It has been nearly a month since I did a Week in Review, as I was busy with the Year in Review columns. Lots happened. Brandon Sanderson and the late Robert Jordan’s A Memory of Light, the concluding volume of the massive Wheel of Time series, was released, and spent its first two weeks at #1 on the NYT Hardcover list. The Jerusha Hess/Shannon Hale/Stephenie Meyer film Austenland premiered at Sundance, and was immediately picked up by Sony Pictures. The LDS Film Festival is going on in Orem. Matthew Greene’s new play is opening in Salt Lake City. Brandon Mull keeps up with James Dashner by getting his own multi-author mega-Scholastic series. LDS Publisher is running her Book Cover Contest. And I caught up on a bunch of 2012 books that I had missed. Please send any additions or corrections to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.
Mark Penny has created a new literary blog, Lowly Seraphim: A Mormon Speculative Fiction e-Collective. Penny set out his vision in a series of posts at his site and on this blog. So far Penny, Steven Peck, and Sarah Dunster have provided content.
Ender’s Game was the biggest selling science fiction paperback in 2012, with 100,387 units, according to Publishers Weekly. That was almost twice the number of the second place book, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.
LDS Publisher is running her 4th Annual Book Cover Contest. She is starting out with 10 genres with 5 books each she nominated. Readers can vote for the best covers, and then there will be a final vote.
Jan 21: General & Historical
Jan 22: Mystery/Suspense & Cozy Mysteries/Romantic Suspense
Jan 23: Romance (Traditional) & Romantic Comedy
Jan 24: Speculative (Adult) & Speculative (Young Adult)
Jan 25: Young Adult General & Children/Middle grade
Jan 26: Genre Voting Ends at Midnight Mountain Time
Jan 28: Genre Winners Posted & Voting Begins on Overall Best Cover
Jan 30: Overall Best Cover Voting Ends at Midnight Mountain Time
Brandon Mull will be the creator and lead author of Spirit Animals, a multi-platform, multi-author fantasy series, in the mold of the The 39 Clues and Infinity Ring. Scholastic to Roll Out New Multi-Platform Series (Publishers Weekly). “Scholastic has announced the fall 2013 launch of Spirit Animals, the company’s first multi-platform series in the fantasy genre. As with the publisher’s 39 Clues and Infinity Ring series, the Spirit Animals books will be written by different authors and will be linked to a simultaneously released online game. The story arc for the seven-book middle-grade series was created by Brandon Mull, author of the Beyonders and Fablehaven series; he will also write the debut novel, Wild Born, due out September 10 . . . Spirit Animals is set in the world of Erdas, where children go through a coming-of-age ritual to determine if they have a “spirit animal,” which represents a bond between human and beast that bestows each with great power. The story centers on four children from different cultures who undergo the ritual and discover they have been chosen for a greater destiny. “We were thinking about what our next multi-publishing step would be, and we realized we wanted to move into a fantasy world,” says David Levithan, v-p, publisher, and editorial director at Scholastic. “When we decided what kind of fantasy we were looking for, we went to Brandon and asked him to use his imagination and turn the idea into something real. He knows well how to write the adventure side of fantasy, and I love his humor. And his books appeal to both boys and girls, which is something we were looking for.” See also a Deseret News article on Mull.
Remember the June 2012 Deseret News feature story on filmmaker Greg Whiteley (New York Doll), which mentioned his work on a documentary about Mitt Romney? It was supposed to be “an all-access, behind-the scenes look at the Mitt Romney presidential campaign.” Well, it has come out in the election post-mortems that using it was one of the disagreements within the Romney camp. The Boston Globe reports, “Family members kept pushing for a film or series of advertisements that would show how Romney had helped average people in personal ways, based on Tagg’s list of 12 people, along with clips about how Romney raised his family. The film project was to be overseen by documentary filmmaker Greg Whiteley, a longtime family friend who had been allowed to film portions of Romney’s 2008 campaign. But the plan was rejected, leading some in the family to blame (strategist Stuart) Stevens.”
The Horror Writers Association 2012 Bram Stoker Awards Preliminary Ballot has been Announced. Among the names on the ballet are YA NOVEL: Michaelbrent Collings – Hooked: A True Faerie Tale, NON-FICTION: Michael Collings – Writing Darkness, and POETRY: Michael Collings – A Verse to Horrors.
Mahonri Stewart on a conversion from the cast of his A Roof Overhead.
Signature Books Hires John Hatch as Acquisitions Editor. John Hatch, Signature Books’s newest staff member who will have his hands full hunting for manuscripts and fact-checking authors’ research . . . In 2006 he annotated a first-person account of a Mormon dignitary, published as Danish Apostle: The Diaries of Anthon H. Lund. Hatch has presented at the annual conference of the Mormon History Association. He was a staff editor for the Journal of Mormon History and blogger for “By Common Consent” in its early days.
Susan Elizabeth Howe. Salt. Signature Books, Jan. 15. “Howe’s poems are Western but unmistakably modern, drawn from the astute observation of humanity of both rural and urban settings. Her weekly commute from the heart of Sanpete County to Utah Valley causes her to reflect on her culture and to contemplate recent events as she winds through the long, broad canyons. She sees an occasional deer chased from the road, pinyon jays, and magpies. She thinks about death, marriage, blood, and yes, even the dreamy (and occasionally steamy), country girl’s attraction to men.” This is the BYU professor’s second anthology.
New Novels and 2012 Novels I missed, and their reviews
Brodi Ashton. Everbound. Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins, Jan. 22. YA paranormal romance. Sequel.
Kirkus: “Desperation replaces melancholy as Nikki struggles to rescue Jack from the Everneath . . . Not only are the obstacles physically and psychologically intense, but they also draw from numerous myths (Persephone and Theseus and the Minotaur, to name just a couple) and Dante’s Inferno . . . Alongside the literary references, the text paints a clear, cohesive picture of the Everneath’s specific rules and order. The ending strikes just the right note, resolving this storyline while opening up a new one. Intense, intriguing and highly addictive.”
