This Week in Mormon Literature, Sept. 1, 2012

A ton of books were released over the last two weeks. Big nationally published MG/YA books, like James Dashner’s first in a hyped multi-author time travel series, Shannon Hale’s long-awaited sequel to a Newberry Honor-winner, and a C. J. Hill dystopian novel with an interesting back history (it is a revision of a Mormon-market novel from 2004). Several nationally popular authors released novellas. While another group of established authors decided to clear out their drawers and self-publish a series of books. Kristen Randle, a favorite author of mine, is one of those. Another, Mette Ivie Harrison, dumped a ton of work on to the market, including Vampires in the Temple, an alternative history where the Mormon pioneers found vampires in the Salt Lake Valley, which continues to have repercussions today (awesome!).  Please send any additions or corrections to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.

Blog Posts and Podcasts

A Place for Mormon Literary Studies (Scott Hales, Worlds Without End). A guest post at the “Mormon Studies Roundtable). A discussion of the progress and roadblocks in academic literary study of Mormon literature. “Interestingly, Mormon literary studies, while never at a complete standstill, have not thrived the way Mormon historical studies have in recent years. Engaging books on Mormon history are published monthly, it seems, and journalistic pieces on Mormonism regularly name-drop people like Patrick Mason, Matthew Bowman, Jan Shipps, and Kathleen Flake. Books about Mormon literature are less forthcoming, however, even though new Mormon literary works—novels, novellas, short stories, poems, plays, and films—are abundant . . . One reason for this scarcity, perhaps, is Mormon cultural unease about “that which is not fact,” which maybe results in a tendency not to take imaginative literature as seriously as literature that claims to be factual. Another possible reason could be the aesthetic stigma attached to Mormon literature, which I encounter frequently when I write or talk about Mormon fiction, poetry, and drama with those unacquainted with the field.”

Scott Hales has been on a reading and reviewing binge of Nephi Anderson (turn of the century Mormon author) in preparation for spending a week with the Anderson papers at the Church History Library. He discusses the reasons for his interest in Novelist Nephi; or Why We Still Need the “Author of ‘Added Upon’” here at this blog. Hales concludes, “More than anything else, I think, its value is in the way it offers readers fiction that takes Mormons, Mormonism, and a Mormon world view seriously (something a few here have found lacking in today’s Mormon fiction). On the level of craft, Anderson’s novels are not “perfect” the way The Great Gatsby nearly is, but they are often much better than we usually make them out to be. Not only do they offer an interesting snapshot of Mormonism at the crucial juncture of the early twentieth century, but they also affirm what we here already know: that great things happen when Mormonism and fiction meet.”  Hales also comments, “I sometimes compare Anderson and his works with those of Willa Cather. Both are very different writers, but their interest in rural life and regional immigrant/pioneer stories ties them together.” He republished an entire 1909 short story in “How the Lord Was Good to Aunt Johanna” and the 1921 short story “The Girl”. And provides a picture of Anderson and his family at home.  He also notes, “I’m convinced that *John St. John* is Nephi Anderson’s lamest novel.”

NY Times bestselling author David Farland talks about the craft of writing and ‘The Runelords’ (Examiner.com).

BYU Animation professor Ryan Woodward appears on KBYU’s Thinking Aloud, and talks about animation and his new animated comic book Bottom of the Ninth. Kent Larson reviews the work/app at Game Lost, but not the Season: A review of Ryan Woodward’s Bottom of the 9th. “What impressed me most about Bottom of the 9th was its overall quality. The artwork is great, matching the story quite well—no cutesy pokemon-style drawings. Since this work was destined for ipads and iphones, in includes both animation and audio materials, both of which are well done, at least to my eye. At times it was a little difficult to figure out which item to press first, but overall the line of the story worked well. Overall I’d have to say that Woodward’s work is slick. And for the Mormon audience, including the voice of Mormon baseball great and former Mission President Dale Murphy in the audio was great. Where I think Bottom of the 9th went wrong was in its story line. This first episode begins with five screens (pages) of two guys heading to a baseball game and talking about a new pitcher who could pitch that day—the first woman to pitch in the majors. Since the story in the episode only covers 11 screens (if I count right), this introduction seems like a lot, especially when the background of this pitcher is recounted in a single (albeit animated) frame.” Larson expressed disappointment with the marketing of the work, and Woodward responded in the comments.

Kent Larson concluded his series on Orson Whitney’s 1888 “Home Literature” talk with Sunday Lit Crit Sermon: Whitney on the blessings of Literature.

Short Story

Eric W. Jepson. “Swallowing Bones”. Windmills #9, 2012. Theric says Windmills is a “lit mag published by Deakin University in Australia. Inside this small 20-page zine is my short “Swallowing Bones,” an oddball piece about a seagull who thinks he’s a human who thinks he’s a seagull which I thought was too wacky to ever fit in anywhere. So I was delighted when Windmills accepted it.”

New books and their reviews

D. J. Butler. Deseret. City of the Saints, vol. 2. Self-published, July. Second in the alternative-history steampunk series, set in 1850s Utah. Features Samuel Clemens, Richard Burton, and  Edgar Allen Poe.

