This Week in Mormon Literature, October 9, 2012

Happy conference weekend. Richard Cracroft, one of Mormon literature’s leading critics, passed away. Several contests and best-offs announced their winners, including Jessica George, who won a Utah Book Award. I am back from a week in Utah and a week in Tokyo. I enjoyed meeting several Mormon literature people, saw Melissa Larson’s Persuasion (great show!), and picked up several books.  Please send any additions or corrections to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.

Richard Cracroft

Richard Cracroft passed away on September 20, 2012. Here is his obituary provided by his family. Cracroft taught in the Brigham Young University English Department faculty from 1963 to his retirement at 2001. He was among the earliest academic critics responding to the development of Mormon literature from the 1970s. One recent tribute read, “With the 1973 publication of A Believing People: Literature of the Latter-day Saints, the first anthology of Mormon literature, followed by the 1974 publication of 22 Young Mormon Writers, Richard (with his colleague and coeditor, Neal E. Lambert) helped lay the foundation for the development of contemporary Mormon letters, which continues apace to this day. He served in various editorial capacities for numerous journals—including Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, BYU Studies, This People, and Literature and Belief—and wrote innumerable reviews of Mormon literature in a variety of venues, most recently BYU Magazine in his regular “Alumni Book Nook” column. His scholarly and devotional essays appeared in such divergent places as the Journal of Mormon History, BYU Studies, Irreantum, Dialogue, Sunstone, The New Era, and the Ensign. As a professor of English at Brigham Young University for many years, Richard nourished Mormon letters as a significant branch of Western Studies and mentored many students who subsequently made their own significant contributions to the field.”  He served as AML President in 1990, and received an AML Honorary Lifetime Membership in 2000 and the Smith-Pettit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Mormon Letters in 2010.

Jonathan created a column where people could leave their remembrances. William Morris summarized his career in Mormon literature at In Memoriam: Richard H. Cracroft. Kent Larson selects one of his critical pieces for Sunday Lit Crit Sermon: Richard H. Cracroft on what makes a poem ‘Mormon’. One of his former students David M. Clark remembers Richard Cracroft. His friend and college Margaret Blair Young remembers him in Richard Cracroft: Go Gentle (and several BYU faculty give their own tributes in the comments). Scott Hales discussed Cracroft’s criticism at Richard Cracroft: An Authentic Mormon Voice–A Low-Tech Tribute and wrote In Memory of Richard Cracroft and the “Book Nook” at Modern Mormon Men. Daniel C. Peterson reported on the memorial service, and gave his own tribute, at A Beautiful Life, Beautifully Remembered. Here is a link to Cracroft’s testimony at Mormon Scholars Testify.

His 2000 AML Honorary Lifetime Membership award read: “The problem with honoring Richard Cracroft is that such an encomium deserves the eloquence and good humor that he alone is most qualified to give. To list his many contributions to Mormon letters falls short of conveying his passion, his verve, his back-handed satire and his front-loaded humor. For Richard Cracroft has not simply been a scholar advancing our field; he has been a captain boldly leading us into it-organizing, quelling, and presiding over the skirmishes that have kept Mormon letters such an interesting panorama.

On one front Richard has been a literary scholar, credentialed in American and Western studies, bringing LDS literature under the legitimizing aegis of those more established fields. On another front he has been a popular and accessible critic, explaining the history of LDS fiction to the church at large in the pages of the Ensign or guiding readers of BYU Magazine to the best of current LDS literature. As a kind of literary diplomat, Richard Cracroft has for many years directed BYU’s Center for Christian Values in Literature, bringing LDS literature and criticism into contact with larger, non-LDS audiences through the journal Literature and Belief and bringing together faculty and literary scholars from across campus and the country through colloquia and conferences aptly named “Literature and Belief” and “Spiritual Frontiers.”

But Richard has been no literary pacificist. His passionate loyalty to the Mormon faith and to a conservative Mormon aesthetics has caused him to speak out with typical lack of timidity against backsliding opinions and encroaching secularism. As he concluded his year as president of AML in 1991, for example, he issued a stirring call to LDS writers and critics to return to the core values of an LDS worldview. Whether or not Richard has succeeded in stemming the sophic tide of Mormon literature, his authentic Mormon voice has created no enemies. To the contrary, it has always commanded respect, as all great passion does, especially from someone who so genially combines religious testimony and literary acumen.

Richard has been justly called the father of modern Mormon literary studies, but we might even call him its godfather-substituting for images of violence the force of Richard’s constant good humor and good will as he has presided over a dynasty of contributions to our common cause. Not only did Richard inaugurate the first courses in Mormon literature at BYU, but just prior to the founding of the AML he edited (with Neal Lambert) the first anthology of Mormon literature, A Believing People: Literature of the Latter-day Saints. That seminal work has been repeatedly celebrated both for charting a course for future LDS literary studies and for reviving genres and authors otherwise passed over. That early work has paid off in a heritage of renewed attention to the genres and figures that he and Neal Lambert salvaged from obscurity. He has more recently defended “home literature” and popular genres, convincing literary scholars to take seriously what mainstream Mormons are reading. Richard is an advocate and a champion, a literate voice for works considered by some as less literary, both in the past and the present. He is a leader who rouses and rallies his audiences from their stupors of thought, motivating them toward more profound engagement of both their religion and its literary expression.

For his mediation and advocacy as critic, for his countless articles and presentations that have shaped the field, for his inimitable eloquence and humor, and for his many years of tireless reading and writing on behalf of Mormon letters, the Association for Mormon Letters proudly confers upon Richard Cracroft honorary lifetime membership.”

