Sorry to post right after Jonathan, but I have been dragging this around unfinished for over a week, it is time to get this giant hunk of info dumped so I can go to bed. The Whitney Awards ballots are due today. Scott Hatch won the 2013 Marilyn Brown Unpublished Novel Competition, from his own university. We have new AML presidents, and lots of new books. The upcoming Whitney Awards means that there is a flood of reviews of the 2012 finalists.
News and Blog posts
Whitney Awards ballots are due on Monday, April 29th.
Scott Hatch, a lecturer in English at Utah Valley University, was recently named winner of the 2013 Marilyn Brown Unpublished Novel Competition for his work, “A Boy Scout’s Field Guide to the Red-shifting Universe.” For the last five years, the UVU College of Humanities & Social Sciences has sponsored the contest. This is the first year in the contest’s history someone from UVU has won. “I am grateful to Marilyn Brown, UVU and the judges for this generous award,” Hatch said. “Such acknowledgement gives an author just enough encouragement to keep at it.” Hatch’s novel follows a Boy Scout troop’s picaresque trek through the Uinta Mountains in northeast Utah during August’s Perseids meteor shower. The novel is about living in wild places — about how vital those places are to us, how they teach us to live moral lives and how they heal us. Between them, the boys shoulder the burden of loss beyond their wilderness sanctuary — of their fragmenting families’ prodigal “redshifting” drift away from each other. Their scoutmaster teaches them the star charts and the night sky, and he quotes novelist Marilynne Robinson, “What are all these fragments for, if not to be knit up finally?” Competition judges praised Hatch’s novel for its lyricism, character development, magnificent descriptions of the High Uintas’ natural setting and well-developed plot. “Scott Hatch’s extraordinary accomplishment in winning the Marilyn Brown Unpublished Novel Competition demonstrates his own talent and the high quality of UVU’s English faculty,” said Stephen Gibson, chair of the English & Literature department. “We are very proud of him.” Hatch joined UVU’s Department of English & Literature in 2004. His academic and teaching emphases are technical communication, editing and publishing. He has previously published poems, including his poetry collection, “Mapping the Bones of the World.” “A Boy Scout’s Field Guide to the Red-shifting Universe” is his first novel. Marilyn Brown created the contest in 2000, when she was president of the Association for Mormon Letters. That organization oversaw the competition until 2009, when UVU took over its administration. The contest is open to all, but entries must have a predominantly western or LDS focus. The award recipient receives $1,000.
Glenn Gordon and Kathy Gordon are now co-presidents of the Association for Mormon Letters, with Margaret Blair Young becoming Past President. Kathy Jenkins Gordon has been the Managing Editor of Covenant Communications since 2005. Glenn Gordon is a music producer, originally from Austrialia. The couple was married in 2012, and live in Orem.
Book buying effort helps Utah author with son’s medical bills (Deseret News). David Farland/Dave Wolverton’s son was very badly hurt in a recent accident, and fans of Farland are buying his books to help defray the cosgts.
Get Ben to the Fringe! Indiegogo campaign to raise $2500 to produce Ben Abbott’s play. “Questions of the Heart–a one-man show about gay Mormons–has been accepted to the Cincinnati Fringe Festival! We just need to get him there!
Theric talks about the play and the fundraising effort at AMV.
Fundraiser blub: “Questions of the Heart is a play about gay Mormons, by a straight Mormon. Ben Abbott spent months interviewing gay members of his faith and produced a one-man play in which he performed as the people he interviewed, taking their lines directly from the transcripts of his interviews. The play explores the pain, the humor, and the contradictions of being both gay and Mormon. In the two years since Ben first performed Questions of the Heart as a thesis production at UC Berkeley, so much has changed and shifted. In this new version of the play, Ben inserts himself as a character into the action and the uncertainty. If the first version of the play presents a problem, the new version asks how we deal with it. As Ben digs deep into his own heart, searching for answers to the contradictions, turning to his gay Mormon interviewees for help and guidance, he shares their stores by living them on stage. With empathy as the guiding light, he asks questions…which leads to greater understanding, and more and more questions. Ben is working with Bloomington, Indiana director Mark Kamie to produce Questions of the Heart, and it has been accepted at the Cincinnati and Indianapolis Fringe Festivals!”
From potter to novelist: Avon artist dives into new medium. HJ News (Cache Valley) article about Carole Thayne Warburton and her new book.
David Farland. “Barbarians”. Fiction River: Unnatural Worlds . April 25. WMG Publishing, Inc. A new Runelords prequel story, in the first volume of the new FICTION RIVER magazine/anthology series. FICTION RIVER is sort of hybrid of a magazine and a short story book anthology. It’s being published six issues a year like a magazine but the work is physically published as a Print On Demand trade paperback, and will be available for sale (print, ebook, audio book).
Theric’s reviews of five stories from the Nov. 2012 Sunstone Magazine. Stories by Courtney Miller Santo, Josh Allen, Heidi Naylor, Brett Wilcox, and Larry Menlove. He was overall pretty happy with the batch.
New books and their reviews
Traci Hunter Abramson. Deep Cover. Covenant, March 1. Romantic suspense. CIA agent recuperates after a gunshot wound in the field, finds romance, new dangers.
Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine. 5 stars. “A book that will keep a reader pulling an all-nighter and loving every chilling moment. This story just may be Abramson’s best novel yet . . . Kelsey is a strong character who does difficult things and does them well even when great personal sacrifice is called for. She’s not only strongly patriotic, but she feels a strong inclination to protect others . . . The plot moves quickly and is satisfying, though nerve wracking at times. The author’s familiarity with the various law enforcement agencies, Washington D.C. and the surrounding area enhances the story’s realism.”
Teyla Branton. The Cure (Unbound #2). Self, April 13. Urban Paranormal. Pen name of Rachel Anne Nunes. Woman with paranormal abilities.
Cami Checketts. Running Home. Self, April 10. Mystery/suspense novella.Third in the Dead Running series.
Platte F. Clark. Bad Unicorn. Aladdain, April 16. Middle Grade fantasy. Debut novel.
Kirkus: “Harry Potter meets Diary of a Wimpy Kid in an initially witty debut that ultimately collapses . . . The setup cleverly skewers common fantasy tropes, and delightfully gruesome vignettes of mayhem add extra spice. Though wildly uneven, the gags fly so rapidly that some are bound to provoke snickers. Unfortunately, Max has been rendered as such a convincing loser that it’s hard to root for him as a hero; his friends are shallow clichés and offensive stereotypes, and the remaining characters are merely walking punch lines. Identifying target readers isn’t easy; the protagonists’ ages (and the proclivity for crude humor) suggest a middle school audience, who will be baffled by plot twists relying upon the mechanics of ’80s-style arcade and tabletop games (let alone by the Al Gore jokes). The clunky, stilted prose is littered with $20 vocabulary. And when the many rambling discursions eventually converge to a genuinely gripping climax, too many storylines are simply dropped, apparently forgotten. Like a comedian repeating the same joke louder each time: at first funny, then annoying; finally, just sad.”
Bulletin for the Center for Children’s Books. “The Adam Rex-like combination of fantasy, sci-fi, and middle-school angst is infused with absurd humor and wry social commentary, and it will elicit more than a few chuckles from readers familiar with epic fantasy and pop culture. Clark gently parodies Tolkien and Rowling without antagonism and manages to create a wildly diverting world.”
Frank L. Cole. Hashbrown Winters and the Whiz-Tastrophe. Bonneville (CFI), April 9. Middle grade fantasy. Book 4 in the series.
