This Week in Mormon Literature, May 11, 2013

The LDStorymakers Conference is going on, with the Whitney Awards to be announced at the Gala dinner tonight. I have lots of Whitney book reviews and wrap-ups. Plan-B Theatre’s 2013-14 season will be dedicated to the work of Eric Samuelsen. The BYU Center for Animation won its 12th Student Emmy in 10 years.  Josh Hanagarne’s memoir The World’s Strongest Librarian  is released. Please send any information or corrections to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.

News and blog posts

The LDStorymakers Conference is this weekend at The Provo Marriott Hotel. Anne Perry was the keynote speaker. The Whitney Awards will be announced at the Gala dinner on Saturday.

UPDATE: Here are the Whitney Award winners:

Lifetime Achievement: Lael Littke

Outstanding Achievement: Carol Lynch Williams

General; Camron Wright for “The Rent Collector”. First Whitney.

Historical:  Carla Kelly for “My Loving Vigil Keeping.” Second Whitney award in a row.

Mystery/Suspense: Traci Hunter Abramson for “Code Word.” First win after being nominated five times previously.

Romance: Julianne Donaldson for “Edenbrooke.”

Speculative fiction; Dan Wells for “The Hollow City.” Fourth Whitney award, he has won something every year since 2009.

General Young Adult: Lisa Mangum for “After Hello.” First Whitney.

Speculative YA: Brodi Ashton for “Everneath.” First Whitney.

Middle Grade: Jennifer A. Nielsen for “The False Prince.” First Whitney.

Best Novel By a New Author: Julianne Donaldson for “Edenbrooke.”

Best Youth Novel of the Year: Jennifer A. Nielson for “The False Prince”

Best Novel: Camron Wright for “The Rent Collector.”

Tweets about Anne Perry’s keynote address: “What we are here to do is learn to empathize with others.” Stories increase empathy as we live more lives than our own.            I think Anne Perry’s message at this keynote is to write w your heart-only she said more beautifully.        The best thing about Anne Perry’s speech was her conviction that writers do something beautiful and important.     “Dante’s Inferno is a raging good story. And darn good yarn.” -Anne Perry :)       We only live once, but if you read well you can taste a little bit of others’ lives. — Anne Perry on writing        Hearing Anne Perry read “The Good Samaritan” with her accent makes it seem even more profound.

LDS Publisher has created “New LDS Fiction”, a separate website where she introduces new book releases. She continues to post articles on the LDS Publisher site.

Plan-B Theatre in Salt Lake City has announced that the upcoming 2013-14 season will be dedicated to the work of Eric Samuelsen. The company will produce four new (or mostly new) plays by Samulesen. They will be Nothing Personal (October 24-November 3, Susan McDougal, Kenneth Starr, the abuse of power: an exploration of the loss of civil liberties and the violations of human rights that have disfigured our culture). Radio Hour Episode 8: Fairyana (December 3,  A radio show about happy, frolicking bunnies and froggies and the hardened cynics who write them.  Also broadcast live on KUER’s RadioWest. Clearing Bombs (February 20-March 2, 2014, World War II, Keynes & Hayek, a rooftop, as the bombs approach London: a play about economics amid mortal danger). 3 (March 27-April 6, 2014, Three short plays about Mormon women confronting their own culture). [3 is pushing the definition of “new”. Two of the three short plays were part of Three Women, a student production at BYU in 2000, which also played at the Villa in 2001.] The company will also do a Script-In-Hand reading of Samuelsen’s translation of Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts. Eric talks about the plays here.  Also, Eric talks about his annual experiences with Plan-B’s SLAM. And again here.

Nathaniel Givens at T&S produces Another Post about Mormons and Science Fiction. Responding to a features article author writing about Stephanie Meyer and Mormonism, Nathaniel said, “I think the biggest reason that Mormons write so much science fiction is that our religion doesn’t have any official theology or creeds. Although we have a very hierarchical institution, they confine themselves mostly to doctrinal statements. If Mormons want to try and dig deeper and understand the meaning behind or connections between elements of official Mormon doctrine, then that becomes sort of their own responsibility. And so there’s just this deep culture of amateur theology in Mormonism: we spend a lot of time just trying to figure out how things might work, theologically.”