Blog posts and announcements

Mormon Teen Lit: Kara French on Shannon Hale’s “The Princess Academy”, by Kara French, Juvenile Instructor, part of an occasional series there about girls’ and women’s Mormon fiction and their messages about gender. “Admittedly, on the surface the premise of this book looks anything but feminist. I personally winced a little at the thought of girls younger than sixteen being taken away from their families so they can be groomed to marry someone, even if he is a prince. But Princess Academy actually sends a surprisingly empowering message about female agency. It is a powerful tonic against the contemporary “princess culture” that has sprung up around the Disney animated films. I’m talking about the phenomenon of young girls today sporting $80-$100 dresses from the Disney store and all the attendant merchandise that goes along with the idea of being a “princess.” Hale’s book sharply rejects that kind of consumerism. While Miri and the rest of the girls are certainly tempted to become the princess because it would mean an easier life for their poor families, they still remain “mountain girls,” and are suspicious of the soft luxurious life the “lowlander” elites live . . . Religion does not play a very large role in Princess Academy . . . However, it is easy to spot some of the influences of Mormon history and culture on Hale’s story. For one, the setting of Mount Eskel, a harsh and remote place, calls to mind 19th century Deseret. This is compounded by the fact that Mount Eskel is a mere territory and unable to have full political participation in the kingdom until the book’s end. Like the popular image of the Mormon pioneer family, the men and women of Miri’s town work together to carve out a living on the mountaintop. This means hard physical labor in the quarry for both genders. Their attitude is very reminiscent of the statements made by 19th century Mormon suffragists that Utah women deserved the vote because men and women had built the state together.”

Emmeline B. Wells’ Hephzibah is now available for free download thanks to the Mormon Texts Project. Ben Crowder reports, “Hephzibah was originally published serially in The Woman’s Exponent between 1 Jun 1889 and 15 Sep 1890. The quality of the editing was regrettably low, so I’ve edited this edition to make it more readable.”

Nephi Anderson’s 1891 novella “Almina” is made into an ebook by Scott Hales. Scott says it was “Anderson’s first published attempt at long fiction. It was serialized in The Contributor from November 1891 to May 1892 while Anderson was serving his mission in Norway.” Scott also republished the poem “The Ruined City”, John Lyon’s 1853 elegy for Nauvoo.

At A Motley Vision Theric talks about Moriah Jovan’s Magdalene, and announces the film Duck Beach is coming soon . . . at least to New York.  William finds A Mormon reference in Karen Joy Fowler’s short story collection and does an Interview with Courtney Miller Santo, author of The Roots of the Olive Tree.  Kent floats an idea for An Online Mormon Literature Course?, introduces a bestselling Brazilian self-help book, and asks Is this the first bestseller by a Mormon not written in English?

Kent’s Sunday Lit Crit Sermons presents J. H. Paul on the Development of Literature in 1931, Richard H. Cracroft on what makes a poem ‘Mormon’ in 1990, and John L. Herrick on Literature as Preparation in 1918.

Jolly Fish Halloween Short Stories contest.

Awards, contest winners, etc.

Neil Atkin’s poem “Vigil” was awarded 1st prize in the 3rd annual Beyond Baroque Poetry Contest. Atkin says, “It’s a poem that grew out of a scrap of paper, a few unmoored images, and a memory of my mother during the long days while we cared for my father who was dying of ALS.” Regarding the poem, contest judge Suzanne Lummis said:  “Of all the entries, my first choice, “Vigil,” was the one that struck that fine balance between clarity and mystery, simplicity, and shimmering depth. After I’d read it, it continued to echo in my imagination.”

Four Centuries of Mormon Stories Finalists were announced at Everyday Mormon Writer. “We contest coordinators went in expecting to choose the top eight pieces and ended up choosing the top twelve because of the strength of the field . . . The twelve finalists will be posted on Everyday Mormon Writer one per day from 15-27 October. They are as follows:

19th century (15-17 Oct):

“Little Karl” by Melissa Leilani Larson
“Ruby’s Gift” by Emily Debenham
“Numbers” by Melody Burris

20th century (18-20 Oct):

“Maurine Whipple, Age 16, Takes a Train North” by Theric Jepson
“When the Bishop Started Killing Dogs” by Steven Peck
“Something Practical” by Melody Burris

21st century (22-24 Oct):

“The ReActivator” by Wm Morris
“Oaxaca” by Anneke Garcia
“The Defection of Baby Mixo” by Mark Penny

22nd century (25-27 Oct):

“Release” by Wm Morris
“Avec, who is Distributed” by Steven Peck
“Waiting” by Kathy Cowley

Readers will be able to cast votes for their four favorite stories from 27 Oct-6 Nov, with the winner taking the $400 Grand Prize.”

The Utah Book Award, sponsored by the Utah Humanities Council, honors exceptional achievements by Utah writers and recognizes outstanding literature written with a Utah theme or setting. Three finalists for each category in the 2011 awards were announced in September, and the winners were announced on October 5. Jessica Day George’s Tuesdays at the Castle won the Children’s award. Scapegoat, by Dean Hale and Michael Slack and Icefall, by Matthew Kirby, were also nominated. Sara Zarr (a non-Momron) was the Young Adult category for How to Save a Life. The Predicteds by Christine Seifert and Back When You Were Easier to Love by Emily Wing Smith were also nominated.

Salt Lake City’s alternative weekly City Weekly announced its annual “Arty” Arts Awards.

BEST ORIGINAL PLAY
Dottie: The Sister Lives On!, by Charles Lynn Frost and Christopher R. Wixom (Salt Lake Acting Company)
Sister Dottie S. Dixon—the character based on local actor Charles Lynn Frost’s mother—inspires us to greater heights of compassion and understanding. Dottie, with her folksy ways and Spanish Fork twang, makes us better, more tolerant and more neighborly. Yes, as indigenous Utahns, we’ve laughed uproariously at Dixon’s “Spaneesh” lessons, but The Sister Lives On! did more than simply poke fun at Utah colloquialisms. With co-writer Christopher R. Wixom, the one-woman monologue was brilliantly structured, following a well-planned arc from side-splitting comedy through intelligent farce to tear-jerking drama, and ending on a genuinely inspirational note.

