This Week in Mormon Literature, December 9, 2012

A Christmas short story contest, more end of the year best book lists, essays in McSweeney’s, and a Glenn Beck bestseller that Beck did not write. City of Saints is a new award-winning mystery set in Salt Lake City, with a devout Mormon as the protagonist, and an author, Andrew Hunt, with Mormon heritage. Melissa Leilani Larson’s Martyrs’ Crossing and Aaron Edson and Dennis Agle Jr’s Liken’s The First Christmas are playing on Utah stages to good reviews. Please send any additions or corrections to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.

News and Blog posts

LDS Publisher’s Christmas Story Contest is going on now. LDSP is putting up the 20 stories between now and Christmas, so go over and take a look, and get ready to vote.

End of the year best book lists:

School Library Journal’s Top 10 Graphic Novels: 2012.  #8. NATHAN HALE’S HAZARDOUS TALES: BIG BAD IRONCLAD by Nathan Hale. “If only all history books could be this entertaining. Hale, the author, uses Nathan Hale, the historic figure, to tell the story of the creation of the Confederate and Union navies, the building of the U.S.S. Merrimack and, most awesomely, the true-life exploits of William Cushing, a prankster who became a forerunner of today’s Navy Seals. The story’s laugh-out-loud humor makes it easy to remember this time in history.”

School Library Journal’s Top 10 Apps: 2012. #5. Artists who are grappling with the best way to bring comic books to the tablet can take some tips from Ryan Woodward’s BOTTOM OF THE NINTH (Ryan Woodward Art & Animation). Sepia panels incorporating baseball memorabilia and splashes of color are enhanced with the sights and sounds of America’s favorite pastime as Candy Cunningham takes to the pitcher’s mound to play “New Baseball,” 200 years in the future. With touch-triggered dialogue balloons, piped-in radio commentary, and dazzling animation, this one hits it out of the park.

New York Public Library Children’s Books 2012: 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing includes two books by Mormon authors:

 Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Big Bad Ironclad! by Nathan Hale Amulet Books. “Warning, contains: “blockade-runners, privateers, burning shipyards . . .” The year 1861 was never so much fun.”

 The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen. Scholastic Press. “Four orphan boys must compete against one another to best impersonate the king’s long lost son. The winner will become the prince. The losers will be silenced—permanently.”

The author and BYU professor Patrick Madden is running a series of non-fiction travelogues/essays in McSweeney’s called “Dispatches from Montevideo”. Madden is currently on a Fulbright Fellowship in Uruguay with his family, teaching some seminars and writing some essays.  5 parts have been published so far.

Media figure and author Glenn Beck has produced a new novel, Agenda 21. Despite the fact that his name is on top of the book, Beck did not write it, he only “inspired” the author, Harriet Parke, and then published it. Of course the practice of using an established author’s name as a brand, rather than showing authorship, is not rare these days–see the recent “James Patterson” books. Parke was inspired by a radio broadcast by Beck warning about the UN’s Agenda 21 program, wrote the book, and sent it in to Beck, who bought the right to put his name on it. The author’s original editor did a story in Salon criticizing Beck for putting his name on a book he had little to do with in the creation. To be fair, Beck never claimed that Parke was not the primary author. Agenda 21 debuted on the NYT Hardcover list at #3, going down to #6 in its second week.

Glenn Beck, with Harriet Parke. Agenda 21.Threshold Editions, Nov. 20. Suspense. A UN-led conspiracy threatens to bring dictatorship to the world.

At A Motley Vision, Mahonri pays tribute to Utah’s Favorite Scrooge: Richard Wilkins Passes Into God’s Glory, reviews The Five Books of Jesus: James Goldberg’s Marred Masterpiece, reviews Monsters & Mormons, How Could You Not Have Fun?, Part One, and wraps up the year in My 2012 Mormon Arts Favorites. Mahonri is turning into a reviewing machine! Kent explains about some Resources for the Study of the History of Mormon Literature, and presents Sunday Lit Crit Sermon: Levity (1882). William ponders Avoiding dismissiveness. Scott presents Thoughts on Teaching and Mormon Assimilation, and reviews Bradford Tice’s “Missionaries” from The Atlantic and The Best American Short Stories: 2008. Meanwhile, on his own blog, Scott presents a passage from Nephi Anderson’s missionary journal about seeing a production of Ibsen’s A Doll House.

New books and their reviews

Heidi Ashworth. Lady Crenshaw’s Christmas. Self, Nov. 24. Regency holiday novella. Continuation of the two Miss Delacourt novels.

Whitney Boyd. Iced Romance. WiDo Publishing, Nov. 27. Chic lit/romance. Glamorous city girl moves to the country, finds romance. Second novel.

