2012 Mormon Literature Year In Review. Part 1, National fiction

Time again for my Year in Review. Part 1 will cover nationally published fiction. Next week’s Part 2 will cover the Mormon market and independently published fiction.

Juvenile Fiction

The 2012 Mormon-authored book which received the greatest cumulative critical and commercial success was Ally Condie’s Reached, the third and concluding volume of the YA dystopian Matched series. It probably sold more copies than any other Mormon-authored novel. It reached #2 on the New York Times Children’s Series list, and #6 on the USA Today list which counts all fiction and nonfiction books. It received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews. The PW review read, “Condie’s prose is immediate and unadorned, with sudden pings of lush lyricism. Her protagonists are no run-of-the-mill romance triangle, her forms of activism (art, medicine) rich. Each character is differently strong and differently wounded. With reveals seeming to arrive on almost every page, prepare to stay up all night.” For all of this, Condie’s book is my choice for Mormon-authored national market book of the year.

Another critical darling in juvenile fiction is Jennifer A. Nielsen’s middle grade medieval fantasy The False Prince. A review in School Library Journal stated, “Coming as close to the definition of a children’s psychological thriller as possible, Nielsen creates a story that will feel simultaneously new and familiar all at once. No mean feat . . . With enough twists and turns to keep a well-oiled brain humming, Nielsen trusts in the intelligence of her readers to follow along her delightfully complicated path. Their reward is a truly enjoyable book, start to finish.” The False Prince has frequently been mentioned in speculated Newbery Award short lists.  Both Reached  and The False Prince have appeared on several 2012 Best Children’s Fiction lists.

Reached is part of a wave of post-Hunger Games YA dystopian series, a wave which is said to be near the end of its strength, although we have not seen a decline yet. Another well-regarded book in that genre is Dan Wells’ Partials, Wells’ first true YA novel. A review in the Wall Street Journal read “Mr. Wells has recombined familiar dystopian elements, added original ones and thrown in dashes of dry wit to create a sprawling, action-packed medical thriller full of big ideas and exciting reversals.” Kirkus Reviews stated, “The rollercoaster plot takes precedence over character at times, and the generally realistic world occasionally strains credibility. The rushed ending promises a sequel, progressing the story enough that readers are certain to return.”  Two strong selling but less critically applauded dystopias are James Dashner’s The Kill Order, a prequel to his The Maze Runner series, and Richard Paul Evans’ Rise of the Elgen, the second of his Michael Vey series. A notch below those two in sales are Elana Johnson’s Surrender and Robison Wells’ Feedback.

Paranormal romance, the other dominant genre in Young Adult fiction, saw five Mormon authors completing high selling multi-volume series.  They were Bree Despain’s Savage Grace, Becca Fitzpatrick’s Finale, Colleen Houck’s Tiger’s Destiny, Aprilynne Pike’s Destined, and Kiersten White’s Endlessly. A promising new entry into the genre is debut author Brodi Ashton’s Everneath, the first of a series based on the Greek tale of Persephone and Hades. A starred review in VOYA said, “The author brings a fresh, innovative concept to young adult fiction with well-developed characters and a fantastic plot line.”

Other YA speculative novels of note are Brandon Mull’s 2nd volume fantasy Seeds of Rebellion, Bryce Moore’s debut Roma magic fantasy Vodnick, and C. J. Hill (aka Janette Rallison)’s time travel dystopia Erasing Time, which was a reworking of a 2004 novel she wrote for the Mormon market.