VOYA: Starred review “The Everneath comes to life in lurid descriptions of the circles of hell, weaving literary and mythological references into the mix. Ashton’s vivid images of the hands of the Forfeits reaching out of the earth are chilling. Subtle but solid character development makes Nikki’s and Cole’s actions ring true . . . The surprise ending will leave stunned fans pleading for more. This worthy successor to Everneathwill be in high demand.”
S. P. Bailey. The Mission Rules. Self, Dec. 20. A collection of missionary memoir short stories set in northeastern Brazil.
Doug Gibson, Standard-Examiner Blog: “Too often the genre is cast in a forced positive light (a clumsy attempt to serve as a spiritual potion) or in a memoir tense, that usually serves as a tale of sacrifice that leads to enhanced spirituality, either for the narrator, the investigators, or both. What we don’t get much of, at least in books, is the missionary experience devoid of spirituality or drama; instead a narrative of what it’s like for young adults to be thrust into a mission, a culture and land they are novices in. Becoming diplomats, problem-solvers, counselors, ministers, and so on, come with mistakes, frustrations, anger, happiness, disillusionment, repressed passions, spirituality, ego, regret, and sometimes, as much wisdom as can be spared on a person so young. “The Mission Rules” is unfortunately structured in a manner that may reduce its readership to primarily returned missionaries who will nod at the parts they recognize well. It’s a collection of anecdotes, in no real time order, of a missionary’s service in Brazil . . . What I like best about “The Mission Rules” and a few other books that deal with the mission experience is how positive and ultimately faith-affirming a mission experience can be when it isn’t lathered up with an excess of faux spirituality.”
Teyla Branton. The Change (Unbounded #1). White Star Press (self), Jan. 7. Urban paranormal. Branton is a new pen name of Rachel Ann Nunes. Woman becomes an Unbounded, a nearly immortal being with paranormal abilities. Action and romance follow.
Shannen Crane Camp. Finding June. Sugar Coated Press, Dec. 20. YA romance. Teenage Mormon girl falls for a country singer star in Hollywood, tries to keep her standards. Camp had a Cedar Fort book in 2011.
Jaleta Clegg. Priestess of the Eggstone. JournalStone, Aug. 10. SF space opera (adventure). A pilot is chased by the Patrol, the crime syndicates, and an alien race for stealing their god. Sequel to Nexus Point.
Sarah M. Eden. Drops of Gold. Covenant, January 3. Regency romance.
Craig R. Everett. Toby Gold and the Secret Fortune. Fiscal Press, Oct. 18. Middle grade/Age 8 and up. Foster child finds secret messages that only his skilled math mind can decode, is drawn into an adventure. “This action-packed urban fantasy introduces readers to many financial literacy concepts, including saving, investing, banking, entrepreneurship, time value of money and basic financial statements.” First book. Everett is a finance professor at Pepperdine. Fiscal is part of Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing, which has a ton of little imprints. A reputable indie publisher who basically helps authors self-publish. Everett is the only person at Fiscal so far.
Kirkus: “The chocolate pudding escapades and Toby’s system for nicknaming his foster parents add some light relief along the way, and although the plot is a bit far-fetched, the story engages enough. The author makes a bold attempt at integrating some complex financial issues into the story, sometimes at the expense of his characters. Unique children’s lit that cleverly tackles interest rates, endowments, fluctuating commodities, bullying and identity.”
Dave Farland. 22 Tall Tales. Self, Jan. 7. Blurb: “A complete collection of short stories stories and novellas by David Farland, up until 2012. This captivating anthology contains everything from David’s award-winning science fiction novella “On My Way to Paradise,” to his award-winning literary mainstream pieces such as “The Smiling Man,” to his Star Wars stories like the stirring “Dengar’s Tale,” and on through his fantasy pieces, such as “The Mooncalfe.””
Ka Hancock.Dancing on Broken Glass. Simon & Schuster Gallery Books, March 13, 2012. Romance/inspirational. Debut. Couple gets married, despite their DNA problems (he is bi-polar, she has family history of breast cancer). Then she accidently gets pregnant, and gets cancer.
Publishers Weekly: “Despite an occasional reliance on clichés, Hancock’s debut is an authentic tearjerker—an intimate and touching story that will remain in readers’ hearts.”
Kirkus: “A three-handkerchief family weepy. Heading off with the character of death on page one of her moral-dilemma debut, Hancock establishes from the outset that she is heading for the emotional jugular . . . What happens after Lucy is diagnosed with further medical complications is less a plot and more a sequence of character reconfigurations within this schematic scenario. Narrated alternately by Lucy and Mickey, the tale’s connective tissue consists of weeping, recriminations, pills, protestations and more weeping, concluding with a final wringing of the reader’s exhausted tear ducts via a trifecta of birth, death and Christmas Eve. A tidily crafted but treacly excavation of misery in the name of higher sentiments.”
Deseret News: “In an expertly choreographed work, Salt Lake City author Ka Hancock takes readers on a thrilling dance of their own.”
Cyberlibrarian: “Much of it is beautifully written. On the other hand, Dancing on Broken Glass 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.”
Salt Lake Weekly: “In a world of Nicholas Sparks wannabes, there are an infinite number of ways to get a tear-jerking romance wrong. Ka Hancock’s lovely, heartbreaking debut novel, Dancing On Broken Glass, shows off one great way to get it right. … She grounds her emotionally wrenching situations in beautifully detailed characters—including the amazing interplay between Lucy and her two sisters—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.”
Jenni James. Emmalee. Walnut Springs/Inkberry, Jan 2013. YA romance. Jane Austen Diaries #4.
Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. A Memory of Light.TOR Books, Jan. 8. Fantasy, (Wheel of Time #14). The conclusion of the series, and the third book written by Sanderson after Jordan’s death. It debuted on the New York Times hardcover list at #1. Released only in hardcover for now, Jordan’s widow wants the ebook to be delayed, because she worried that ebooks would cut into hardcover sales and prevent it from hitting the top of the hardcover lists.