BEST NONFICTION BOOK
When Women Were Birds, by Terry Tempest Williams
Williams has already laid bare parts of her family history in her memoir Refuge, yet finds a new intimacy with this fascinating, haunting series of recollections. After her mother’s death, Williams found that she had kept several journals—yet all were filled with nothing but blank pages. Her meditation on the meaning of that blankness travels through various moments in her life—family ties, religious rituals, sexual awakenings—repeatedly interpreting and reinterpreting what those empty pages convey. It is an experience both deeply human and ethereally poetic.

BEST FILMMAKER TO WATCH
Daryn Tufts
One of a group of actors who was featured in the curious outburst of Mormon-themed and Mormon-made movies in the early 2000s, Daryn Tufts surprised many of his thespian colleagues by turning into a great director. His first feature, 2010’s My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend, revealed a wry wit and a dab hand at both writing and directing. His second outing as writer/director, Inside, with British actor Luke Goss, focuses on an inmate trapped in a cell as a monster rages through the prison. We’re waiting impatiently for this exercise in tension and mystery filmed in, of all places, Provo. All hail the evolution of a genuine Utah auteur.

BEST BACK STORY
Jacob T. Marley, by R. William Bennett
Ebenezer Scrooge’s business partner, Jacob T. Marley, makes a brief but very powerful appearance in A Christmas Carol. After all, he’s the one who announces to Scrooge he’s got one last chance. Utah author R. William Bennett (known for The Christmas Gift) has put together a back story about what happened to Marley, both while on Earth and after death, which expands the story into new areas, providing a unique way to look at this classic story, while holding true to the beautiful Victorian writing style of Charles Dickens. It’s a great read to keep on hand for every December (Shadow Mountain).

BEST BIOGRAPHY
Parley P. Pratt & the Making of Mormonism, edited and with contributions by Gregory K. Armstrong, Matthew J. Grow and Dennis J. Siler
A biography of Parley P. Pratt is timely because he’s Mitt Romney’s ancestor; interesting because he did more than anyone but Joseph Smith and Brigham Young to develop and explain Mormon theology; and completely entertaining because the middle P. in his name should have stood for “playa.” PPP married 12 women, sometimes without telling his other wives, or even the husbands of the women he was marrying. He got into a fight with his brother over his womanizing while in the temple, and even Young said of him that “He whored.” The theological ideas and personal story come together to make a riveting read.

BEST ENCHANTED CASTLES
Tuesdays at the Castle, by Jessica Day George
Not much could be better than living in a castle—unless that castle were an enchanted castle that could add rooms and staircases at will. Reminiscent of Diana Wynne Jones, Tuesdays at the Castle, by prolific Utah children’s/young adult author Jessica Day George, mixes charming, lightly humorous fantasy with full-scale adventure and intrigue, as youngest child Celie schemes to save the castle and the kingdom when her parents, King and Queen Glower, go missing mysteriously. Glower Castle is the perfect place to escape for an afternoon—or longer, with sequel Wednesdays in the Tower forthcoming.

BEST PROSELYTIZER OF POETRY
Lance Larsen
When Gov. Gary Herbert called BYU professor Lance Larsen this spring, asking him to serve as the state’s poet laureate, Larsen may have quoted Shakespeare’s Sonnet 55: “Not marble, nor the gilded monuments/ Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rime.” In other words, “yes.” As the state’s previous poet laureate, Katharine Coles, came to the end of her term, Larsen agreed to champion the literary arts in Utah over the next five years. The author of three collections of poetry, Larsen has been awarded the Literature Fellowship in Poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts. His fourth poetry collection, Genius Loci, is scheduled to be published in late 2012.

BEST LOVE LETTER TO LARP-ERS
Unicorn City
“Made-in-Utah comedy” has historically been an oxymoron where movies are concerned, but the sibling filmmaking team of Adrian and Bryan Lefler scored a charming success with their story of a would-be game designer who tries to build his résumé by creating an idealized community for his friends and fellow role-playing enthusiasts. The affection for their subject matter permeates the characters and the gags, including a staged battle against a makeshift dragon. With low-key humor and a true understanding of what makes this particular brand of geek tick, the Leflers laughed at live-action role play and laughed with it.

BEST NEW THEATER COMPANY
Echo Theatre
Sitting between the two most popular music venues in Provo on one of the most popular blocks in the city’s entertainment scene, the Echo Theatre launched in April 2012 as one of the few independent theater companies to reside in Utah County. Founded with a mission of producing plays that aren’t cookie-cutter or all-improv—and don’t require a multicolored robe—the company puts on a new production every month. Each play is put together by a volunteer staff, with the goal of showcasing productions written locally with the past year. This isn’t just the theater that Provo needs—it’s theater the area deserves.

BEST EXPLANATION
Why I’m a Mormon, edited by Joseph A. Cannon
This book is valuable if for no other reason than it shows there’s no such thing—or shouldn’t be, anyway—as a stereotypical Mormon. As religion professor Terryl Givens explains, “The restored gospel is a gospel of liberality and generosity. My faith encompasses and embraces them.” This first publication of Ensign Peak, a Deseret Book imprint designed to introduce Mormons to a non-LDS national audience, takes a “big tent” approach that allows for an American Indian attorney general, Mexican legislator, female champion surfer, a Thai symphony conductor and a prominent Mitt Romney doubter named Harry Reid to all be included in the same book.