J.A. Dalley. The Zochtil. Self, Aug. 31. Military Science Fiction. Book 1 of the Almek Manning Series.

SciFiFX review. “This book has so many aspects that I enjoyed that I’m only going to go through a few of them here. The first aspect I want to talk about is my favorite part, is that we have aliens from both sides of the fence. What a mean by this is that we don’t have aliens that are all against us, and we don’t have aliens that are all for us, and in some cases we have aliens that are more or less neutral . . . The Characters in this book are very well-formed, you fell an attachment to each one of them, and when one of them fails or is killed you feel the sadness with or for them. In addition to well-formed characters the storyline was well written, I found it quite exciting, and I enjoyed the fast-paced action scenes, as well as some of the more average training in day-to-day activities scenes . . . I really enjoyed this book and rate it a 9 out of a possible 10.”

Lisa Rumsey Harris. The Unlikely Gift of Treasure Blume. Cedar Fort, Nov. 13. Comic romance. An elementary school teacher has the curse/gift of rubbing adults the wrong way when she first meets them. First novel. Harris won the Sunstone Brookie and D.K. Brown Memorial Fiction Contest with her short story, “Topless in Elko.” In 2005, her short story “The Resurrection of the Bobcat” won a Moonstone Award in the same contest. Her essay “Honor in the Ordinary” won the Heather Campbell Brown Essay contest in 2006, and was published in Segullah.

Shelah Books It: Enjoyment rating: 4 stars. “The kind of book I’d buy for my mom or my sister, or really for anyone who I think could lose themselves in Harris’s story, which is sweet without being saccharine, uplifting without preaching, and just downright funny . . . I appreciate that Harris complicates her characters and makes them feel three- dimensional, but not at the expense of keeping the story fun and light. I read the book in one sitting yesterday afternoon, and with the snow falling outside and the story to keep me entertained, it was a perfect day.”

Gamila’s Review: “I really loved the character of Treasure. She was funny and kind and very easy to root for. I also love her blunt although sometime rude grandmother. She made me laugh out loud on more than one occasion. This was a fun lighthearted romance with a little bit of a fantastical element tossed it. The plot spends a lot of time dealing with Treasure’s classroom dramas as a teacher. My heartfelt for some of the kids in Treasure’s classes and I admired Treasure for all the effort she goes through to help them.”

Chris Heimerdinger. Muckwhip’s Guide to Capturing the Latter-day Soul. Self, Nov. 26. Inspirational. Based on the C. S. Lewis classic.

Tracy and Laura Hickman. St. Nicholas and the Dragon. Self, December. Christmas tale from the Dragonsbard universe.

Andrew Hunt. City of Saints. Minotaur Books (MacMillan/St. Martin’s), Oct. 30. 1930s era mystery. Andrew Hunt is a former SLC resident. It won the 2011 Tony Hillerman prize for new mystery authors back in November 2011, which resulted in its being picked up for publication by St. Martin’s. Hunt is a history professor in Waterloo, Ontario. His areas of study include post-1945 U.S. History, the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, and the American West. He has authored two works of nonfiction. This is his first novel. Hunt is a non-Mormon of Mormon heritage. In a PW interview, he said, “I’m a direct descendant of two famous Mormons: Apostle/high-level church leader Parley Pratt (Mitt Romney is also a direct descendant of his) and Capt. Jefferson Hunt, officer in the Mormon Battalion. Everybody in my immediate family—my father, mother, and brother—were baptized as Mormons. I am, in fact, the only person in my immediate family who was not baptized a Mormon. My brother is still very devout, but my parents have left the church. I myself am not a member of any organized religion.

Publishers Weekly (Starred review). “Set in 1930, Hunt’s triumphant mystery debut introduces Salt Lake County deputy Art Oveson, a loving family man and committed Mormon. Haunted by the unsolved murder of his father, who was primed to be Salt Lake City’s next police chief, Oveson is finding his way on the job when he gets involved in a complex and politically sensitive homicide. Helen Pfalzgraf, wife of a doctor who’s one of the community’s leading lights, was repeatedly run over by a car. The crime comes in the midst of a heated campaign for sheriff, with the incumbent, Oveson’s boss, eager to stay on the good side of the city’s power brokers by steering the investigation away from Dr. Pfalzgraf. Oveson must walk a fine line to hang onto his much needed job and his professional integrity as the murder inquiry threatens to uncover some very dark secrets. Winner of the 2011 Hillerman Prize, this hard-edged whodunit with echoes of James Ellroy warrants a sequel.”