Middle grade novels have been a significant growth area in the market. The New York Times created a Middle Grade bestseller list, and the Whitney Academy plans to have a Middle Grade category for its 2012 awards. There were 13 middle grade novels published by national presses in 2012, all of which were speculative in one way or another. I have already mentioned Nielson’s The False Prince. Shannon Hale’s Palace of Stone has frequently been applauded as a worthy sequel to her Newbery Honor book Princess Academy. James Dashner’s A Mutiny in Time is the first in Scholastic’s multi-author The Infinity Ring series of time travel adventures, which have a significant on-line gaming component. Scholastic sees the Dashner-led series as the successor to it’s the 39 Clues series.  J. Scott Savage, who has published several Mormon and national market novels with Deseret Book and Covenant, has his first New York City-published novel with Zombie Kid, the first of a humor/mystery/adventure series. Kirkus Reviews gave it a starred review, “Striking the perfect balance between rib-tickling humor and bone-chilling adventure, the first novel in Savage’s new middle-grade series is sure to please young readers looking for a thrill. It’s hard to imagine that readers (particularly boys) won’t enjoy every minute of hair-raising fun.” Jessica Day George’s Princess of the Silver Woods continues her beloved series of re-imagined fairy tales, and Brandon Mull’s fantasy Arcade Catastrophe builds on the fun of The Candy Shop War. Obert Skye had three MG books in 2012, Tyler Whitesides continues his Janitors  series, and Craig R. Everett (Toby Gold and the Secret Fortune), Lana Krumweide (Freakling), and Adam Glendon Sidwell (Evertaster) all produced their debut fantasy works to strong reviews.

With all of these wild and woolly speculative works, standard contemporary juvenile novels must be struggling for space. Yet three highly regarded novelists published such works in 2012, Martine Leavitt, Carol Lynch Williams, and Jessica Martinez. Two of the works were written in verse.

Martine Leavitt has written two novels about homeless/runaway boys. In My Book of Life by Angel, she tells the story of a 16-year old homeless girl lured into prostitution in Vancouver, Canada. The book received starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal. The Kirkus review reads, “The tragedy of discarded children is skillfully explored in this stunning novel in verse . . . Leavitt’s mastery of form builds on the subtle interplay between plot and theme. “John the john” is a divorced professor who makes Angel read Book 9 from Milton’s Paradise Lost, inadvertently teaching her the power that words, expression and creativity have to effect change. Passages from Milton frame the chapters, as Angel, in her own writing, grasps her future. Based on the factual disappearance of dozens of Vancouver women, this novel of innocence compromised is bleak, but not without hope or humor. An astonishing, wrenching achievement.”

Carol Lynch Williams has produced a stream of highly regarded, grimly serious depictions of teens in dysfunctional families. Her latest, Waiting, tells, in verse, the story of a teen girl who struggles to rediscover love and find redemption in the wake of her brother’s death. It received starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly. The Kirkus review says, “Williams, as always, keeps her prose, this time arranged on the page as prose poems, sensitive, intelligent and completely absorbing. She slowly peels back the veils on [the family’s] psychology, eventually revealing the strong and the weak and, ultimately, how Zach died. The family she depicts are former missionaries, giving the book strong spiritual undertones that should appeal to religious as well as general audiences. Exceptional.”

Jessica Martinez is getting the same kind of critical attention that Leavitt and Williams have enjoyed. Her second novel,  The Space Between Us, tells the story of teen sisters (one responsible, and one wild), their rivalries and their bond. Bloggin’ ’bout Books said, “At times, their story seems a little far-fetched, but I still enjoyed reading about the girls’ ups and downs as they sought to understand each other.  Their struggles felt authentic.  Overall it is a warm, satisfying read that’s touching without being saccharine.” The Kirkus reviewer, on the other hand, disliked the story’s depiction of the conservative family’s decision to hide the younger sister’s pregnancy.

Three authors made their debuts with contemporary YA novels in 2012. Best reviewed of the group was Jennifer Shaw Wolf’s Breaking Beautiful, about a girl who survived a car accident that killed her boyfriend. Publishers Weekly said, “Wolf’s debut impressively weaves Allie’s chilling memories with present-day drama. Part romance, part mystery, this solid outing offers a persuasive portrait of guilt and recovery.” Also debuting were Kate Kae Myers’s mystery The Vanishing Game, and Janci Patterson’s suspense Chasing the Skip. Finally, Lisa Magnum’s YA romance After Hello has gotten several strong reviews.

Recently graphic novelizations of popular novels have become common.  The graphic novel version of Twilight appeared in 2010-2011, and the version of New Moon will come out in 2013. There was also a novelization of Becca Fitzpatrick’s Hush, Hush. Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnson’s The Formic War went the other way, starting with a series of comics, and then releasing a prose novel, Earth Unaware: The First Formic War. While on the topic of illustrated books, BYU animation professor Ryan Woodward created the first animated comic book app, Bottom of the Ninth, about a futuristic baseball game. It was named #5 in School Library Journal’s Top 10 Apps of 2012.

