Ryan McIlvain’s new Elders is a nationally-published literary novel about Mormon missionaries. McIlvain is a former Church member who served a mission in Brazil, so he knows his subject, as well as being a skilled author. Jennifer A. Neilsen and Dan Wells both put out sequels to their well regarded YA speculative novels. Two BYU students on putting on theatrical productions in Utah Country. Michael Collings is up for two national horror awards. Whitney readers are busy reviewing finalist books. And the Orson Scott Card controversy rages on. Please send any information or corrections to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.
News and blog posts
On March 6 Artist Christ Sprouse announced he would leave Orson Scott Card’s Superman comic, putting the project on hold (USA Today). “”It took a lot of thought to come to this conclusion, but I’ve decided to step back as the artist on this story,” Sprouse said in a statement released Tuesday. “The media surrounding this story reached the point where it took away from the actual work, and that’s something I wasn’t comfortable with. My relationship with DC Comics remains as strong as ever and I look forward to my next project with them.” Due to the creative change, the Card story will not appear in the first collected issue out May 29. Instead, it will feature a story by writer Jeff Parker and artist Chris Samnee, as well as a tale by Jeff Lemire and one by writer Justin Jordan and artist Riley Rossmo. DC is also looking for a replacement illustrator for Card’s story. “We fully support, understand and respect Chris’s decision to step back from his Adventures of Superman assignment,” the company said in a statement. “Chris is a hugely talented artist, and we’re excited to work with him on his next DC Comics project. In the meantime, we will re-solicit the story at a later date when a new artist is hired.””
A Wired story speculates that this might give DC Comics the chance to back out of their commitment to Card. “The news has inspired speculation about whether or not this could mean that DC will quietly kill off the controversial Card story entirely, with some suggesting that the story remaining un-illustrated gives the publisher an “out” to avoid any potential breach-of-contract legal response. (As a freelancer, Card wouldn’t have the option of a wrongful termination suit.)”
Salon/Pajiba ran a commentary on, in which the author thinks of the Ender’s Game characters, the present-day Card most resembles Peter. “I have an almost infinite number of books that I recommend people to read at one point or another, but Ender’s Game is on that very short list of novels that I feel is truly universal. Every aspect of the novel revolves around a nuanced exploration of what empathy really is and why it matters. From Peter’s use of empathy as a weapon, to Valentine’s uncontrollable sympathy for those around her, to Ender’s devastating tension between the two. This is a novel for those who think and feel too deeply. And thus Orson Scott Card’s gradual descent into a poisonous brand of politics has been nothing short of tragic to anyone who has read the masterpiece of Ender’s Game. His main focus has been on homosexuality, though he has ranged across the entire landscape of small-minded and hateful political issues over the last decade. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if the vicious dreck Card has blathered onto the Internet over the last decade ended up being a performance art demonstration of the hateful populism that Demosthenes used to great effect in Ender’s Game . . .In retrospect, it’s Peter who really announces what Card thinks about the way the world works. Peter’s the character who subverts the government, who takes over the world behind the scenes, with pseudonyms and back door deals to gather power like a pile of poker chips, before ruling the world for the rest of his life as a supposedly benevolent dictator. The contempt for democracy, the loathing for the very idea that the people should make their own decisions about their futures, is staggering in Ender’s Game once noticed.”
Moriah Jovan post: “You wanna know why lit programs take the author out of the work? Because they don’t want to know what a——s the authors are . . . art that touches people doesn’t come out of normal.”
Jim Bennett, Deseret News (AKA Stallion Cornell, a playwright). The 21st century blacklist focused on conservatives. Talks about his grandfather, Utah Senator Wallace F. Bennett, who supported civil rights and introduced a censure against Senator Joseph McCarthy. “Hollywood features a wide spectrum of ideological diversity, from ultra-left-wing to ultra-ultra-ultra left-wing, but if there’s one idea that unites all of the people who make mass entertainment, it is the bedrock truth that McCarthyism was a terrible, terrible thing. At least, that was true in the 1950s, when the targets of McCarthyism were Hollywood liberals. Here in 2013, however, the same thing is happening all over again, only this time it’s the conservatives who are showing up on blacklists — and it’s the very people who still vilify McCarthy who are doing the blacklisting . . . Card’s critics call him hateful and intolerant, and then they hatefully and intolerantly demand that he be silenced, banished and utterly destroyed. McCarthy may be gone, but those who despise him the most have ironically become his intellectual heirs. They would do well to remember the words of Walt Kelly, another comic book writer and a contemporary of Wallace Bennett, who wisely observed that “we have met the enemy, and he is us.””
Michael Collings had two works make the Final Ballot of the Bram Stoker Awards of the Horror Writers Association. They were Writing Darkness (non-fiction) and Averse to Horrors (poetry). The Bram Stoker Awards for the 2012 calendar year will be presented at the 26th annual Bram Stoker Awards Banquet held during the Bram Stoker Awards Weekend 2013 Incorporating World Horror Convention in New Orleans on June 15.