That post prompted Edje Jeter at Juvenile Instructor to write Mormons in Speculative Fiction as part of their “Mormonism’s Many Images” series. Edje looks at six speculative fiction novels by non-Mormon authors that use Mormons or Mormonism as a significant element in the story. Similar to Eric James Stone’s post on this blog a year ago.

Enders Game movie trailer was released.

Eric James Stone on Ender’s World.

Report on the Nephi Anderson 2013 SASS Panel, by Scott Hales. Scott, Theric Jepsen, and Sarah Reed presented, in San Francisco

Short Story

Brad R. Torgersen. “The Flamingo Girl“. Galaxy’s Edge magazine, May 2013. Galaxy’s Edge is a new invite-only science fiction magazine edited by SF writer Mike Resnick. Galaxy’s Edge is a hybrid-form experiment and produces both a hard copy (a POD book) and a webpage edition. You can read the whole story at the link.

Whitney Reviews

2012 Whitney Finalist Wrap Up (Segullah). Shelah Miner summarizes the findings of 8 Segullah readers, in a must-read post. After going over each category, Shelah gives us her picks for the big awards. “Adult Novel of the Year: The book I enjoyed reading most was Ka Hancock’s Dancing on Broken Glass. Youth Novel of the Year: Definitely False Prince. Best Novel by a New Author: Although Ka Hancock’s Dancing on Broken Glass would be eligible to win both Adult Novel of the Year and Best Novel by a New Author, I admire the lyrical quality of James Goldberg’s writing so much that his Five Books of Jesus gets my vote.”

Jessie Christiansen: Whitney Finalists 2012: Final Thoughts. Favorites in the categories: Dancing on Broken Glass, My Loving Vigil Keeping and The Five Books of Jesus, Of Grace and Chocolate, and Banana Split.

Rosalyn: “I think my favorite categories from this year were the Middle Grade, Romance, General, and Historical . . . here are my overall favorites from the finalists. General: Dancing on Broken Glass was easily my favorite, though Night on Moon Hill has some lovely, lyrical passages. Historical: Here, again, I had two favorites. I was impressed by Goldberg’s Five Books of Jesus and his ability to make familiar stories fresh. That said, as a reader, I enjoyed Carla Kelly’s My Loving Vigil Keeping the most (although don’t read it if you’re not prepared to cry!). Romance: This may be too close for me to call. I loved Edenbrooke (I’m a sucker for regency romances), but I’m also a big fan of Melanie Jacobson and I enjoyed both of her entries. Mystery/Suspense: Kilpack’s books are my two favorites. Speculative: Dan Well’s The Hollow City. YA Speculative: Brodi Ashton, Everneath. Young Adult: I didn’t have a clear favorite here–I liked all of them (although I didn’t love Finding June). The Space Between Us was perhaps the most literary; V is for Virgin was fresh and new; The Ugly Stepsister Strikes Back and After Hello were both clean and sweet. Middle Grade: Jennifer Nielsen’s The False Prince was one of my favorite books I read last year, so naturally, this was my favorite. However, all the entries were good–this was possibly the most competitive of the categories, with four of the five books coming from national publishers.”

Jonathan Langford at AMV reviews the Speculative Finalists. “Last year, we had four novels from well-established professional sf&f writers with a national reputation, three of them from a national press, and none with any Mormon content — plus one kind of oddball theological commentary in narrative form from a small Mormon press. This year, we two self-published novels, two novels from small Mormon presses, three novels with explicit Mormon content (making this the most “Mormon” of the categories this year, rivaled I think only by historical fiction) — and only one novel from a mainstream sf&f writer or publisher . . . Despite the charms that the other stories (speaking now of Flight from Blithmore, Earthbound, and The Penitent) will undoubtedly have for their own specific audiences, none of them represents a high quality of professional writing and publishing. None deserves a Whitney Award. Which frankly makes me wonder what this year’s committee were thinking. Were there no novels published this year by Orson Scott Card, David Farland, Tracy Hickman, or Brandon Sanderson (to name only a few) that might have been in contention? . . . Or were the judges more enamored by novelty and Mormon content than quality of writing/storytelling? Or did more standard sf&f works simply not get the minimum needed number of nominations? Put bluntly: there’s something needing adjustment in the Whitney process if it can produce this slate of finalists.”  Also see Jonathan’s earlier reviews of YA Speculative and Middle Grade,