Reviewing the Evidence: “Despite the authenticity of the slow pace, readers may wish the plot had been tighter. Eventually the mismatched Deputies Oveson and Rund, working in secret around the unsavory Sheriff Cannon, uncover films hidden in an abandoned mine and scare the murderer to kill again. Despite an occasional jarring moment when characters do not act with the emotion that the moment seems to call for, Hunt is at his best when he paints psychological portraits such as the hidden, frightened women seeking to end pregnancies in the abortionist’s rooms. But his loving portrait of Salt Lake City, with its grand Temple presiding over the square and a people unaware that they were living between the parentheses of two wars is likely to linger in the reader’s memory just as long. As the two gumshoes turn over clues, characters go to the movies for pennies in glittering theaters. Readers may savor the wearing of fedoras, remember when polio was a threat.”

Library Journal (starred review) “This engrossing historical debut is set in 1930 Salt Lake City and based on a true case. Narrated … in the first person, the procedural steadily builds up steam and explodes in all the right places. History professor Hunt’s title won the 2011 Tony Hillerman Prize. Pair with Sheldon Russell and Lisa Black.”

Deseret News. “Salt Lake City in 1930 is the setting for Andrew Hunt’s new mystery novel, “City of Saints.” Loosely based on the true murder of Salt Lake socialite Dorothy Dexter Moormeister in that same year, Hunt’s novel imagines the intricate details that history has failed to leave us. The story is narrated by Art Oveson, a by-the-book Salt Lake County deputy sheriff who is called in to investigate the brutal murder of Helen Pfalzgraf, a young Salt Lake socialite with ambitions of stardom in Hollywood. Oveson, a devout member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, begins an investigation into the homicide with his partner, Roscoe Lund, a foul-mouthed former strikebreaker who holds nothing but contempt for Utah’s dominant religion . . . Hunt’s first-person narrative in this gritty mystery is spot on and conjures up a disturbing portrait of Salt Lake’s criminal underbelly in the midst of the Great Depression. The novel’s pace is very good as Hunt, a former Salt Lake resident, deftly builds tension in a kinetic fashion, leading to a series of dynamic revelations, heart-pounding action and a climax that is nothing short of explosive. In short, this is a book you genuinely lament putting down. The LDS religion offers atmosphere in this novel, with Hunt neither endorsing nor demonizing Mormons. Oveson is a man of faith who prefers ice cream to alcohol, silent brooding to swearing, and prayer to despair. Still, it does contain a good amount of profanity and offensive language from a few of the rougher characters and deals with adult themes.”

Kirkus Reviews: “Hunt does a creditable job tying up all the loose ends the unknown killer left behind 80 years ago and an even better job evoking the time and place in which he lived.”

Jenni James. Sleeping Beauty. Stonehouse Ink, December. Faerie Tale Collection vol. 2.  Middle reader fantasy.

Theric Jepson. Byuck. Strange Violins, Dec. 4. Comic romance. “A deeply weird romance set on one of the most conservative college campuses in the country, BYU, “where all the babes are hotties and the ice cream grows on trees.” In a place where both angst and premarital sex are verboten, two visionary returned missionaries will defy the odds to pen a rock opera about the ultimate quest for the twentysomething Mormon male: avoiding matrimony.” First novel.

Therick Jepson. “Marital Matters”. Self, Dec. 6. “A public service message for young men looking to avoid matrimony . . . or get into it as quickly as possible.  Sharing a common genesis with author Theric Jepson’s novel Byuck, “Marital Matters” has been unavailable for a decade. Now, with the release of the novel from Strange Violin Editions, Antemoff Ebookery is pleased to make this related work, long lost, available to the public for the first time since 2002.

Rachel Ann Nunes. Line of Fire. Shadow Mountain, Sept. 4. Paranormal romance/suspense.  Fourth in the Autumn Rain series.

Sharron Haddock, Deseret News: “Take a deep, cleansing breath before plunging into “Line of Fire,” the newest Autumn Rain novel by Rachel Ann Nunes. It’ll be awhile before you’ll feel it’s safe to exhale again. “Line of Fire” takes off at a dead run and only slows slightly before it wraps up for a solid smack-of-a-conclusion after Autumn Rain and her policeman-turned-boyfriend poke the hornet’s nest . . . But nothing and no one in this story is what it or they seem. There are twists and turns that keep going right until the end — after 200 or so pages, it’s easy to feel a bit of whiplash coming on as the power changes hands just one too many times. It’s also a bit of an endurance race as well as Rain and Martin keep getting surprised and then beaten up by the bad guys who were the good guys who are now the bad guys again. There’s an interesting story along the way not only with the characters involved in the crimes, but with the man Rain believes may be her and her twin sister’s father. The imprint gift brings its own challenges and surprises, especially since the man she thinks might be her biological father apparently has the same gift . . . Rain is a likeable hero and a strong character who can just keep firing if she has a little protein now and then. The Autumn Rain series is a keeper.”