Adult fiction

The best reviewed book Mormon-authored books for adults was Dan Wells’ The Hollow City, about a paranoid schizophrenic who tries to solve a murder while dealing with his own hallucinations. Bryce Moore, at Elitist Book Reviews, wrote, “A delicious blend of paranoia, mystery, and action . . . For most of the book, I was left wondering who was real and who was imaginary. Wells did a fantastic job keeping the mystery up . . . The ending was satisfying and–more importantly–managed to make sense of the chaos in earlier parts of the novel. I also wanted to applaud Wells for handling schizophrenia as something more serious than a joke.” Dan Wells has won the Whitney Award for Best Novel the last two years running. I asked several Mormon authors and critics to tell me their favorite 2012 Mormon-authored fiction, and The Hollow City tied with Reached for the most mentions among nationally published novels.

In speculative fiction, Orson Scott Card produced three novels in 2012, Shadows in Flight, the latest in the Shadows/Bean series, Earth Unaware (with Aaron Johnson), a prequel to Ender’s Game, and Ruins, a sequel to Pathfinder.  Brandon Sanderson released two shorter works, the novella Legion, about a man who can generate multiple hallucinatory entities, and The Emperor’s Soul, a short novel based in the Elantris world.  Larry Corriea’s Monster Hunter Legion is the 4th in his paranormal military SF series. Tracy Hickman produced three fantasy books, the Batman-universe Wayne of Gotham, Blood of the Emperor from the Annals of Drakis series, and (with Laura Hickman) Eventide, Tales of the Dragon’s Bard.

Brad R. Torgenson’s novelette “Ray of Light” and Nancy Fulda’s short story “Movement” were nominated for the science fiction Hugo and Nebula Awards. Torgersen was also nominated for The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. The Writing Excuses podcast was nominated for a Hugo for Best Related Work, the second year in the row. Schlock Mercenary: Force Multiplication, written and illustrated by Howard Tayler, was nominated for Best Graphic Story, the fourth year in a row he was nominated. Although none of those authors took home the statues, The Writing Excuses podcast did win a Parsec Award for Best Podcast about Speculative Fiction Content Creation, and Fulda’s short story “Movement,” won an Asimov’s Readers’ Award, which was presented at the Nebulas.

Fulda and Torgersen both had several stories published in 2012. Other authors producing speculative short fiction in 2012 included Jaleta Clegg, Emily Mah, Steven L. Peck, Ethan Skarstedt, Eric James Stone, and David J. West. Recently Mormon speculative fiction authors have been actively working together to publish their work. In 2011 many appeared in the Monsters and Mormons anthology. In 2012 a group got together and created Space Eldrich, an anthology of seven novelettes and novellas of Loftcraftian space opera. The collection included work by Larry Correia, D.J. Butler, Michael R. Collings, Robert J. Defendi, Carter Reid and Brad R. Torgersen, Nathan Shumate, Howard Tayler, and David J. West. Several speculative fiction authors, as well as others, had stories in The Gruff Variations collection, edited by Eric James Stone. W. H. Pugmire had a collection of his Lovecraftian horror stories published, The Strange Dark One.

Shadow Mountain had a surprise success with Julianne Donaldson’s debut novel Edenbrooke, a Regency romance inspired by Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. It received a starred review from Publishers Weekly (“Delightful and completely engrossing…”), and has received considerable attention for being a “proper romance” (chaste romance without religious themes). As a result, one author has reported, “For the first time that I know of, Deseret Book/Shadow Mountain is actively requesting romance submissions.”

Carla Kelly is a nationally known best-selling author of historical romances, who in 2011 began writing Mormon-themed romances with Cedar Fort, as well as republishing some of her older titles there. She won the Whitney Award for romance in 2011. In 2012 she published two new romances set in turn-of-the-century Utah, and republished two novels originally published by Signet in the early 1990s.  One of the republished novels, Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand, was one of five books on the Publisher’s Weekly list of Best Romances of 2012.  Shannon Hale’s Midnight in Austenland is the second in her series about contemporary men and women attending a resort where they could pretend to be in a Regency romance. Like all of Hale’s fiction for adults so far, it received mixed reviews. The film version of the first volume, Austenland, will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January.  Christine Feehan continued her run of best-selling paranormal romances in 2012, with several new books and reprints of older books appearing over the course of the year.