Short stories and magazines

Angela Hallstrom, “Field Walking”. Dialogue Summer 2012, 45:2. Lisa Torcasso Downing comments on the story here.

The September 2012 (#168) issue of Suntsone is now available. It includes the personal essays “The Roots of My Faith” by Eric Samuelsen, “Five Fish in a Barrel: Phineas and His Wives”, by Deja Earley (First place winner in the 2011 Eugene England Memorial Personal Essay Contest) about the author’s polygamous ancestors, and “In the Mountains, No One Can Hear You Swear”, by Michael Stubbs, about his experiences finding (or not) spirituality in nature.

Eric James Stone. “Write What You Want”. Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show #30, September 2012. Here is a long interview with Eric James Stone at SF Site.

Alastair Mayer & Brad R. Torgersen. “Strobe Effect”. Analog, November 2012.

Tangent review: “A call back to the good old days of impressive and, more importantly, impressive-sounding science. This time around, though, Mayer and Torgersen make sure to include actual character arcs and a woman who’s not around to only make the manly man in the lead look good.”

Leonard Reed. “As a Bird Sings”: Hannah Tapfield King, Poetess and Pioneer. BYU Studies, 51:3. Biographical essay. “Hannah Tapfield King (1807-1886), converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1850 in Cambridge, England, and emigrated with her family to Utah. She was a prolific and popular writer of poetry, essays, and educational pieces for Utah’s newspapers, and she had a reputation as a woman of refinement. From her autobiography one can see her complete devotion to the Church. She and her family sacrificed a comfortable middle class life in England running the family farm, and they suffered considerably in Utah’s desert. Her husband, Thomas King, eventually joined the Church but was never active or devout. In her later years, she was sealed to Brigham Young; the sealing was for the eternities only, and she never lived with Young. Her life serves as an example of one truly converted to LDS Church, willing to sacrifice and suffer along with her fellow Saints.”

New books and their reviews

A Timeless Romance Anthology. Mirror Press, Oct. 1. Sweet historical romance novellas, by six different Mormon authors. The authors, and the settings of their stories, are Sarah M. Eden (1864 Ireland), Heidi Ashworth (1812 England), Annette Lyon (1880 Logan, Utah), Joyce DiPastena (1151 England), Donna Hatch (medieval England), and Heather B. Moore (1901 New York City).

Rachael Renee Anderson. The Reluctant Bachelorette. HEA Publishing (self?), Sept. 8. Comic romance.

Mindy, LDSWBR: 4.5 stars. “The Reluctant Bachelorette is another strong offering from Rachael Renee Anderson. Rachael has an ability to make you instantly care about the characters and want to keep reading. I also really enjoyed the change of point of views . . . Something always happens when I read one of Rachael’s books. I smile a lot, cry a lot, and at the end I am so happy I spent the time reading her books. The ending of this book is a great one. I also loved the Sneakers references. That show is an old favorite of mine. What I enjoyed most about this book was Taycee’s self discovery. She learned a lot about herself being the Shelter Bachelorette and I really enjoyed her journey.”

Julie Coulter Bellon. All Fall Down. Self, Sept. 20. Suspense. An American woman is taken hostage by an Al-Qaeda terrorist, and a Navy SEAL tries to find her.

Marcie Gallacher and Kerri Robinson. A Banner is Unfurled v. 5: No Greater Love. Covenant, Aug. 27. LDS historical fiction. The Mormon Johnson family continue their struggles, in 1838-1845, from the expulsion from Missouri to the expulsion from Nauvoo.

James Goldberg. The Five Books of Jesus. Self, Sept. 19. A retelling of the life of Jesus.

Karen Jones Gowen. Lighting Candles in the Snow. WiDo Publishing, Sept. 18. Contemporary women’s fiction. A newly divorced woman meets a new man, while the ex-husband with addictions continues to complicate matters. Fourth novel.

Frank Holdaway. Undercover Saint. Covenant, September. Mystery/suspense. An anti-terrorism agent goes undercover in an Utah singles ward. Debut novel.

Heather Horrocks. Pride and Precipitation. Word Garden Press, Sept. Romantic comedy

Carla Kelly. Mrs Drew Plays Her Hand. Cedar Fort, Sept. 28.  First published by Signet in 1995.

Publishers Weekly (Starred review): “In this tender and endearing Regency, first published by Signet in 1995, beautiful and brave Roxanna Drew must face the harsh realities of life alone with two young daughters after her husband dies. Forced to make the most of her small allowance, she moves into the nearby dower house of absentee landlord Lord Winn, a recent pariah of the ton after divorcing his disloyal wife and publicizing her list of lovers instead of remaining silent and accepting her cheating ways, as society would dictate. Winn visits unexpectedly, and he and Roxanna sense an immediate attraction to one another, but keep their feelings hidden even as their time together deepens their bond. When Roxanna’s future is threatened and Winn offers a life-changing solution, both must decide just how brave they can be. RITA-winner Kelly (The Surgeon’s Lady) spins passionate longing and hope into a story that will draw in and satisfy readers.”

Library Journal 1995 review: “Emotionally involving, well written, and filled with real characters, this story infuses a traditional Regency situation with compassion, warmth, and a high level of sexual tension, producing a book that won’t soon be forgotten. The grief/healing process is particularly well depicted.”  Romance Writers of America RITA Award for Best Regency Romance (1995)

David McKnight. Tongue of Fire. Self, Aug. 10. Charismatic Protestant preacher is secretly a Mormon. Also the town’s struggling football team

Tanya Parker Mills. A Night on Moon Hill. Walnut Springs, Sept. 20. General. A renown university professor has her life turned upside down by a ten-year-old with Asperger’s syndrome who is thrust into her life.