New books and their reviews

Various Authors. A Timeless Romance: Summer Wedding Collection. Mirror Press, May 1. Romance anthology. A collection of six contemporary wedding novellas, by Melanie Jacobson, Julie Wright, Rachael Anderson, Annette Lyon, Heather B. Moore, and Sarah M. Eden.

Julie Coulter Bellon. Ashes Ashes (Hostage Negotiation Team #2). Self, May.

Jennifer K. Clark. The Knight of Redmond. Covenant, May 1. Medieval romance. A village girl and a young knight find adventures. Second novel.

Jessica Day George. Wednesdays in the Tower. Bloomsbury USA, May 7. Sequel to Tuesdays at the Castle. Middle grade fantasy. A castle that is constantly rearranging itself, and a young royal family sworn to protect it. Celie, Rolf, and their beloved Castle Glower are back.

Kirkus: “Princess Celie and her family love Castle Glower and its habit of adding and removing rooms on Tuesdays. But now the Castle changes on Wednesdays too, and the modifications have a frantic air . . . Historical exposition is somewhat dry, but Celie’s flights on Rufus’ back are exhilarating. Danger lurks, somehow related to a visiting wizard and an unknown foreign land, but its precise nature waits for next time, as this installment ends on a cliffhanger (almost literally—several characters are high in the air). A sweet, funny, sincere story in which siblings work together.”

Children’s Literature: “There is a plethora of characters in this book, most of them weakly developed, making it difficult to keep all of the players straight. Although the cover and first chapters of the book will appeal to the youngest readers in this age group, the plot becomes more complex and disjointed as it moves along, making it difficult for younger readers to follow. The book closes on a note that leads readers to believe there will be a third book in the series.”

Josh Hanagarne. The World’s Strongest Librarian. Penguin, May 2. Memoir. Mormon man’s struggle with Tourette’s Syndrom. They get worse on his mission. Marries, gets a degree. “At last, an eccentric, autistic strongman—and former Air Force Tech Sergeant and guard at an Iraqi prison—taught Josh how to “throttle” his tics into submission through strength-training. Today, Josh is a librarian in the main branch of Salt Lake City’s public library and founder of a popular blog about books and weight lifting. With humor and candor, this unlikely hero traces his journey to overcome his disability— and navigate his wavering Mormon faith—to find love and create a life worth living.”

PW: This wildly quirky memoir of facing down his ferocious Tourette’s tics follows Hanagarne, the son of a gold miner, from a bookish Mormon upbringing in Moab, Utah, to becoming a six-foot-four kettlebell-lifting librarian in Salt Lake City . . . Hanagarne’s account manages to be very gag-full and tongue-in-cheek, alternating with highly engaging current segments that take place in the urban library system where he works, besieged by noisy, importunate, rude—though mostly grateful—patrons. Moreover, the narrative is informed by Hanargarne’s deep reading of Stephen King and others, and proves a testament to his changing faith, as he recounts his marriage and his wife’s inability to conceive for many years, and their rejection by the Church of the Latter Day Saints for adoption. Reconciled with Tourette’s, Hanagarne never let the disease get the upper hand.”

Kirkus: “A jaunty memoir covering both the influence of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the torments of Tourette’s syndrome. Hanagarne’s coming-of-age was marred by the urge to blink and bark, hoot and yowl. The independent tics that still visit him trigger not only uncontrolled noises, but disconnected movements, which can be distressing and painful. Neither the brawny author’s warm Mormon upbringing nor his assiduous weight training were sufficient to prevent the unwelcome, surprise visits by “Misty” (“Miss Tourette’s”) . . . Hanagarne is quite passionate about libraries, expressing more enthusiasm on the subject than he does on his relationship to his church. Mormon missionary work and higher education did not fit well with the recurring spasms; fitness training helped some. Even better was his marriage, an especially important part of the Mormon way of life. Now, since Tourette’s has a genetic component, he worries about his young son. Filled with patently imaginary discourse, clever invented conversation and just a hint of the inspirational, this text on how the writer copes is surprisingly amiable. Along the way, readers will learn about the workings of LDS ministration and a puzzling physical disorder. A clever, affable story of one Mormon, his family, his vocation and his implacable ailment.”