Richard Paul Evans continues to stride high in the best seller lists, with two popular inspirational books for adults, as well as his YA Michael Vey novel.  The Road to Grace was the 3rd in The Walk series. Kirkus Reviews called it “a fast and pleasurable read with plenty of local color and enough sentiment to evoke a tear or two.” The Christmas novel A Winter Dream is a modern retelling of the story of Joseph and his brothers. Kirkus Reviews said, “This novel turns biblical archetypes into authentic, believable characters and uses an interesting and credible plot to convey an important message . . . Readers will relate to these characters, be moved to tears and laughter by them, and most importantly, be inspired by them.” These two books were the best-selling Mormon-authored adult novels of the year.

Another successful inspirational novel was Camron Wright’s The Rent Collector, published by Shadow Mountain. It tells the story of a young mother struggling to survive by picking through garbage in Cambodia’s largest municipal dump, and eventually getting an education for her son.  The School Library Journal reported, “Wright infuses this story with cultural nuance and authenticity  . . . readers will discover a wealth of insights: the lingering ravages of war, the common bonds of humanity, and the uplifting power of literature.”  Publishers Weekly was not as enthusiastic, “The miseries of the dump—prostitution, sickness, and gangs among them—are interwoven throughout the story, but rather than highlight the reasons behind Sang Ly’s desire to leave, the peripheral chaos overwhelms and dilutes the core plot . . . Wright’s book sometimes shimmers, but there’s a lot to sift through to get to the goods.”

Ka Hancock’s debut Dancing on Broken Glass may be the tear-jerker of the year. A story of a marriage fraught with physical and mental medical complications. The Salt Lake Weekly said, “Hanckock grounds her emotionally wrenching situations in beautifully detailed characters and uses her background in nursing to provide compelling texture for the medical dramas. As those characters struggle to understand the connection between love and mortality, Hancock fills her pages with a rich, optimistic spirituality that never feels oppressive. Get ready for a good, cleansing cry built on real, tangled humanity rather than forced tragedy.”  The Cyberlibrarian, however, counterd, “While much of it is beautifully written, it is a book of unremitting sorrow—so much sorrow that I could barely get through the book . . . It was almost like reading the Book of Job over and over, but interestingly enough, without the accompanying religious faith.”

Courtney Miller Santo debuted with Roots of the Olive Tree, a story of an inter-generational group of long-lived women who live on a California olive grove. Julie Nichols, on AML-List, wrote, “The story is complex, the characters lively and fierce . . . About two-thirds of the time, the promise comes close to being fulfilled. It’s a first novel, family-focused and women-oriented and full of drama and intrigue, so it deserves generosity and celebration. But I would be too generous if I gave it more than three and a half stars. The two threads of the plot line aren’t really related (except that everyone’s related). The characters come and go quickly. Though each section is told from a different daughter’s point of view and in a different season of the year, the women all have similar secrets, similar struggles, similar habits of speech and behaviour . . . The setting, Hill House, and the olive orchards, are well drawn. Geography is attended to accurately: we go to a prison, to Australia, all over the house and orchard, and don’t get lost.”

Anne Perry produced volumes in all three of her major series of mysteries in 2012: Thomas Pitt, William Monk, and Christmas. All received good reviews and sold well. Mark Henshaw’s debut Red Cell was a suspense about the CIA trying to figure out a Communist Chinese plot against Taiwan. Henshaw himself is a CIA employee who works on similar issues. Publishers Weekly, in a starred review, wrote “CIA analyst Henshaw’s assured debut, an exciting espionage thriller, puts him solidly in the ranks of the top writers of the genre . . . Henshaw deftly weaves together all the major and minor players . . . The masterfully handled air-and-ship battle at the end is worthy of Tom Clancy.”

