from the first page that author Collings is a highly accomplished author. The novel reads as grippingly as The Exorcist, with distinct touches of both vintage Michael Crichton and Clive Barker . . . Apparition is not just a ‘recommended’ novel, it is easily one of the most entertaining and satisfying horror novels this reviewer has read within the past few years. I cannot imagine that any prospective reader looking for a new read in the horror genre won’t be similarly blown away by the novel.”

Ally Condie, Freshman For President (Gamila’s Book Review). “I think one of my most favorite thing about Ally Condie is that she depicts teenagers in a real way. Even the best written YA out there is full of crazy, drama diva, rebellious teens, who often fall into extreme stereotypes that just make high school seem like a farce. Yet, Condie seems to hit things exactly right. Sure she puts her characters into a totally improbable situation, but her teenagers seem normal and real. They have that crazy energetic optimism of youth. They want to really make a difference and make the world a better place. Sometimes I think adults forget that many teens in all their boundary exploring and rebelliousness really do have some pretty cool ideas, and a sincere desire to impact the world positively. So, I really loved how Condie showed that aspect of her characters in this book. This really is such an uplifting and refreshing read that shows that we don’t have to win to have an influence, and that sometime success really is measured in the journey and not the destination. Even if this book’s premise is outlandish the characters make it worth the read.”

Jaclyn Hawkes. The Most Important Catch (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine). 4 stars. “Though The Most Important Catch has a compelling suspense element, the story is essentially a romance. The two lead characters are extremely attractive and it is through their efforts to avoid attention, they are first drawn to each other. Their shared values deepen their friendship and the romance proceeds at a realistic pace. The only unrealistic aspects of their romance are how long it takes Kelly to figure out who Robby really is and her protracted refusal to accept or believe he might actually love her. Anyone looking for a good romance will find this book spot on. Those looking for a suspense novel will want to stay with it, but will find the suspense lags through the middle. Both leading characters are fleshed out well, but I found Kelly’s obsession with her hair a little off-putting and her decision not to cut it or change the color a little out of character for someone so smart. There are quite a few references to faith, prayer, and spiritual promptings in the story which fit in well and are not intrusive.”

Melanie Jacobson. Twitterpated (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine). 4 stars. “Jacobson’s . . . earlier books were written with a young adult audience in mind. Her recent book Twitterpated is still for a young audience; teens and twenty-somethings, but it has a broader appeal for a more mature audience as well . . . Jacobson handles dialogue well. Her characters speak like twenty-somethings, use iPhones, and the internet is part of their lives and their vocabulary. She handles this in a manner that is realistic, but not obnoxious to less tech-savvy readers. Much of the dialogue and many scenes in the book are funny. The main characters are drawn well and they grow with the story. Minor characters; parents, work colleagues, etc. are more stereotypical. Being a romance, it would be easy to dismiss plot development as the typical boy meets girl, obstacles arise, they work them out, discover they’re madly in love, then live happily ever after, but there is also a deeper plot that runs alongside the fun, all-ends-well romance. Jacobson reveals greater depth to her main character Jessie’s personal growth and provides a satisfying study in determining values and goals, then prioritizing those discoveries.”

Melanie Jacobson. Twitterpated (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books). B-. “Another fun, lighthearted read about a 20-something Mormon girl finding love online. The story gets predictable, of course, and a bit contrived, but like I said, it’s entertaining. I would have liked more conflict, (it almost seemed like Jessie had to invent reasons not to be with Ben), as well as better character development, (Ben had no discernible personality and Jessie was a little too independent to win my sympathy) and a little more story (the subplots didn’t get enough playing time for me). Overall, though, Twitterpated is another upbeat, enjoyable romance from an author who actually makes me excited about the future of LDS fiction.”