AV Club, B+. “There’s a reason for damning A Memory Of Light with what may sound like faint praise. It’s an impossible book. It’s an attempt to bring to a climax thousands of pages of build-up involving hundreds of characters, to somehow satisfy 20-plus years of anticipation over an event that has been promised from the start: Rand al’Thor, the Dragon Reborn, confronting the Dark One . . . A certain disconnect runs almost subliminally through the text. Heroes whose behavior has been locked into place for dozens of chapters behave like they always do—right up until they don’t. These off moments (usually relegated to unexpectedly modern turns of phrase or weirdly abrupt decisions) are never more than a momentary distraction, but they serve as an ever-present reminder that this frequently thrilling compromise is still unquestionably a compromise. But there are thrills in A Memory Of Light, along with heartbreak and despair. At just over 900 pages, it’s one of the longest books in the series, but it’s also one of the fastest reads; shave off a couple of conferences and a marriage or two, and the whole thing is basically just one immense battle scene. As Sanderson showed in his previous two WOT books, he’s adept at brisk, well-paced action, and he gets ample opportunity to demonstrate his skills as he charts an epic confrontation between the forces of good and evil, full of magic-users and monsters, kings and queens. Scenes are kept comparatively short, and while some plotlines aren’t as strong as others, they change so quickly, the story never truly drags. There are drawbacks to this approach. For all his strengths, this isn’t Sanderson’s world, and it shows; by sacrificing much of Jordan’s descriptive flair, he keeps up the speed, but loses a good part of the texture. The story is never confusing, and the various betrayals and reveals have sufficient impact, but there’s a perfunctory nature to certain sequences, which a stronger sense of personality could have alleviated. The result is a saga that rushes onward, but never truly accelerates, going through its motions with enthusiasm and commitment, but lacking the obsessive passion that drives truly great fiction . . . All this, plus a cast list large enough to fill a citywide Sadie Hawkins dance, leads to a finale that hits all the necessary checkpoints, while taking few risks, if any. Perhaps that’s the best tribute Sanderson could’ve composed: an ending that satisfies without ever letting readers forget what was lost.”
Kirkus: “Jordan . . . was an ascended master of second-tier Tolkien-ism; the world he creates is as densely detailed as Middle-earth, and if the geography sounds similar, pocked with place names such as Far Madding and the Blasted Lands, that’s no accident. Tolkien-esque, too, is the scenario for this saga-closer, namely a “last battle” in which the forces of good are arrayed against those of darkness.”
Christian Science Monitor: “The 909 pages of this book definitely start to feel padded with large- and small-scale action scenes after page 500. Sanderson does a good job of keeping the action clean, but still, it gets repetitive. That being said, it’s not just one big slaughterfest (think less festival, more thrash metal concert). Heartfelt scenes help keep the reader emotionally invested in the battles . . . Jordan crafted every aspect of this world with love and precision. A lot of his ideas and characters are novel and magnetic. But it is this attachment to his own ideas that has forced fans of the stories to read through seemingly endless descriptions of cultures and minor disputes that don’t have much to do with the super-objective of the series . . . [Sanderson] has definitely given the last three books a sense of direction, but Sanderson may have imbibed a bit too much of the spirit of Jordan . . . For all of its weaknesses “A Memory of Light” does not disappoint. I won’t give anything away, but I will say that the ending made me smile – although I can already predict that some mega-fans that will be upset about the series’ conclusion.”
Jessica Day George: 5 stars. “I may be hung in effigy for saying this, but I don’t care: I think that Brandon has a better writing style, and I have loved, loved, loved his additions to the series. Loved. He has a way of describing battles that just cannot be beat, and he’s fantastic with dialogue. He’s taken the wonderful characters and the epic struggle that Jordan introduced and made them truly great.”
Walter Kirn. My Mother’s Bible. Byliner, Dec. 17. Memoir/humor. An essay (46 pages) about religion in his family, and an irreverent look at the Old Testament.
Kirkus: “In what reads like a Bible blog—a literary, layman’s interpretation—the author comes to terms with the death of his mother and a whole lot more after discovering her biblical notes and annotations . . . The entries are as short as they are provocative, frequently assuming an accusatory familiarity that fundamentalists might well find blasphemous.”
Lynn Kurland. Dreamspiner. Berkley Trade, Dec. 31. Fantasy/romance. Nine Kingdoms #7.
Annette Lyon. Band of Sisters: Coming Home. Covenant, Jan. 3. General/women’s. Sequel. The five women who waited for their soldier husbands in Afghanistan now welcome them home (or not), and continue to rely on each other.
Jennie Hansen, Meridian: “The emphasis in this book is on characters, their views, emotions, and growth. It’s “women’s fiction” and though some people have the misconception that this genre is the same as Romance, it’s not. There are some romantic gestures between some of the couples, but there are no plot developments one might label as romances. There’s little action or mystery either. Some might say this story lacks an overall plot, but there is a plot, a different kind of one from what is generally expected in a novel . . . Weaving together five stories, five points of view in 238 pages, made it difficult to feel strongly about any of the five women. It seems I’d just get into one story and the book would jump to another one. Still the author did a great job of portraying the struggles of deployed National Guard soldier’s wives who do not have the support system built into their situation that regular military families have and who are largely invisible to their surrounding communities.”
Sheila, LDSWBR: 4 stars. “I loved the characters even more than the first book. I felt like I was revisiting old friends. Annette does a wonderful job of creating characters that you can bond with, and care about. All of the women in the story struggled with the deployment being over. Coming Home showed how the trials weren’t over for the families. It isn’t always a happy read, but one where the women rise up and gather courage and strength from each other. I was truly inspired by these characters and the hard decisions they had to make.”
Jessica Martinez. The Space Between Us. Simon Pulse, Oct. 16. Contemporary YA. Teen sisters’ sibling rivalry. One gets pregnant, which strains their relationship. Religious family. The Kirkus reviewer seems to be hung up on the conservative family’s decision to hide the pregnancy. There are lots of positive reader reviews. I did not know of Martinez until last month. This is her second book. Her first, Virtuosity (2011), got a starred review in Kirkus.