Mormon Matters Podcast: C.S. Lewis and Mormonism. Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon and panelists Mahonri Stewart, Blair Hodges, and Katie Langston examine this connection to Mormon thinking, but even more generally Lewis’s life and writings and impact both in religious conversation at large as well as in their own lives. Especially within their own lives and spiritual journey.
Orc Wars Kickstarter. Kohl Glass, director/writer. Jason Faller and Kynan Griffen, producers/writers. They have finished shooting the film, but need more money for post-production.
Mormons and the post-apocalyptic video game Fallout.
New Books and their reviews:
Chris Crowe, illustrated by Mike Benny. Just as Good: How Larry Doby Changed America’s Game. Candlewick, Jan. 24, 2012. Picture book, grades 1-4. About Lary Doby, who broke the color barrier in baseball’s American League.
SLJ: Crowe conveys this important bit of history through the eyes of a young boy, recently banned from his Little League team because of his race, who remains glued to the radio along with his dad as the action of a 1948 World Series game unfolds and Doby proves indisputably that African-American players are equal to anyone on the field. The first-person narrative adds immediacy and intimacy to the tale, and the expansive acrylic paintings effectively depict the action and emotion, both inside the ballpark and out.
Kirkus: Crowe’s story captures a slice of baseball life for a family enjoying the old-time radio play-by-play and seeing in Doby’s accomplishments a sign of better times to come. Benny’s full-page acrylic paintings are cheery and portray a comfortable home setting . . . A fine story about baseball that makes its point quietly and effectively.
Ryan McIlvian. Elders. Hogarth/Random House, March 5. Debut novel about a missionary companionship in Brazil. McIlvain grew up a Mormon, served a mission in Brazil, and went to BYU, but he has since left the Church. A former Stegner Fellow at Stanford, he has published fiction and nonfiction in the Paris Review, and other journals, and has received honorable mentions in the Best American Short Stories and the Best American Nonrequired Reading. Previous include works: “Confessions of a Secular Mormon” (Irreanteum), “Keep it Bible” (The Paris Review).
David Haglund, Slate. “Elders is set in Brazil in 2003 and written from the close third-person perspective of two missionaries, Elder McLeod and Elder Passos. The latter is a native Brazilian . . . Passos, we learn, was receptive because his mother died when he was young. The church—and the mission—also represents for Passos a path to the United States and a college education at BYU. McIlvain dissects the mix of need and ambition and genuine faith that fuel a disciplined devotion to a demanding way of life, and he’s also sensitive to the sometimes imperial obliviousness of Mormon missionary efforts overseas. At one point, the mission president, while speaking to his American and Brazilian charges, asks them, and “not rhetorically,” “How do you say deliverables in Portuguese?” The tensions between Passos and McLeod that are at the heart of the novel are exacerbated when the United States invades Iraq, and Passos, like many of his countrymen, becomes more scornful of the United States. McIlvain has obviously worked to understand his Brazilian protagonist, but it’s the American one who feels not only thought through, but lived in. His motivations are murkier, and his attitude more ambiguous. McLeod didn’t have a strong testimony in the Mormon gospel before he left for his mission, but was committed to “experimenting on the Word,” living out the faith in the hope that a testimony would come. It doesn’t go that well. This is not a tale of disillusionment, building toward some atheistic epiphany—it’s more earthbound than that. Very earthbound, in fact: McLeod and Passos are both tormented often by the temptation to masturbate. A fellow missionary enduring the same struggle—a struggle which, it should be noted, both Passos and McLeod frequently, and very realistically, lose . . . McIlvain doesn’t play the subject for laughs. Elders is earnest about the mundane challenges of missionary work—a lot of reading scriptures and knocking on doors to find people who mostly aren’t interested—and honest about the tedium of missionary life. That tedium is a challenge for the novel: There’s not a tremendous amount of obvious drama in these men’s lives. Much of Elders concerns the attempt by Passos and McLeod to convert a young woman named Josefina and her husband, Leandro. The dynamics of the situation are complex—McLeod becomes attracted to Josefina, though he has a hard time admitting it, and Leandro is jealous and a drunk—but the principals spend just a few hours together each week (at most), and those hours are so formally constrained that not much can really happen. The book builds to a fairly drastic resolution, but it takes a while to get there. Admirably, McIlvain doesn’t go in for cheap plot devices or easy melodrama. But I sometimes thought this story lent itself more to a novella than a novel . . . Increasingly, it feels reasonable to think about “Mormon” as a category that includes people who don’t go to church, or who don’t even believe in God. Much of the LDS faithful would dispute that, I suspect—but some of them also probably think, consciously or no, of such people as part of the fold. Fiction can introduce you to worlds you don’t know, and put you in the shoes of people who aren’t like you. But it can also expand your sense of your own tribe, and what it means to belong to it. I still hope that a novel will come along that makes lots of non-Mormons feel what it’s like to wear Mormon shoes, so to speak (or garments, perhaps). But I’m also gladdened by books that enlarge the idea of Mormon-ness, and help me understand why, several years since my last visit to church, I still feel a part of it.