Stephen Carter and Jett Atwood. iPlates, Volume 1. Self-published, August. Comic book series. “Vowing to reclaim the land of his fathers, Zeniff leads a company of Nephites deep into Lamanite territory. But the Lamanites have other plans for them. Can Zeniff defend his city against the Lamanite armies? Will his ambitious son Noah seize the crown? Can the prophet Abinadi save the city from its own wickedness? Adventure, war, betrayal, and redemption await you.”

Stan Crowe. The Cinderella Project. Breezy Reads, August 30. Contemporary romance.  Male graduate students studies love, and has his own complications with a difficult fiancée and a beautiful research assistant. “Stan Crowe” is a pseudonym for Stan Johnson. First non-self published novel. Breezy Reads is a tiny new publisher “bringing fun fiction to women and teen girls.”

Shanda, LDSWBR. 5 stars. “The Cinderella Project pulled me in from the start and I enjoyed it even more than I expected. It was refreshing to read this male-written romance from a male point-of-view.”

James Dashner. The Infinity Ring: Book 1: A Mutiny in Time. Scholastic, September 1. Middle-grade time-travel adventure. First in a seven-volume multi-author series, headed up by Dashner. Scholastic sees it as the next The 39 Clues, and is heavily promoting it as a “multiplatform experience” including a web site with games. LA Times feature.

Rick Riordan, New York Times Sunday Book Review.  “Like The 39 Clues, Infinity Ring provides an opportunity for stealth education, as it plunges readers into the past and encourages them to think about cause and effect . . . The concept behind the series: History is broken. For reasons not entirely clear, a mysterious group known as the SQ has altered major events over the last few millenniums, causing Breaks like “great big boulders that have been plopped into the time stream.” This has led to a 21st century dramatically different from the one we know . . . Manages to cut a fresh channel in the well-worn time stream . . . Dashner has all the skills to open this series successfully: A Mutiny in Time features tight plotting, snappy dialogue and a judicious balance of humor and suspense. As Sera and Dak travel to 1492 to sail with the famous Amancio brothers and their little-known, soon-to-be-deposed captain, Christopher Columbus, the story moves at a breathless pace. And the premise will appeal to many readers, who will love imagining what they would do if they had Dak and Sera’s Infinity Ring. But readers may have trouble getting into the story. To paraphrase the old science fiction axiom, you can write about realistic characters in a fantastic world, or fantastic characters in a realistic world, but here, both the world and the characters are initially difficult to relate to. Neither Dak nor Sera is an average kid. In her spare time, Sera likes to attend lectures on tachyon destabilization. Dak especially, with his inexplicable proclivity for bursting into historical lectures at inappropriate occasions like family funerals, runs the risk of coming across as more annoying than likable . . . Dashner has a huge amount of landscape to paint, and, at 190 pages, a very small canvas on which to do so. Future volumes might allow the characters to come into their own, and answer some of the many hanging questions that make it hard to suspend disbelief . . . Despite these issues, the story picks up quickly. The supporting characters aboard the Santa Maria are deftly and colorfully drawn. The ending is satisfying, but also leaves us with a cliffhanger that will have young readers impatient for the second volume. “A Mutiny in Time” reads like a Remnant itself — vivid, intriguing, not fully realized but hinting at a larger story that feels right. For young readers who enjoy fast-paced adventures, especially children who have an interest in history, the “Infinity Ring” series promises to be well worth their time.”

Kirkus Reviews. “The Hystorians are opposed by a powerful group called SQ for no clear reason except that, you know, there have to be Bad Guys. Logic not being the strong suit here, the Time Nerds’ first mission with the newly invented Infinity Ring takes them not to ancient Macedon but to 15th-century Spain. This and subsequent print volumes end on cliffhangers that segue into gamelike, online-only sequels (not seen) set in other eras and accessible with pass codes provided on foldout clue sheets. Off-the-shelf adventure modules, stocked with familiar character types and set into a scenario that is nonsensical even by the usual low standards of formula time-travel adventure.”

Publishers Weekly. “It’s a quick, straightforward adventure with a successful mix of action, adventure, and historical substance.”

Shannon Hale. Palace of Stone. Bloomsbury, Aug. 21. YA fantasy. Sequel to the Newberry Honor-winning Princess Academy.  Shannon Hale/Palace of Stone feature stories can be found at Daily Herald, Salt Lake Tribune, Deseret News.

Kirkus Reviews. “The politics echo the French Revolution (Hale notes this in the acknowledgments), but Miri’s clear voice keeps the story hers and her people’s. There’s lovely texture to clothing and architectural descriptions and vivid warmth to Miri’s friendships, her longing for home and her thirst to learn more and more. Not one but two boys help her find all the feelings kisses can engender. Miri’s story comes to a satisfying end; readers who have been waiting since 2005 will find their patience well rewarded.”

Publishers Weekly. “Hale handles these threads ably, although a scene in which the Eskelites stop a villain by using their ability to communicate through stone–a homegrown talent called “quarry-speech”–has a whiff of comic-book superhero that feels out of place. Still, this is a fine follow-up to a novel that already felt complete.”

School Library Journal. “The rebellion plotline acts as a primer on why change and social improvement are so difficult, and how resorting to violence can backfire. Miri may be just a young woman from Mt. Eskel, but in Palace of Stone she proves once again that with quick wits and brave words, one person really can change the world.”