Mindy, LDSWBR. 4 stars. “Hashbrown, I’m going to miss you. Portals and all. This is Hashbrown and his friends toughest adventure yet. Still very funny and full of my favorite characters.”
Julie Daines. A Blind Eye. Covenant, Jan. 28. YA romantic suspense/paranormal. Blind boy meets girl with a psychic ability to dream about people’s deaths before they happen.
Deseret News: “Unique and unexpected. The characters have strength and courage that support them through intense trials and weighty problems. Scarlett’s blindness tosses an intriguing kink into the tale, thrusting readers into several fascinating situations. The story is threaded with adventure, romance and mystery. It is fast paced and angular, leading readers down emotional and thrilling paths. Some facets of the tale get lost in the wings as the account plays out, leaving readers to question why certain pieces were included in the tale. However, overall the plot bathes readers in a thought provoking and stimulating story. This story is clean. The main character, Christian, is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, although that fact is only briefly mentioned. While there is romance and murder in the story, nothing graphic shows up in either category, leaving the book feeling fresh and unpolluted. “A Blind Eye” is an enjoyable indulgence for lovers of young adult fiction.”
Shanda, LDSWBR. “I enjoyed this story about a conflicted young man, a strong-yet-vulnerable young woman with a unique ability, and an interesting storyline that kept me reading. I really liked both main characters and several secondary characters as well. With a little more page space some of them could have been a bit more fleshed out. Considering the fast-moving plot, that extra character development would have been nice but not necessary and it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story.”
Jennie Hansen. 4 stars. “A great read with gripping action and multi-dimensional characters. More YA than adult, but adults won’t be disappointed.”
Mindy. 4 stars. “Great read for the YA crowd and adults. I thought the author wrote a great voice for a teenage boy. Scarlet was a doll and I liked the ending a lot.”
Stephanie Flowers. Twisted Tales Trilogy. Triad Arts and Entertainment (self), April. Trilogy of YA fantasy novels, all released the same month. Each about a modern girl who gets swept up into a fairy tale.
Julie N. Ford. Replacing Gentry. WiDo, April 9. Contemporary women’s. Woman sees a ghost, becomes suspicious of her new Tennessee husband. “A modern twist on the classic Gothic romance novels like Rebecca and Jane Eyre”.
Heather Moore. 4 stars. “Julie Ford is definitely an author to watch. I’ve enjoyed her other books, and this one deviates from those in genre . . . Julie’s writing is a pleasure to read, and her characters are skillfully drawn. I love the quirks and uniqueness of the southern setting. The plot of Replacing Gentry is based loosely on the novel Rebecca (by Daphne Du Maurier), one of my favorite mystery writers. Without giving away any spoilers, you’ll have to read this one for yourself, and you’ll become a fan quickly.”
Mindy, LDSWBR. 4 stars. “Quite the page turner. Fast paced story with lots of cool twists and turns. I had my suspicions about the big reveal, but it was written well. Marlie is a great character, too.”
Nichole Giles. Descendant. Rhemelda, May 1. YA paranormal romance. 17-year old girl gifted with “sight and healing”.
Brian McClellan. Promise of Blood. Orbit, April 16. The Powder Mage, #1. Military fantasy. Guns, swords, and magic. Debut novel. Was a student of Brandon Sanderson’s, went to OSC Boot Camp.
TOR.com: “In terms of style and concept, it seems to be aimed straight at the same readers who enjoy Brandon Sanderson’s novels. While it’s by no means perfect and doesn’t have the same polish as Sanderson’s better works, it does show promise for the future. The most obvious parallel between Promise of Blood and, say, the Mistborn novels by Brandon Sanderson is its magic system, or, more accurately, one of its magic systems. The concept of the “powder mage” combines the ideas of flintlock fantasy with the basics of Sanderson’s allomancy: not only does this world have both guns and magic, but powder mages can consume gunpowder to heighten their senses and give them additional powers. This allows them to do things like see a faraway target, float a bullet for miles, or even change a bullet’s direction . . . In terms of structure and pace, Promise of Blood is uneven. After the initial coup and subsequent civil war, the novel takes off in a different direction. At that point, it feels like the story stops, reboots, and then lurches off again, but despite the heightened stakes it often lacks the tension of the initial section. The perspective changes frequently: coup leader Tamas, his son Taniel, investigator Adamat, a young laundress. Some of the threads feel unnecessarily drawn out, while others are rushed. Some sections simply lack any kind of tension. Promise of Blood frequently feels a bit directionless. McClellan’s prose is basic and straightforward, perfectly functional but rarely interesting or surprising . . . Despite the novel’s flaws, I’m fairly sure that Promise of Blood will find its audience. It combines some of the grittiness found in the works of Joe Abercrombie with the type of structured magical system that Sanderson does so well. Brian McClellan doesn’t have the chops of either of those two authors yet, but you can sense that he has the potential to get there. I’m not entirely sure yet whether I’m interested in reading further into this trilogy, but I wouldn’t be surprised if many readers feel differently and make this a highly successful debut.”
SF Signal: 3 stars. “There’s an opportunity for McClellan to tread the road less traveled but Promise of Blood remains a rather traditional fantasy . . . It’s not even that Brian McClellan’s debut novel is bad – that review would be easier to write. The problem is that there are some great ideas that aren’t fully realized. The bones of a different breed of fantasy are in place, but Promise of Blood opts out for the safe approach. I can’t begin to describe how excited flintlock fantasy makes me. I see it as a sub-genre that can shift the whole fantasy paradigm around. The presence of gunpowder hints at a new set of themes and conflicts to come into play, much as it did in our history . . . This is bolstered by the invention of the printing press and the organization of labor unions. It set the stage for different social issues than most may be accustomed to seeing in their fantasy. The ground work is laid but there is too little exploration of these issues for the story to live up to its potential. Likewise, the magic system of Promise of Blood suffers from a lack of detail, falling into this nebulous state between esoteric and ultra-detailed RPG style . . . Promise of Blood isn’t a bad book. There are some really neat ideas and themes that just need to be polished and more closely detailed for the series to define itself amongst the crowd. I would personally like to see a heavier female presence in the sequel. Up until the finale I wasn’t entirely sure I’d be reading the second book in the series but I was hooked by the ending. Of course it would be up to Taniel to cement my return to the series but he pulled it off. I would recommend Promise of Blood to fans of Brandon Sanderson and Brent Weeks. There is plenty of action and the plot is fast moving. Plus this is a debut, McClellan could really knock the sequel out of the park.
Michael Mercer. From The Dust: #1- The Last King of Judah. Spider Comics (Springville, UT), February. Serial graphic novel about Lehi and his family in Jerusalem.
Tabb Clements, AML. Detailed review. “My 16 year old son, realizing that this was about the Book of Mormon, initially stated that he would pass! When I told him to have an open mind and that this was NOT like my other books on the Book of Mormon, he consented to look at it. When I returned each time at intervals of about 20 minutes to check on him to see if he had finished looking at it, I found that he was still engaged with the book! It was only on the fourth check that he was somewhat ready to relinquish the book to me. We had a great discussion about the Prophet Lehi regarding his age and why “From the Dust” presented Lehi as being so young and yet we always think of him as being so old! Imagine that! My son was so visually impressed by the artistry of the graphics that he noticed how Lehi was not the age that he expected him to be, leading to a gospel discussion . . . See what Michael Mercer has done to present the Restoration in a new light. Open yourself and your family to be stretched in a way never before possible and see how your perspective is changed as you are pulled into the history and times of The Book of Mormon.”