Ingrid, The Blue Bookcase: “Being both a Mormon and a person quite serious about books, I was thrilled to learn that there exists a “Mormon book” published by a major publisher (Random House) that is written for and marketed to a general audience (not just Mormons.) Also, how great is the cover? I can’t get over that his little missionary tag says “A Novel.”So, the book was excellent. It was not an exposé, nor was it necessarily faith-promoting, which was a relief to me. I’ve found that both of these approaches tend to flatten out, polarize and oversimplify a subject, which in my opinion does not make good literature. In fact, this book is forthright in a way that would make devout Mormons uncomfortable; there is quite a bit of language, for example, and candid portrayal of masturbation and some sex, things that I think would be unnatural not to include in a book about 20 year old males trying to understand themselves and their place in the world. But actually, I think that the real-ness of the story made the faith parts stand out in a gritty, authentic, lovely way. I very much admire McIlvain’s ability to write about difficult-to-describe emotions without sounding…forced. His writing shows an acute understanding of the complicated-ness of imperfect people trying to live up to an ideal in an imperfect world. Both Elder McLeod and Elder Passos find their mission isn’t nearly as easy and straightforward as they had hoped, even expected it to be. Elder McLeod feels pressure from his father, a church leader, to develop a strong conviction and testimony he isn’t sure he has, while Elder Passos feels guilty for leaving his family in poverty while he serves as a volunteer for two years. Add to that the simmering anti-American and anti-Bush sentiments held by many Brazilians at the time, misunderstandings between cultures, and disappointment at not finding anyone interested in hearing the message. Of course, all kinds of wonderful messiness ensues.”
Kirkus: “Elder McLeod is a brooding young man with the natural tendencies of a juvenile delinquent; about the first thing we learn about him is that he is inclined to make “a half show of resistance” about all things, not least the work he’s doing. So why is he sweating his way through “the close, crucible heat” of Brazil? Therein hangs part of ex-Mormon writer McIlvain’s smart if anticlimactic yarn of a not-so-quiet American who, on his required mission as a newly minted Mormon “elder,” butts up against a real elder, an older Brazilian named Elder Passos who has very different ideas of how the world works and who’s in charge than McLeod. Passos is earnest and dogged, not inclined to give up. And he loves a good challenge, including the one set before him and his missionary partner by a lively and willing young woman and her much less pliable husband, who, when confronted with the prospect of converting, counters that if she wants to be religious, she should go to Mass more often. There’s more to it than all that, of course, and Josefina—she of the cutoff jeans “and the legs in them”—poses a crisis of conscience for McLeod that will lead to some spirit-shattering moments as he and Passos wrestle like Jacob and the angel. McIlvain, a recent Stegner Fellow, does a fine job of setting up the multifaceted conflict that guides his swiftly paced novel, and if the resolution seems both incomplete and hurried, the writing is assured and often quite funny, as when McLeod, grappling for the Portuguese necessary to acquire the services of a hooker, comes up with a biblical equivalent that has his provider proclaim, happily, “I’m your harlot.” You won’t look at those young, white-shirted Mormon men on their bicycles in quite the same way again.”
Literate Housewife: “This was very interesting to me . . . When I began reading Elders, I was expecting an intelligent, well-written look at Mormon missionaries. Ryan McIlvain’s novel more than lived up to my expectations. Just as Anouk Markovits did in I Am Forbidden, McIlvain wrote about the faith of his upbringing with openness, honesty, and dignity. While individual religions have their distinct practices, both novels highlight just how similar aspects of human religious experience are. When one struggles with doubt and disbelieve or fights to follow one’s faith, the actual institution is of lesser importance. As McIlvain demonstrates so very well, it is the individual’s inner trials that are most powerful. I picked up Elders because I was curious about Mormonism. What I took away was so much more.”
Adrienne Monson. Dissension. Jolly Fish, Feb. 23. The Blood Inheritance Trilogy, #1. Adult paranormal action/romance. Vampires battle their eternal foes, the Immortals. Blurb: “By bringing vampires back to their roots while still maintaining a modern twist, Adrienne Monson has effectively “revamped” the vampire novel. Paranormal fans will be relieved to see such an exhilarating and engaging book that doesn’t come with sparkles.” First novel.
Chad Morris. Cragbridge Hall: The Inventor’s Secret. Shadow Mountain, March 5. Middle grade science fiction. Time travel adventure. Students at a prestigious school can go back in time to observe history. “Magical” school has a Harry Potter/Percy Jackson feel. First in series. First novel by Morris.