Enna, Squeaky Books: “I adored this book. No joke. Loved it. I think I may even love it more than the first one. Shall I tell you why? First of all, the characters were BRILLIANT. Shannon masterfully managed to weave together so many lives that I loved all the characters, especially Miri. I loved watching Miri grow and learn. In the first book Miri became book-smart, and now we get to see her become street-smart and it’s just as wonderful. Another reason? I don’t think this book would win the Newberry. Why? Because it’s much more plot-driven than Princess Academy. And honestly, I prefer that. Even if you were to take out all of Shannon’s writing ability and look at this book JUST AS A STORY, it would still be awesome. Put Shannon’s writing in, and it becomes amazing. This one just has such higher stakes than the first one. And the first one had pretty high stakes.”

Hope, Love, and Happy Endings. 3 stars. “I think while waiting for this sequel I out grew the story. What was once enchanting has lost much of its glimmer. This time on re-entry to this world things didn’t fit as well. The quarry-speak was a bit odd, one might even say fantastical. Something akin to the random imaginings of young girls . . . Peder felt lack luster and very much a background prop in this story. The book took on a bigger chunk of thought provoking material than it could fit. It felt so very serious for such a young audience . . . Change comes suddenly without bloodshed or argument. As if upon finding the book was about to get ugly a sweet grandmother shuts it and makes up an unbelievable ending in which everyone, villain included, lives happily ever after . . . The book felt a bit long. It wasn’t the fun and innocent read of its predecessor despite all the gawking done by Miri. It was well written and fairly well paced. But even with so many good qualities I just wasn’t captivated.”

Emily’s Reading Room. 5 stars. “It went in a direction that I absolutely was not expecting. And I mean that in the best possible way . . . I was bowled over by the most expert way that Hale handles complex situations like revolution, poverty, loyalty, and love. I’ve often felt that the best children’s writers are able to take a sensitive issue and pose it in a way that is both thoughtful and respectful. There are so many ways that this book could have become preachy or false. But, it was handled so beautifully that I really think that I loved Palace of Stone more than Princess Academy. Which I didn’t think was possible.”

Wandering Librarians. “Hale did an excellent job portraying the many different sides to a political situation, and how there is no clear “good” or “evil.” People may be willing to go to extremes for their cause, and if some people are hurt along the way it’s all in the name of the greater good. Miri muddles her way through, thinking she’s making the right decisions and swept up in creating change, and then suddenly realizing that perhaps she’s hasn’t been looking at the full picture.”

The Bluestocking Society. 4 stars. “The writing is well done, of course. I’d expect nothing less from Hale at this point. Here’s a lovely quote that also highlights one of the themes: ‘Unlike numbers, words were rarely just one thing. They moved and changed, camouflaging and leaping out unexpectedly. Words were slippery and alive, words wrestled out of her grip and became something new. Words were dangerous.’ The plotting was deftly done and well paced. And it packed an emotional punch too. I unexpectedly cried at the end. One small note on the plot. This may just be because I happened to be listening to the audio of Enna Burning at the same time I was reading this book, but the plots struck me as very similar: friend of princess established in prior book goes back now to help and save the kingdom with her special powers and personality. I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing, but it is interesting.”

M. I. Harrison. Vampires in the Temple. Self, August 9. LDS urban fantasy/alternative history.  Set in Salt Lake City, Utah in an alternate history of the Mormon Church. When the Mormon pioneers cross into the Salt Lake Valley, they find vampires near the lake. A complicated history results. In the present, Jack Hardy is a detective in Salt Lake City, Utah, with partner Andy Young. Andy is a descendant of Benjamin Young, legendary leader of the Mormon pioneers and general of the Mormon Army that defeated the vampires and pushed them back onto the island in the middle of the Salt Lake. But Benjamin Young’s wife Ella made some prophecies about the vampires that have been repressed in the past. Now they are returning to bite Jack in the ass. He has to figure out who killed his fiancee Becky and at the same time uncover the members of a secret conspiracy within the Mormon church.

Mette Ivie Harrison. An Ideal Boyfriend. Self, August 12. YA contemporary fantasy.  Children of “old luck” families.

Mette Ivie Harrison. The Gift of Demons. Self, August 12. YA paranormal. Girl of color in a suburban Utah high school becomes a demon fighter. Sounds like Buffy.

Mette Ivie Harrison. Three short story collections, Self, August. 12. Ten Apprentices. Fantasy and one science fiction.  Saving the Moon. Self, August 12. Contemporary fantasy.  The Queen’s Truth. Fantasy set in medieval Europe.

C. J. Hill (Janette Rallison). Erasing Time. Katherine Tegen Books (Harper Teen), August 28. YA dystopian.  Twin girls wake up 400 years in the future, find domed cities, no animals, and a language that’s so different, it barely sounds like English. They are caught in a war between two groups. This book has a complicated publishing history. A version of it, Time Riders, was published by Cedar Fort in 2004, under Rallison’s “Sierra St. James” pseudonym. It got very strong reviews from Jennie Hansen and others. At that point the twin girls were LDS, and had LDS themes. Rallison reported in 2008 that Deseret Book planned to publish a revision of the book, and she started working on updating the future technology. Apparently plans changed, because now it is being released nationally as Erasing Time, under Rallison’s newer “C. J. Hill” pseudonym, that she is using for YA speculative fiction.  From the reviews, it looks like the specifically LDS material has been removed, although the issue of religion in the future remains. It will be interesting to hear what changes were made.  A sequel is expected.