Karey White. For What It’s Worth. Cedar Fort, Dec. 12. LDS romance. Woman achieves her dream by opening a wedding cake bakery, finds romance.

Shanda, LDSWBR. “I really liked Abby. In fact, I liked all of the characters, though it took a while for me to feel like I knew Dane very well. During the last half of the book is when I felt Dane developed into a great character and became one of my favorites . . . a sweet, clean LDS romance that will be enjoyed by many readers. And don’t be surprised if you start craving cake.”

Fresh Fiction. “A delightful inspirational romance. The characters are all strong but charming and fit beautifully into the story line. This is a story about family, values and evaluating the “worth” of what you do and who and what is important to you. It’s a quick read and time well invested. Don’t miss this one!” Alicia Cunningham, Deseret News.

Reviews of older books

Julie Coulter Bellon. All Fall Down (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books). Grade: C. “I should make it clear right up front that romantic suspense really isn’t my thing. Outside of Whitney Award judging, I don’t read it. At all . . . The novel’s plot sounded engrossing enough to keep me interested. And it was, more or less. Enough bombs exploded throughout the novel that I never really got bored. Still, the characters never developed into anything more than empty cliches, the plot seemed very far-fetched, the insta-love romance bugged, and the poor copyediting kept pulling me out of the story. The writing itself was better than I expected it to be, but considering all my other issues with the book, I just couldn’t give All Fall Down anything higher than a C. It’s entertaining, sure, I just wanted more substance, more polish, more development. Since I say this exact thing every time I read a book of this kind, I should probably face the facts—romantic suspense is not my genre. Never has been, never will be. Lesson learned.”

Julie Coulter Bellon. All Fall Down (Gamila’s Reviews). “[It] sucks you in immediately in the first chapter and makes you want to keep reading . . . I really enjoyed reading All Fall Down and found the plot compelling, fast-paced, and full of twists and turns. I really thought Claire was a strong and very brave character, but I would have like to see her skills displayed a bit more. Her hostage negotiation skills don’t really get her anywhere good in this book. So I was left to wonder if she was good at her job or bad. I would have really enjoyed seeing her use more strategic thinking that emphasized her training and knowledge in her career. Despite that fact I really did admire her determination to get justice for Gary and help Rafe to get his brother back. In the end I found it refreshing to read an action-packed contemporary romance that tied into the Afghanistan conflict.”

Stephen Carter and Jett Atwood. iPlates, vol. 1 (Trevor Holyoak, AML).  “It’s not just action, as you might expect from this format; there are also spiritual lessons being taught . . . This is not a book I would offer to my 7 and 9 year old sons, although they would want to read it. It has graphic violence (nothing is held back when Ammon gets going) and there is a bit of sensuality. They also wouldn’t understand the humor. But my 16 year old daughter enjoyed it, although she would not have picked it up herself, not being the comic book type. As she read it, she was confused – particularly due to a relationship between a young Abinadi and youthful King Noah that is not in the scriptures – until I explained that a lot of it is made up. (This is another reason I wouldn’t suggest it for younger kids.) Anyone of appropriate age who thinks the Book of Mormon is boring needs to read this, and I look forward to future volumes. Carter and Atwood have brought portions of The Book of Mormon to life like never before. Where else are you going to find Ammon tending flocks of animals (apparently cureloms) with bodies that look like sheep, but have Pikachu heads? But most importantly, if it motivates you to want to read the book of scripture that inspired it, it will have fulfilled what seems to be its intended mission.”

David Farland. Nightingale (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books). Grade: D. “Not only is the story unoriginal, but it’s also plotless, melodramatic and just not very well-written or edited. It zigzagged all over the place, making the whole thing feel unfocused. Then, there’s Bron. Our hero is sympathetic to a point, but his macho attitude and constant lusting after anything female (including his foster mother—eeeewww!) make him difficult to like. Bottom line on this one? If I hadn’t agreed to review this book for a virtual tour (with a company I’d already bailed on once), I wouldn’t have read past the first chapter. Now, this may be another case of me just plain getting it wrong because Nightingale has actually won a number of awards (whether this is for the print version or the enhanced e-version I’m not sure). It also gets great reviews on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Goodreads. Just not from me. Oh well.”