Jennifer A. Nielsen. The Runaway King. Scholastic, March 1. Middle grade fantasy/adventure. The Ascendance Trilogy, vol. 2. The young kings decides he needs to desert the kingdom to save it. Sequel to The False Prince, which was very highly regarded.
Kirkus: “Ever flippant, Jaron narrates his story with dark humor. Readers will continue to find this arrogant, fearless, utterly reckless hero intriguing, fascinating and complex as he battles the odds to protect the kingdom and people he now holds dear. High adventure abounds with nail-biting drama.”
PW: “Jaron, as headstrong and sure of himself as ever (not to mention a terminal smartass), concocts a wild plan to singlehandedly defeat the wicked pirate king Devlin. Unfortunately, by refusing to take advice from anyone, Jaron manages to insult most of the people who are actually loyal to him. As in the earlier book, Nielsen tells an exciting, breakneck tale, and Jaron remains an entertainingly surly antihero; however, while the villains are certainly evil enough, they are perhaps too easily manipulated by the young king.”
Patten, E. J. The Legend Thief. New York: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, March 5. The Hunter Chronicles, vol. 2. Middle Grade fantasy. More monster hunting.
Kirkus: “Fans of the first book will continue to root for snarky, wily Sky; new readers will thrill at the monster clashes—especially the one that occurs in the middle of the homecoming game (Sky’s bossy, cheerleader sister leads players and hunters forward in team formation: “Hike!”). All will continue to be perplexed by the complex back story and the confusing cast of characters and monsters who change loyalties, identities and shapes. Some threads are left dangling, no doubt to be tied up in future installments, and another plot twist is revealed in the epilogue to hook readers. Alas, many will be unwilling to return to Exile.” Deseret News review.
Luisa Perkins and Jared Adair. The Book of Jer3miah: Premonition. March 4, Shadow Mountain. Novelization of the BYU-produced spiritual thriller web series.
Lu Ann Brobst Staheli. Leona & Me, Helen Marie. Self, Jan. 30. Middle grade. Set in rural Indiana in 1922. Two pre-teen sisters.
Heather Moore: Readers will fall in love with Helen Marie, a precocious seven-year-old, who looks up to her older sister, Leona Mae, the two of them getting into trouble more often or not (think Laura Ingalls…). I laughed out loud at Helen Marie’s antics and loved her relationship with her mother and father. Set in 1922 southern Indiana, the family faces financial hardships, like so many around them. But they are blessed with a humble life, rich with country living, and take pride in hard work . . . Leona & Me, Helen Marie is hands-down one of the most charming novels I’ve read.”
Dan Wells. Fragments. Blazer + Bray, Feb. 26. Partials Sequence, part 2. YA dystopian. Humans and Partials gear up for a war.
Kirkus: “Fans of Partials (2012) will enjoy the twisty thrills, though the existential hand-wringing is both too frequent and too lengthy. Another hurried ending (if that can be applied to a book of over 560 pages) leaves all in jeopardy. Doesn’t stand alone, but a fine and frightening post-apocalyptic thriller.”
Reviews of older books:
David Butler. City of Saints (An Equivalent Centre of Self). 3 stars. The author describes this as a “gonzo steampunk adventure” and I think that description is pretty accurate . . . The author shifts point of view frequently, which was a little disorienting in the beginning, until I got all the different factions established in my head. Butler does a pretty good job of giving each POV a fairly distinctive voice, and the writing cracks a long at a good pace. The premise and the characters were a lot of fun–I enjoyed the parade of familiar historical characters. I was impressed by the steampunk element too: the author clearly knew enough about modern weaponry to invent a realistic range of mechanical inventions. The book I read actually spans four novellas (available separately at Amazon: Liahona, Deseret, Timpanogos, and Teancum). And despite the compelling premise, I started to get a little bored about 2/3 of the way through when all the different gun fights started to blur together for me. I would have preferred a little less action and a more compressed story. There is a fair amount of gore (not surprising in a western where everyone carries a western), which may not appeal to some readers. I also really struggled with Eliza R. Snow’s character, since she shows up as a kind of Mata-hari character: a kick-ass fighter who’s willing to seduce men in order to achieve her objectives. I wrote a dissertation chapter on Snow and her use of rhetoric, and the Snow in this novel bears little resemblance to the Snow I studied.”