Kirkus Reviews. “A dash of time travel gives a fresh flavor to the quickly staling dystopia genre . . . The initially slow third-person narration picks up pace as it alternates between Echo’s and Sheridan’s points of view . . . What the story lacks in detail of the futuristic time period, it makes up in its attention to the evolution of language and religion. Taylor and Sheridan’s quick-thinking idioms allow them to make plans right under the guards’ noses and strike while the iron is hot. For once, literature buff Sheridan outshines her physicist-prodigy sister. Dramatic twists and turns to the very end ensure readers’ attention and the possibility of an equally thrilling sequel.”

Publishers Weekly. “Hill’s vision teeters on the edge of farce in both premise and details, yet never takes that step too far. Sheridan focuses on the values of her upbringing while adjusting, sometimes wrenchingly, to a new world. By her side is Echo, the bereaved survivor of another set of twins, who understands the girls’ desire to escape the domed city-state of Traventon. As a “wordsmith,” a historian and linguist, he can help bridge the gap in their knowledge—but can he be trusted? This age-old jailbreak plot is seasoned with plentiful, often amusing novelties and historical misinterpretations. It’s a mash-up of Weird Science and Erewhon, and though the social message can get heavy-handed, the fun is never far behind.”

VOYA. “Hill builds an appealing futuristic world, giving it believable technology and adding color by playing with language. She relies too much on these atmospheric elements, however, so they soon become stale. The characters are also unoriginal, with few significant individual qualities to give depth to their personalities. The plot is focused around the revelation of several big secrets, but when they come to light, they lack impact because the characters’ reactions seem false. The overall thematic arc built upon these whimpering climaxes also hides any concept that this dystopia could address. The book ends without complete resolution, teasing the reader for the sequel, which will hopefully add the depth this work lacks.”

Brenda Novak. When We Touch. Mira, August 1. Whisky Creek Trilogy 0.5 (ebook novella). Romance.

Merrill Osmand & Shirley Bahlmann. Faith, Hope, and Gravity. Self, Aug. 17. The Osmand Brothers singer’s first novel. Bahlmann has written several fiction and non-fiction books for the LDS market. “This spiritual, magical adventure follows teenage Liam Kane as he discovers some of the same lessons Merrill Osmond learned.

Jennie Hansen, Goodreads. 2 stars. “The main character is a narcisstic mama’s boy and is difficult to like. Motivations are weak, cause and effect don’t add up, and the entire premise made little sense to me. The theme is centered on people who are supposedly visionaries and a fatalistic philosophy that whatever is supposed to happen will happen so there’s little point in taking responsibility for your life or making plans.”

Bookworm Lisa, Goodreads. 3.5 stars. “The idea behind the book is one of overcoming and learning to have faith. There is a very Christian theme that runs throughout the book. Liam is blessed with a mother who seeks to help her son fulfill his destiny and think of others, not to focus so much on his pain. I found this book to be interesting, there were a few parts that felt a little sluggish to me, overall it is an enjyable book.”

James A. Owen. The Dragons of Winter. Simon & Schuster, August 28. YA fantasy. Chronicles of Imaginarium Geographica #6. The penultimate book in the series. The adventurers travel to the City of Atlantis, encounter versions of a variety of literary and historical figures.

Kirkus Reviews. “This penultimate volume in the Imaginarium Geographica series features such a massive ensemble of dead white men that it’s difficult to follow their storylines. Don Quixote, Aristophanes and a badger quest for magic armor. Charles Williams, original characters Rose and Edmund, H.G. Wells, Richard Burton and a Clash of the Titans–style mechanical owl travel in time. J.R.R. Tolkien and Jules Verne meet a secret society so packed with dead authors that six William Blake clones (“We call them Blake’s Seven”) fit right in. A Chinese librarian speaking pidgin English betrays the questers, Medea meets Gilgamesh, and triple agents abound. A goblin market is peopled with characters from The Last Unicorn who make jokes from Blazing Saddles; Nathaniel Hawthorne paraphrases the 1988 cult classic They Live; a future Caretaker quotes Darth Vader. “Jules Verne show[s] goats descended from the herds of Genghis Khan in a county fair in an Indian nation in America … ” Confused yet? If not, perhaps you’ll be able to make sense of a resolution that relies on pasts that never were and futures that might-have-been. Fans of the series who managed to enjoy volumes four and five will be pleased to find more of the same.”

Anne Perry.  A Sunless Sea. Ballantine, August 28. William Monk #18.

Kristen D. Randle. The Gardener. Ponymoon Press (self), December 2011. YA mystery. A girl fights against her parents’ move to New England. She struggles to find her place in the new town, but comes up against a mystery that becomes personal and weirdly dangerous.

Provo Library Staff Reviews, “The Gardener is by way of being a Christian allegory, the message clear but the correspondences subtle. There is so much good in these young people and their families, refreshingly loving and concerned parents (so rare in contemporary Young Adult fiction), and most of all, kindness and care. Kristen Randle’s prose is vivid, colloquial but never condescending, full of life, as one might expect from the author of the much-honored The Only Alien on the Planet. A fine, fine book for teenagers and their significant elders.”