Significant works about Mormons by non-Mormon authors included Sandra Dallas’ True Sisters, about women in a handcart company and the men that oppress them, which has received mediocre reviews, and Andrew Hunt’s City of Saints, a mystery set in 1920s Salt Lake City, which has received strong reviews for both its mystery and its nuanced depiction of Mormons.

The only book-length volume of literary short fiction in 2012 was Eric Freeze’s Dominant Traits. A review in Booklist said, “From the convenience-store worker to the high-school teacher and basketball coach, from a young man facing his Hutterite relatives to a Mormon father confronting a group of goth-style teenagers, the collection spans a wide variety of ages, occupations, and religions, making each story unique. Freeze’s focus isn’t on his characters’ jobs or belief systems, though, but on the way that their fears shape them; for example, the stage actor who becomes increasingly introverted the more he believes other cast members dislike him, and the mother who is scared that her son will have no better a life than his parents’. With clean description and great attention to detail, Freeze produces realistic, believable people and delves deeply into their psyches to create truly enjoyable character studies that really make the reader think.”  Theric Jepson said, “Dominant Traits is a well written collection of literary short fiction. I don’t think it transcends that genre, so if you hate literary fiction this may not be for you. That said, it’s well written stuff. Not for the lighthearted casual reader, but for those looking for meaty literary work from a Mormon author, Freeze has the goods.”

Gabriel Gonzalez Nunez’s short story “El viaje que no se dio” won the 32° Premio Platero de Cuento y Poesía Short Story category, run by the Club del Libro en Español de las Naciones Unidas (United Nations Book-in-Spanish Club). The LDS Uruguayan author went to the United Nations headquarters in Geneva to receive the award. One juror said the story, “contains both the magic of Gabriel García Márquez and the madness of Cervantes’ Don Quixote.” Other literary fiction that appeared in 2012 includes Darrell Spencer’s “Squeeze Me, I Sing” (The Georgia Review), Ryan Shoemaker’s “This Same Darkness,” (Concho River Review), “Gorilla Warfare,” (Conium Review), “After All the Fun We Had,” (Hawai’i Review), and “Our Students,” (Weber: The Contemporary West), Theric Jepsen’s “Swallowing Bones” (Windmills), Matthew James Babcock’s “Choke” (The Ampersand Review), and Steven L Peck’s “Question Four” (Jabberwocky Magazine).

My most anticipated novel for 2013 is Ryan McIlvain’s Elders, which will be published by Random House in March. Focusing on a pair of missionaries in Brazil, it is a rare breed: a literary novel by a Mormon about a Mormon topic, published by a national press. Sunstone Magazine editor Stephen Carter made this interesting comment, “The “Mormon Moment” gave us about 50 years’ worth of public education on Mormonism. One thing that has set Mormon lit back on the national front is all the front-loading that needs to happen in order for non-Mormon readers to understand the terminology and social structure, etc. With Catholics and Jews that isn’t a problem, because they’ve been part of Westerns culture for thousands of years. I think Mormon authors will benefit from this more educated public. It will allow them to sell more complex, nuanced literature.” Hopefully “the Mormon Moment” will help pave the way for more literature about Mormonism.

Below are my estimations of the bestselling hardcover (adult) fiction and juvenile (YA and MG) fiction by Mormon authors in 2012, based on the New York Times and USA Today best-seller lists.  The first number is the highest level reached on a NYT list, followed by the number of weeks on the list. Then the highest number reached at USA Today, followed by the number of weeks on the USA Today Top 150.