Kirkus: “Teen pregnancy is a source of shame in this disappointing second outing from Martinez. Amelia and Charly are very close, but as different as siblings can be: Amelia focuses on academics and athletics, and is almost prissy in her moral uprightness, while Charly flirts with the boundaries of acceptable behavior for preachers’ kids with her devil-may-care antics and free-spirited adventures. When Charly discovers that she’s pregnant after what appears to be a one-night stand, the girls’ grandmother chooses a very mid-20th-century approach to squashing the inevitable conservative small-town gossip, sending the girls to live with their late mother’s sister, Bree, in Calgary, until Charly gives birth and selects adoptive parents for her baby. Grandma’s jaw-droppingly retro decision, motivated by a wish to protect the girls’ father from the truth, means that both girls have to go to maintain the fiction of going to acquaint themselves with their Canadian relatives. Amelia, furious at being so out of control of her life, lashes out repeatedly at Charly. Amelia doesn’t exercise much self-awareness until she sees how gracefully Ezra—the cute library worker with whom she enjoys crackling chemistry—handles his own family burdens, and Charly finally confides the terrible secret she’s been hiding. This old-fashioned–feeling problem novel lets readers down in its focus on shame rather than the hugely life-altering results of teen pregnancy. Deeply troubling and unsatisfying.”
Heather B. Moore. Heart of the Ocean. Self, Jan. 2. Historical ghost story/romance. Set in 1840s NYC and a small Puritan town.
Mindy, LDSWBR: 4 stars. “Heather is such a talented writer and has a magical way of drawing you right into her books with her well-written characters and page turning plots. There is a lot to this story, and I really enjoyed the journey of these great characters.
Gamila: “The tension of this story begins right on page one when the main character Eliza hears a voice telling her to jump off a cliff. This creepy encounter is only enhanced by the setting of a small seaside puritan town complete with a creepy lighthouse and mentally unstable inhabitant . . . There is a love story wound throughout the books and Jonathan proves himself to be a wonderful hero that always arrives just in time to save Eliza, though I did wonder if she were rescued a bit too much for the liking of the modern reader. Still I enjoyed reading their story and hoped Eliza and Jonathan would find a way to be together in the end. I would sneak to the computer and read this book behind my toddlers back so I could get to the end faster. Overall, I found this to be an engaging historical mystery filled with both romance and tragedy.”
Preston Norton. Blüd and Magic. Cedar Fort, January 8. YA paranormal. Second novel (his first was co-written with his mother Tamra Torero). Girl discovers she has a secret magical heritage (like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson).
Erik Olsen. Raggleroot. Cedar Fort/Sweetwater, January 8. Middle grade fantasy. Flin’s Destiny #3.
Kelly Oram. V is for Virgin. Self, Dec. YA. Teenage girl decides to stay a virgin until marriage, for non-religious reasons (she is a daughter of a teenage pregnancy). This becomes a scandal at her school.
Sheralyn Pratt. Unpleasant Grove. Wicked Sassy, Jan. 15. (Rhea Jensen, #5). Mystery.
TJ Robinson. The Academy Defenders. Rhemalda, June 2012. YA fantasy. From Moses Lake.
Jeffry S. Savage. Dark Memories. Covenant, Jan. 2. LDS horror. 30 years ago six kids who were lost in an abandoned gold mine. Eventually, five of the six children were rescued. But one boy was never found, and the mine was dynamited closed. Now someone is killing the survivors.
Jennie Hansen, Meridian: “I’m not comfortable with the amount of paranormal, occult, and horror type books currently being written by LDS authors and I’d heard a few rumors of demons and apparitions in this book. Still, I’ve always enjoyed Savage’s books and decided to give it a try. It’s as superbly written as I expected, and yes, there’s darkness, a demon, and a fair share of supernatural events, but it’s not gory, and a redemptive twist puts a positive light on the story . . . Savage delivers characters that suffer a wide gamut of emotions and motives. He explores the good and evil that lurk in every mind. Guilt and the toll it exacts are real and clear as it plays out in different ways in different minds. It’s easy to sympathize with the characters in this story and feel like they are real people. Some of the supernatural aspects are a little harder to swallow. The story arc begins in a compelling way that builds as the story progresses. I have some problems with the ending, but won’t go into that here. It’s an engrossing story and though I have some issues with some points in it, Savage deals with the horror elements in a tasteful way and most readers won’t find the book offensive. Mystery/Suspense readers will love the intriguing mystery that unfolds.”
Local author writes first horror novel produced by a mainstream LDS publisher (Fox 13 News) and KSL News. “The book is about six children who got lost in an abandoned gold mine twenty-five years ago. Only five of the children were found alive, so when someone begins killing the survivors, all clues point to the ghost of the dead boy. Although Savage says this book will “keep you up at night,” he also claims that the blood and gore scenes that are so prominent in many of the horror books in the mainstream national market—a market that Savage is well acquainted with—are not in his book.”
Jack Weyland. Heather 101. Deseret Book, Feb. 27, 2012. Ebook-only comic general short story. Novella, 60 p. Husband and other men learn life lessons from their wives.
Reviews of Older Books
Steven Carter. What of the Night (Scott Hales, The Low-Tech World). “Like Joseph Smith, Carter finds meaning everywhere—in the dead husk of a gutted fish, in the smoke circles of his brother’s cigarette habit, in the solid aftermath of a digested habanera—yet the conclusions he draws from these meanings are never as cocksure and conclusive as the Prophet’s. Joseph Smith wrote with a certainty that bordered for many of his contemporaries on righteous arrogance. Carter writes in an opposite vein, however: a kind of doubt fueled by wicked humility.”
Cami Checketts. Dead Running (Gamila’s Review). “I like how Dead Running combined a romantic suspense plotline with Cassidy’s goal to run a marathon plot. I thought having both storylines gave a nice balance to the story and I found good reason to cheer for Cassidy as she tried to achieve her goals and elude her enemies. This one if full of interesting characters, handsome guys, and a twisty plot that surprised me several times. Over all a pretty good read. Though, I did want a bit more explanation behind Damon’s background. I felt like the plot twist for his character didn’t really fit what we knew of him in the beginning of the book. I still kind of confused on what his goals were concerning Cassidy in the beginning of the book.”