Melissa, Goodreads, 4 stars. “I loved the main character, she was so real! I loved everything she said and did. This book would be a good book for an older teen girl to read and learn from. Even as a mother it really made me rethink some things and really try hard to stand up for myself especially around people I don’t know very well. This book dealt with some serious issues, but as always the author did a very good job of keeping the book clean while doing it. 16 and up. Highly recommend to all my friends especially woman”

Kristen D. Randle. The Golden Boy. Ponymoon Press (self), June 4. Middle grade. “A hilarious, scary middle grade book about a less-than-perfect boy running a not-so-normal world.” 5th grade wrestler uses magic, makes a mess.

Kristen D. Randle. The Lady and the Fool. Ponymoon Press (self), June 18. Fantasy/romance. Medieval setting. “A wild, romantic tale oddly reminiscent of both Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn”.

Brandon Sanderson. Legion. Subterranean Press, Aug 31. Novella, limited release. “Stephen Leeds, AKA “Legion,” is a man whose unique mental condition allows him to generate a multitude of personae: hallucinatory entities with a wide variety of personal characteristics and a vast array of highly specialized skills. As the story begins, Leeds and his “aspects” are drawn into the search for the missing Balubal Razon, inventor of a camera whose astonishing properties could alter our understanding of human history and change the very structure of society. The action ranges from the familiar environs of America to the ancient, divided city of Jerusalem.”  Publisher’s details.

Elitist Book Review. “Brandon’s wit is a bit more under control here, in my opinion. This prevents the pacing from halting and keeps the reader immersed in the story. We get some very Science Fiction concepts, and some huge hints that this novella was just a test piece for something much, much bigger. I desperately want to read more of this character. This felt like a delicious appetizer that hints at an amazing main course. In LEGION, we get the epic feeling that Brandon Sanderson is known for, but in a condensed and focused format. If you are a fan of Sanderson’s work, purchasing this is a no-brainer. It’s worth every penny.”

E. M. Tippetts. Castles on the Sand. Self, August 20. YA Contemporary. Long-lost brother and sister find each other. PG-13 rating for depictions of child abuse and the aftermath of a suicide attempt.

Kirkus Reviews. “A 16-year-old girl burdened with a tangle of adult and teenage worries gets some unexpected help when a long-lost sibling appears on her doorstep. When Madison’s Mormon brother, John, tracks her down in her small beach town, she’s anything but pleased. John is eager to reconnect with her, but she remains wary of his religion, as well as the other Mormons in her town. [Details about romance, fighting, and family abuse.] Just when readers may find this sort of helpless behavior cloying, Madison accepts help. Mormonism becomes a magnet in the story, drawing Madison in not for its religion, but for its members, like the kind and handsome Carson and the town freak, Alex Katsumoto, who goes from being a misunderstood mute “psycho” to the answer to all of Madison’s problems. John gives his love and attention to Madison, gradually becoming the sanctuary she needs, despite Madison’s initial resistance. She must learn to rely on these new friends and allies as she finds herself working to save Kailie from an abusive situation and her own mother from destitution. Through these challenges, Madison becomes the strong and compassionate narrator that lacks for the majority of the story. Adults are for the most part shockingly terrible people, creating an element of disbelief that things could get so bad for these teens without more immediate intervention or consequence. The novel aims for drama and achieves just that, although the level of many characters’ cruelty towards Madison is often over-the-top; a lesser menace would have sufficed. A fast-paced blend of high-stakes drama and average teenage concerns (sex, appearance, friends), capped with a welcome message of hope.”

Mary, Fire and Ice. 5 stars. “What a wonderful book. It took only a few quiet hours to read it. It is an easy read and is so enjoyable. I’m looking forward to a sequel . . . This book is a cast full of characters that will make you love them, hate them and cry for them. This is a must read book. It will truly touch your heart in many ways and teach you about what families and friends should really be all about. I recommend this book for young adult women ages 16 and older. There are some very mild sexual issues addressed.”

G. G. Vandagriff. The Taming of Lady Kate. Orson Whitney Press, July 31. Regency romance.  A headstrong woman, an inheritance that requires a marriage, and romance.

Kathy (from Bookworm Nation): 3.5 stars. “I liked this one; I thought it was a fun, light-hearted regency. Our heroine Kate was likable.”

Jullie Bellon: 4 stars. “I was so surprised at how quickly I was able to read this book and how engaged I was with it. It really was a fun afternoon read . . . With rogues, ruffians, ruined reputations, and more than a little romance, The Taming of Lady Kate is a regency that has all the best of the time period.”

Sariah Wilson. The Ugly Stepsister Strikes Back. Fire & Ice Books (self), August 12. YA romance/humor. Quirky high school girl is frustrated by her pretty, nice stepsister, who is dating her secret crush. Decides to run for senior class president.

Dan Wells. Isolation. Balzer and Bray, Aug. 28. YA dystopian. Ebook novella, prequel to Partials. Set during the war for oil that led to the manufacture of the Partials twenty years before the events of Partials.

Reviews of older books

Amber Argyle. Witch Born. (Sheila, LDSWBR). 5 stars. “Things I Liked: -Beautiful Writing Style: Amber has such a beautiful way with her words. The Witches in this series cast spells by singing. I loved the words sung by the witches as they cast protection spells . . . -Great Main Character Senna: Here is why I loved this character; though she is a truly powerful witch, she is still very “human” in many of her actions . . . -Interesting Magic System and History: I loved figuring out how the witches gain power, and what the power is. I also was intrigued with how the witches could control the natural elements . . . Gorgeous Covers . . . -Great Love Story . . . -Refreshing and Original Storyline:I have been reading a lot of fantasy and paranormal stories the past two years. The Witch Song Series is very different from other stories that have witches in them. If you’re tired of vampires, this is a great choice!”