Literate Housewife: “From the first pages of this book I was drawn to the way literature and books tied back to his life. I enjoyed the way he expressed his love for his work at the library by way of highlighting some of the odder or less appetizing aspects of library work . . . Coupled with the way in which he opens up about some of his own personal failings and I could not put this book down. I wanted to spend time with him, tics and all, as he explored how Tourette’s impacted his socially, spiritually, and physically. I wanted to be with him when he drove to the middle of nowhere and cried out to God and when he was in the gym using strength training to bring his demons under control. All along I very much appreciated his willingness to share his life with me . . . When he wrote of his impulse to walk out on his first day as a Mormon missionary in Washington, D. C. and say, “This shit’s about to get real,” I laughed so hard I had to put my eReader down for a minute. If he walked up to me and said that, my intrinsic dread of those conversations would vanish quickly. He would have my attention . . . Stories like these make sharing in the human experience fulfilling. There is no one I wouldn’t recommend this memoir to, but this story of living up to one’s potential despite seemingly overwhelming odds makes it a perfect gift for graduates, loving parents, and lovers of libraries.”

Marcia Mickelson. The Huaca. Sweetwater/Cedar Fort, May 14. YA Mystery/Paranormal. A girl’s mother was murdered. Maybe he can communicate with her in the Incan afterworld through an Incan artifact.

Heather B. Moore. Lost then Found (The Aliso Creek Novella Series, #3). Mirror Press, April 2. Novella. 60 pages.

Mindy, LDSWBR: 4 out of 5 stars. “As always with Heather’s book, I was immediately taken into the story in Lost then Found.  Arie is an instantly likable character . . . I really like the novellas in this series and I have become a huge fan of short stories.  Arie has a lot happen to her in this “short” story and she handles herself well.  Dustin is a high-powered producer who seems taken with her from the start.  Their relationship hits a few snags at the beginning, and one at the end that I didn’t see coming, but enjoyed.  Each of these novellas are unique and are fun, fast reads.  They do not need to be read in order, either.” Literary Time Out review.

Heather B. Moore. One Chance. Aliso Creek Novella #4. Mirror Pres, May 1. Novella.

Kelly Nelson. The Keeper’s Quest. Walnut Springs, Feb. 21. YA science fiction (time travel). The Keeper’s Saga #2. Chase works as a Keeper to preserve world peace in many different eras.

Marilou Sorensen, Deseret News: “Readers who relish the beginning relationship of Chase and Ellie while his being involved in limited political matters throughout time probably will enjoy “The Keepers Calling” and “The Keeper’s Quest.” But for those who see the possibility of a Keeper in worldwide conflicts with more dramatic adventure than athletic try-outs, prom dances interspersed with daily time travel that never really prepares Chase for his important mission, may be put off. Perhaps the third in the series will bring more action and adventure and a role for Chase as Keeper that tests and makes him worthy of that significant responsibility.”

Kelly Oram. The Avery Shaw Experiment. Bluefields, May 4.YA light romance.

Traci Pinkston. Till Death Do Us Part. Walnut Springs, May. Secret Sister #5. Cozy mystery. Ida Mae Babbitt is talked into a snap wedding, but the groom’s family is not happy, and someone is putting her in danger.