Jessica Day George. Princess of the Silver Woods (Gamilia’s Review). “I enjoyed returning to this world again. Petunia is such a strong characters and I really came to like her. I thought the author did an excellent job of bringing back King Under Stone and working him back into the plot. The added details about the origin of King Under Stone’s sons made them even creepier and made the world feel more fleshed out. Galen also plays a major part in trying to bring Under Stone down again and I loved reading about him again. He is such a Heroic character because he cares so much for Rose and all of the sisters; he is willing to give up everything in the book to see them free. I thought all the threads of the story in this book wove together gracefully to make a really compelling, page-turning read.”
Andrew Hunt. City of the Saints (Shelah Books It). 4 stars. “City of Saints was an entertaining, enjoyable read. Oveson’s voice was perfect for a small-town hick, but it didn’t feel comical or contrived. As I’ve read mysteries about LDS characters for the Whitney Awards for the last few years, I’ve noticed that authors seem to be reluctant to make the bad guys in their books Mormon, but Andrew Hunt doesn’t seem to have that same fear, and I’m glad for it. Salt Lake is a pretty great place to live, but I know it isn’t perfect, and neither are the people who live here. The book is based on a series of actual unsolved murders that took place in the city at the same time, and Hunt took his time with the historical details to give the piece the perfect feel of the period.”
Theric Jepsen. Byuck (Scott Hales, The Low-Tech World). “I guess part of me also wants to throw in the towel, forget all of the analytic crap that goes with being a critic, and write what I want to say: THIS BOOK IS HILARIOUS! READ IT, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! READ IT!! READ IT!!! YOU WON’T REGRET IT! IT’S FANTASTIC!!! . . . Jepson’s debut novel about two college roomates, David Them and Curses Olai, who resist the thrall of matrimony and adult responsibility by writing Byuck, a rock opera about resisting the thrall of matrimony and adult responsibility. If that sounds like a screwy premise, it’s because it is. Byuck follows in the long tradition of Mormon screwball comedy. Like the films Napoleon Dynamite and Unicorn City, as well as David Clark’s recent novel The Death of a Disco Dancer, it orbits around the antics of a likable loser—in this case, Dave—whose ill-fit in the world prods him ever onward toward the ridiculous and absurd. If you like any of these comedies, you’ll like Byuck. But it’s worth mentioning that Byuck isn’t just another instance of Mormon screwball realism, which is basically a genre that tends to hide its Mormonness as much as it flaunts it. For one thing, it’s more kinetic, more flighty than these other works. Rather than staying more or less grounded in the oddities of this world—which is essentially what Napoleon Dynamite, Unicorn City, and Disco Dancer do—Byuck is frequently interrupted by scraps of English major Dave’s idiosyncratic writings: lousy rock opera scenes, short stories, numbered lists, and short autobiographies of his friends. These interchapters, which seems the best word for them, compliment the main narrative and offer a much-needed window into the psyche of Dave, who isn’t the most self-aware character in Mormon fiction. They are also pretty fun. Like “The Mysterious Game,” the short story Dave writes about a game female BYU students play with the ward directory. It’s chuckle-worthy, like practically everything else in the novel. Have I made my point yet? You need to read Byuck. You need to stop reading this review right now and buy the book. Or borrow it from someone else who has already read it. Because you need to read it . . . Byuck is simply a great book. A pleasure to read. It might even be the funniest novel about Mormons writing a rock opera that you will read this year.” Theric Jepsen interviewed about Byuck by Scott Hales at Modern Mormon Men.
Moriah Jovan. Magdalene (Scott Hales). Fifty Shades of (Mormon) Gray: A Review of Moriah Jovan’s “Magdalene”. “Magdalene isn’t your typical Mormon novel. Aside from the significant sexual content, it also contains coarse language that would make even The Backslider’s Frank Windham blush. Maybe this is one of the downsides of Magdalene, but I think Jovan uses it as a tool to flesh out her characters better and set the Mormon world apart from the rest of the world. So much of the novel zeroes in on how power works, after all, that without something else to set Mormonism apart, the Church would seem like any other corporate entity. Mitch’s commitment to the gospel and its standards shows how the essence of the Mormon way of life strives to rise above the pettiness of power plays and corporate machinations. Magdalene, to be sure, shows the systems has its flaws, but it also bears a strong testimony (if I can use that phrase) in the discerning element of the Spirit that is the Church’s greatest defense against corruption . . . Magdalene, in many ways, offers exercises in this kind of thinking—case studies that ask readers to think about a “whole world of mitigating circumstances” before they reach for the stone of judgment. Reading Magdalene may therefore be as much a revelatory experience as it is an intellectual or aesthetic one. It not only offers readers insight into Mormon faith, but it also provides them ample opportunity to discern their way through the murky gray areas of mortal life.”
Melissa Lemon. Snow Whyte and the Queen of Mayhem (Shelby Scoffield, Deseret News). “A twist on the well-known fairy tale that is geared toward young women. It has a fantastical storyline that is sweet, yet sometimes over the top . . . While “Snow Whyte and the Queen of Mayhem” may be rooted in an old story, it is still a worthy read for those who like sentimental stories.”
Gerald Lund. The Guardian (Jennie Hansen, Meridian). “Not quite like anything we’ve seen from him before . . . Though the story carries some strong messages, it is an exciting and challenging mystery that will keep readers staying up late to read “just one more chapter.” The story builds in a satisfying way with some problems resolved along the way, yet each resolution seems to open almost immediately into a bigger problem. Though the enchanted purse is a fun touch, to me its inclusion seemed to say luck and magic are fun fantasies and can come in handy, but don’t count on them. In spite of the protagonists in this story being sixteen and seventeen through most of the story, the author’s name alone will invite many adult readers. The mystical properties of the bag are used well and in a sense are symbolic of the unknown depths within each person. I recommend The Guardian to those who enjoy a touch of magic and to the more pragmatic readers both young and old.” Also a Deseret News feature story.
Tanya Parker Mills. A Night on Moon Hill (Shelah Books It). 4 stars. “As a mom of a preteen with Asperger’s, a lot of Mills’s characterizations rang true to me. But more important than that, Mills does a nice job creating a story with complicated, nuanced characters. Daphne is prickly– and while she undergoes a transformation, she’s still prickly at the end. In fact, all of her characters are complicated in interesting ways. I like that she doesn’t take the easy way out and have everyone live happily ever after and fall in love. Mills also places the story within the LDS framework, but off to the side, with minor characters who are LDS, which sort of releases the narrative from being bound to our doctrines. The writing is also very good. Once I got into the groove of the story, I read it quickly. I hope to see this on the list of Whitney finalists in the General category. I think it will be a strong contender.”