Shannon Crane Camp. Finding June (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books) D. “There are several things I like about Finding June, a sweet YA romance. The cover, for one. It’s got a vintage feel to it that still somehow very clearly says contemporary YA. Eye-catching for sure. Also, the fact that Camp’s writing about LDS teens without being overly preachy or trying too hard to teach some kind of lesson. In fact, I think she finds an almost perfect balance between church-y stuff and non-church-y stuff, if that makes any sense. That being said, Finding June pretty much annoyed me from the first sentence to the last. Why, you ask? Well, it starts with the fact that this story has no central conflict. It sounds like it does with the whole compromising standards thing, but that’s actually sort of a subplot. And not a very interesting one at that (although it definitely could have been). In truth, the story really doesn’t have much conflict at all. It’s pretty obvious how the book’s going to turn out, since this premise/plotline’s been done a bajillion times and Crane doesn’t bother to throw in any surprises to make June’s tale unique. Plus, June never really struggles with anything. At all. She’s self-centered, insensitive, clueless and yet everyone loves her and gives her exactly what she wants? I don’t buy it. For me to really get behind a heroine (or hero), I have to see her fight to attain her goals, I have to see her fail so she can pick herself up and continue to claw her way through her troubles, I have to see her care for someone (or something) beyond herself, I have to find something in her to admire. That didn’t happen with June. She’s too flat, too self-absorbed, too unrealistic.”
Julianne Donaldson. Edenbrooke (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books) B. “I don’t read a lot of Regency romances, but when I do, I’m (almost) always thoroughly charmed by them. There’s just something about that gentle, bygone era that makes me smile. And swoon. Edenbrooke provides plenty of chances to do both. The plot’s nothing super original, nor are the characters, but Donaldson’s lighthearted prose keeps the story from feeling stagnant. Most refreshing is the time the author takes to build the romance between Marianne and Philip. Insta-love never feels authentic—this does. Add in some intriguing twists and turns and Edenbrooke becomes a fun, romantic page turner that will appeal to teenagers and senior citizens alike. Did the novel blow me away? No, but still, I quite enjoyed this clean, charming read.”
Sarah M. Eden. An Unlikely Match (Shelah Books It). 4 stars. “An Unlikely Match requires a reader to suspend disbelief. I’ve heard of ghosts haunting castles, but never ghosts that interact with people to the point of sitting down on the grass with them and joining their picnics. But somehow Eden gets the other details of the story done well enough (the Welsh language, the Regency phrases, the description of the place), that a reader is able to go there with her. I think that some readers may call the ending of the novel unbelievable, but the whole novel is unbelievable, so I didn’t have a problem with Eden taking readers to another level of unbelievability. I had fun reading An Unlikely Match– Eden does a great job with the bones of the novel, and she really made me root for Nikolas and Gwen, however unlikely their match.”
Heather Frost. Demons (Shelah Books It). 2 stars. “This is my final review in the Youth Speculative category. I spent a lot of time in some of the other reviews complaining about the lack of back story in the speculative books in general, and I am happy to say that Demons had plenty of back story. In fact, it had lots and lots and lots of story. That might be a great thing for a reader who eagerly gobbled up Seers and who has an appreciation for the relationship between Patrick and Kate and wants the story to last as long as possible. For me, the book was 432 pages without a lot of action until the last 75. I can’t tell you how many times I fell asleep while reading it. I think that if Frost cut to the action a little sooner (while keeping some of the back story) and focused less on the set details of what people are wearing and what things look like, she might have better luck picking up readers with the second book in this series.”
James Goldberg. The Five Books of Jesus (Shelah Books It). 4 stars. “I thought the book was going to be either cheesy or didactic. I did not think that the book would be poetic and moving and inspiring (without being inspirational). But it was all of those things . . . Goldberg employs an interesting point of view. At times the narration feels a bit detached, like the narrator is viewing the events unfold from above the action, and then he will swoop into the minds of different characters, revealing deeply personal insights. We get into the mind of both Marys, Martha, Judas, Peter, and several other disciples, but never into the mind of Jesus himself. As I was reading, I couldn’t decide if I liked this narrative style or not, but several days after finishing the book, I feel that I really remember the parts where he was in the mind of a specific person . . . I feel that the images and messages of The Five Books of Jesus have stuck with me longer than anything else I’ve read for the Whitney Awards so far, and that Goldberg’s poetic writing made the story feel a little bit mystical (in a good way). I also feel that I’m not doing this review justice by typing it with a kid chattering in my ear, but I really, really liked this book.”
Ka Hancock, Dancing on Broken Glass (An Equivalent Centre of Self). 4 stars. “I thought this book was lovely . . . There were a lot of things I loved about this book, from the beautiful language (some sentences I had to reread just to absorb them) to the engrossing characters. I loved Lucy and the close bonds she has with her sisters; I also loved Mickey, who was broken, but who loved Lucy as much as he could. I liked how the novel dealt so positively with difficult things–not that the author glossed over the difficulties or made light of them, but that she showed how the characters weathered difficult things because they loved each other, and that love was sustaining and ultimately redemptive. There were a few moments that were just a little too “precious,” but I think that’s hard to avoid in women’s lit, given certain genre expectations–and any novel dealing with a baby is bound to have a few of those moments, I think”
Jennie Hansen. Where the River Once Flowed (Julie Coulter Bellon, Meridian Magazine). “It isn’t just a quick cup of water, it’s something to be leisurely savored like a tall glass of lemonade. It is a lush historical fiction set in New Mexico . . . The time period, the ranch, and the characters intertwined to make a beautifully written and detailed story. It was easy to soak in the atmosphere and really immerse myself in the characters and their lives. There was a few times where I found phrases repeated on the same page, but the book was well-edited. The beauty and culture of the Spanish people was expertly handled, as well as the prejudice they suffered during this time in history. Where the River Once Flowed is a grand story of a bygone era, where one woman and one ranch brought together men as opposite as the water they needed and the land they loved.”