Amber Argyle. Witch Song. (Heather Moore, Goodreads). 3.5 stars.  “An interesting and unique story about a young woman who discovers that the fate of her mother is left up to her–problem is she needs to use the witch powers that her mother neglected to teach her. What I loved: Great story, great characters. What I didn’t love: some of the metaphors & similes were a bit clunky.”

S. P. Bailey. Millstone City (Scott Hales, The Low-tech World). Scott starts off criticizing some missionary fiction “for its tendency to depict non-American settings as hostile and dangerous . . . American characters monopolize the points-of-view of these works—often at the expense of non-American characters, who frequently come off as flat or underdeveloped.” Millstone City does better at this. “Millstone City incorporates the perspectives of several non-American characters, most of whom are not even Mormon. The result is a patchwork narrative that widens the typically myopic scope of the mission story by ambitiously taking on subplots about Brazilian police officers, crime lords, and a fading beauty-turned-cat-lady named Luz de Sá. If Millstone City were a Mormon film, it would be Richard Dutcher’s States of Grace set to Samba music.”  “In its current form, though, Millstone City reads like an early draft in need of a rewrite. Which is unfortunate since this novel about two missionaries on the run from Brazilian gangsters has a lot going for it. Smart-aleck characters, a fast-paced narrative, and an interesting, unfamiliar setting make it an entertaining read. As a thriller with roots in pulp fiction and film noir, it also has a pleasant retro-classic vibe to it that contributes to its charm. But Bailey is no Mormon Raymond Chandler. (Not yet, at least.) His characters usually hit the right notes—that mix of cynicism and street-wise smarm that makes you unsure whether to like or loathe them—but the overall package is too rough around the edges even for the rough-and-tumble genre it’s trying to emulate . . . I enjoyed Millstone City–including its cover–even as I regretted its many problems. Fortunately, S. P. Bailey is still a young writer, and Millstone City is evidence enough that he has the potential to be a leader in the genre of Mormon pulp thrillers. Maybe next time he’ll deliver a gritty tour-de-force of back-alley Mormonism that really leaves us dead in our tracks.”

Chad Daybell. Evading Babylon: Times of Turmoil, Book One. (Jeff Needle, AML-list). “There isn’t much new here. This is pretty standard stuff for Mormon end-times stories. But there are some differences. First, this is a compulsively readable book. Readers can cover the whole thing in two or three sittings. Without making any assumptions about Daybell’s intended audience, it seems to me that anyone, from mid- to older-teen to seasoned adult, will enjoy this book. It’s a fast read, and makes few demands on the reader. Second, the author knows how to keep the story moving. There are no dead spots, no dwelling on background, no deep meditations on the meaning of life. Of course, there are drawbacks to this approach. Characters only dimly emerge as real people – you never get a sense that you know these people very well. You see only chalk outlines of the living. In this book, this is especially true of the General Authorities. They speak mechanically and piously. And they all sound alike. People have more depth than that, and authors should make every effort to give their characters that depth, enriching the read and enlivening their stories.
To be fair, Daybell does a better job of framing his characters – at least the main characters– than other writers of this genre. Character development in Mormon end-time fiction is generally abysmal. But the problem remains – although I like the main characters, I’m not sure I know them as well as I’d like. There are a few side stories in the book that help us fill out our vision of these characters. I wanted more . . .  Daybell is a good writer. But he’s tackled a stale subject. And if these books are to have any impact, they need to breathe new life into this theme. Daybell can do this. I look forward to future entries in this series.”

Jennifer Ann Holt. Delivering Hope (Mindy, LDSWBR). 5 stars. “The book was very emotional for me at times. Even though I did not have the same experiences as Olivia and Ally, I could relate to how they felt about being a mother, and the feelings associated with having children. I cried when the baby was born, and for what each woman went through during that time. It is very well written, so have your Kleenex ready. Actually, the whole book is like that. I am very big on good, likable characters and this book does not disappoint. I also really appreciated how Jennifer told the reader her adoption experience.”

Dean Hughes. The Wind and the Waves (Tristi Pinkston, AML). “Hughes’ writing style is impeccable, as always, although I admit I found myself much more intrigued by (the 19th century) Will Lewis’s story and not as captured by (modern) Jeff and Abby. Perhaps that’s because their struggles were similar to things I’ve experienced in my own life and I wasn’t as pulled away into someone else’s story as I generally prefer to be when I pick up a book . . . Be that as it may, I did enjoy “The Winds and the Waves” very much, as I do all Hughes’ novels. He has a way of marrying the historical facts with the emotions of the fictional characters to present a story that not only educates, but uplifts.”