James Goldberg. The Five Books of Jesus (Scott Hales, The Low-Tech World). “Despite Jesus being the novel’s main character, it’s not really about him. Rather, it’s about his disciples—some of them, at least—and their relationship to him and, more importantly, to each other . . . The real stars of The Five Books of Jesus are the apostles Matthew, Judas, and Andrew. Matthew, the tax collector, and Judas, the Jerusalem slumdog, are social pariahs who find acceptance in Jesus’ inner circle. Judas, particularly, is haunted by his sister’s rape, for which he blames himself, and looks to Jesus for retribution. Matthew, on the other hand, is hyperaware of his former relationship to the Romans and feels his community’s disapproval acutely. No less interesting is the cautious and loyal Andrew. Andrew is the novel’s most reflective and Christian character, and his friendship with Judas provides the novel with some of its most poignant and memorable scenes . . . The novel, of course, is not flawless. While I like Goldberg’s focus on the followers of Christ, rather than on Christ himself, I find myself wishing we had more face-time with him. Along with that, I wish the end of the novel had as much detail and lyricism as the beginning. Goldberg’s strategy throughout the trial of Jesus seems to be to cover as much ground as possible without risking the momentum-slowing meditative asides that typified earlier passages in the novel . . . Whatever may be lacking from The Five Books of Jesus, it does not distract from the work as a whole. It is certainly the best novelization of the life of Jesus by a Mormon writer (my apologies to Gerald N. Lund), and one could even make the argument that it has what it takes to stand up against Gospel retellings elsewhere. (Certainly it beats Mailer’s unimaginative novel.) I personally think that it could serve as an effective literary bridge between Mormon and non-Mormon fiction as nothing in the novel betrays it as an overt Mormon cultural production, yet Goldberg’s reverence for Christ and the Gospel record is entirely consistent with Mormon practices—and perhaps what sets The Five Books of Jesus apart from other contemporary works, which sometimes aim to shock conservative readers with an earthy, human Jesus. Goldberg clearly has more faith in Jesus’ ability to tell a story and captivate without sensationalism—or psychedelic blasphemy. Ultimately, The Five Books of Jesus has something for all readers, even the Mormon rebels and teenaged subversives in your life. Since finishing the book, I’ve been recommending it to everyone. It’s intimate simplicity and thoughtful recreation of the Gospel narratives give presence to Jesus in a way that lingers with you long after you read its final words. More importantly, like any good retelling of the Gospels (including my guilty favorite, Jesus Christ Superstar), it makes you long to return to those four original books of Jesus and read them again with eyes and ears open to new possibilities.”

Melanie Jacobson. Smart Move (Danica Baird, Deseret News). “While it is a companion novel to “Twitterpated,” this book can easily be read as a stand-alone novel. Jacobson’s writing always manages to be refreshing, entertaining, amusing and uplifting. She writes her romances in a way that are accessible to readers of all ages. Her romances are always clean and never contain any content that would offend any reader of any age . . . Fans of the romantic comedy will love Jacobson’s novel “Smart Move,” and will appreciate the novel for its depth, its entertainment value and its overall cuteness.”

Heather B. Moore. Athena (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine). “The first book in this series, Olivia by Julie Wright, showed the impact the various books the club read had on Olivia’s life. The second through fourth have dwelt more on the importance and value of the friendships formed by the women. There isn’t much of a plot that develops through the series, leaving each book, especially the first and fourth, possible stand alone books with satisfying endings. All four of these authors, Julie Wright, Josi Kilpack, Annette Lyon, and Heather Moore are outstanding writers and this has been an interesting experiment they’ve played out with this series, but on a personal note, I hope they go back to writing the kind of books they’ve written before. I don’t like knowing what is going to happen in a story before I get to it even if it is told from a different viewpoint. Readers who enjoy a strong plot oriented story will probably feel the same, whereas readers who enjoy slice-of-life with strong character development will likely hope for more of this series from this talented quartet.”

Heather B. Moore. Athena (Sheila, LDSWBR). 5 stars. “I was completely taken in with Athena’s story. Heather Moore’s expertise as a writer shows as she develops this character. The growth arc that Athena takes is so huge as she makes decisions that not only change her life, but those she loves. This book truly brought full circle the stories of the four women in this series. It felt so satisfying to finish this book and feel that sense of completion. The next four books in the series will be about four other book club members in a new time frame. Each of the authors will take on this new writing challenge. I highly recommend Athena! This story is full of heart-wrenching moments, friendship at its finest, and a love story that made me cheer, moan and melt. How is that for a combination? Athena’s romance with Grey, the book store owner, has turned out to be one of my favorites for 2012.If you haven’t started this series, pull out the tissues, reserve several hours to yourself and get ready to be pulled into the world of The Newport Ladies Book Club. You will find women of strength, strong friendships and stories that will make you look at your own life in new ways.”

Heather B. Moore. Athena (Gamila’s Reviews). “I really loved this book. I thought that the romance between Athena and Grey was so sweet. It was also nice to see Athena grow as a character and resolve some of the issues that held her back from wanting to start a family. It was fascinating to watch Athena discover more about her mother’s life and how she had to readjust the judgments she had made of her as a child. I found this conflict so very relatable and I sympathized with Athena as she struggled to find answers about her mother after she died. I really felt for her as she cared for her aging Father and had to figure out what she had to do to take care of him. Overall, I found this to be a very satisfying read, a sweet but thoughtful romance.”