Stacy Henrie. Lady Outlaw (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books) C. “Fun premise, right? . . . It sounds like a lively story, just brimming with adventure and charm. And it is. Kind of. The problem for me exists in the build-up—Henrie launches right into Jennie’s problem without giving the reader a lot of background. We don’t really understand what kind of person our heroine is or how much her land means to her before she goes about stealing other people’s money to save herself. Thus, I think Jennie comes off as not just immoral, but also prideful and unsympathetic. Personally, I just didn’t care for her all that much. So, there was that. Plus, the story’s far-fetched, the plot contrived and the writing only so-so. Again, I think the premise has a lot of promise—it’s the execution that’s the problem. Overall, Lady Outlaw tells a fun, entertaining adventure story. But, it’s got issues. So, for me, the novel ended up being just okay.”
Krista Lynne Jensen. Of Grace and Chocolate (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books) C-. “ I wish it weren’t so, but by nature, LDS fiction seems to lean toward the cheesy, the preachy and the melodramatic-y. Of Grace and Chocolate, a romantic suspense novel by Krista Lynne Jensen, is just such a book. The premise sounds intriguing, it does, but the plot relies way too heavily on coincidence and other contrived situations. Flat characters don’t help matters; neither does the far-fetched action or the tell-not-show writing. Of Grace and Chocolate does move rather quickly, making it an entertaining enough read—as long as you don’t care too much about character or plot development. Which I, unfortunately for this book, totally do.”
Theric Jepsen. Byuck (Shelah Books It). 4 stars. “I had fun reading Byuck. Jepson includes lyrics from his opera, lists David writes, notes that David and Ref pass back and forth in church, and a whole bunch of other things along with the main narrative of the story. I feel like I recognize David and his roommates in people I’ve known at BYU (but not in myself– I was always unabashedly marriage-minded, much to my utter shame). But these notes also feel a little too self-conscious at times. Ultimately, however, I really enjoyed reading what amounts to a romance novel (that starts as an anti-romance) from a male perspective. If the book is really the love note to his wife that I suspect it is, that makes it even more satisfying for me. ”
Annette Lyon. Paige. (An Equivalent Centre of Self). 4 stars. Cute story. I like the idea of four interlocking stories; I’d previously read Olivia, so it was interesting to me to see how the glimpses I had of Paige were fleshed out in this story. The writing wasn’t particularly beautiful, but it was clean (it didn’t tend to distract me from the story), and I liked that Paige seemed very real and human to me, and that the ending wasn’t necessarily what readers might expect.
Jessica Martinez. The Space Between Us (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books) B. “Amelia and Charly are typical sisters, so typical they’re almost cliché (Amelia’s the responsible, older sister; Charly the wild younger one). Still, there’s something about them that drew me in and made me care. Although I identified most strongly with Amelia, I felt a lot of empathy for Charly as well. As the girls worked through their differences, I found myself rooting for both of them, hoping that somehow they could salvage their sisterly bond. At times, their story seems a little far-fetched, it’s true, but I still enjoyed reading about the girls’ ups and downs as they sought to understand each other. Their struggles felt authentic. Overall, The Space Between Us is a warm, satisfying read that’s touching without being saccharine.”
Jean Holbrook Mathews. Safe Haven (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine). “She’s a strong and likable character who staggers at times under a too heavy load of disappointment, bereavement, hard work, deceit, loneliness, and fear for her own survival. Discouragement leads her to the brink of giving up. Reviving dreams and daring to hope reveal the strength of her character. She is a character who instills hope and faith in those who read her story. There are other admirable characters in the story, but there are some despicable ones too, ones the reader may feel disappointed not to be a party to their receiving their just deserts. The book is divided into sections covering each phase of Susanna’s life and journey. The action escalates at an enjoyable pace, drawing the readers into not only the protagonist’s life and the dilemmas she faces, but the historical aspects of that time period as well. It is carefully researched, filled with fascinating details, but never bogs down into the history lecture some historical novels tend to do. Time transitions are handled well and I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent reading Safe Haven.”
Erin Ann McBride. You Heard it Hear First (Devin Thorpe, Meridian Magazine). “McBride’s gift is evident when she is writing about relationships. She captures mood with action and pacing that keep you glued to the page as the bond between the characters grows. If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself hoping against hope for love to prevail against all odds.”