Bryce Moore. Vondick (Andy, Emily’s Reading Room). 3.5 stars. “Vodnik has a sort of coarse charm, due mostly to its[Slovakian] setting . . . It was very, very nice to read fantasy not based in traditional fairy tale folklore. I would have preferred, however, simply MORE of that fantasy. It felt like a book that should have been steeped in it, drawing the reader more completely into a different culture. What it did show me was tantalizing, but I could have done with less talk about bullies and more opportunities for Tomas to show his character in a nontraditional setting . . . The Vodnik himself was a fascinating, deranged character that I particularly enjoyed, and the big bad Death herself has definite potential for future books. All in all, the book is a tad rough, and I would have preferred being dropped into the supernatural side of the cultural vat, rather than wading in the shallow end, but it was still very enjoyable and should be a decent read for any teenage boy.”

Jennifer A. Nielsen. The False Prince (Bookshelves of Doom). Podcast review.

Andrea Pearson. August Fortress (Mindy, LDSWBR). 4 stars. “This is my favorite book of the series. I loved the adventure and surprises around every turn. The characters are creative and fun. I really enjoy the world that Andrea has created. The creatures are my favorite, I would not want to be hunted by a fish because I accidentally fell in its water . . . Andrea’s books are full of fun, suspense, adventure, heart, and have a great sense of family. From the humans to the Makalos, everyone is loved and appreciated. You will enjoy these books even as much as your kids will.”

Steven L. Peck. Rifts of Rime (Rachel Whipple, Times & Seasons). “Finally, a book by Steve Peck that I can read with my children! . . . a lovely foray into the field of children’s literature . . . Like The Scholar, poetry plays an integral role in this novel. That can make it hard to get into and may be why it took me months before I took it back from my child to finish reading it . . . it wasn’t long before I was searching out the poetry and reading the chapter headings over again for another level of depth and insight into the narrative action. I admit that the prose is weak in places, but I doubt that will deter young readers. This book, like every good children’s book, has good and bad. The strong moral center shown through the contrast of nobility and perfidy, honor and conspiracy . . . The discussions of faith, duty and death are simple but profound. Their context is perfect for children, or anyone really, wanting explore what it means for beneficent gods to allow their creatures agency, even to the point of allowing those agents to cause harm and pain to themselves and others. In the end, there is both forgiveness and justice. . .  But the best part of Rifts is that even as our good guys fight and kill those perfidious traitors and their gulled followers, they do so knowing that after they all die, they will be together in the Wealdend Tree, their enmity gone. There is no hell because there is no hate; there is only peace and play and purpose and perfect happiness. Only one of my children has read The Rifts of Rime so far. That’s okay. It’s next on the bedtime read-aloud list. It belongs there, along with The Tale of Despereaux, Charlotte’s Web, and To Kill A Mockingbird. I definitely like Pinecone more than Aslan.”

Steven L. Peck. A Short Stay in Hell (Shelah Books It). 3 stars. “The story is interesting, well-done, and would work really, really well as a basis for group discussion in a university setting. I’m still thinking about it days later. I feel like my *** rating more reflects the fact that the story is a novella and therefore there’s not a deep exploration of character and motives. In fact, it feels a little bit unusual for so much time to pass in such a short number of words.”

Louisa White Reyes. The Rock of Ivanore (Marilou Sorensen, Deseret News). “Reyes’ debut novel is a gripping fantasy just right for younger readers who clamor for adventure but are not quite ready for Lloyd Alexander’s “Grey King” or J.R.R.Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings.””

Lara Stauffer. Unearthed (Braden Hurst, Deseret News). “Stauffer spins both tales together in an entertaining way that will keep readers engaged until the last page. The supporting characters are very well developed and add depth to the story as it unfolds. There are Mormon references throughout the novel, and while they may be confusing to some readers who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they do play an important role in the overall story.”

Eric James Stone. Rejiggering the Thingamajig and other stories. (Trent Walters, SF Site). “All of the stories are entertaining; half will stick with you. While more than capable of evoking thought and strong emotions from the reader, Stone remains unafraid of the Golden-Age-style, short-short entertainments . . . Stylistically speaking, he hearkens back to Isaac Asimov’s clean style but occasionally evokes a simpler fantasy world by adopting a slightly loftier distance. Two story types are his métier: the charming (also humorous) and the moving. The first type is exemplified by the popular “Rejiggering the Thingamajig,” “The Man Who Moved the Moon” and “Accounting for Dragons.” The latter group is well represented by “Betrayer of Trees,” “Premature Emergence,” “The Ashes of His Fathers” and “That Leviathan Whom Thou Hast Made” . . . If you’re a reader that believes that fiction is meant solely for entertainment, you should find a treasure trove. If you want heart or thought mixed liberally with your entertainment, a number of these should satisfy. One of the more interesting aspects of Stone’s work — even when the point of the story appears only to entertain — is his ability to squeeze a little more out from his endings.” [Walters reviews each story in some detail, as well as two EJS stories that are not in the collection].