Reviews of Older Books

Marilyn Arnold. Yes, Mama! (Marilyn Brown, AML). “Marilyn Arnold is going to make her mark with the most hilarious series of Mormon family fictions ever written! The last time I visited with Marilyn I asked her, “Are you going to write any more novels?” And she said “No.” She was going to work on the Book of Mormon. And now, suddenly, to my surprise, she comes up with this genius move, and creates “Yes, Mama!” — the sequel to “Minding Mama,” standing tall as number two of a sure-to-be-forthcoming string of “Mama” masterpieces! I can smell it in the breeze! (Blowing like fresh laundry on the line of Mormon literary classics!) . . . For me, this book was even more hilarious than the first one, perhaps because the relationship with the old lug of a husband was beyond laughing–it hit home like the Pickles cartoons. Oh my! . . . Of course I can’t elucidate the entire joke book. But it is Funny with a capital F (the better F word). Mama keeps repeating wisdom in Dorie’s head, Dorie keeps meeting interesting strangers–some from the first book–and she finally gets to Atlanta all right and honors her promise. The ending is absolutely amazing, because we get that odiferous assurity that more is coming with her sister’s wayward daughters Felicity and Olivia. I hope!”

C. David Belt. The Penitent (Jessie). “This was another book that I just wanted to throw away instead of reading. First of all, the narrative voice was confusing and difficult to read. Also, the world-building was confusing as well and the actions and motivations of the characters were difficult to understand.”

C. David Belt. The Penitent (Shelah Books It). 2 stars. “Vampire professors at BYU? Vampire doctors at University Hospital? Vampires teaching your child’s Primary class? These are all possibilities in the world C. David Belt creates in The Penitent, where “good” vampires have freed themselves from their power to Lilith. Word of this accomplishment has spread, and now Moira and Carl Morgan, the first vampires to be sealed in the temple, must face the power of their enemies. I thought this was an ingenious concept for a book, and I was impressed with the way Belt allowed readers to jump into the second book in the novel, but the story soon seemed like it favored outer conflict rather than the inner conflict I found so compelling in the early chapters.”

D. J. Butler. City of the Saints (Shelah Books It). 2 stars. “ity of the Saints has an interesting premise– Mormon Steampunk set in the 1850s, with Orson Pratt, Edgar Allan Poe, and Porter Rockwell figuring prominently, but not in any form you might recognize them. The book reminded me a bit of last year’s A Night of Blacker Darkness, but it was less zany and ultimately less successful for me. But I may have been prejudiced from the first line– a book that begins “‘This is insubordination, Dick!’ the man in the tall top hat and cravat hissed” is just not going to be my kind of book. But it may be yours?”

D.J. Butler. City of the Saints (Jessie). “Steampunk is not something I have read a lot of or had much interest in, but I really had a good time reading this book. I have a feeling that not many people will like this one, based on the language, the violence, and the irreverent look at certain people from Church history, but I thought it was fun.”

David Clark. The Death of a Disco Dancer (Robert Slaven). 5 stars. “This book is rife with positive merits; the characters are true to life and the story is evocative and though provoking. The author also gives the non-Mormon a welcome look into life in this little-understood religion as well as a snapshot of adolescence in the southwest U.S. during the early 80s. He deals candidly and skillfully with tough subject matter and by the end the reader really feels invested in the characters. Clark has given us a story with substance in a wonderful and little-seen setting . . . Most Christian literature paints the faith as if life were a cartoon parody of itself. “Disco Dancer” in contrast is first and foremost a good novel. It happens to be about Mormons and it also happens to illuminate key Mormon values but that’s not the center of the story. The Mormonism that weaves its way through this book adds variety and appeal to the storyline rather than the usual cloying manner in which Christianity permeates every word of some examples of the genre. All this is done without turning the Mormon faith into a freak side-show act. It is, simply, an excellent example of how religious fiction should be done.”

Michaelbrent Collings. Blood Relations: A Good Mormon Girl Mystery. (Nathan Shumate).

Jacob Gowans. Flight From Blithmore (Shelah Books It). 2 stars. “The story is kind of an epic fairy tale, and feels like a cross between The Odyssey and The Canterbury Tales, with some of The Princess Bride thrown in. This might sound like an engaging combination, but it’s long and somewhat convoluted, and feels out of place in this category.”

Jacob Gowans. Flight from Blithmore (Jessie). “This book was not bad, but it was also not very good. Mostly it was boring; the main characters all blended together a bit and the ‘hero’ of the story didn’t ever act very heroic. Unfortunately there are quite a few other epic fantasy series to compare something like this to, and compared to any of them this book doesn’t come close.”