Jennifer A. Nielsen. The False Prince (LDSWBR). Mindy: 5 stars. “I knew I was going to love this book right from the first page. Jennifer has created some great characters in this book. Sage is the perfect smart-alec that you will be cheering for throughout the book. Sage is almost too clever for his own good, and he’s always a step ahead of everyone. My favorite character was, of course, Sage . . . I loved everything about this book. The writing is flawless and page turning. I also enjoyed how the author kept secrets from the reader, and how she subtly revealed key moments, which turn out to be HUGE! I really can’t summarize this book without giving anything away, but know that this is one of the best books I have read all year.” Shanda: 5 stars. “I knew that I would be giving The False Prince five stars within the first three paragraphs. I loved everything about this book. I devoured it in one day, savoring every word on every page. After I finished reading it I carried the book around with me, not quite ready to let go of the story yet . . . I have heard so many good things about The False Prince in the months since its release earlier this year. My only regret is that I didn’t read it sooner. I eagerly recommend it to anyone who loves a good story and give The False Prince an enthusiastic 5 stars.”

Steven L. Peck. A Short Stay in Hell. (Ken Jennings’ Favorite Gifts for Trivia Buffs, GoodReads). “What’s a slim novella about the afterlife doing on a list of trivia books? Because it’s actually a brainy thought experiment in disguise: a chilling (and mathematically accurate!) look at what eternity might actually feel like. I dare you to stop thinking about this book.”

Paul Rimmasch. The Lost Stones (Jeffrey Needle, AML). “When reading fiction, you sometimes have to look beyond the plausibility of the plot and try to determine just what the author is trying to tell us. We’ve all read novels that stretch our credulity, but we recognize value in the overall product . . . Now, if the plot sounds a little outlandish, that’s because it is. But Rimmasch’s purpose, I suspect, is not to produce a credible work of fiction for adults, but rather to introduce ideas concerning Book of Mormon archaeology and scriptural apologetics in a setting that young people will find exciting and thought-provoking. And he succeeds. He manages to fold in so many historical references – with endnotes supporting his statements – that one can’t help but take from this book a sense that here is a fellow who truly believes in Book of Mormon history. He’s careful to have his characters avoid calling any of the evidences “proof” – he insists that proof comes only from testimony. I applaud the restraint he shows in his characters’ statements. Other writers could learn a lot from the way he carefully couches his statements concerning Book of Mormon evidences. I was particularly intrigued that he chose to explore the idea that Book of Mormon events actually took place in North America. This isn’t the most popular view. He makes it sound almost plausible . . . While the author has crafted an interesting and fast-moving plot, sometimes the plot moves a bit too quickly. There were times I wished he would slow down a bit, moderating the pace of the story. In the end, “The Lost Stones” is just the kind of book LDS families should be encouraging their children to read. Non-stop action and thrilling adventures provide a wrapper around some intriguing gospel teachings.”

Kiersten White. Endlessly (Emily’s Reading Room). 3 stars. “Paranormalcy was one of my favorite reads in 2010. There was something fresh and funny about Evie, and the story was cute and exciting . . . For some reason, I felt nothing for Endlessly. In fact, I was so disappointed with this book that I found myself wondering why I’d loved the first one so much. Evie’s usually funny, fresh, and cute attitude was annoying and selfish. Her arguments with Reth and the other paranormals about why she wouldn’t help them were very shallow and self-centered. Evie’s lack of development really killed whatever else the series had going for it.”

Jason F. Wright. The Thirteenth Day of Christmas (Shelby Scoffield, Deseret News).  “A sentimental novel. Though a little over the top, it is an emotional read that will touch the reader’s heart . . . While it is a sweet story, “The 13th Day of Christmas” is an easily predicable book.”