G. G. Vandagriff. The Hollow Branch (Gamila’s Book Review). “While the mystery seemed frustrating to me at first I really did like how the author characterized the family members and I found them all pretty interesting. The setting made this book a perfect end of summer read, and I got caught up in the plot despite my earlier feelings that it got off the ground slowly.”

Dan Wells. The Hollow City (Wm Morris, Goodreads). 4 stars. “Wells does an excellent job of taking us into the confused mind of a schizophrenic and spinning that into a horror thriller that justifies the use of a mentally ill protagonist. If you like the John Cleaver books without reservation then you’ll like The Hollow City.”

Dan Wells. The Hollow City (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books). B+. “A riveting mind-twister. I don’t want to spoil it by saying too much, so I’ll just tell you that I loved this entertaining psychological/supernatural thriller. To me, it’s more compelling, more entertaining, and a whole lot less gruesome than Wells’ John Cleaver series. I may be in the minority here, but I really think The Hollow City is Wells’ best novel to date. It’s my favorite, anyway.”

Theater

The Death of Eurydice and Other Short Plays, by Mahonri Stewart, finishes its run at the Off Broadway Theater in Salt Lake City on August 18.

Mahonri Stewart’s One-Acts Sparkle (Front Row Reviewers). “Both of the plays were filled with strong acting and an incredible amount of dialogue that flowed naturally between the actors. There were a few problems with volume, but it was unclear if it was because the actors needed to project better or if the microphones were faulty. Although the facility was huge, the play seemed intimate by the way the actors filled the stage. Baird’s direction, along with David Bellis’ technical direction, helped their performers flow and seem believable and natural. I left the theater with great respect for Mahonri Stewart, a playwright who clearly knows how to tell a story that makes you think long after the curtain closes.”

Hillary Stirling (A Motley Vision guest post): “This was the second time I’ve seen “The Death of Eurydice,” and it was well worth viewing a second time. The play’s minimalist staging makes the story truly timeless and enhances the introspective nature of the play. The focus remains squarely on the actors and the story they tell. “Jinn” was similarly staged with the actors and the story they tell effortlessly carrying the play with little more than excellent dialog and skillful acting. “Jinn” is more grounded in the modern world, though again the minimalist staging allows the story to remain timeless. While Eurydice’s struggles are brought on by external forces, Calypso’s challenges are internal and the driving tension is whether she will actually confront those inner daemons or not. She is much like her namesake from Greek mythology, a secluded though sophisticated hermit, who is hiding from many regrets. The plays themselves were reason enough to go to the effort of arranging a babysitter and driving from a neighboring county. However, with the venue located in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City, it made a perfect centerpiece for a night out with my husband. I highly recommend making the time this weekend to go enjoy the plays!”

Zion Theatre Company’s next production will be Swallow the Sun, by Mahonri Stewart, at the Castle Theater in Provo on August 24, 25, 27,31 and September 1, 2, 7, 8 at 7:30 pm.. It Recounts C.S. Lewis’s early life and conversion to Christianity. It was first performed by the New Play Project in May 2008.  The script was published, along with The Fading Flower, in May by Zarahemla Press.

#MormonInChief, by Matthew Greene, continues at the New York International Fringe Festival through August 26.