Anne Perry. Midnight at Marble Arch. Ballantine, April 9. Mystery. Charlotte and Thomas Pitt #28.
Publishers Weekly: “Sexual violence is at the heart of bestseller Perry’s engrossing 28th Charlotte and Thomas Pitt novel, set in 1896 London. . Pitt, the new head of Special Branch, and his ousted predecessor, Victor Narraway, are about to leave a party when a police officer informs another guest, financier Rawdon Quixwood, that his wife, Catherine, is dead. Pitt and Narraway accompany Quixwood to the financier’s house, where they find the wife’s battered body. After being raped by her assailant—someone she apparently let inside—she drank a fatal dose of laudanum. Later, Angeles Castelbranco, the Portuguese ambassador’s daughter, plunges to her death in an effort to escape the rake who had been tormenting her. Pitt learns that she, too, was the victim of sexual assault. In an intriguing twist, Quixwood provides the alibi for the suspect in that case. Perry does a nice job exploring late Victorian attitudes toward sex crimes.”
Aprilynne Pike. Life After Theft. Harper Teen, April 30. Comic YA Paranormal. Pike’s first after the Wings series. A girl becomes a ghost, appears to a private school boy to get his help in making amends. “Clash meets sass in this uproarious modern-day retelling of Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel.”
Kirkus: “In a refreshing departure from her plant-based paranormal-romance series (Destined, 2012, etc.),Pike develops the pleasantly fractious relationship between Jeff and Kimberlee in Jeff’s earthy, humorous first-person as he only initially reluctantly takes the high road to help her. Aside from its heavenly premise, this brisk, down-to-earth thriller should appeal equally to male and female readers.”
Children’s Literature: “Pike has done a great job of creating a story that young adults can relate to. Vivid imagery along with detailed setting makes for a fast paced and fun read. Readers will recognize their own regrets and desire for change from the characters in the story. Being able to accept yourself and others are also great takeaways from this ghostly tale.”
Aprilynne Pike. “One Day More”. Ebook prequel short story to Life after Theft. The girl’s life before she became a ghost.
Clair M. Poulson. Framed. Covenant, April 1. Mystery/suspense. An investigation into organized crime.
Gale Sears. Belonging to Heaven. Deseret Book, April. Historical fiction. Hawaiian man searches for the truth, meets George Q. Cannon and the Mormons. His wife is sent to the leper colony in Moloka’i.
Marilyn Brown (AML). “As a rule, Deseret Book doesn’t publish historical fiction–especially about a real person whose story might shift uncomfortably with an author’s interpretation. This is understandable. So it was surprising to see “A historical novel” printed in bold graphics on the dust jacket and title page of Gale Sears’ new book, “Belonging to Heaven,” extolling George Q. Cannon and one of his prime converts, Jonathan Hawaii Napela. I suppose there is a continuum along which a novel loosely based on an event may be called “historical fiction” and at the far right move closer to “historical fact.” Since Deseret Book is the mouthpiece for a culture that values “truth” as exact as they can possibly get it, their historical fiction would naturally fall to the extreme end of “fact” on the graph. And indeed, it does . . . The work Sears does here is to add her pleasant writing to brighten the historic Hawaiian LDS experience. Her authentic Hawaiian language, names, and descriptions add to the text. She has an eye for color and a good ear for music: “. . . the pink of sunrises and the ginger of sunsets,” and a sense of metaphor: “He was one of them, a child of God, paddling his canoe through the fierce storms of life.” She also displays a good sense of humor when George writes: “I hope I can find a new pair of pants before returning, or you will think me the most ragged fellow.” A best-selling author, Sears has a graceful style and a relaxed sentence structure. But are her talents in this area enough to build a page-turning novel that exhibits a literary arc: exposition, dramatic progress, climax, denouement? This story is as even and steady as heaven is often portrayed–all with a similar tone, without the strong opposition that forges character inside of a strong plot. (To be fair, characters do experience limited questioning, though their course is sure.) Even the two most obvious incidents that might have furnished disparate conflict (Hattie’s illegitimate pregnancy and Brother Farrer’s rebellion) were simply told rather than woven into an influential element of the drama. And the encounter with Hattie’s child at the end might have been better integrated into the narrative. Though her letters worked well in “Letters from a Jade Dragon Box,” in this book they had no impressive tortures to reveal, but simply served as scattered expositions, and they were difficult to read in italics. Also, Sears like to say people had tears. But she does not build the organic dramatic narrative that might have evoked them in the reader. This kind of writing has the earmarks of “sentimentality.” This work is a good example of how religion and literary art have always had trouble mixing.”
Shanda, LDSWBR. “This fictionalized retelling of the history of the LDS Church’s early beginnings in Hawai’i was full of memorable characters, spiritual experiences, and inspirational sacrifices . . . Readers who love history, particularly Church history, will enjoy Belonging to Heaven. It is a book about love, sacrifice, dedication, and faith. I was easily pulled into the story, not because there was a fast-moving plot, but because of how well the characters’ stories were told. I was moved to tears more than once. This story will stay with me for a long time.”
A. L. Sowards. Sworn Enemy. Covenant, April 1. Historical. Sequel to Espionage. French resistance woman and American officer, now escaped from the Nazis, are sent on separate missions behind enemy lines. Jennie Hansen: 5 stars.
Caleb Warnock and Betsy Schow. Trouble’s On the Menu: A Tippy Canoe Romance. Sweetwater (CFI), April 9. Romantic Comedy/Suspense. With menus. The authors have written non-fiction food and fitness books, this is their first novel.
Jenniffer Wardell. Fairy Godmother’s, Inc., April 27, 2013. Humor/fantasy. Wardell is a theatre critic for The Davis Clipper in Utah. Debut novel.
Shanda, LDSWBR. 4 stars. “Such a fun read. I was entertained from the first chapter to the last. I laughed out loud on more than one occasion . . . Even though the book is approximately 300 pages long, it moved at a good pace and didn’t seem overly long. I was pulled into the story and thought it was well-written and pretty clean overall. The characters were interesting (Bubbles was effectively intimidating, considering her name), and I cared about what happened to them. It’s obvious that the author had fun writing this story. A lot of fairytale, a bit of magic, some intrigue and a generous dose of romance all combine to make Fairy Godmothers, Inc. easily one of my favorite reads this year.”
The Brothers Washburn (Berk and Andy). Pitch Green. March 16, 2013. YA Horror. Kids try to solve a mystery of other kids disappearing on Halloween. First in a trilogy. The authors are brothers.
Steve Westover. Crater Lake: Return of the Mystic Gray. Sweetwater (CFI), April 9. Middle Grade Fantasy.Sequel of Battle for Wizard Island.
Jonathan Langford (AMV) on YA Speculative. “None of these books are an embarrassment: not to me as a reader of Mormon fiction, not to the writer, and not to the Whitneys. It’s a strong field, and I don’t regret the time spent reading any of them. The books have varying strengths. Each is a worthwhile read for those who like that type of thing. My top choice, surprisingly (to me), is Everneath, for a layer of character development and thematic focus that I didn’t find in the others. Following that, Endlessly, for its consistency, competence, and sure touch with the character’s voice; and then Destined, for its world-creation. Then Feedback, for the sheer competence of its writing, but with some minuses mentioned earlier. And finally Demons, which falls just a little short in plausibility, plot, and character interest.”