Vicki Hall. All That Was Promised. Gamila: “I have to say that I think this is probably the darkest LDS historical novel that I’ve read. One of the main viewpoint characters has the most depressing and dysfunctional family I’ve ever read about and culminates in the viewpoint character strangling his wife to death “on screen.” If this wasn’t enough another character by the name of John Morgan is also a piece of despicable abusive swine. There are multiple acts of violence upon members of the church as persecution against Mormons escalates in the area. So many things went wrong right after another that I was beginning to wonder how much historical accuracy the story had because the story was starting to feel contrived on the part of the author to create more tension. There was no historical note by the author at the end to separate the truth from fiction, which annoyed me. I kind of wanted to know what facts she based the story from and how much creative license she had taken. The story does contain some wonderful glimmers of the power of the gospel. The repentance process of Meredith, a prostitute who helped John Morgan persecute Mormon families . . . There are miracles wrought by the priesthood, but overall I felt the book was sort of depressing.  The novel provides a riveting read that rushes from conflict to conflict, and does have some great storytelling. Perhaps, the book wasn’t exactly to my taste but the book does deal realistically with heavy issues and allows the characters to really struggle with those issues instead of having them all made better instantly when they learn about the gospel. I think some readers will find that sort of honesty refreshing.”  Jessie: 2 stars. “The strength of this book was the characterization. The main characters were all really well-written, but the plot seemed to lack a lot a central organizing thread and felt like it was just progressing along a line of events that were pre-determined. I wondered how much of the story was historical fact that was just being ‘checked off a list’.” Jennie Hansen: 3 stars. “There are some things about this book I really liked. The author is talented and writes scenes well, but there is little continuity between scenes. Over and over she sets up a great scene, then it just ends. The reader never finds out what happens. It’s obvious the author plans a sequel, but I’m not referring to the unfinished business that sets up a book to follow, but just snatches of action that go nowhere. There are also too many points of view which adds to a feeling of choppiness. I did like the Welsh historical setting,I liked the characters and their inner thoughts and feelings which showed their spiritual growth, and I liked the realistic portrayal of violence early converts faced from the silly childishness to the vicious destruction of life and property.”

Ka Hancock. Dancing on Broken Glass (Shelah Books It). 4 stars. “Dancing on Broken Glass is what I want Jodi Picoult’s novels to be. Yes, it’s heart-wrenching, a story that’s too painful to be believed in places, but Hancock manages to tell the story in a way that doesn’t feel overdone or manipulative. Her experience as a nurse seems to have prepared her well to write a story where characters suffer from debilitating physical and mental illnesses, and to do it with compassion and strength. This was one of my favorite reads of the Whitney finalists, and I look forward to reading more of Hancock’s work.”  Luisa Perkins adds: “I thought this one was the best of the year.”

Ka Hancock. Dancing on Broken Glass (Jessie): “This book was one of my favorites out of all the Whitney finalists I read. It’s also published by a national publisher and only contains a little bit of LDS content that is somewhat tangential to the story. The plot will probably turn a lot of people off because it is so maudlin, but I thought Hancock managed to pull it off pretty well. This is not a simplistic book with easy answers for the characters and the reader. Both her main characters are complex and very human, and the setting and supporting characters were equally compelling.”

Stacy Henrie. Lady Outlaw (Shelah Books It). 2 stars. “This was the last book I read in the [romance] category, and although an entertaining read, probably the weakest of the bunch . . . The resolution of Lady Outlaw felt awfully convenient to me– I had a hard time believing that Caleb would forgive and forget so easily. Furthermore, some of the book seems to center on Jennie’s spiritual crisis– members of her church treated her mother unfairly and Jennie has harbored resentment. It seems that most people living in her town are part of this congregation, and the town is a central Utah town in the 1800s, but there is no mention of Mormons, which seemed odd to me.”