Lehua Parker. One Boy, No Water. Jolly Fish Press, Sept. 29. Middle grade fantasy. Debut. First of the Niuhi Shark Adventure Series, a fantasy based on an island folklore centered on the Niuhi shark people in Hawaii. Jolly Fish’s third published novel.

Janci Patterson. Chasing the Skip. Henry Holt, Oct. 2. YA. A girl becomes attracted to a young parole offender her bounty-hunter father is chasing. Debut novel. Patterson received her MA in creative writing at BYU, where she was a student of Brandon Sanderson.

Kirkus Reviews: “The ensuing caper is a gentle one, a road trip calculated to give Ricki time to get to know her dad and achieve an understanding of herself and her family. She is an appealingly vulnerable character, her anger at both parents and her love for her mother both genuine and leading to completely believable choices, however wrongheaded. A solid cast and heartfelt emotions lift this above its contrivances.”

Steve Larson, Deseret News. “Her character’s struggles are real and believable. The plot is at times predictable, but contains enough twists to keep the reader eager to turn the page.”

RaeAnne Thayne. Sweet Laurel Falls. Harlequin HQN, Sept. 25. Contemporary “sweet” romance.

Ralph and Judith VanderHeide. Chris and Louisa. Xlibris (self), May 30.  Novella, historical fiction, set in 1840s Nauvoo and Utah, and in the 1960s.

Doug Gibson (The Political Surf, Standard-Examiner). There’s an excellent novella to be found within the Mormon historical fiction offering, “Chris & Louisa,” written by a retired pair of academics, Ralph and Judith Vander Heide. I enjoyed the tale of Louisa Bidwell (Smith) Howe, plural wife of the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith, and the pair’s brief time together in 1844 Nauvoo, which includes secret marital trysts and ends with Louisa in Carthage, Ill., witnessing her husband’s martyrdom. The Vander Heides’ knowledge of early Mormon history, as well as the interwined social and religious structure of 1840s Nauvoo, is extensive and makes for very interesting reading. Such unique characters as Mormon vigilante Porter Rockwell, dissident William Law, Mormon-hating newspaper editor Tom Sharpe, feckless Gov. Thomas Ford, and early LDS leaders such as Brigham Young and John Taylor are well constructed and realistic. Smith’s complex personality is captured well. Practicing polygamy under the nose of a disapproving wife, a mutinous church faction, and an angry countryside, he’s equal parts scoundrel, prophet, rake and godly lover. Whatever one thinks of the LDS Church’s founding prophet, his depiction in “Chris and Louisa” is of a man who firmly believes God has spoken to him and called him to lead a restored Gospel. I’ve avoided talking about the “Chris” part of this novel, and that’s because it’s much the weaker half. It’s an ambitous attempt by the Vander Heides to create “Chris Howe,” a disaffected Mormon, child of the ’60s, who hooks up with Mark Spencer, Mormon dissident, semi-hippy, and non-violent polygamist. But it doesn’t really work. Neither Chris or Mark are well-developed characters, nor is much time spent explaining why Chris, well educated, falls in love with a declared polygamist. Unlike the Nauvoo portion of the novel, with its strong characters, too many of the “Chris” cast are absurd caricatures, particularly her parents, rote cliche-spouting robots who sound more like Moonies than Mormons. Also, the dark, abrupt ending to the “Chris” story, meant as an ironic analogy to Smith’s death, is telegraphed way in advance. However, I recommend “Chris & Louisa” for the candid, well-researched “Louisa” tale. Because it’s not a “faith-promoting” read, it offers a reasonable, valuable look into what life in Nauvoo was probably like in the roiled days prior to the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. Historical events, such as the disastrous decision to destroy the Nauvoo Expositor press, and the debate between Sidney Rigdon and Brigham over who should succeed Smith as Mormon church leader, are well presented . . . The book contains scenes that involve sacred Mormon ordinances, including Temple ceremonies and priesthood blessings for health. Ralph Vander Heide describes himself as a former Mormon. I wasn’t offended by any of the contents in the novel, although active church members may object to scenes such as the Temple ceremonies, accounts of alcoholic drinking by early church leaders, and how the Mormon church founder Smith is portrayed. They shouldn’t be, though. Part of the reason Mormonism has lasted so long is because Smith, and its other leaders — notably Brigham Young — were complex and contradictory persons. And so were the women of that era. “Louisa Howe” resembles strong Mormon pioneer women such as Eliza Snow, another plural wife of Smith’s, and Emmeline Wells, another great early Mormon woman and polygamous wife of that era. She’s a fair representation of the faith, hope, love, persistence and diligence that defined so many of her female contemporaries.”

McKenzie Wagner. Benotripia: The Rescue. Cedar Fort, Sept. 11. Children’s fantasy, written by a young author.

Robison Wells. Feedback. HarperTeen, Oct. 2. Variant #2. YA speculative. Heroes on the run from the twisted academy.

Kirkus Reviews: “Picking up only moments after the first book ends, this book features the same nonstop, breathless pace, adding new dimension to old characters and new plot twists that are hard to see coming. The often violent action flows logically from the plot. An absorbing read that won’t let fans of the first down.”

VOYA: “A small group of teens fighting against a conspiracy that is well financed and organized sets up a novel filled with adventure and plenty of twists and turns. Fans of dystopic series such as The Hunger Games and Insurgent will find much to appreciate in Variant and Feedback, and the others to come in this series.” Reviewer: Teri S. Lesesne

S. Michael Wilcox. The Ten-Day Daughter. Deseret Book, August 6. A young, pregnant, homeless woman is befriended by members at an LDS Institute.