Jonathan (AMV) on Middle Grade. “Each of these books was an enjoyable reading experience overall. Mostly for reasons that should already be clear, my top choice is Princess Academy: Palace of Stone — partly because there simply seems to be more to it than to most of the others, and partly because the writing is simply so clean. After that comes The False Prince. The other three, while they have their own strengths, aren’t quite up to the same level in my opinion.”
An Equivalent Centre of Self (Rosalyn): “The Romance category had some strong contenders this year. I’ve liked all of Melanie Jacobson’s books, and her two nominees (Smart Move and Twitterpated) were no exception. Stacy Henrie’s Lady Outlaw had an unusual premise and I liked the western flavor of the novel. Krista Jensen’s Of Grace and Chocolate is reviewed below: some of the writing was lovely and I liked the honesty between the two main characters. However, I have to say that Julianne Donaldson’s Edenbrook was my favorite: I’m a sucker for a good Regency romance.
The Middle Grade category was pretty competitive as well; I think this is, in part, because four of the five books were published by national presses. J. Scott Savage’s Zombie Kid is a nice blend of humor and horror (reviewed below); Freakling was unusual (I think) as a middle-grade dystopia. Epic Tales of a Misfit Hero was a harmless story, but a little out of its league. I am a long-time fan of Shannon Hale, so I enjoyed her Palace of Stone–especially her efforts to make rhetoric understandable for younger readers. The writing wasn’t as strong as Princess Academy, but I still enjoyed it. However, Jennifer Nielsen’s False Prince was one of my favorite novels from last year and none of the others changed my opinion; I think Nielsen actually has a good chance of winning best novel with this (although Dancing on Broken Glass is also very strong).
Of the Historical novels, I think that Goldberg’s book probably should win in terms of writing–but as a reader, my favorite was Carla Kelly’s My Loving Vigil Keeping, which was interesting and moving and, um, romantic. (Yes, I have a weakness for romantic plotlines!)”
Literary Time Out. Young Adult General. “The Ugly Stepsister Strikes Back really stood out to me in the Young Adult General category. It is hilarious! There are some emotional parts, but the overall feel is pretty upbeat. It’s a quick, clean read, and perfect if you just want to “get away” for awhile. The rest of the YA General finalists are more serious reads, but aren’t overly heavy with the issues they address. It was hard not to get emotionally attached to the sisters in The Space Between Us, and Sara and Sam in After Hello. Finding June is a fun story (although I couldn’t help but be bothered by an age difference). V is for Virgin is one that I was hesitant to read. Some of the content made me a little uncomfortable, but it has a good message about abstinence.”
Literary Time Out: General. “It’s hard to compare these finalists against each other because they are so different. Looking for a commonality among them, I came to the conclusion that they are emotional, heavy reads. Some much more than others, but each of the books dealt with difficult circumstances, be it poverty, illness, divorce, death, mental disabilities, etc. While I enjoyed most of these stories, The Rent Collector by Camron Wright really stood out to me. It is enlightening and inspiring. Even through all the difficulties endured by those who live in this dump in Cambodia, there is hope. Knowing that it is based on real people makes it all the more touching. There are a few swear words, and the people of Stung Meanchey live in very harsh and violent conditions, but the positives of this story outweighed the negatives, and I’m really glad I read it. If you prefer a lighter read, I would recommend Paige followed by The 13th Day of Christmas. Both are clean, and fairly quick reads with good messages of hope. The heaviness in them isn’t overwhelming, and is more relatable than the other three finalists. Both stories show how good friends can help us, especially during hard times. A Night on Moon Hill was a really unique story. I thought it was well written, although it was more of a downer than I prefer. There are a lot of issues in this story, and I was really bothered by the suicide-probably more so because of the emotional detachment of the main character (not that she could help it). Although the ending was pretty happy, most of the book was too down for me. Dancing on Broken Glass was one that I actually decided not to finish. The story was interesting, but the swearing and intimate descriptions bothered me, not to mention that it just had an overwhelming depressing feel with the mental illness and physical illness included. My sister read it, so I called her to find out how it ended. I suppose one could say this book ends happily, but this just isn’t my kind of book.”
Other reviews of older books
Traci Hunter Abramson. Code Word. (An Equivalent Centre of Self). 3 stars. “The story flowed well and I liked that Carina was a strong woman who didn’t have to be saved. However, I have to admit that there were some parts (mostly when the characters were discussing their plans) where I got a little bored. The romance and Jay’s growing interest in the Mormon church seemed a little too pat and predictable for me. I would have liked to feel a little more surprised (or suspenseful) about how the story turned out. Also, coming into the series late, there were lots of side characters that I had a hard time keeping track of (I did have the sense, though, that all these characters had their own story and their appearance would mean something to fans of the series).”
Susen Auten. Becoming Bayley (Marilyn Brown, AML). “I wanted to put in a good word for this new savvy writer, Susan Auten. Kudos to our UVU novel award committee who can “smell success.” . . . Though the story begins like other youth novels, the dialogue and action are so well-written, the set-up so appealing, readers are captivated . . . Midway through the book, when this beautiful young girl contracts this disease (we’ll let you discover what it is) she faces her difficulty with such courage, daring, and sense of humor, that the reader cheers for her with bravado. The book is about character development, and a young person coming into her own. “Becoming Bayley” should be a best-seller, not only on the LDS market, but nationally. It’s one of the most moving books I’ve read for a long time.”
Braden Bell. The Kindling (Deseret News). “This fast-paced novel depicts the journey of three best friends as they learn about their newfound superpowers and that they are Magi, but not all of them feel so happy about it. After being convinced that their teachers are trying to kill them, they find out they have a much larger fate — to use their powers of light and develop their skills as a Magi.”
Sian Ann Bessey. Within These Dark Hills (Shelah Books It). 2 stars. “
As a reader, the main drawback of Within the Dark Hills is that everything happens so quickly. Annie and Evan meet, and within a couple of days, they’re married. Then things are supposed to be awkward for them as they grow to love each other, and Bessey tries to show the awkwardness, but at the same time, only a few weeks elapse before they’re madly in love with each other, which didn’t feel very realistic. Evan’s sister comes to accept Annie with similar speed, and their conversion to the gospel and move to America (sorry, I’m a spoiler) also happens precipitously. I feel that Within the Dark Hills would have benefited from being twice as long and from taking the plot developments a bit more slowly.”
Shannen Crane Camp. Finding June (Shelah Books It). 3 stars. “When I started reading the Whitney finalists four years ago, the YA category was widely considered to be the strongest of the bunch . . . But (this year) four of the five books in the category (I haven’t read the fifth) are teen romances, and I’ve felt underwhelmed by the category as a whole . . . I think the characters and the LDS issues are a lot more interesting than the story itself in this one. Camp does a nice job with descriptions and seems to have a lot of insider knowledge about acting, but the whole love triangle aspect fell a little flat for me. I understand that Camp was going for June coming to some realizations about herself, but the good guy/bad guy felt painted with awfully broad brushstrokes.”
Stephen Carter. The Hand of Glory (Theric Jepsen, AMV). Stephen Carter Scares the Kiddies. “First, although I know this book is aimed at a young audience (say, 12 to 14?), the cover image by Galen Dara makes this hard to believe. It’s a more explicitly terrifying cover than anything I can remember seeing on any other book aimed at the audience—or for many adult audiences, either. Dara’s work manages to show horror while implying an even deeper terror. Which is not easy. Usually, revealing horror dissipates terror, especially in visual art . . . The only real questions have to do with execution and effect. The execution: good. And maybe the best way to judge the latter is to consider how I feel about this text from the front cover—”Harrowed Valley Haunting: Book I”—Do I want to see more? Yes. Yes I do.”