Sarah Wegner, New York Theater Review.  “While waiting in line to enter The Kraine Theatre on Saturday night, it took me very little time to realize that the composition of the audience for the opening show of #MormonInChief was largely, and perhaps expectedly, Mormon . . . I suddenly began to wonder, “What am I doing here? Is this play going to be relevant to my secular self?” Despite a scattering of inside jokes about food on BYU’s campus, or the diet sodas of choice to Mormons who do not imbibe alcoholic beverages, my initial worries were quickly quelled. As much as #MormonInChief is a play by Mormons, for Mormons, and about Mormons, it seems to be just as important a play for Americans of any faith, or no faith at all. It’s important for those who are watching this nation’s president and presidential hopeful battle for that treasured title of Commander in Chief . . . Where this play really shines is in its discussion of the ever-intersecting issues of faith and politics. Scenes between Connor and Lydia are full of questions of the proper relationship between religion and politics, as well as the differences between what can be made public and what should be kept private. Although these scenes occasionally derail into more philosophical discussion between two types of political groups than theatrical scene between two characters with wants, the questions asked and the answers found (and even those not found) are important in this election season . . . The take-away from this production is both delightfully simple and politically and socially complicated: everyone is entitled to their own beliefs. #MormonInChief is a play for this country’s present moment. For those with an interest in the relationship between politics and religion, and between the people behind political and religious facades, this play does not disappoint.”

David Gordon, NYTheatre.com. “#MormonInChief starts with a great deal of promise – a nifty series of projections and a compelling, articulate, and just a little bit vague monologue delivered by the compelling Rodenburg’s green Lydia. But this potentially intriguing work, statically directed by Austin Regan, lost me mid-way through the first scene and never got me back.  As a main character, Connor is too vanilla to be compelling, and although we’re told his comment ignited a firestorm, the stakes are so low that we never actually believe it. He doesn’t think he did anything wrong, he even enlists Lydia to write a statement for him, and all that makes is for a very circular 90 minutes. Liebman seems trapped in a character that’s an ineffectual cypher with no room to go or grow, and easily overpowered by the fiery Rodenburg’s conniving, ballsy, and ethically questionable blogger.  A third character, Connor’s friend Kate is more distracting than necessary, despite a strong performance from Karis Danish . . . Ultimately, #MormonInChief, doesn’t suffer from a lack of potential, it just doesn’t know where to go. It’s timely alright, but like all Tweets heard around the world, it needs to say something.”

The Happiest Medium. “With so many current trending topics, how could #mormoninchief  not be interesting? In fear of burying the lead, I will tell you now that regrettably, it was not. Given the smoothness of the script, I don’t think the author of the book, Matthew Greene, wrote a bad play, nor was the execution faulty. In fact, the three-man show . . . ran efficiently, and the actors professionally played out their characters. But in the end, I wondered why I was watching #mormoninchief . . . Unfortunately, this plot never really panned out, and instead, the viewers watched as they circled around these subjects and beat them into blind boredom.  Halfway through the play I wanted it to be done, and, as my savvy companion pointed out, “Right now 140 characters doesn’t seem like such a bad thing.” Maybe if the show cut their hour-and-a-half time down to 45 minutes or an hour, it would have flowed better. They could have easily nicked the character of Kate Walker, played by Danish, Jorgensen’s friend and the wife of his business partner. She came in screeching about her husband ignoring her and then they talked about some dull personal stuff. Then they did it again, and again. At this point, you may ask, what about the Twitter feed? Well, in the end that idea petered out as not only did Jorgensen not tweet again, but also the actual impact of his one tweet was never fully explained. In the end, this left the show flat and fleeting, instead of something to be tweeting.”

Backstage. ““#MormoninChief” begins with a ridiculous premise . . . The ridiculous is an ordinary occurrence in an election year, however, and so from this premise Matthew Greene’s play could have blossomed into a satisfying satire (which is what I inferred it would be from its arch title). Or it could have veered into a sophisticated debate of various topical issues. Instead, “#MormoninChief” is a three-character play that, as lethargically directed by Austin Regan, is neither satiric nor sophisticated. At best it offers some halfhearted explorations of vague personal moral dilemmas . . . The largest moral lesson of “#MormoninChief” may be: Don’t be misled into thinking something will be entertaining just because its title has a Twitter hashtag or the word “Mormon” in it.”

City of Joseph: A Historical Musical of Nauvoo. BYU Education Week, Aug. 14-17. Book and lyrics by R. Don Oscarson, music by Maughan W. McMurdie, directed by Scott Eckern. A scaled-down version of the City of Joseph pageant that played at Nauvoo from 1976 to 2004.