Carla Kelly. My Loving Vigil Keeping (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine). 5 stars. “Few people have never heard of the Scofield Mining disaster or are unaware that more than two hundred men lost their lives during that tragic event. Kelly prepares the reader with great care to love and care about the mining community, to understand the various cultures involved, and to dread the disaster the reader know is coming, then to share the shock and desolation when it does . . . Kelly is adept at creating characters the reader can truly care about. She does this without forming black and white personalities, but by being realistic in imbuing even the best characters with faults and shortcomings with which the reader can identify. Her characters grow and mature in complex ways, sometimes through personal effort, sometimes through experience, and sometimes through a little nudge from above. Even minor characters change and evolve, giving the story greater richness. I found the plot develops at a comfortable pace, though readers looking strictly for the romance portion of the story may find it a little slow. Kelly is known for writing wonderful romances, but she is also well-known as a serious historian. In this novel she combines the best of both skills.”

Steven L. Peck. Scholar of Moab  (Fiction for a New Age). 4.5 stars. “A dark and delicious literary puzzle, rich with quirky details that reveal how small-town prejudice, the power of gossip, mass hysteria, and Mormon mysticism can play out in startling and yet familiar ways. Peck’s masterful use of language produces four distinct perspectives–four unforgettable characters who search for the same truths in different ways only to fail themselves and others . . . Peck’s masterful literary mystery reveals its secrets in fractions, planting clues like arrowheads in Moab’s dusty hills and propelling the story faster and faster as you race to discover who murdered the new-born child. But can you trust any of the characters’ revelations? The story ultimately resolves into a deeply troubling murder mystery in which only the reader can determine the real story of the Scholar of Moab.”

Douglas Thayer. Wasatch: Mormon Stories and a Novella (Provo City Library Staff Reviews). “Despite the implications of the subtitle, Thayer’s stories are more faith-challenging than -promoting, but they are beautifully wrought and profoundly thought-provoking in any case. Many of these stories are about men who reject the safety of certitude for the call of the wild, who crave solitude and self-reliance over the comforts of home and family but whose choices in the end yield either disaster or a continuing life of Thoreau’s “quiet desperation.” First in the collection is “The Red-Tailed Hawk,” a story so atmospheric and precisely rendered that one can feel the bitter cold. Other stories are by turns brutal and funny–as when Brother Melrose comes briefly back from the dead to visit his grandson and discomfit the rest of the family. “The Locker Room” is the linchpin of the story collection, a tragedy of not knowing the difference between doing good and doing right. “Dolf,” the novella that ends the book, sums Thayer’s recurring themes as a young man races towards destruction in a John Colter-like run away from the Blackfeet and from Providence. Wasatch is an impressive, memorable collection which lingers in the mind long after the last page is turned.”

Theater

Zion Theatre Company’s production of Swallow the Sun, by Mahonri Stewart, continues at the Castle Theater in Provo, 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.
Front Row Reviewers Utah. “Mahonri Stewart’s plays can always promise you a few things: 1. You’ll laugh. He has wit and humor in even the most serious of shows. 2. You’ll think. He uses themes and subjects that require further reflection after the show is over. 3. You’ll like the show . . . Ken Foody, who plays C.S. “Jack” Lewis is amazing. I loved his characterization, his confidence onstage, his sensitivity. I am going to do all I can to see any show this actor is in.”

Julia Shumway, Utah Theater Bloggers. “Ken Foody’s C.S. Lewis is as arrogant and condescending as stereotypical Christians like to imagine stereotypical intellectual atheists. John Schroeppel’s Paddy Moore contrasts with a lovable mix of cheer and apathetic agnosticism . . . The scene establishes playwright Mahonri Stewart’s preference for lengthy exposition via conversation rather than action. Without straying from this precedent, the play basically consists of almost every conversation atheist C.S. Lewis ever had regarding anything that had any tangential relationship with spirituality. In all but a few text-heavy scenes, Lewis merely sits in one drawing room or another expressing his belligerent atheism and chauvinistic intellectualism to one group of acquaintances or another . . . None of Mahonri Stewarts’ characters is deeply developed, and each serves mainly as a talking point for comparing various aspects of C.S. Lewis’ developing paradigm . . . C.S. Lewis drops in on acquaintances to debate, at length, with each of them. While there are a few breaks in Lewis’ argumentative brooding, such a scene where he play-acts a rowdy Quasimodo, these are so rare as to make them unbelievable and uncomfortable . . . There were a few moments of brilliance—in which Stewart’s playwriting was highlighted by fantastic acting—but they rarely went off without a glaring hitch left for the rest of the cast to trip over. The show also felt under rehearsed . . . The Castle Amphitheater doesn’t particularly lend itself to drawing room scenes, but the lighting, sound, and set all drew on the imagination wonderfully . . . Overall, the show was a step down from the source material. I’ve read C.S. Lewis’ account of his conversion, Surprised by Joy, and it is, just like the play, mainly about how C.S. Lewis liked to read Norse mythology and was never really sure how he became Christian except that it happened during a walk to the zoo. The difference is that C.S. Lewis is a great writer, and he managed to make it interesting. Mahonri Stewart uses this play as a story-less excuse to present every slight variation in C.S. Lewis’ thought process as he navigated his pre-Christian existential angst, and it is an excruciating three hours. If I hadn’t committed to review this play, I would have left at intermission. Fortunately, obligation kept me glued to my seat, and I was fortunate enough to see the show stolen, at least for a few minutes, by Davis and Bentley.”

Matthew Greene’s #MormoninChief will have a staged reading at Plan-B variety show, Sept. 1, at The Rose.  Plan-B will do a full production of the play in January 2013.