Jennie Hansen, Goodreads: 4 stars. “I’m not sure how to rate this book. It’s at its best when the author is following the financial and political plot lines, but falls down as a romance. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t have much tolerance for the type of romance that involves heavy petting, but makes a big deal out of the heroine being a “technical virgin”. The couple are supposed to be 35 and 40, but their romantic scenes sound like a thirteen-year-old’s “secret imaginative journal.” The non-romance story is excellent and hits hard as the lead characters, a television news star and a financial blogger, team up to uncover political intrigue and financial manipulation at the highest levels.”
Kieth Merrill. The Evolution of Thomas Hall (Jonathan Decker, Meridian Magazine). “After such a prestigious career, it’s hard to believe that this filmmaker’s most thought-provoking and spiritually mature work is not a movie at all, but a novel, and his first one at that! Yet I found myself more engrossed, challenged, and inspired by The Evolution of Thomas Hall than by anything else he’s done before . . . I had no idea Merrill was such a writer. Perhaps he was limited by the time constraints of movies or the need of his church films to write at a level that won’t go over the heads of young viewers. Here, however, he crafts rich and complex characters while engaging head-on the “big questions” of the universe. Readers experience vicariously the evolution of Thomas Hall from egocentrism towards humility and from doubt to the possibility of belief. I can’t remember the last time a novel captured so marvelously the conversion process, including wrestling with questions, fears, and pride. Though not without its flaws (persons of faith who also subscribe to evolution may take issue on a few minor points), The Evolution of Thomas Hall is immensely rewarding as a character study, as an argument for the existence of a Creator, and as an illustration of the power of faith in Jesus Christ to heal broken hearts and troubled minds.”
Tanya Parker Mills. A Night on Moon Hill (An Equivalent Centre of Self). 4 stars. “The opening of this story was incredibly lovely–the writing was lyrical and the imagery very vivid. I loved the description of Daphne’s teen relationship (I don’t want to spoil the story by sharing anything too detailed), and I liked Daphne herself a lot, despite the fact that she was reserved and sometimes found emotions hard to manage. (I feel like that sometimes too, although not to that extent). The only downside I had to this story was that I didn’t feel like the last third or so of the book matched the lyrical quality of the opening. The genre shifts a little, too, into a sort of suspense novel near the end that didn’t quite seem to fit the tone of the earlier part of the novel. Still, the novel is worth reading–lovely, flawed characters and a moving storyline.”
Brandon Sanderson. The Emperor’s Soul (Shelah Books It). 3 stars. “Unlike most of Sanderson’s tomes, this one is short– more of a novella than a novel. Sanderson really delves into developing three characters. While I really enjoyed the character development and the concept of this piece, which isn’t a sequel to the Elantris books but more of a companion piece, I did feel like I was missing something by not having read the novels. And I always have to work against my inborn prejudice against men in robes and worlds that are like ours, but not ours.”
J. Scott Savage. Zombie Kid (Shelah Books It). 4 stars. “I have two boys, ages 8 and 12, and I have seen both of them reading Case File 13: Zombie Kid over the last few weeks. My younger one in particular thinks it’s really cool. And I thought it was light, well-written, and fun. I can definitely see that it would appeal to boys in this age group, and it seems to be tapping into the monster zeitgeist.”
Jeffrey S. Savage. Dark Memories (Sharon Haddock, Deseret News). “It’s an absorbing read with short, succinct chapters and lots going on . . . This novel is not traditional “horror” as one would expect, but it’s still thrillingly scary, enough so that it’s best read with lights on and company around.” Deseret News feature on Savage, talking about his work in different genres and with different publishers.
Theresa Sneed. Earthbound (An Equivalent Centre of Self). 3 stars. “This novel has an interesting premise (pre-earth life) and dramatic subject matter. The topic seems particularly apt for a Whitney candidate, since it deals with a peculiarly Mormon perspective on Heaven. The novel moved along at a reasonably fast pace (appropriate, since it also deals with the cataclysmic battle in Heaven that led to the expulsion of Lucifer and 1/3 of the hosts of Heaven). However, the novel didn’t entirely work for me. One of the main issues, for me, is that this topic calls for an epic voice or approach (think Milton’s Paradise Lost). And while Sophie, as narrator, is relatable, the tone of the novel didn’t feel epic enough for me–it was much closer to a contemporary YA novel. While that works on one level (presumably most of those in Heaven would be like us, right?), it doesn’t help give the novel the epic heft it needs. It also made it harder for me to see Sophie as the heroine that she was meant to be. It was also a little strange to me that Heaven looked so much like 21st century white/western culture (the characters communicate through text-speak; they care a lot about their clothes, and the general aesthetic seems very modern-day). I appreciated Sneed’s attempt to understand why people would choose something other than God’s plan (her view: they didn’t like that some people would fail), but I would have liked to see Sophie more conflicted about her choices. She does have some questions, but they always seemed to get resolved within a few pages or so. I think more conflict for Sophie would have resulted in more tension and a stronger book.”