Callie Oppedisano, UTBA. “The play should not be considered a traditional American musical.  There is no narrative arc to the story, no conflict of opposing forces.  Rather, the history of the founding of Nauvoo is recounted . . . This history is interspersed with thematically appropriate songs that do more to illustrate the feelings of the early Church members than to progress the play.  Instead, a narrator of sorts, played in this production by Marvin Payne, guides the pageant through history, utilizing journals and stories from those who lived in Nauvoo from 1839-1846 . . . The apparent effort of “equality” on the program struck me as significant in light of the current practice of the LDS Church to write and produce performances by committee . . . there is certainly a sense of ensemble that mirrors that of the historical residents portrayed that worked to build and sustain the city of Nauvoo. Payne excellently leads the cast into the musical with his veteran stage presence and solid voice.   He opens with the solo “Bend of the River,” which establishes the setting of the play on the banks of the Mississippi River in Nauvoo.   It is a lovely melody, but a bit problematic in this production because it references what the audience should be seeing.  In this case, of course, it is meant to lead the audience to the Nauvoo in their imagination with a flowing river, green grass, and a beautiful evening sky.  Unfortunately, it seems too evident that the actual green grass, lazy river, and Illinois evening would be so much more powerful to the production.  Removing City of Joseph from its title location has negatively impacted the production . . . Far from being a proselytizing instrument, which some might suggest, City of Joseph is more of a confirmation and celebration of the deeply held beliefs of LDS Church members both on stage and in the audience.  While people outside of the faith could certainly appreciate the performance, there is no doubt that it will have much greater meaning to LDS Church members.”

The author notes on the City of Joseph review drew my attention. “Callie Oppedisano is an independent theatre scholarearned her PhD in Drama from Tufts University in 2009 after completing her dissertation titled “Worthy of Imitation: Contemporary Mormon Drama on the Latter Day Stage.” So I looked up the abstract of her dissertation, which reads in part, “During the past four decades, Mormon theatre has evolved in response to both the changing cultural attitudes within the Church and the changing cultural responses from “secular” America toward Mormonism. In my examination of this evolution, I focus on six plays that are representative of a variety of thematic and artistic trends and consider the extent to which these dramatic works reveal a particularly Mormon aesthetic, one infused with theological, cultural, and geographical identifications . . . The chapters include plays written between 1973 and 2006 that have been produced in both Utah and in other national and international locations. The act of Mormon self-representation on stage reveals the cultural attitudes LDS members have of themselves in relation to their faith and to the secular world.”  At the 2011 Mormon History Association Conference, she presented a paper, “Performing the Archival Landscape: ‘That Which Will Not Go Away’ in Julie Jensen’s ‘Two Headed: A Tale of History’”. Can we get Dr. Oppendisano to do some guest blog posts on her work? Does anyone have her contact information?

Film

Saints and Soldiers: Airborne Creed. Opened August 17 in 31 Utah theaters. Ryan Little, director. Adam Able, Producer.  Screenplay by Lincoln Hoppe and Lamont Gray.  Staring Corbin Allred, David Nibley, Jason Wade, and Lincoln Hoppe. About American soldiers who parachuted into southern France in 1944. While it is the same “brand” as 2003’s Saints and Soldiers, with the same director, producer, and lead actor, there are no direct connections between the two stories, and Allred plays a different character.

Sean P. Means, Salt Lake Tribune review. 3 stars. “As he did with the first “Saints and Soldiers,” Little squeezes every ounce of production value out of the tiny “Airborne Creed” budget. Little (who is his own cinematographer) employs tight editing, strategically placed computer effects and a group of World War II re-enactors to make the movie look big and epic. The best thing about Little’s technical skill is that it keeps the production values from distracting from the story, which is an engaging drama about the ways war grinds down the men (and back then it was only men) who fight it — on both sides. “Saints and Soldiers: Airborne Creed” is a thinking person’s war movie, and a feeling person’s one as well.”