Michael Young, editor. Sing We Now of Christmas: An Advent Anthology. Self, Sept. 12. Twenty-five short Chirstmas stories–one for every day through Christmas itself. All the proceeds from sales of the anthology are donated to the National Down Syndrome Society. The authors include Betsy Love, C. Michelle Jefferies, Brian C. Ricks, Janet Olsen, Teresa G Osgood, Susan Dayley, Jordan McCollum, Theric Jepson, Peg Russell, Ryan Larsen, Marta O. Smith, Madonna Dries Christensen, Daron D. Fraley, Jennifer Ricks, Susan Corpany, Shirley Bahlmann, Tristi Pinkston, and J. Lloyd Morgan.

Reviews of older books

Jack Harrell’s A Sense of Order and Other Stories, Steven L. Peck’s The Scholar of Moab, and David Clark’s Death of a Disco Dancer. Reviewed by Shelah Mastny Miner in BYU Studies 51:3. “While there are always plenty of new romances on the shelves at Deseret Book, and Mormon authors frequently find commercial and critical success writing science fiction and books for young adults, it is rare to come across works of contemporary fiction written for adults in which the characters are nuanced and well developed and the authors take risks with form and plot. Over the last two years, three books . . . use Mormon themes and characters in their writing while pushing against some of the boundaries of traditional fiction conventions . . . [See the link for Shelah’s detailed review of each book]. While all three books are worth reading on their own merits, it is also interesting to look at the three in conjunction with each other as possible predictors of trends in Mormon literary fiction. All three books take risks in terms of form and plot. Harrell’s stories (notably “Calling and Election”) start out in a world Latter-day Saints are familiar with—a church parking lot in Eastern Idaho, for example—but then take them out of the realm of realistic fiction and into something approaching magical realism. Peck’s book challenges readers by playing with form (interweaving journals, let­ters, poems, and traditional narrative), introducing potentially unreliable narrators, and injecting possible elements of magical realism as well. Death of a Disco Dancer’s alternating chapters require readers to make connec­tions between the worlds of eleven-year-old Todd and forty-year-old Todd. All three books are funny and are not afraid to be strange. These stories might not appeal to all mainstream readers, but they definitely appeal to me, and I think they would appeal to many readers of literary fiction, Mormon or otherwise.”

Traci Hunter Abramson. Code Word (Jennie Hansen, Meridian). 5 stars. “The plot begins on an intense note, levels off slightly for a brief time, then grows increasingly intense until the final scenes. The author does an excellent job of turning those tiny quiet moments in the story into those expectant moments when the reader knows they’re only the false lulls before the storm. Having previously worked for the CIA, Abramson must clear her novels with that agency before they’re published, but her first hand knowledge of that organization lends credence to her novels and provides an exciting edge to her suspenseful mysteries. The Saints Squad novels each highlight a different member of a Navy SEAL squad made up of mostly LDS members and have proven to be highly successful with each one dealing with a modern suspenseful threat and each includes a romantic secondary sub plot. Code Word will not disappoint followers of the series and those who haven’t previously read any of the previous books will have no trouble getting into this one or any of the others because they are each a solid stand alone story.”

Stephanie Black. Shadowed (Jennie Hansen, Meridian). “Black’s suspense novels tend to begin with pretty ordinary people doing ordinary things. Catherine isn’t ordinary in the sense that she’s extremely wealthy, but she plays down her wealth and tries to contribute to society as quietly and effectively as possible. As a musician she means only to enhance other’s lives through the gift of music which she can easily afford to share, though there are some who question her motives. She harbors a lot of insecurities and though she grows some in the story she’s never a strong, self-confident woman. The plot moves slowly, though it does pick up the pace some toward the end. There are some interesting plot twists and Black is superb at providing logical reasons why a large number of people could turn out to be the villain, thus keeping the reader guessing. Many mystery/suspense readers, including me, love to try to guess the villain’s identity as early as the first chapter. I find this difficult in Black’s books, but this time I got it right, which didn’t spoil the book for me, but left me feeling a little smug. This is a book mystery/suspense readers won’t want to miss.”

Joyce DiPastena. Dangerous Favor (Karen Hamilton, AML). “Take one measure of mystery, two of romance and a healthy dose of history, blend together and the end result is Joyce Dipastena’s newest novel. She continues her prowess with sweet medieval romance. While her books are compelling, there is a lot of research done so her stories have the authenticity to transport readers to the medieval time period of Normandy 1181 . . . This is a fabulous well written book. While it is a stand-alone book, Joyce DiPastena has brought back characters from her previous two books. The time frame that she writes in is wonderful in detail and the characters are so well defined that they seem to be real individuals. The romance that grows between Mathilde and Etienne is clean and stays within proper bounds. I recommend this book to anyone who would like to get lost in another time and have a bit of romance and danger to spice the journey up.”

Josi Kilpack. Tres Leches Cupcakes(Jennie Hansen, Meridian). “It’s been fun watching Josi S. Kilpack grow from a good writer to one of the top writers in her field. Much of that growth has been evidenced in her culinary mystery series starring middle-aged sleuth, Sadie Hoffmiller. There are eight books so far in the series and though each one can stand alone, it’s more fun to read them in order. The first books in the series were good, the middle ones were better, and the past three are exceptional. Tres Leches Cupcakes is her latest offering and certainly one of her best . . . I like this more mature and caring Sadie the heroine has become. She feels much more realistic and likable than the Sadie we first met in the early books. Her character has more depth and the reader can see the strides she makes in becoming a better person. The background of this story is interesting and works well with the sharp contrasts between the dry, dusty desert and thousand year old artifacts and the modern New Mexico that presents art shows, holds a world famous balloon extravaganza, and equips their police department with modern technology. Kilpack’s research into the black market antiquity trade is fascinating and she does an excellent job of explaining the various points of view concerning these remnants of an ancient civilization.”