Robison Wells. Feedback (Shelah Books It). 2 stars. “If you like me, when you read Hamlet, and he went on and on about how he couldn’t decide whether or not to kill the king, you got to the point where you were like, “I don’t care what you decide, just do something?” Well, multiply that by several times, and that’s what Feedback feels like. Until the last 30 pages of the book, nothing happens. Benson wonders if he should leave. Then he doesn’t leave. Then he decides to leave. Then he decides not to leave. Then the robots come and everyone hides. Then Becky tells him to go (I cheered), and then he doesn’t go. While the premise of the story is cool, and the setup for the third book works, I felt like I was stuck in the very boring middle while reading Feedback. “
Camron Wright. The Rent Collector (Shelah Books It). “I’ll admit that over the last couple of years, I’ve had a bit of a chip on my shoulder about the finalists in the general category for the Whitney Awards. On the whole, I haven’t cared much for them, to put it politely. I’ve found that they preferred inspirational messages over good writing, and they were pretty cheesy. So I wasn’t expecting much when I started The Rent Collector. I was expecting it to be cheesy and inspirational. And the story is inspirational . . . So yes, the book is inspirational. There are some problems that rankled me as I read (Sang Ly’s voice, which sounds educated, even when she is an illiterate peasant, is the main one), but in general, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed reading the book. It’s an easy read, which would make it perfect for book groups, and I think that they would find a lot to talk about– Wright weaves in great literature, the history of the Khmer Rouge, and detailed pictures of real poverty. His characters, are complex and interesting, and I was thrilled to have a book in the general category that I might recommend to others rather than wanting to throw it against the wall when I finished it.”
Camron Wright. The Rent Collector (An Equivalent Centre of Self). 4 stars. “I enjoyed the story–the writing was clear and not too gimicky (a temptation in a story like this). Sang Ly had a clear voice throughout. I liked, too, how the author interwove a variety of different kinds of literature into Sang Ly’s life and showed how those things changed her life. As other reviewers have mentioned, this is a story of hope. One of the most interesting things to me was the portrayal of life living near the dump–like Katharine Boo’s Beyond the Beautiful Forevers, this book portrays the rather grim life of garbage pickers. Unlike Boo’s book (and despite that book’s subtitle), this book really did feel hopeful. I’m still not entirely sure whether that is a good thing or not–the literacy that Ly used to transform her life may not realistically succeed in this environment (as it did not always succeed for the real-life characters in Boo’s book). Literacy is certainly unlikely to succeed as dramatically as Sang Ly succeeds in the novel (if success is marked by ownership of material goods). Ultimately, though, I think the reader in me would rather have a happy ending at the expense of some realism.”
Ted S. Bushman, Fontanelle. Covey Center, Provo, March 7-9. Bushman is a BYU student. Blurb: “Sarcastic young college student April Wellington is stressed when she and her boyfriend come home to her estranged Mom’s house in Pittsburgh for spring break. While they wait for her to wake up, April dives into her mother’s photo albums of her childhood, and the story of her parents’ marriage and separation come to life before her in a new way. FONTANELLE is a simple but powerful story full of life, humor, relationships, and learning from our past.” 7:30 p.m., 4:30 matinee on 9th.
Ariel Mitchell. Give Me Moonlight. Orem Public Library, March 6. New Voices Play Reading Series. Blurb: “In an attempt to help her husband see that life is worth living, Bessie Johnson makes a deal with a con artist to fund his gold mine in Death Valley. Soon they discover that the valley holds something much more valuable than gold. This new play by Ariel Mitchell, a senior in Theatre Arts at BYU, is about love, healing, Don Quixote—and a castle in Death Valley. Ariel Mitchell’s play A Second Birth was produced this past fall at BYU, winning the Harold and Mimi Strindberg national student playwriting award from the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.” The play was part of the BYU WDA workshop in December.
New York Times Bestseller Lists, March 10, 17
#4, #7 A MEMORY OF LIGHT, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (8th week). Staying strong in the top 10, but the other lists show it is starting to fall off. #10 and #21 on the Combined Hardcover and Paperback Fiction list. ? on the USA Today list (fell off after 8 weeks). #7 and #10 on the PW list. Book Scan says 5453 units were sold last week, half the total from 2 weeks ago, for a running total of 255,475 units.
Mass Market Fiction Paperback
#8, #18 THE HOST, by Stephanie Meyer (6th week). #28 and #32 on the Combined Print List. #30 and #27 on the Trade Fiction Paperback list. #27 on USA Today, 121st week.
#31, x SHADOWS IN FLIGHT, by Orson Scott Card (2nd week). Falls off the list after 2 weeks.
#17, x ENDER’S GAME, by Orson Scott Card. It keeps popping back on and off.