Cody Clark, Daily Herald review.  B. “Airborne Creed” benefits immensely from the strong cinematography of director Ryan Little, as well as clever, seamlessly inserted visual effects. From a few angles, the south of France seems uncannily reminiscent of Utah, but the locations used are mostly like the authentic costuming and other minutely detailed visual elements — they put the illusion across. The battlefield action of “Airborne Creed” feels a bit more stagey in spots than what was delivered by “Saints and Soldiers,” and the acting is less colorful, and a little less convincing . . . Each of the soldier protagonists has an emotional arc, and the most resonant by far is the one that ultimately draws together Allred’s volatile Rossi and the gentle, troubled German officer (a fine, moving performance by co-screenwriter Lincoln Hoppe). “Airborne Creed” shows astonishing daring in both the pacing and placement of this extended close encounter, and the risk is richly, if subtly, rewarded.”

Mormon Movie Guy review.  A-.  “For much of its 90 minute running time, Saints and Soldiers: Airborne Creed is a ponderous character study with seemingly little narrative thrust. It is gorgeously shot, recreates the WWII era in great detail, and the acting is terrific, but even with tense moments, a daring rescue, and some welcome humor, one wonders for a time whether the story is actually going anywhere. It is only in the third act that the various threads come together, and one realizes that director Ryan Little, along with screenwriters Lamont Gray and Lincoln Hoppe, has quietly been planting seeds along the way that later bear unexpected fruit. This is a film that invests its audience in its characters before delivering a powerful emotional wallop . . . It likewise allows characters, both religious and not, to display wonderful humanity. Curiously, the person of faith in this film is not vaguely defined as a Latter-Day Saint, as in the previous film. Here, he’s the product of an interfaith family (Catholic and Baptist) whose devotion to Christ and to freedom leads him to the battlefield. David Nibley (The Best Two Years) plays this Christian as devout but relatable. As a courageous everyman whose heart is back home, Jason Wade who (starred in last year’s excellent 17 Miracles) continues to impress . . . The biggest gamble is in casting Corbin Allred again, albeit in a radically different role, seeing as he left such an indelible impression in the first film with his excellent performance as Deacon, the Mormon sniper. The gamble pays off, however, as Allred successfully distances himself from the previous character . . . Heartbreaking and beautifully written, it is perhaps the best-acted scene I’ve seen this year and one that ought to provoke much thought. Saints and Soldiers: Airborne Creed is in many ways a subtler work than its predecessor. It’s not as action-driven and its pace is more reflective, which may frustrate some. That said, thoughtful audiences will find much to appreciate and be inspired by here.

Deseret News review: “Is this new film as good as the first one? Each of the soldiers’ stories is compelling, but “Airborne Creed” is less believable than the first film. There are some shots and scenes that appear staged and quickly thrown together. But cast members do a wonderful job playing their roles and connecting with the audience. Each of the main actors draws the viewer into his life.”

Salt Lake Tribune feature story (the most interesting of the feature stories). Two Deseret News  feature stories.

Charly was released to 21 theaters in Utah on August 1, in a remastered and slightly changed 10-year anniversary edition.  Here is a Deseret News “review” of the film, and a feature story.

Thoughts on Charly’s 10th Anniversary Re-release (Kevin Burtt, LDS Cinema Online). B.  “Charly is still a good film. I didn’t like it any more or less after the second viewing. It does a lot of things right — creating a faithful LDS story while still exploring some of the deeper issues within LDS doctrine and belief (helped, obviously, by having good source material). There’s only about five minutes of “new” material, none of it significant. . . One of Charly’s strengths are complex and well-drawn characters. The character of Sam is different than the common “faithful LDS male” seen in many LDS films, who is usually the same at the beginning of the film as the end. (See: The Other Side of Heaven, One Good Man) Sam actually has a character arc — where his outlook on life and spirituality when the film opens is challenged immediately and continually throughout the film until he’s forced to question exactly who he is and what he believes. (“What good is faith if it’s just for Bible stories and sacrament talks?” he asks, an excellent question that most faithful LDS will have to face for themselves at some point.) He’s genuinely in a different place spiritually and emotionally at the end of the movie . . . Obviously your mileage may vary, but as much as I like Sam and Charly as complex literary characters, the film still didn’t sell me on their relationship. Sam ends up with Charly by default. It’s telling that the scenes where Charly dismisses Sam after he’s offended her and he tries to make up ring truer than the scene where she takes him back. What does he have to offer to her that would convince her to look past all the other relationship baggage? The fact that Charly is still one of my favorite LDS films despite not accepting the very premise behind it shows just how many things the film does right.”