Michaelbrent Collings. Hooked: A True Faerie Tale (Cocktails and Books). 5 stars.
Sandra Dallas. True Sisters (Marilyn Brown, AML). “Sandra is definitely a professional. With clarity and apparent ease, she executes an admirable fiction–funneling true incidents into the lives of four diverse women, documenting in clean prose how they influence each other and become “true sisters.” I did feel that at times there were more characters than necessary, diluting deeper one-on-one involvements. And the men in her story generally came across as pious, stubborn and authoritative, although it is historically true that one of the men used “whipping” language to urge them on. “Come on! If you are righteous, you can do it!” The people seemed battered not only by the weather, but sometimes by insensitive leaders. To be fair, there was some repentance, but even that didn’t begin to override the grief. Mormons as a rule don’t like fictionalizing their history. Even in our Mormon historical novels by Gerald Lund and Gale Sears, etc., Mormons like notes on every chapter to tell them what’s true and what’s not. And this author does a lot of blending and manipulating–departing from fact. For example, a bloody amputation of one of the womens’ legs would have taken place in Salt lake City, not on the trail. But if Mormons are willing to stay open-minded to the contributions of fiction, this book will reveal what the art can do for us. It brings motivations and emotions into focus, presents one conflict against another, one character’s unrecorded speech against another–all facets that give passion and color to history. And Sandra is a master of the art.”
Sarah Dunster. The Lightning Tree (Scott Hales, The Low-Tech World). A detailed review, where Scott compares the book to other books of historical fiction about 19th century Utah, specifically the Utah War and the Mountain Meadows Massacre. “I recognize that this is an important novel for young adult readers—and certainly adult readers—who are interested in Mormon history. Far from the whitewash of The Work and the Glory and its imitators, this novel provides a matter-of-fact portrayal of nineteenth century Mormonism that is free of cliché. Dunster, for example, bravely incorporates into her narrative such taboo topics as blood atonement and polygamy, yet without the sensationalism that we see in works like Red Water, The 19th Wife, and True Sisters. This, in my opinion, makes Lightning Tree a must-read work of Mormon historical fiction. It troubles our notion of the Mormon metanarrative puzzle, yet without the scary music that causes so many to flee the puzzle’s challenge. It draws us in, pulls us towards the truth(s) of history, and gives us ways come to terms with what we find.”
Judith Freeman. Red Water (Scott Hales, AMV). “Red Water is probably the best novel about the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Unlike Marilyn Brown’s The Wine-Dark Sea of Grass (2001), another Mountain Meadows novel, Freeman wisely avoids the temptation to depict the actual massacre, thus allowing the reader to experience the massacre through rumors and evasions. This works well, in my opinion, because it foregrounds our tenuous grasp on what actually happened in the Meadows. As many have pointed out, all of what we know about the massacre relies on the testimonies of murderers and very small children, and neither is wholly reliable. Placing the event in the realms of the unknowable, therefore, forces the reader to experience (and possibly come to terms with) the frustration and trauma of not fully knowing what happened, who did it, and why. This trauma and frustration has been at the heart of Mormonism’s uneasiness with the Mountain Meadows Massacre, and Red Water accurately recreates it.”
Jessica Day George. Princess of the Silver Wood (An Equivalent Centre of Self). 3.5 stars. “While it was difficult to keep track of all the characters, I thought George did a pretty good job keeping them distinct and I thought the story was generally charming, if not particularly profound.”
James Goldberg. The Five Books of Jesus (Theric Jepsen, A Motley Vision). “The Uncorrelated Jesus of James Goldberg” A long discussion of the book, including its writing style, correlation, and presentation of Jesus. “The Five Books of Jesus will show us angels and miracles, but that alone does not make us equals with the novel’s heroes. It ends instead with a call to action—a call to engage with the stories as they did and thus, I presume, to know what they knew. We only see Jesus from his baptism to his death. What came before, what came after—those are other seasons.”
James Goldberg. The Five Books of Jesus (An Equivalent Centre of Self). 4 stars. “I found Goldberg’s book surprisingly enjoyable–and I say this because religious fiction is not often my favorite genre; also because when I picked up the book the first time the opening was so mystical that it was off-putting. But the book itself was lovely: the language was poetic and lyrical. But what I liked best about the book was that I felt it gave me a new perspective on familiar stories in the New Testament: I started seeing the stories in terms of individual characters making real decisions and sacrifices in their lives to follow (or not follow) Jesus.”
James Goldberg. The Five Books of Jesus (Deseret News). “A thought-provoking fictional story of how things might have occurred in the lives of those who encountered Jesus of Nazareth during his ministry. Friends and foes alike had strong feelings for the man from Galilee and his message, but the author does not shy away from examining difficult perceptions. Romans, Jews, believers and former followers share experiences as Jesus moves throughout Judea teaching the word of his father. Set in the combustible days of the Roman occupation of Israel, the story has all the characters readers recognize from the New Testament. Yet, with some poetic license, Goldberg has humanized many of the players and circumstances from the old stories . . . Written in a very poetic and lyrical style, “The Five Books of Jesus” is easy to read and understand. The insights are the author’s own additions but seem to follow the doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
Shannon Hale. Palace of Stone (Gamila’s Book Review). “I still love these characters that I met in the Princess Academy and one of the best things I love about them is that they have such a strong sense of identity and community because of how Mount Eskel has shaped them. This is another interesting tale about Miri a smart, brave, and intelligent girl who has new experiences in a whole new setting. At first I didn’t really enjoy the revolution storyline because it felt like Miri fell into it too easily. I felt like she should have thought of her friend Stephen and Britta more, as she went to all those meetings, but Hale give Miri real consequences for betraying her friends. I like how Miri had to feel those consequences and scramble to make things right, as that made the characters and plot feel way more realistic. I also really did love how the ending was resolved mostly peacefully, but there were definitive reasons for why it ended that way. I especially liked seeing the King grow and reevaluate his decision and judgments. Hale did an excellent job with that and with the Queen too. I loved how she recognized that she could have a say in things and she followed the example of a previous Queen to find her courage. An excellent and worthwhile read.”
Vicki Hall. Journey of Promise (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine). 5 stars. “Richard and Leah Kenyon’s story of preparing to leave Wales and their journey with other Latter-day Saint converts to America is not a new theme for an LDS novel, but it is particularly well done. This is her second book dealing with these characters, but it is excellent as a stand-alone novel . . . Journey of Promise does not present a lot of new material concerning the hardships faced by those who left their homes on one side of the ocean to travel to the other side to join with other members of the church and the story doesn’t contain a lot of surprises, but it does so with characters the reader can identify with and feel through them the struggles as though facing them firsthand. It’s a reminder that, then as now, the immigrants met cruel and malicious people who were quick to take advantage of them, but they also met good, kind people who went the extra mile to help and serve. It’s also a reminder that not only the dangerous ocean voyage and the trek from the Mississippi to the Salt Lake Valley were great trials for many of the early converts, so too was the journey from America’s port cities to St. Louis where the wagon or handcart companies began.”