The 2012 Echo10 Festival, a festival of eleven 10-minute plays, was held  August 16-18 at The Echo Theatre, Provo. There are two detailed reviews, at Front Row Reviewers Utah and UTBA. The winners were chosen by judges and audience members. The Agles and Morrison appear to be Mormon. I do not know about the others.

Best Overall and Best Director: “The Fork,” Written and directed by Dennis Agle and Ken Agle.  Best Script: James Best, “The Pros and Cons of Sexual Harassment”, which also featured the Best Actor performance from Patrick Newman. Best Actress: Cherie Julander, “A Shared Life” (by Chase Ramsey).  The five finalists were the three award winning plays, as well as Lucy Dreaming, by Stacey Lane, and Adam and Eve, by Davey Morrison. The reviews seemed to agree that those five plays were the stand-outs as well.

Film

Saints and Soldiers: Airborne Creed. After two weeks, it is still in 18 Utah theaters, down from 31 theaters at its opening. On Sept. 7 it will open in 13 more theaters in Utah, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, and Washington, as well as more later in the month.

Kevin Burtt, LDS Cinema Online. B. “As with the first Saints & Soldiers (and 2008′s Forever Strong), Ryan Little shows command of the camera, with good cinematography and competently staged battle scenes. The question — as with most sequels — is whether there’s anything new here. Is there a compelling reason to go back to the well again, showing us things we already saw the first time? . . . Airborne Creed has weaker characterizations and drags a little when there aren’t battles going on and soldiers are just sitting around talking to each other. Each of the three mains has a basic one-sentence description . . . The original had a compelling narrative that drove the plot — getting vital information about German movements back to the HQ while it was still useful. In Airborne Creed, the plot is more haphazard, without an overarching mission that compels the characters forward . . . The first Saints & Soldiers directly addressed the issues of belief versus unbelief, but in Airborne Creed, the religious material is downplayed . . . In the end I enjoyed Airborne Creed, but couldn’t escape the question of why it existed. Since most of the story and thematic elements were present (and done better) in the original film, I don’t know what special or unique angle Ryan Little saw in the screenplay (written by Lincoln Hoppe and Lamont Gray) to drive him to make another Saints & Soldiers film covering the same material. Little knows what he’s doing as director, and Airborne Creed shows off his strengths — you almost get the sense Airborne Creed may exist as a “try-out reel”, a resume-builder for him to show bigger studios that he can handle a larger budget war film. Airborne Creed is decent and well-produced, and like most sequels will probably be entertaining to fans of the first even while feeling unnecessary at the same time.”

Completely Indie: 2 out of 5 stars. “Saints and Soldiers: Airborne Creed, is overwhelmingly confused. The exposition fell flat, and there was no real setup for how our cast of characters end up in enemy territory . . . If I would have known the risk of their mission at the start, and the purpose of what they were doing, I would have been far more engaged in the plot then I was. Another major fault of the film is a lack of a main character . . . Instead of a main character with the support of a strong cast, we get a bunch of characters vying for our attention. The result? A huge mess with the lack of a focused story . . . The first movie tackled brilliantly the psychological hardships of war, questioning morality and what truly makes someone an enemy. This new film tried to do the same, but did not succeed.”

Boy With Blue, a short film from the LDS Film Festival 24 Hour challenge, written by Matthew Greene and directed by David Liddell Thorpe, won Best Narrative Feature Film and Audience Choice at the Oceanside International Film Festival.

Bestsellers

New York Times Bestseller Lists, Sept. 2nd and 9th. 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.

Mass Market Paperbacks

#16, #14 ENDER’S GAME, by Orson Scott Card (16th week). #126, #140 on the USA Today list (21st week). Up slightly.

Children’s Hardback

#2, #3 MICHAEL VEY: RISE OF THE ELGEN, by Richard Paul Evans (2nd week). Rick Riordan keeps Evans out of the top spot.

x, #8 PRINCESS ACADEMY: PALACE OF STONE, by Shannon Hale (1st week). The first book in the series reached #4, and stayed on the Children’s list for 4 weeks, followed by 25 weeks on the Paperback Children’s list.

Children’s Paperback

#7, #7 MICHAEL VEY: THE PRISONER OF CELL 25, by Richard Paul Evans (2nd week).  The hardback spent 6 weeks on the list, reached #1. #15 and #68 on the USA Today list.

#10, x MATCHED, by Ally Condie (48th week). Fell off the list.

Children’s Series

#2, #4 THE MAZE RUNNER TRILOGY, by James Dashner (37th week). The released of The Kill Order, the fourth book in the series, pushes the series up the list. The Kill Order was #23 and #91 in its first two weeks on the USA Today list.

Deseret Book bestsellers

  1. Come to Zion, Vol. 1: The Winds and the Waves by Dean Hughes
  2. Before I Say Goodbye by Rachel Ann Nunes
  3. Code Word by Traci Hunter Abramson  ↓
  4. The Newport Ladies Book Club: Paige by Annette Lyon NEW
  5. The Rent Collector by Camron Wright NEW
  6. Murder by the Way by Betsy Brannon Green
  7. Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson
  8. Line of Fire by Rachel Ann Nunes NEW
  9. Tres Leches Cupcakes by Josi S. Kilpack NEW
  10. Daughters of Jared by Heather B. Moore
  11. Cold Justice by Kathi Oram Peterson
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