Melanie Jacobson. Second Chances (Jennie Hansen, Meridian). 5 stars. “The characters show Jacobson’s familiarity with that period in modern young people’s lives when school is behind them, they’re launching their careers, but they’re still clinging to the herd mentality in their social lives. Couples dating and commitment seem to be harder to achieve than it was a generation earlier before electronic gadgets changed the way young people communicate. Louisa and her roommate, Molly, are strong characters, high achievers, bright, attractive, and know what they want. They’re likable and their interchanges with each other are witty and fun. Nick is a little harder to see clearly and his monologue near the end of the book is a bit too much. Both Louisa and Nick do some growing up as they consider their desires for their lives and their concern for the other’s success and happiness. The plot is predictable and the reader knows from the beginning how it’s going to end, but that’s the way of romances. The fun is in the journey. The background for the story is exceptionally well done. It isn’t obtrusive, but clearly paints the ocean community, the beaches, and the activities that interest young singles and is an enjoyable contrast to the more often used big city or Wasatch Front localities pictured in LDS novels. The story is enjoyable and I recommend it, especially to the eighteen to thirty crowd.”

Krista Lynne Jensen. Of Grace and Chocolate (Shelah Books It). 4 stars. “I really enjoyed Krista Lynne Jensen’s Of Grace and Chocolate, a contender in the Romance category, but which would have worked equally well in mystery/suspense or general, since it seemed to go beyond the bounds of romance. One of the things I’ve really come to appreciate about the Romance category this year is the way that several of the books (this one, and both of Melanie Jacobson’s novels) work within the framework of LDS culture . . . This year, there were many gems in the Whitney Finalists, and I felt that this was one of them. It combined well-drawn, complicated characters with an engaging plot line, told from the perspective of LDS culture. I also appreciated that these weren’t cookie-cutter Mormons– Jill felt a lot more like the Mormons I know than the Mormons I often see represented in print. I hope to read more of Jensen’s work in the future, but wouldn’t be surprised to see her nominated in different categories.” Luisa Perkins adds: “I agree. I really enjoyed this one.”

Josi Kilpack.Tres Leches Cupcakes (Jessie).  “I have really enjoyed reading Kilpack’s culinary mysteries. Sadie is a fun character and Kilpack’s writing is polished and engaging, making these the perfect books to curl up and escape with for a few hours. I didn’t like this one as much as Banana Splitbecause I felt like the mystery wasn’t very clear for most of the book and I felt like Sadie didn’t have a very clearly defined character arc.”

Lindsey Leavitt. Going Vintage (Margot Hovley, Deseret News). “Leavitt pulls this tale off with style. Getting the teen voice right isn’t easy, but Leavitt does it to perfection. There are many laugh-out-loud moments mixed in with the lessons to be learned. Most local readers will find it refreshing to read no teen sex in this book. The topic is lightly discussed, but in a way that doesn’t belittle abstinence. There are a few kissing scenes (and Mallory does concede that most of the time she was with her new ex-boyfriend was spent making out and perhaps not the best idea) and one instance of a swear word that perhaps put the book out of tween readership.”

Gregg Luke. Deadly Undertakings (Jessie). “The best I can say about this book is that the writing is much more polished than Luke’s book last year and there weren’t so many distracting typos and factual errors. The protagonists were also much more realistic and interesting, but the villain was just as over-the-top and ridiculous as his last book. I find it distracting that most of the book seems like a fairly realistic mystery, up until you get to a villain who is so outlandish in his methods and behavior that he seems like he should be on a cartoon.”

Jessica Martinez. The Space Between Us (Shelah Books It). 4 stars. “This was definitely the strongest of the YA novels this year. It reminded me of a good Carol Lynch Williams story– where the conflict is more in Amelia’s head (Can she forgive Charly? Are some secrets good? What will she do with her own life? Is she her sister’s keeper?). This is the kind of book that I would have considered a gem even outside the context of the awards reading.”