Mormon Movie Guy: B. “A scene in which Charly discovers her faith while examining paintings of the Savior, while quite touching, seems out of place because the actress playing her, Heather Beers, has clearly aged . . . Those gripes aside, everything audiences love about this story and these characters is intact. It can be melodramatic and “cheesy,” but when all is said and done Beers and Jeremy Hoop have wonderful chemistry and Charly remains a compelling firecracker of a character. The humor mostly hits the mark and the film is undeniably effective as a tearjerker and as a testimony of both eternal marriage and the peace found through Jesus Christ.”

Scents and Sensibility, directed and produced by Brian Brough and written and produced by Brittany Wiscome, has recently been showing on the Lifetime cable network.  It is the story of two rich sisters who lose their wealth when their father goes to jail for embezzlement. They find jobs, find romance, find success through selling a lotion. Based loosely on the Jane Austen novel. It premiered on the Lifetime Movie Network on June 24 2012, then Lifetime TV on August 12 and September 10.  The DVD will be released on October 2. 

My Peculiar Friend review. “Bad as the movie was, I would recommend watching it. There is an earnestness in the performances and a sweetness that reminds me of Christopher Guest’s Waiting for Guffman. It is unintentionally funny (it really demands robot silhouettes) and I would recommend to the producers they remake the film as a parody . . . I fear the movie will not appeal to any other than Austen fans, however. The use of competent but unknown actors, the shot on video look and the bland sets (it would have more amusing to see Elinor and Marianne in greatly reduced circumstances rather than the expensive apartment that explains their inability to raise the money for Margaret’s medication) makes the film unappealing to non-Janeites.”

The Dove Foundation review. “This story features themes of perseverance and forgiveness and striving together with others to achieve a goal. It features some nice humorous scenes too . . . This is a nice story with some very good scenes in it and we are happy to say it has earned our Dove Seal for family viewing! Watch it soon and you might be inspired to deal with your tough moments in life a bit more creatively and with humor.”

Bestsellers

New York Times Bestseller Lists, Aug. 19th and 26th. 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

#32, x EARTH UNAWARE, by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston (3rd week).  Fell off the list after three week. Off the USA Today list after one week.

Mass Market Paperbacks

#22, #19 ENDER’S GAME, by Orson Scott Card (14th week). #134 on the USA Today list (19th week).

SAMURAI GAME, by Christine Feehan fell of the NYT list after 4 weeks, and off the USA Today list after 5 weeks.

Children’s Hardback

CROSSED, by Ally Condie fell off the list after 11 weeks.

Children’s Paperback

#5, #8 MATCHED, by Ally Condie (47th week).

Children’s Series

#6, #8 THE MAZE RUNNER TRILOGY, by James Dashner (35th week).

Deseret Book bestsellers

  1. Come to Zion, Vol. 1: The Winds and the Waves by Dean Hughes
  2. Code Word by Traci Hunter Abramson  NEW
  3. Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson
  4. Murder by the Way by Betsy Brannon Green
  5. Cold Justice by Kathi Oram Peterson NEW
  6. Reality Check by Karen Tuft NEW
  7. Daughters of Jared by Heather B. Moore NEW
  8. Leaning Into the Curves by Nancy Anderson, Carroll H. Morris
  9. Before I Say Goodbye by Rachel Ann Nunes
  10. Letters in the Jade Dragon Box by Gale Sears
  11. The Newport Ladies Book Club: Daisy by Josi S. Kilpack
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2 Responses to This Week in Mormon Literature, August 18, 2012

  1. Marny says:

    Slight correction on Kendal Debenham’s books: Badger is a sequel to Wolfhound, but Iron Angels is the first book in a new series.

  2. Thank you for including my debut novel, The Rock of Ivanore. I also appreciated the link to the article about Mormons writing fantasy, since that is what I do. I am going to read it right now. :)

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