Hardcover Fiction

1. A WINTER DREAM, by Richard Paul Evans.  #6, 7 weeks.  USA #33, 6 weeks.

1. THE ROAD TO GRACE, by Richard Paul Evans #4, 5 weeks.  USA #22, 2.

3. DARK STORM, by Christine Feehan  #7, 3 weeks.  USA #11, 3.

4. SHADOWS IN FLIGHT, by Orson Scott Card. #8, 3 weeks.  USA #123, 1.

4. A SUNLESS SEA, by Anne Perry.  #10, 3 weeks.  USA #91, 1.

4. DORCHESTER TERRACE, by Anne Perry. #15, 4 weeks.  USA #116, 1.

4. EARTH UNAWARE, by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston. #14, 3 weeks.  USA #88, 1.

8. A CHRISTMAS GARLAND, by Anne Perry.  #27, 1 week.   USA, 0.

Juvenile Books

1. REACHED, by Ally Condie #2, 6+ (series). USA #6, 7+.

2. THE KILL ORDER by James Dashner. #2, 7 (series).  USA #23, 4.

3. SEEDS OF REBELLION, by Brandon Mull. #1, 5.  USA #43, 3.

3. MICHAEL VEY: RISE OF THE ELGEN, by Richard Paul Evans. #2, 7. USA #15, 2.

5. FINALE, by Becca Fitzpatrick. #3, 2 (series). USA #18, 2.

6. TIGER’S CURSE, by Colleen Houck. #6, 2 (series). #35, 1.

7. RUINS, by Orson Scott Card. #6, 1.  USA #100, 1.

8. DESTINED, by Aprilynne Pike.  x, x.  USA #115, 1

9. PALACE OF STONE, by Shannon Hale. #8, 1. USA, 0.

9. A MUTINY IN TIME, by James Dashner.  MG #14 (late).  USA, 0

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14 Responses to 2012 Mormon Literature Year In Review. Part 1, National fiction

  1. Wm says:

    I enjoyed A Palace of Stone, Partials, The Hollow City, Feedback, The Emperor’s Soul, Legion, Midnight in Austenland and Reached.

    Of those I’d say my favorite of those were The Hollow City and Reached followed by The Emperor’s Soul (which has some interesting things to say about artifice and art).

  2. Another great job wrapping it up for us, Andrew. Thank you. I’d like to add my personal shout out to Stephen and Jett for their novelization of that best-seller, known as the Book of Mormon. Go iPlates! (Stephen, I think I should be on your pay-roll.)

  3. Thanks Andrew! As always, you do an incredible job. I seriously can’t imagine how much time it must take you to put it all together. But it’s great seeing it all in one place. Miltons and Shakespeares of our own, indeed.

  4. I love to read this every year and see how amazing the LDS writers are.

  5. Andrew Hall says:

    Thanks for everyone’s comments. I just discovered Ka Hancock’s Dancing on Broken Glass from LDS Publisher’s list of 2012 novels, and added a paragraph about it.

  6. Kenneth Pike says:

    As always, thanks for your work in compiling these lists!

  7. Andrew Hall says:

    I added a quote from Stephen Carter about how “the Mormon moment” might make it easier for national audiences to accept Mormon-themed literature.
    The Mormon/Independent Market review will be up Friday.

  8. I love seeing the national success of authors I’ve come to know through the LDS market. I am so excited for Ally Condie, Rob Wells, Dan Wells, and several others this year. It’s been fun to watch their talent grow over time. There are several books you mentioned that I haven’t read yet but I look forward to doing so.

    I disagree with the 3 1/2 stars for Roots of the Olive Tree. I quite liked that one.

  9. This is an awesome list. I guess I feel a little snubbed that Toby Gold and the Secret Fortune was not mentioned in the national list. Received good reviews in both Kirkus and ForeWord.

    Craig Everett
    Pepperdine University

    • Andrew Hall says:

      No snub Craig, I did not know about your book, glad to hear about it. And thanks Melanie for the information on the Martinez book. I’d love to hear about any Mormon authors (mormonlit AT gmail dot com), and people’s new books. I don’t have a Mormon detector ring yet.

  10. Melanie Jacobson says:

    There’s another YA contemporary writer on the national scene I’ve recently discovered and been very impressed by. Jessica Martinez came out with Virtuosity last year from Simon Pulse (S&S) and followed that up this year with The Space Between Us, another Simon Pulse release. She’s one to watch, I think. It’s so unusual to find LDS YA contemporary writers because many of them have a hard time resolving the tension between being true to a story and keeping them “clean.” It was interesting to read Martinez’s work and how she struck that balance.

  11. Great wrap-up as usual. For all the time I spend reading and reviewing, I haven’t even heard of a lot of these books/authors. Thanks for mentioning them – I’m definitely going to be adding some new titles to my ever-growing TBR pile!

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