Melanie Jacobson. Second Chances (Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books) B. “I rarely watch t.v. and when I do indulge, you better believe it’s not in “reality” romance shows a lá The Bachelor. So, when I read the plot summary for Melanie Jacobson’s newest LDS romance, I hesitated. But only for a second. It’s Jacobson, after all, and when I said I’d read anything she wrote, I meant it. Even if it’s The Bachelor in print (gag). And guess what? Second Chances proved worthy of my trust. The novel’s vintage Jacobson—in other words, upbeat, funny and heart-meltingly (yes, of course, that’s a real word) romantic. I’m not always wild about Jacobson’s I’m-beautiful-and-I-know-it heroines (because, after all, there’s a very fine line between confident and cocky), but I liked Lou enough to root for her triumph, both professionally and romantically. Is our girl victorious? I’m not going to tell you (although you can probably figure it out for yourself), I’m just going to guarantee that you’ll enjoy the ride. I always do when Jacobson’s at the wheel.”
Melanie Jacobson. Smart Move (Shelah Books It). 3 stars. “It’s no secret that I’ve been a big fan of Melanie Jacobson’s work in the past. In fact, I thought both of her Whitney Finalist romances last year were just delightful. They’ve been largely influential in helping me overcome my prejudice against the genre . . . Some readers have felt that the main drawback to the romance category this year is that the women are flawed while the guys are too perfect, but I didn’t get that sense from this story at all. I never was entirely convinced that Jake’s work-related motives didn’t fall squarely in the gray area. The book was enjoyable for me, but not, three weeks later, particularly memorable.”
Krista Lynn Jensen, Of Grace and Chocolate (An Equivalent Centre of Self). 3.5 stars. “There was a lot to like about this novel, about a young woman, Jillian Parish, working to rebuild her life after a difficult childhood . . . Some of the things I liked: some of the writing was gorgeous (an early chapter about Scott and Jillian’s past was beautiful). I liked how the characters, Jillian in particular, had flaws but were trying to work through them. And I liked how their LDS faith was woven into the novel in a natural, rather than pedantic or preachy way. Some things I didn’t like: I felt like the novel couldn’t quite decide if it was a romance or a thriller, so it wound up having a little bit too much suspense and not enough romance for my taste (since I went into it expecting a romance). I thought the complex family issues were plenty of meat for the novel; it didn’t need the additional danger and suspense.”
Carla Kelly. My Loving Vigil Keeping (Shelah Books It). 5 stars. “In the first few chapters, it’s evident that a romance will blossom between her and a certain widowed miner, and although it’s a joy to watch the love story unfold, what I really loved about the novel was the way that Kelly shows how Della changes over the course of the year. Yes, it was a bit of a Pollyanna story, but I didn’t mind because Kelly is so adept at telling the story. What I was unprepared for was the ending. Like I said, I had no knowledge of the book before I plunged in, and I’m not a native Utahn, so I was totally caught off guard by what happens in the novel’s final chapters, when the events of May 1, 1900 are depicted in the novel. Some may say that the ending is implausible, but I would have been heartbroken by the alternative. All in all, I think Kelly accomplishes what many LDS authors strive for but few achieve– creating an engaging story with fully-wrought characters that also manages to convey important aspects of our faith and culture.”
Gregg Luke. Deadly Undertakings (Rosalyn). 3 stars. “The book was reasonably well written (there were a few typos), and the plot moved quickly. However, the book was not quite the mystery I envisioned; the reader discovers the murderer fairly quickly (several chapters are told from his point of view), so the book is more a suspense/thriller than a mystery. Genre quibbles aside, I didn’t connect terribly well to the characters–Josh and Rebekah alternated between witty banter and serious, medical terminology, and although they both had serious struggles in their past, they never quite felt real to me. I find it interesting that a lot of reviewers (on Goodreads) mention that this book is “creepy.” Now, I’m the kind of person who had to have her husband pre-screen Buffy the Vampire Slayer, because I do not do creepy or tense well–but I didn’t have a problem with the book. Maybe that’s because I wasn’t super emotionally invested in the characters? I also found the clinical/medical descriptions the most interesting part of the book.”
Annette Lyon. Paige (Shelah Books It). 3 stars. “Lyon does a nice job with Paige’s story. She feels like a real character (one of my hangups about Lyon in the past has been that she includes a few too many real-life details, and that’s true in this book too, but it’s easier to overlook here than in 2010′s Band of Sisters). Lyon introduces some good tension with the character of Derryl, the non-LDS guy who is everything her ex wasn’t– sweet, attentive, and understanding. But does she love Derryl, or just the idea of what he represents in her life? One of the things I particularly enjoyed about Paige is the way that Lyon deals with the way that LDS people sometimes have a small worldview, especially when they engage with non-LDS people, become friends with them, and then are surprised at the depth of their spiritual and moral characters.”
Jean Holbrook Matthews. Safe Haven (Deseret News). “Readers will find themselves celebrating the characters’ successes, crying over the trials they face, and desperately hoping they get their happily ever after in the end. This novel might be different from Mathews’ other novels, but it is definitely just as compelling. While the plot may move slowly at times, “Safe Haven” is never dull and readers may find themselves flipping the pages faster and faster until they reach the last page.”
Ryan McIlvain. Elders (Reed Russell, AML). “A beautifully written novel about love, human relationships and the challenges and complexities of faith . . . McIlvain, having lived it, understands the quirks, the culture, and the unique languages of Mormon missionaries. He invites us into that inner sanctum and conveys those distinctive terms and traditions in a way that is meaningful to the general audience . . . There may be some language and frank discussion of sexual frustrations that might cause discomfort with some Mormons, but “Elders” is a novel that is open, honest and carefully written. It should be enjoyed and appreciated by Mormons and non-Mormons alike. It belongs on the same shelf with other outstanding Mormon novels.”
Adrienne Monson. Dissension (Deseret News). “Amid the hoard of paranormal romances that have stormed the nation’s bookstores and movie theaters and sunk their predictable plots into the American entertainment vein, there are a select few that provide just enough variation to be branded with the description of “tolerable.” . . . Adrienne Monson’s recent release, “Dissension,” is the first of a planned Blood Inheritance Trilogy, and is, actually, surprisingly tolerable. At first glance, “Dissension” has all the makings of any other paranormal romance: A forbidden love between a vampire and a member of the eternal enemy of the vampires, the Immortals. It has a tragic and altogether tiring inner-battle between love and the need to feed and the third member of a seemingly essential love triangle. But this love story has enough variation to keep a reader’s blood pumping. The couple was once happily married and had a child before choices were made and identities were transformed. There was once trust, love and closeness — all replaced by betrayal, hatred and abandonment — a satisfyingly different story than the myopic, young love that stains the pages of most vampire novels . . . Monson manages, with some dramatic escapes, bloody superhuman battles and cleverly placed plot twists, to keep even the most skeptical of readers thinking, “I wonder what happens next?” Which makes all the difference.”
Brandon Mull. Beyonders: Chasing the Prophesy (Deseret News). “Mull does a good job of character development and description of the different lands in Lyrian. The circumstances surrounding each character are exciting and engaging, with the risk of any character either succeeding or losing his life ever-present. The end of the book keeps the reader engaged and turning pages as fast as possible to find out how the story ends.”
Rachel Ann Nunes. Line of Fire (An Equivalent Centre of Self). 3.5 stars. “While some aspects of the plot (particularly at the end, when things seem to work out suspiciously well for the main characters) were a little far-fetched, I thought the writing was solid and I enjoyed the character interaction. I also liked that the mystery wasn’t completely predictable. The story reminded me, in good ways, of Charlaine Harris’s Haper Connelly series (only not nearly as gruesome and without the sex).”