Josi Kilpack. Tres Leches Cupcakes (Mike Whitmer, Deseret News). “The expanding genre of cozy mysteries is a perfect fit for Kilpack. Her stories are flavored neighborhood drama reminiscent of “Murder She Wrote” tales. The inclusion of recipes for what seem likely to be delicious dishes adds another layer to her works. However, while this story is entertaining, it is not high drama. There is a lot of fluff to sift through in the form of overdone descriptions information. That said, the story is still fun. Imagining a nearly 60-year-old retired schoolteacher in the middle of a murder investigation is engaging and diverting. Sadie’s character is definitely distinctive, and her antics and persona are genuinely endearing.”

Lisa Mangum. After Hello (Fire and Ice). 4 stars. “I thought that this book was cute. I’m not sure that I was completely a fan of how the story switched points of view between Sara and Sam with every chapter. It felt a bit disjointed that way, like you were always missing just a little bit of the story and you needed that little bit to be able to understand exactly what was happening. I did like the way you found out little bits of information at a time, it made it so you could kind of imagine what the character was like, or what their life was like, and then later on in the story you could see whether or not you had been right with your imaginings. I did like the characters in this book, and the sights and sounds of New York, it was almost like you were really there.”

Kristen McKendry. Beyond the White River (The Provo Library Staff Reviews). “While pretty predictable, fans of the genre will still enjoy it. It’s pretty easy to guess what causes Faith’s reluctance to wed, and the resolution comes quickly, easily, and somewhat unrealistically, but it’s a fun, quick read to pass an afternoon.”

Merrill Osmond and Shirley Bahlmann. Faith, Hope, and Gravity (Sharon Haddock, Deseret News). “A kind of “Alice in Wonderland” adventure, a mix of story and pithy bits of philosophy that makes for a kind of surrealistic read . . . There’s plenty of story. It’s just all mixed up with a thin story about a boy named Liam who is hurt in a cruel prank . . . Along the way, there are all kinds of side trips into other countries, other worlds, other realities, each one with a message for him and for the reading audience, messages that apparently were passed on to Merrill Osmond from his mother. Perhaps this book should have been named “Osmond Advice for Mankind” or “Sound Bites for the Road.” . . . There are a lot of holes in the logic in this book and some giant leaps that have to be made to make the story work, but even with that, it could be a good story. It just needs a lot of editing and work.”

Regina Sirois. On Little Wings (Melissa DeMoux, Deseret News). “A sweet book. The main characters are real and relatable, while the supporting cast is loaded with peculiar individuals who will quickly become reader’s favorites. The quirky but lovable dynamic of the town is entrancing. Jennifer is a character it is easy to cheer for.” (Self-published winner of the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award for young adults.  It has been picked up by Viking/Penguin, who will publish it in August 2013).

E. M. Tippits. Castles in the Sand (Gamila’s Book Review). “Once again I loved the way E.M. Tippets gives each character in her novel such honest weaknesses. Even her picture perfect Mormon characters feel like real people with such human flaws. Yet, her characters are not evil or bad people–just real. It is so refreshing to read about real, complex, and deep characters in any genre this days and Tippets does it with real skill.”

E. M. Tippits. Castles in the Sand (Mindy, LDSWBR). 3 stars. “The things Kailie do to her really started to get to me, and a couple things in the relationship were left unexplained. I really enjoyed, though, Madison’s relationships with her brother John, Siraj, and Alex. I really liked Alex, and I was happy to see there were people in Madison’s life that treated her well, and appreciated what a great person she is. I was also relieved that Madison got smarter about the boys in her life.”

E. M. Tippits. Someone Else’s Fairytale (Fire and Ice). 4.5 stars. “It is romantic, but expected. Once the plot starts moving though, it draws you back in curiosity and hope to see some of Chloe’s life come together as her secrets unravel. This is a clean romance, one that is easy to appreciate as Chloe holds on to her virtue in the face of tough choices and temptations. She maintains her standards while at the same time not holding anyone else up to her decisions. A few times, I did find myself frustrated at her ignorance to her doting movie star’s attraction, so I was glad when she finally accepted someone had feelings for her. Someone Else’s Fairytale is a cute read. It’s genuine and believable despite its fairytale premise, and that’s why it works. The story sends a positive message without choking readers on squeaky clean images. It is well written and enjoyable.”

Tyler Whitesides. Janitors (Orson Scott Card, Uncle Orson’s Reviews). “Good middle-grade books are hard to find. Chapter books that fourth- and fifth-graders will happily read alone, which are good enough that families, including parents, will enjoy reading aloud, are rare. I’m happy to tell you that Janitors is such a book . . . an enormously entertaining book. Because it’s part of a series, the ending leaves us set up for an even more perilous sequel — but this first volume has perils enough, and the ending is quite satisfying. It’s also funny — especially when read aloud to a group of elementary schoolchildren. Yet Tyler always keeps the action within fairly plausible limits. That is, the invisible monsters are obviously not real, but what the children do about them is within the reach of children in the real world.

Theater

Ariel Mitchell’s A Second Birth played at the BYU Margetts Theatre, Sept. 25-29. It is a new play by a student author, and directed by George Nelson. “Nasima, a daughter of poor Afghani parents, has been raised as a boy since age five to improve the family’s economic and social standing in the community. When she must finally give up employment and education in order to (re)learn to be a girl so she can marry, Nasima must confront the relationships of her past and the traditions of her future to find out who she truly is.” A new BYU theater blog, “4th Wall: The TMA dramaturgY Project” includes several posts about the production.