Theater

Melissa Leilani Larson. Martyrs’ Crossing (Callie Oppedisano, UTBA). “While I certainly admit that I can heartily enjoy a good mindless comedy, I more fully appreciate a play that makes me think. Martyrs’ Crossing does just that. I would even go so far as to say that it fulfills another function of theatre: it serves as a reminder of our potential as human beings to be something great: the very image of God that we were created in. I realize this is high praise for a piece of theatre, and I should note upfront that Martyrs’ Crossing, under the direction of Brighton Nicole Sloan, has some serious flaws. But it is in a category of religious drama, especially that found among Mormon playwrights and production companies in Utah,that is so sincere in its spirituality that it can’t help but have success in its purpose despite the obstacles. Assisting in this success is the dramatic and spiritual zeal of current and former BYU students that largely make up the cast and crew of this youthful production at the Echo Theatre . . . The story of Joan of Arc is larger-than-life and intertwining it with the story of St. Catherine of Alexandria makes it absolutely epic. Larson’s exploration into the intricacies of sainthood is provoking and insightful, prompting one to contemplate the different possibilities of heavenly and human workings through time and eternity. I must admit that the play forced me to reorient myself to an alternate interpretation of sainthood than that which is engrained in the devout Catholicism I embrace. I think Catholics and non-Catholics alike are inclined to think of saints as strongly tied to Catholic history and tradition, and Larson make significant departures from that tradition. In contrast, Larson pays considerable attention to the historical detail of Joan of Arc’s life. This is both admirable and problematic. The history of St. Joan is fascinating and necessary to Larson’s story, which is at its best when it focuses on the relationships between Saints united by common purpose but separated by time and death. Unfortunately, however, the historical exposition is sometimes distracting, and it inhibits the progression of the intriguing intertwinings between these saints. Larson’s skilled concentration on female relationships in this play cannot be overstated. She has created strong roles for women that can stand on their own accord with little assistance from the male representatives from history. (In fact, it would not be hard to imagine this play without the male characters.) She has given them beautiful words to speak and faith and strength that is enviable and admirable. She takes Shaw’s St. Joan (to whom she pays clear homage in the play) and simultaneously makes her more human and more heavenly with intercessors that are equally so. I must admit, however, that despite creating such satisfying female characters, Larson’s play still left me unsatisfied. The unrelenting faith of these women in their Savior Jesus Christ never leads to their full eternal communion with Him in heaven, at least not in the play, which ends as it began, in the library (in fact, Jesus Christ is never heard or seen). So, although St. Catherine notes that we must know sorrow to know joy, we never see that joy come to full fruition . . . It is clear that for all those involved in the production, Martyrs’ Crossing is a labor of love, and it makes me thankful for the existence of independent theatres such as the Echo in Utah that are devoted to encouraging the development of homegrown drama in our state. It makes me even prouder to support it.”

BJ Wright, Front Row Reviewers. “For serious theater buffs who bemoan the pastiches of Holiday Reviews (holy and secular), as well as yet another iteration of “A Christmas Carol”, the Echo Theatre offers a sacred story for thinkers among you. This is not about the birth of a child, but about the birth pangs of lasting faith . . . For people of faith, this production is a vehicle of renewal, just as effective as the Christmas Story. I think it is appropriate and inspiring and a nice break from the usual saccharine fare typically offered at this time of year. Several in the audience were visibly moved when the lights came up after curtain call. Ultimately, Martyr’s Crossing is a well written, carefully thought out story about the mysterious, sometimes ambiguous nature of faith, about glory, their power to inspire, and how, where – or whether – we, too, have a part in it.”

A Theater Lover. “A beautiful story! Any work of art that depicts heaven as a library is bound to make an impression on the likes of this theater lover. Well, not heaven in so much as the place “in-between” heaven and earth where spirits who have been called to earthly missions reside . . . Larson’s words are fluid and poetic. Her story is captivating and the nearly 2 hour run time soared by with just the right amount of suspense and insight into this world. Director Brighton Nicole Sloan paced the show just as well, keeping it engaging at the same time allowing for the important moments to settle before rushing forward . . . A truly impressive and beautiful work from all those involved. Martyrs’ Crossing is not to be missed.”

Aaron Edson, composer and Dennis Agle Jr, book. Liken’s The First Christmas. SCERA, Nov. 30-Dec. 22.