Matt Peterson. Epic Tales of a Misfit Hero (Shelah Books It). 2 stars. “I wish I could say that Epic Tales of a Misfit Hero was the sleeper hit of the category. I wish I could say that despite the cheesy cover art, the book moved me and stayed with me. I can’t. Maybe it’s because I’m a mom to two scouts, and one of my biggest fears is sending them away to scout camp, where anything can happen . . . It’s evident that Peterson draws on experience, scary stories from the Deseret News about scout camps, urban legend, and parental nightmares as he created his tale. I think it’s one that my boys may enjoy, but it played a little too fast and loose with my fears to make it a book I could enjoy.”
Aprilynne Pike. Destined (Gamila’s Book Reviews). “The concluding book of the wings series is a satisfying conclusion that hits all the right plot points to fulfill all the promises the author made to the reader throughout the books. However, I sort of disliked the fact that is seemed more of a continuation of Illusions then a plot that stands on its own and as such it really does seem like a very short novel, especially for a book that ends a series. The majority of the book is a battle over Avalon. I did not go into the book expecting so much slaughter, but the author did a good job at staying true and consistent to the fairy world she has created, even in the way it reacted to chaos. I still really loved all the characters, especially Tamani. I really enjoy reading his points of view. I have really enjoyed reading this series and I’ll look forward to what Pike has for us next.”
Lisa Rumsey. The Unlikely Gift of Treasure Blume (Mindy, LDSWBR). “4 out of 5 stars. This book is a delight. I thought it was so funny. I was laughing out loud many, many times. Treasure is an amazing lady. I felt bad for her at times, but she is a pillar of strength. Treasure is a genuinely nice person, who truly wants to help others. Even if she is cursed. This book has a great message of kindness and love, with a lot of humor.”
J. Scott Savage. Case File 13: Zombie Kid (An Equivalent Centre of Self). 4 stars. “This is my 9-year-old nephew’s new favorite book. I can see why: this is an almost pitch-perfect blend of humor and not-so-scary horror that would appeal to young readers. After Nick’s creepy great-aunt dies, an encounter in a cemetery leaves Nick with a strange illness, one that Nick and his horror-mad friends think looks a lot like some kind of zombie plague, which is awesome, right? That is, until Nick starts loosing brain functions and body parts and it’s clear that the three friends are going to have to find a cure, and quick.”
Theresa Sneed. Earthbound (Shelah Books It). 2 stars. “I read Theresa Sneed’s No Angel for the Whitneys last year, and while I enjoyed the first half of that book, I had a really hard time getting into this story . . . The problem with the book is that it felt so corporeal. The book takes place in the spirit world, but Sneed describes Sophie and Daniel with very human sensations and feelings and emotions. There is a lot of emphasis, for example, on what Sophie is wearing in the book, and every time I read a detail like this, it was hard for me to reconcile a preoccupation with clothing with a spirit. Furthermore, the book seems to be set in a world very much like modern-day America (maybe five years from now), with texting and classrooms and all that kind of stuff. If the story had been really compelling, I might have been able to overlook the details, but instead, I got all hung up in them.”
Theresa Sneed. Earthbound (Deseret News). “While “Earthbound” is creative, the portrayal of the pre-existence is abnormal. The spirits that are about to leave for the earth go to parties, they dress in elegant clothing and play sports games. It almost seems like Sneed is describing a preppy high school. The pre-existence and the war in heaven are described in a very casual way. The sacredness of the events seems to be downplayed . . . “Earthbound” does have its strengths. Teen girl readers will appreciate the love triangle that Sophie is in. Sneed creates interesting love interests for Sophie. Sneed also inserts several lighthearted moments between the main characters that are humorous.”
A. L. Soward, Espionage (An Equivalent Centre of Self). 3 stars. “I thought the writing flowed smoothly and the pace, particularly of the last third of the novel, was good. However, I wasn’t in love with the characters or the voice–the characters, to me, all seemed sort of similar (the good guys similarly virtuous and the bad guys similarly evil). It’s hard not to contrast this with the brilliantly written Code Name Verity, which takes on a similar topic, but with a more distinctive voice.”
A. L. Sowards. Espionage (Shelah Books It). 3 stars.
Marsha Ward. Spinster’s Folly (Shelah Books It). 2 stars. “I haven’t read the first three books, and I really didn’t like Marie Owen. Of course, since all of the Whitney finalists seem to have romantic plots even if they’re not in the Romance category, there was a romantic subplot with a worthy guy, but I was almost surprised at the lengths he went to to find Marie, when even her father and brothers seemed ready to give her up and write her off. The first half (Marie’s preoccupation with being a “spinster” and with the good cowboy and icky fiance) and the second half (the kidnapping narrative) felt like two separate stories stitched together.”
Sariah Wilson. The Ugly Stepsister Strikes Back (Shelah Books It). 3 stars. “I was expecting something different– maybe a little campy, a little more fairy tale. Instead, Sariah Wilson’s The Ugly Stepsister Strikes Back feels like a thoroughly modern tale of Mattie and her now-ex-stepsister, the lovely and perfect Ella. But the book feels so modern, and so much more about high school culture and about how Mattie feels guilty about snagging Ella’s boyfriend, Jake, than it is about anything fairy-tale related, that the title and cover seem more like an afterthought. That said, the book was an enjoyable read. Wilson uses just the right amount of detail, and I appreciated that there was more going on than just the relationship with Jake– Mattie’s growing self-awareness and the depth of her relationship with Ella were actually more interesting than the budding romance.”
Jason F. Wright. The 13th Day of Christmas (Shelah Books It). 2 stars. “This wasn’t my favorite book. Although Wright does a nice job creating Charlee and Marva’s characters, especially with the little quirks that made Marva memorable, the story itself was predictable and sappy. It has lots of people who adore it on Goodreads, though, and at least it was short!”
Mahonri Stewart. Farewell to Eden. Echo Theatre, Provo, UT, April 15-27. Zion Theatre Company produced the 10th anniversary production. Directed by Ronnie Stringfellow. The original UVU production was a winner of the Kennedy Center’s American College Theatre Festival’s National Playwriting Award (Second Place) and their National Selection Team Fellowship Award.
Russell Warne (UTBA): [Note: Warne has been a tough reviewer of Stewart’s plays in recent years.] “Mahonri Stewart‘s highly literary script took about forty minutes for me to get used to. The first half hour plays out like a cross between a Jane Austen novel and an Oscar Wilde play. The characters all seem self-consciously witty, and the repartee between couples should satisfy fans of classic romantic comedies (although that’s not my cup of tea). However, about half an hour into the play, the missionaries arrive, which introduces the secondary storyline. At first I was peeved that important new characters were being introduced a quarter of the way into the play and that the story was taking such a radical turn. But I came accept this aspect of the plot and later even embraced it. Mahonri Stewart doesn’t make the missionaries the heroes in his play, nor does he clumsily use them as an excuse to preach to his audience. Rather, the Americans are used to introduce class and social tensions into the play that are explored in fascinating ways for the remainder of the evening. Although the Mormons are missionaries and some of the characters convert to Mormonism, Farewell to Eden isn’t a conversion story, nor is it “a Mormon play.” I cannot find any content in the story that would be alienating or boring to a mainstream theatre audience . . . Farewell to Eden is a quiet little play, but an intriguing one full of plot twists and authentic character development. It is certainly the best play written by Mahonri Stewart that I have ever seen, and this production probably has the most pleasantly understated acting that audiences can find in Northern Utah right now. This tenth anniversary production of the play would be a thought provoking experience for anyone who catches Farewell to Eden this month.”