UTBA review, by Liz Oppelt: “I’ve been told the success of a performance can be gauged by how the audience is sitting. If they are leaning forward in their seats, wanting to be closer to the performance then the show is successful. A Second Birth at BYU certainly met that criteria; I wanted to leap out of my chair to join the conversations happening on stage, to get involved in the characters lives . . . I applaud Mitchell for taking on such difficult subject matter; she was able to create a specific story dealing with the religious and cultural traditions of the Middle East with themes that spoke to me in a theater in Utah. She raised questions about gender, equal opportunities and marriage that should be asked in every culture. When Nasima demanded to know what made men more suited for school and work and women more suited to household chores and caring for children, when she as a women was better at the former, I found myself nodding because I have asked the same question. Mitchell was able to ask these kind of questions in a way that did not disrespect the beliefs and practices of the groups she represented or performed for, so no one felt attacked or superior to another culture. While I feel the dialogue could use a bit of polishing, as parts of it felt stilted and unfinished, I loved the story line and the themes in conveyed . . . [The reviewer goes on to praise the actors and criticize some of the production choices.] Despite faults, A Second Birth was a breath of fresh air. I loved the script and the cast handled the unique subject matter fantastically. I have been attending shows at BYU for fifteen years, and have not seen anything like this piece. It is a different thing for the department, and I’m glad they took the chance to try something new. I wish the run was longer so I could see it again.”  Here are some more reviews.

Y-Light, by Patrick Gibbs and Eric Jensen, plays at the Off-Broadway Theatre in Salt Lake City through October 29. It is a light-hearted, family-friendly parody of the Twilight series and the Utah-BYU rivalry.

UTBA review (Elise Hanson). “The play is cleverly written by Patrick Gibbs and Eric Jensen, and is one of the strongest shows the Off Broadway has done in a number of years. The plot is engaging and never convoluted, and the characters are all funny and fleshed out. Kylee Wood, as director, wonderfully guided her cast through the material. Though some were better at capturing the theater’s particular brand of humor than others, it was clear that Wood was able to bolster the less experienced actors with direction that allowed each to play to their strengths . . . As is the usual at the Off Broadway, the play featured some gags that I found particularly funny. A Charlie Brown bit at the beginning played well, as well as the scene where Ella nearly gets hit by a bus, a scene where she and Edmund are running through some very animated trees, and a gag at the end involving a balloon under a wedding dress that left me in stitches. This play is a fun way to celebrate the upcoming holiday with the whole family, and is definitely worth seeing with a bag of popcorn in hand.”

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow will be presented by BYU Young Company October 17-19, 23-26, in the Margetts Theater. Adapted by Teresa Dayley Love, a BYU faculty member. This is not to be confused with the two other versions of Sleepy Hollow done on Utah stages last year.

The Zion Theatre Company is presenting The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at the Castle Outdoor Amphitheater Theater in Provo on October 5, 6, 8, 12, 13, and 15. This follows a July run of the play at the Off-Broadway Theater.

Hillary Stirling review of ZTC’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: Brings Back the Magic of Childhood.

Full videos of Zion Theatre Company’s one-acts “Jinn” and “The Death of Eurydice”

Popular local director, professor discusses family and faith”. A feature article on Christopher Clark at the Daily Herald.

Film

Obama 2016, an anti-Obama documentary directed by the conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza, was produced by Gerald R. Molen. Molen, a Mormon, produced many of Steven Spielberg’s movies, including Schindler’s List, for which he won an Oscar. He also produced the Mormon-ish films The Other Side of Heaven and The Legend of Johnny Lingo.

Xan Aranda brings “Mormons” to Kartemquin.  Aranda’s Kickstarter campaign.

The Twelve Best LDS/Mormon Films, by Kevin Burtt (LDS Cinema Online).  Burtt was responding to:

Looking back: Ten films show the best from ‘Mormon Cinema’ Sean P. Means, Salt Lake Tribune.

Bestsellers

New York Times Bestseller Lists, Sept. 30th, Oct. 7th, Oct. 14th. 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

#34, x, x. A SUNLESS SEA, by Anne Perry (3rd week). William Monk #18. Fell off the list after three weeks, spent one week on the USA Today list.

Mass Market Paperbacks

#14, #31, x. ENDER’S GAME, by Orson Scott Card (178h week).

Children’s Hardback

#8, x, x. MICHAEL VEY: RISE OF THE ELGEN, by Richard Paul Evans (5th week). Down, then fell off the list.

Children’s Paperback

x, x, #5 MATCHED, by Ally Condie (51st week). Off for a couple of weeks, then suddenly back strong.

Children’s Series

#8, x, x TIGER’S CURSE, by Colleen Houck (3rd  week). Fell off after 3 weeks.

#7, #9, #7  THE MAZE RUNNER TRILOGY, by James Dashner (42nd week).

Deseret Book bestsellers

  1. The Rent Collector by Camron Wright
  2. Tres Leches Cupcakes by Josi S. Kilpack
  3. Come to Zion, Vol. 1: The Winds and the Waves by Dean Hughes
  4. Line of Fire by Rachel Ann Nunes
  5. Code Word by Traci Hunter Abramson  ↑
  6. The Ten-Day Daughter by S. Michael Wilcox NEW
  7. The Walk, Book 2: Miles to Go by Richard Paul Evans
  8. A Banner is Unfurled, Vol. 5: No Greater Love by Marcie Gallacher, Kerri Robinson NEW
  9. The Newport Ladies Book Club: Paige by Annette Lyon
  10. Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson
  11. The 13th Reality, Vol. 4: The Void of Mist and Thunder by James Dashner NEW
  12. Deadly Undertakings by Gregg Luke  ↓
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2 Responses to This Week in Mormon Literature, October 9, 2012

  1. Jonathan Langford says:

    Thanks, Andrew, for a heroic compilation!

  2. What a huge undertaking you’ve given yourself in presenting this information on a regular basis. I just want to commend you for a job well done and thank you for your service to the writing community.

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