Bright Angels & Familiars: “Woman Talking to a Cow” by Pauline Mortensen. Review by Theric Jepsen.
Kate Palmer. The Guy Next Door (Mindy, LDSWBR). “3 1/2 stars. I was on the edge of my seat at times, wondering what would happen to these characters. The Guy Next Door is well written and an enjoyable, fast read.”
Steven L. Peck. A Short Stay in Hell (Scott Hales). “I want Faithful Realism to continue as long as it can, or as long as it ought to, but I think Mormon literary fiction needs some variety to keep it vibrant. Something that isn’t so by the book, so Faithful Realist. It needs something a little off-kilter. Something like Steven L. Peck’s A Short Stay in Hell . . . While I haven’t read all of Peck’s work, what I have read of it screams something fresh. I hate hyperbole, but Steven L. Peck might be the Moses of Mormon Letters in the Twenty-First Century. Aspiring Mormon fictionists need—I repeat: need—to pay attention to his exodus from Faithful Realism. In my opinion, A Short Stay in Hell (Strange Violin Editions, 2012) is a good place to start. A deliberate homage to Borges (with a bit of Kafka and Book of Mormon thrown in), the novella centers on Soren Johansson, a Mormon geologist who dies from cancer and ends up in a Zoroasterian hell rather than the spirit paradise of Mormon scripture . . . It is not the novella’s fantastic setting or implausible premise that separates it from so much of literary Mormon fiction, but the ambiguous stance it takes to faith, belief, and other such things we Saints hold dear. It is heretical, in a sense, but in the same way the Book of Mormon or the Book of Job or Ecclesiastes are heretical. It breaks firmly anchored paradigms in order to clear the way for something deeper and more meaningful to emerge. It gets us thinking about what we can do to make better meaning from the meaning we already have.”
Brandon Sanderson. The Emperor’s Soul (Chritine Rappleye, Deseret News).
Brady Udall. The Lonely Polygamist. Thoughts on The Lonely Polygamist as Hysterical Realism, by Scott Hales (AMV). Fascinating review.
Karey White. For What It’s Worth (Jennie Hansen, Meridian). “The story is set in Seattle and shows a realistic picture of that city, the surrounding area, and the weather there. The characters are likable and it’s interesting to watch Abby’s relationship with her family and the steps she takes in becoming a stronger, more confident woman. Readers who have ever decorated a cake will find the details of decorating such elaborate cakes enlightening. Brides and anyone who enjoys fancy baking will be particularly pleased. Each chapter begins with a recipe, most but not all, pertain in some way to cakes and icings. The plot moves quite slowly through most of the book. It is a romance and some readers may become frustrated at first with a romance that has no obstacles and yet seems to go nowhere for so long. It does get better; very good in fact. The major portion of the book is taken up with the bakery and the cakes.”
Jason F. Wright. The 13th Day of Christmas (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books). C. “As much as I love Christmastime, with all its beautiful carols, heartwarming holiday movies, and tales of forgiveness and hope, there’s one thing I can’t abide: sap. Okay, I can take a little. Just not a lot. I’m not saying I don’t enjoy inspirational Christmas stories (I’m not that heartless!), but I don’t like holiday novels (or any other kind) that try too hard to be touching. Give me a subtle lesson, not a saccharine one, you know? Because I’m sort of Scrooge-y like that, I gave Jason F. Wright‘s first Christmas novel, Christmas Jars, a scathing review, calling it “the kind of book that sacrifices good storytelling for sentimental sermonizing.” Harsh, but true. Although I vowed not to, I have read more of Wright’s books over the years and I have to give the man credit—he’s getting better. His newest, The 13th Day of Christmas, shows how far he’s come since Christmas Jars. Is his latest a perfect novel? Not by any means, but at least (some of) the characters have personality. And, although it’s thin, there is a plot. Coincidence still plays a major role in the story, which is (alas) filled with sappy moments. Still, I enjoyed the book much more than other novels of its type (like, say, Christmas Jars) . . . As far as the actual story goes, it was pretty much what I expected—predictable, sentimental, tearjerker-y, etc. Once I looked past all that, though, I found The 13th Day of Christmas to be a quick, enjoyable read that really did help me get into the spirit of Christmas.”
Michael R. Collings. Writing Darkness. Self, September 2012. “Approaches the question of writing from multiple directions. The essays in this volume range from the abstract and philosophical to the concrete and specific; from reminiscences as they relate to the art of writing to near-scholarly studies of the nature of Genre, in particular Horror; and from general discussions of literary forms and what they can achieve to practical advice on where to place commas, exclamation marks, and quotation marks.”
Coming soon: Matthew Greene. Adam and Steve and the Empty Sea. Plan B Theatre Company, Rose Wagner Center, SLC, January 31-February 10. Eric Samuelsen interviewed Greene about the play at A Motley Vision. Article at the Standard Examiner. Article in Gay Salt Lake. Set in California, the story examines the friendship between two boys — one gay and the other a straight Mormon — and evolves over the course of several years from the time the two are 8 years old into their early 20s. Greene first began working on the play in 2008 when the Proposition 8 debate was raging. Greene is an active, straight member of the church. Plan-B producing director Rapier was raised LDS and is an openly gay man. The two have been collaborating for about 1 1/2 years now to bring the production to the stage.
Coming soon: Melisa Leilani Larson. Little Happy Secrets. Echo Theater, Feb. 7-23.