Deseret News: “This is not merely a conversion-to-the-truth story, but “Farewell to Eden” is a uniquely rewarding character study that is so splendidly played as to make it highly recommended.”
Kara Henry, Front Row Reviewers Utah. “First off, the script is one that makes me, a former English major, wish I was back in school so I could trot off to write a paper about its symbolism or perhaps deconstruct it from a feminist point of view. Yet, this depth doesn’t keep it from being accessible. Witty banter, symbolism, broad range of characters, historical figures popping in and out, romantic stories that avoid cliques, and did I mention witty banter and fully fleshed out characters? Please sign me up. I’d like to see it again to make sure I caught all the witty banter. It also has religious themes without being preachy, leaving the viewer to come to his or her own conclusions. I brought my friend along who is not Mormon, and while there are conversion stories in the show, she never felt like that was the point or that she was being preached at . . . For me, the true test of theater, no matter the technical aspects and the other conventions, is 1. Did I enjoy it? 2. Did it make me think or touch me in a personal way? 3. Did it stay with me? It’s rare for me to see a show that doesn’t pass number one, but it’s not that common for a show to pass two and three. This show passes all three easily. (If I’m confessing things as a theater goer, I even had a dream about the show last night.)”
Marilyn Brown review. (After talking about some books she has recently reviewed). “At last! A fully realized example of a powerful text that opens with conflict in its exposition, rises to a climax and furnishes a dynamic ending. And one that grapples clearly with the results of refusing to leave Eden. All pieces include “Mormonism.” But Stewart’s is the most successful because 1) in the timeless style of Shakespeare, it relentlessly develops one major character (supported well by others, of course) until we fully see both her radiance and flaws, 2) it follows a timeline of integrated scenes that furnish variety and action leading to an appropriate climax and denouement, and 3) the “Mormonism” is almost incidental, yet organic to the story, not solicitous as in Sears’ book, or suspect, as in Dallas. I admit I’m getting more and more impatient to see great Mormon literature before I die! Thanks to Mahonri, we’re coming closer. EDEN is a work of art that aspiring Mormon writers should STUDY!!” For now–if anybody is rising to the top–one of our best is Mahonri Stewart. I loved his ROOF OVERHEAD, and now this FAREWELL TO EDEN. So a big hooray for quality! It’s coming!”
Enchanted April. Covey Center, Provo. April 11-May 4. Musical adaption of the 1922 novel. Written and directed by Elizabeth Hansen, with composition by C. Michael Perry.
Katie Sullivan Porter, UTBA. “I went home feeling most strongly that the portrayal of the individual characters, full of depth and complexity, made up greatly for what the direction and composition lacked in dissimilarity . . . Unfortunately, while the performances were believable and heartfelt, the play as a whole did have a few problems. An original work is not an easy undertaking, and I commend Hansen and Perry most heartily for their brave endeavor and the amount of time and care that was put into this piece. However, there was a noticeable lack of both a story arc and variation in the composition and lyrics. Perry’s lyrics and music was absolutely beautiful—pleasing to the ear and warming to the heart. But I did not see enough differences among the songs to justify proper telling of the story. I was left wondering more than once why the song that was currently being sung sounded so similar to the song in the previous scene or the previous act when the character was in a completely different emotional place and feeling entirely new emotions in relation to their surroundings and experiences. This was an issue in relation to the lyrics as well. What the character had just gone through in the scene often didn’t connect to what I was being told in the song. The result was an overall homogenous musical tone.”
Backstage Utah: “The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim, is a “chick book,” no doubt about it. Not only does it revolve around four women, but it speaks to women. It calls to them. It tempts them with beautiful gardens on the Italian sea-coast, and tells them they deserve to spend time there. Time all to themselves, where no one will expect anything of them. No mothering, or cooking, or cleaning. For most women, it fills them with a certain longing for things they will likely never have . . . n this case, the music did indeed deliver the story. The songs aren’t big production numbers; they are simply lines being delivered in a different way. The original book is filled with chapters of nothing but the inner thoughts of its characters. Those mental monologues are what the whole thing is about. But it’s difficult to present those thoughts on stage without resorting to “the monologue,” which gets old very fast. However, when these characters sing those thoughts in a casual, lyrical way, it works. They can tell us what they’re thinking, but it doesn’t feel like a monologue. After the show, the writer and director, Elizabeth Hansen (who is also the Director of Utah Lyric Opera) said she wanted to write a show that was beautifully simple and lyrical. With the help of C. Michael Perry, who wrote and directed the music, she succeeded.
The Raven. Musical based on the Edger Allen Poe poem. Hillary Hornberger, music and lyrics. Stephanie Fowers, book. Staged readings. First Reading: March 16th. Second Reading: Saturday April 6th. Cardel Theatre, Calgary, Canada. Calgary Herald feature story.
Saturday’s Warrior. By Douglas Stewart and Lex de Azevedo. Draper Historic Theatre, Draper, UT. April 8-27.
Jeniffer Nii’s Suffrage was featured on KUER Radio West.
Austenland will be released in LA and NY on August 16!
Filming has begun on The Maze Runner.
Day of Defense. Kevin Burtt, LDS Cinema Online. D. 2003 movie. “The acting is terrible, the writing worse, but unfortunately Day of Defense isn’t bad enough even to be entertaining in a “car accident” kind of way. It’s simply dull. In much of the movie literally nothing happens, and when something does happen it’s really, really dumb. The movie stretches over 100 minutes when it doesn’t have enough content to fill 30. Day of Defense’s badness isn’t even suitable for MST3K-style mocking, even though there are elements that are just begging for it: the laughable dialogue from “lawyers” unfamiliar with how legal proceedings actually work, or the amateur Photoshop job on the DVD cover, with all the main characters draped in shadow like it’s secretly a horror film. Even the ‘trial’ elements — ostensibly the only purpose of the film’s existence — aren’t useful as an informative tool for prospective missionaries. It’s barely more adequate than staring at a blank wall for 100 minutes . . . asically, Day of Defense fails badly as a compelling movie, but also fails as a useful and relevant tool to prepare missionaries for arguments they’ll hear in the field. It’s not only poorly executed, but poorly conceived, without asking the fundamental question of whether the handful of points raised in a non-fiction book written fifty years ago are still relevant to today’s LDS audience. Perhaps a better scenario would have the filmmakers being put on trial in a mock court to be grilled about why they made Day of Defense in the first place.”
New York Times Bestseller Lists, April 21, 28, May 5. Also USA Today and Publishers Weekly.
#21, #28, #20, A MEMORY OF LIGHT, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (12th week). USA Today. #23, #94, #130 (10 weeks).
x, #13, #34. MIDNIGHT AT MARBLE ARCH, by Anne Perry (2nd week). USA Today: #93 in first week, then off. Publishers Weekly hardcover #17, then off the list. 3561 copies sold in first week.
Mass Market Paperback
#10, #19, #22 THE HOST, by Stephenie Meyer (13th week). Trade Paperback: #12, #21, x (14th week). USA Today: #4, #18, #32 (127th week). Publishers Weekly: #17, #20, x (14th week). 5,177 sold last week. 75,722 total.
#33, #14, #11 ENDERS GAME, by Orson Scott Card (28th week). Back again. USA Today: #185, #140, x.
x, #8, #12 THE FALSE PRINCE, by Jennifer A. Nielsen (3rd week).
#6, x, x THE TWILIGHT SAGA, by Stephenie Meyer (219th week).