UTBA Review, Christian Cragun: “The current SCERA production of Liken’s The First Christmas is unique. This production is the world stage premiere of a musical based on a somewhat popular series of religious films. In addition to that, amidst all of the holiday theater that is happening throughout Utah, it stands apart as one of the very few overtly religious pieces available this season. With a strong cast, great voices, and a beautiful design, this show is worth looking into . . . t starts with a rather cartoonish and didactic narrative frame, as Mrs. Drew, the middle school choir teacher, has been suspended for refusing to remove Silent Night from her “Winter Festival Concert” (NOT a Christmas concert). One student named Amelia returns home to inform her parents of the evils the school district and its mean, self-centered superintendent have committed. Her parents readily agree this was wrong and start lamenting the state of the Christmas season; commercialism, political correctness, and the like. The best remedy for this is to reteach 12-year-old Amelia the story of the nativity. I am still a little unsure about how I felt about the play-within-a-play structure. I found the premise of the choir concert issue to be a little preachy and it was difficult for me to grow close to the characters because I didn’t buy into the evil school district ploy. The major issue for me was that it was presented in such a cartoonish way, kind of a mix between Veggietales and a Disney Channel show. But at the same time, the over-arching structure of the parents telling the nativity story mixed with their own embellishments led to a majority of the show’s comedic moments, and a few spectacular meta-theatrical ones. I loved the back-and-forth that occurred in the telling of the story of the four wise men (yes, four). The comedy was timed well, there was discovery from the actors, and it thrived on the collision of the two stories. It was great to watch. The “inner” play, or that of the Nativity, was very engaging and had many characters that I was able to relate to. As mentioned before, it was a goofier take on a traditional story, and yet it was able to balance the jokes with moments of emotional connection to make for a very balanced piece. The more sentimental parts helped to keep the joking nature of the play from feeling too sacrilegious . . . The music in the show was only so-so. I didn’t find many of Aaron Edson’s melodies to be particularly catchy or memorable, and the lyrics often seemed to be repeating a generic phrase over and over (“Follow the Star” and “A Hand to Hold”). However, though the songs themselves weren’t much to speak of, the performances from the actors and the musical direction from Martha Glissmeyer made the most of what was there . . . What the script lacked in its music and lyrics was made up for in the humor of the scenes, especially the ensemble scenes. The humor in the show was actually quite good, and it was accentuated by the rapport that the actors had with one another . . . So is it worth the time and money to go see this show? Overall, I would say yes. It’s fun, it’s of a fairly good quality, and it’s the right season for it. It reminds me of a less-developed version of Joseph and Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, complete with narration structure, re-imagining of a classic Bible story, and even a Donny Osmond-esque, rock star angel Gabriel. So maybe that’s your best litmus test. If you like Joseph, there’s a good chance this will be right up your alley.”

The BYU Writers, Directors, and Actors workshop was held this week, with three original plays by BYU-connected authors. Paint My Eyes, book, music, and lyrics by BYU student Jamie Erekson. A new musical about missionaries serving in Germany.

Give Me Moonlight, by BYU student Ariel Mitchel, about a woman who tries to heal her paralyzed husband, resorting to gold speculation in Death Valley. Mitchell was recently named a David Mark Cohen National Playwriting Award finalist.

Pride & Prejudice, adapted by Melissa Leilani Larson.  Larson follows up her success with Persuasion with another Austen adaptation.

Film

Jerusha Hess’s Austenland, based on the novel by Shannon Hale, has been accepted into the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, where it will make its premiere. Utah director and author taking ‘Austenland’ to Sundance (Salt Lake Tribune). “For Jerusha Hess, directing her first film adapted from Utah author Shannon Hale’s book “felt pretty empowering to be these little Utah girls making a movie.” Now Hess, the Salt Lake City-based filmmaker, and Hale will see their collaboration, “Austenland,” receive its world premiere at home in Utah — at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. “Austenland” was picked as one of the 16 U.S. Dramatic Competition entries at this year’s festival, the Sundance Institute announced on Wednesday, Nov. 28 . . . “Austenland” may stand out in contrast to the dark fare familiar to Sundance audiences. “It’s just a happy romp,” Hess said. “It’s so easy, it’s so light, it’s so accessible, and just fun. Like all of our movies, it’s quirky. It’s the movie for the girls, finally. I wanted to make the quirky movie for the girls.”

‘A Reel Legacy’ tells story of LDS Church’s early film efforts (Deseret News). Thomas Laughlin is the producer, director and editor behind the new documentary “A Reel Legacy,” a history of filmmaker Wetzel O. Whitaker and the Brigham Young University Motion Picture Studio.

The 12 Dogs of Christmas: The Great Puppy Rescue was released direct to DVD on October 9th. Keith Merrill, director.  It is a sequel to 2005 family film The 12 Dogs of Christmas. Deseret News article.

Bestsellers

New York Times Bestseller Lists, Dec. 9, Dec. 16

Hardcover Fiction

#21, #21 A WINTER DREAM, by Richard Paul Evans (5th week). Down from #16. #100 and #130 on the USA Today list.

Children’s Middle Grade

x, #14 INFINITY RING BOOK 1, A MUTINY IN TIME, by James Dashner (1st week). The New York Time rearranged the Children’s Book lists this week. It replaced the old Chapter Book (hardcover) and Paperback lists with new Middle Grade and Young Adult lists. The new lists are divided by target age group, rather than format. So each list includes sales of hardcover and paperback books, as well as including ebook sales for the first time. The lists also extended from 10 to 15 books. This should give Middle Grade books like Dashner’s a better chance of making the lists.

Children’s Series

#5, #4 MATCHED TRILOGY, by Ally Condie (3rd week). Reached was #39 and #62 on the USA Today list.

#7, #6 THE TWILIGHT SAGA, by Stephenie Meyer (210th week). Back on the list with the release of the last movie.

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