The Zion Curtin. By Curtis Russell. Utah Free Theatre, University of Utah Performing Arts Building. January 2-6. Blurb: “The Zion Curtin is the first play by U of U theatre student Curtis Russell. It is a documentary play about the collision of ideology and civil rights, using the words of real people to trace the roots and show the effects of reactionary, homophobic doctrines in the Mormon Church. Every “um,” “uh,” and pause is performed as spoken in original interviews by the author and Matthew Beckham . . . THE ZION CURTAIN peels away the layers of propaganda to show what is truly at stake when private religious organizations attempt to publicly legitimize their dogma through political means. The interviews were done by Russell and Beckham in the fall of 2008 when they were still members of the LDS (Mormon) Church for a documentary film that never came to fruition. They had met while serving as LDS missionaries in Chile in 2000 . . . THE ZION CURTAIN also marks the first production of Utah Free Theatre, a local theatre company dedicated to producing bold, dangerous, eye-opening work that promotes the pursuit of reason and humanness in the heart of one of the reddest states in the Union. This is not an official University of Utah Theatre Department production, but the department has been gracious in allowing the use of Studio 115, a dynamic, “black box” style performing space, for the production.”
UTBA Review (Julia Shumway): “THE ZION CURTAIN was OK, but disconnected . . . Curtis Russell’s script was constructed in documentary form using verbatim text from interviews and journal entries regarding individuals’ experiences with the LDS Church. Addressing a social issue with the format of a documentary was occasionally quite powerful. Knowing all the dialogue was all taken from real conversations made even the shortest segments engaging and lent them factual legitimacy. While the play touched briefly on several themes, it hit hardest on the subjects of missionary work, homosexuality, and the pressure for conformity within the LDS Church. One consequence of presenting these themes as a documentary, without a unifying story arc, was that the scenes often felt discursive. For me, this was a drawback . . . There were several scenes that felt tangential and disconnected from any unifying theme. Additionally, while most of the interviews provided internal context enough for them to stand on their own, I would have appreciated knowing more about their sources. I flatter myself that I’ve got at least the average level for comprehensive ability, and I’m still struggling to connect all this play’s arguments . . . All in all, The Zion Curtain was an interesting play. I was impressed with the way the actors carried the action with practically no costume, set, or prop interactions. The concept of the script was creative, and the direction was, by and large, effective. Though often quite powerful, the various scenes felt disconnected and didn’t necessarily build upon each other. If given a few hours and the option, I think I’d prefer to simply read the interviews rather than watching them in a play.”
Javen Tanner. This Bird of Dawning Singeth All Night Long. UTBA review (Davey Morrison). “A visually striking retelling of the birth of Christ pieced together through music, dance, movement, snippets of poetry and passages from the gospel of Luke. It’s a stunningly beautiful, deeply moving, and utterly unique production, boldly setting itself apart from the many holiday-themed productions going on in Utah even as it retells the oldest Christmas story of all, and This Bird of Dawning resonates powerfully with reverent familiarity even as it fills its ancient story with a sense of newness, discovery, wonder, and awe.”
Austenland debuted at the Sundance Film Festival on January 18, and was sold to Sony for distribution on January 21 for more than $4 million. There were five companies bidding. The movie was directed and co-written by Jerusha Hess, co-written by Shannon Hale and based on her novel, and produced by Stephenie Meyer, a trifecta of artistic Mormon women. Deseret News feature story. Salt Lake Tribune feature story. Jerusha Hess talks about sacrifices her family made to make the film at Filmmaker Magazine. This is the first of three films scheduled for 2013 releases that are based on Mormon-authored novels. The others are Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game and Stephanie Meyer’s The Host.
The Hollywood Reporter: “Overexposed material is fresh and fun in Austenland, an unlikely take on Jane Austen lore that sends Keri Russell to a sort of Regency Westworld, acting out romantic fantasies with fellow vacationing Brit-lit addicts. Funny, reasonably romantic and wholly commercial, Jerusha Hess’s debut should hold fans over until someone musters the nerve to do another straight-on remake of Pride and Prejudice . . . Producers get their money’s worth from Jennifer Coolidge, who for the first half hour can’t open her mouth without bringing down the house. When she bellows “right-o” in a desperate attempt at an English accent, the final vowel becomes multiple syllables, something the word “diphthong” hardly begins to describe. (Not that the actress has to speak to steal a scene, as evinced in a hilarious needlepoint gag.) . . . Moving into the director’s chair after co-scripting Napoleon Dynamite and its two follow-ups with husband Jared, Jerusha Hess leaves most of the ostentatious quirks behind. (The theme park’s strange menagerie of taxidermied animals is the strongest echo of those weird films.) And with just the right notes from Russell — whose Jane may hear a biological clock ticking, but isn’t as desperate as she initially seems — Hess gets her romance just grounded enough to handle the comic extremes supplied by the supporting cast. Even the film’s weakest ingredient, the new and poorly used vintage pop songs on the soundtrack, is overshadowed by an unexpected and delightful musical romp played during the final credits.”
The Guardian (3 stars out of 5). “After the breakout success of Bridesmaids, one could have been forgiven for expecting a slew of cash-ins, but, unusually for Hollywood, little more in the way of female-friendly comic entertainment has so far emerged. The indie world, however, is taking up the slack, and after last year’s word-of-mouth hit Bachelorette, Sundance this year premiered a bigger, broader and slightly more mainstream bid for the chick-flick dollar with Austenland – a little shrill at times but fun, warm and, for once, making great play of an almost entirely female-focused cast . . . the film frequently breaks its own rules – Mrs Wattlebrook bans all modern gadgetry, but there seems to be plenty of it lying about – and the whole scenario is incredibly lavish seeing as there are only a handful of paying guests. But this is nit-picking, since Austenland is really about the female fantasy of love and romance, and the film has a fine time with the popular Austen formula, promising to end with a ball and lots of engagements, which, in a sense, it delivers. The language, too, is suitably eloquent at times, with Jane falling for earthy farmhand Matthew (Bret Mackenzie) but finding her head turned by Mr Nobley (JJ Feild), a surly dandy in the Mr Darcy mode. Like many Sundance comedies, Austenland is rather messy, and director Jerusha Hess – co-director of Napoleon Dynamite – perhaps brings a bit too much silliness to a film that, with a little polish, could have been superb. Nevertheless, it is smart and surprisingly literate, its only downfall being in that, in riffing on the work of a very talented writer on the subject of men and women, its screenplay could have used a little more of Jane Austen’s immaculate sense of storytelling.”
Salt Lake Tribune (Sean Means): 3.5 stars. “Turns out Jerusha Hess is the really funny one in the family. The co-writer of “Napoleon Dynamite” (with her husband Jared, who’s still pretty weird in a good way) makes a witty and hilarious directing debut, adapting Shannon Hale’s novel about a Jane Austen-obsessed woman, Jane (Keri Russell) who goes to a Regency-period theme park that promises to recreate the full Austen experience — complete with actors assigned to fall in love with her. Jane finds the reality doesn’t quite match fantasy, as she’s torn between a too-good-to-be-true Mr. Darcy type (JJ Field) and a nice-guy servant (Bret McKenzie, from “Flight of the Conchords”). Hess, co-writing with Hale, sets the scene in motion but leaves plenty of room for her crazy cast — particularly Jennifer Coolidge as an uncouth tourist — to tune in to her dizzily comic wavelength.”
New York Post: “Though Russell has a bright-eyed eagerness about her, her limitations as an actress mean the character is blandly nice, and the movie should have fought harder to escape the well-trod path it lays out for itself. Hess, the co-writer of “Napoleon Dynamite” making her directorial debut, could have made the movie weirder on the one hand or more believable on the other, but as it is this is a light, forgettable offering with a good heart and a smattering of laughs. I expect it to play well only to a small base of
Reviews of some of the movies:
The Playbook, written, directed, and produced by Darran Scott (Sharron Haddock, Deseret News). “It’s a shame, really. The movie that leads off the 12th Annual LDS Film Festival at the SCERA Center for the Arts is beautifully shot, pretty well acted — except for a couple of cameos by basketball star Luc Longley and one little kid — and supported throughout by gorgeous music composed by Stephen J. Anderson. It just takes forever to get to its many points, and contains a lot of preachy content as a coach who’s pretty demanding and unbending attempts to take his team to the championship — and share life’s lessons after a life-changing event . . . There’s so much thrown into the story that the director/producer is obviously hard-pressed to get it all tied up by the end and it becomes kind of a mish-mash. There are lots of lovely scenic moments, but they slow the action to a plod . . . Spiritual lessons can certainly be taught in movies, but here the lessons are pushed in situations where it’s unwelcome and uncomfortable; prayers in the team huddles and a “playbook” that is full of scriptural heroes likened to opposing teams . . . By the end of this movie, the viewer has whiplash trying to keep up.”
Resistance Movement, written and directed by Kathryn Lee Moss (Sharron Haddock, Deseret News). “It’s more of a stage play on film than a traditional movie but it’s very powerful and moving. The true story of the resistance put up by the youngest known resistance cell of World War II . . . Here’s a thought-provoking movie that ought to be shown in history and religion classes followed by serious discussion on what it means to stand for truth and righteousness. It’s worthwhile.”
An Ordinary Hero. Written, directed and produced by Loki Mulholland. (Sharron Haddock, Deseret News). “The inspiring true story of Joan Trumpauer Mulholland. Joan was a Southern white female who became a civil rights activist. She was attacked by mobs, came face-to-face with the KKK and was even put on death row without ever committing a crime. But despite all she went through, she held her head high and was willing to do whatever it took to fight for equality. Joan’s son, Loki Mulholland, is the director of the film.”
The Last Man(s) on Earth. Mormon Movie Guy. A-. “I see and review 4-6 movies a month for this site, and in the last year only one film made me laugh so hard that my sides hurt. The Last Man(s) on Earth is the funniest film I’ve seen in a long time; not bad for an independent action-comedy with no major stars and a modest budget. It started as a series of YouTube videos in which a pair of idiots give survival tips (though they’re more concerned with zombie attacks, asteroid collisions, and saving the girl than actual catastrophes). The webisodes were amusing enough (some were much stronger than others) but the film takes the concept to a whole new gear. It’s a riot for both fans and newcomers alike. The story, as it were, finds two self-made disaster “experts” joining forces with a bombshell brunette and an ex-colleague to prevent the end of the world, predicted by the ominous “Oracle.” If the story is predictable (the heroes mess things up, endanger the world, and ultimately redeem themselves), the humor most definitely is not. The script, by Aaron Hultgren, is peppered with brilliant, out-of-left-field zingers and he has the perfect actors to deliver them. There is a contagious camaraderie and chemistry between the cast; they’re clearly having fun, and it spreads to the audience.”
Barricade. Written by Michaelbrent Collings (Mormon).Directed by Andrew Currie (not Mormon). Direct-to-DVD, Sept. 25, 2012. Horror thriller. Produced by WWE Studio, this was their first film without a wrestling tie-in. Stared Eric McCormack from Will and Grace. I could not find any major published reviews of the movie. Horror-fan bloggers for the most part seem to be negative about it.
New York Times Bestseller Lists, Jan. 6, Jan. 13, Jan. 20, Jan. 27, Feb. 3
x, x, x, #1, #1 A MEMORY OF LIGHT, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (2 weeks). The final novel in the Wheel of Time series debuts at #1. Probably will be the best selling Mormon-authored novel of 2013. It was also #1 for two weeks on the Combined Hardcover and Paperback Fiction list. It debuted at #1 on the Combined Print and Ebook list, and then went down to #10, as there is no ebook version yet. On the USA Today list, it went #38, #1, #11. The first week represented only a couple of days of sales.
A WINTER DREAM, by Richard Paul Evans dropped off the list after 7 weeks.
Paperback Trade Fiction
x, x, x, #32, #32 THE HOST, by Stephanie Meyer. On the extended list.
Mass Market Fiction Paperback
#10, #19, x, #19, #28 ENDER’S GAME, by Orson Scott Card (23rd week).
x, x, x, #25, #19 THE HOST, by Stephanie Meyer (2nd week). Probably a new edition released in preparation for the March film. #95 and #101 on USA Today at the end of the month.
Children’s Middle Grade
x, #15, x, x, x INFINITY RING BOOK 1, A MUTINY IN TIME, by James Dashner.
#6, #6, #6, #8, #9 MATCHED TRILOGY, by Ally Condie (10th week). Reached spent 8 weeks total on the USA Today list.
#8, #8, #10, x, x THE TWILIGHT SAGA, by Stephenie Meyer (215th week).
x, x, #8, #9, #10 THE MAZE RUNNER TRILOGY, by James Dashner (46th week).