Brian McClellan. Promise of Blood (Shawn, Elitist Book Reviews).  “Dear Brian . . . You wrote a great book. You had a fun interesting world with stuff in it that I’ve never seen. You had fantasy in a revolutionary war type setting and I’ve never read anything like that. You had mages who get powers from gunpowder. You had Gods walking among men, not to mention several other really neat surprises thrown in . . . You had fun and interesting characters. I loved Tamas. I mean the book starts out with him killing the king and overthrowing the existing government? What a great opening. It sets up a pace right from the beginning that made me not want to put the book down . . . Reading through the book was a joy. I enjoyed the magic systems and twists and turns of various powers. I also liked the interplay of the stories, specifically how characters would come and go interacting with various point of view characters to give me a greater sense of the whole. Honestly, PROMISE OF BLOOD gave me a very Daniel Abraham/Brandon Sanderson vibe (and if that sentence doesn’t give you goosebumps then you must have no soul). I honestly can’t give much higher praise than that . . . Everyone should pick up PROMISE OF BLOOD. Brian McClellan will easily make it to our short-list next year when nominations for the Campbell Award are open. Yes, it really is that good.”

Brian McClellan. Promise of Blood (Denise Russell, Deseret News). “Brian McClellan has penned a gripping fantasy novel about a military coup and its bloody aftermath in “Promise of Blood.” A host of supernatural creatures — gods, powder mages, Markeds, Knackeds, Privileged, Watchers, Wardens, savages — add an unearthly dimension to warfare as they magnify weaponry capacity, evoke the power of natural elements to accomplish their mission, and change human desires . . . McClellan’s writing expertly allows the reader to visualize the action, understand each character’s psyche and motivation, and keep turning the pages well into the night. “Promise of Blood,” the first of a trilogy, will suit older teenagers and adults alike.”

Tanya Parker Mills. A Night on Moon Hill (Jessie). “I was really impressed by all the general fiction finalists this year. This was another book that showcased complex writing, sympathetic characters, and interesting questions throughout the plot. The ending felt a little out of tone with the rest of the book; it felt as though the author had to add some extra conflict into the story instead of the resolution arising out of the events portrayed in the book. I can see how some people might not like this book because it deals with some difficult issues, and the main character is a woman who most likely has Asperger’s Syndrome and is not every sympathetic or easy to relate too.”

H. B. Moore. Esther the Queen (Sheila, LDSWBR). “I loved the way that Heather brought Esther to life . . . I enjoyed Heather’s take on the type of person that Esther was. She is portrayed as being kind, unselfish, and very accepting of all people. As a reader you can’t help but love Esther . . . Esther the Queen will enchant you from the first pages. You will be drawn into the splendor of the royal court, and the humble circumstances that the Jewish people lived in. This well researched book will open your eyes to the great sacrifice that Esther made for her Jewish people. I hope that Heather is planning on writing about more heroes from the Bible. Any book written by this author, will for sure make a very satisfying read.”

Kelly Oram. V is for Virgin (Shelah Books It). 3 stars. “An entertaining story. Val is a great character, and I like the way Oram includes a Mormon character in her story. However, the story would have been much better at 260 pages than at 360– my attention waned after a while and I felt that Oram included too many details (like the jewelry design side story) that could easily have been cut. Parents should be aware that the story does not restrain itself with teenage language or frank discussions of sex– this is definitely a book for high school students, not precocious sixth-graders.”

Tristi Pinkston. Turning Pages (Amy Wilde, Deseret News). “What Mormon author Pinkston does so magically is pull the reader into Addie’s mind while touching on all emotions as the story unfolds. One minute Addie is in her own world of setting up her book-of-the-month display. The next she finds herself pretending Blake is her boyfriend (just to get even with a guy who wouldn’t give her a second chance), and the next she is taking the wheel of the monster-size bookmobile — with no fear . . . This is a fun, clean novel appropriate for girls ages 12 and older.”

M. Ann Rohrer. Mattie (Darryl Eccles, AML). “I learned a lot about the Mormon communities in Mexico that I didn’t know before. I didn’t realize the people continued to live there so long after the practice of plural marriage was no longer an issue. I guess it only makes sense though. For some, like Mattie, this was their home, the only one they had ever known. It also gave me a little different picture of Pancho Villa. Even though he was isn’t an active character in the story, he is part of it. I don’t think I ever realized before that he was or desired to be a political leader. The story also was another testament of the change that war can bring about in people, both for good and for evil . . .
I really enjoyed this book. It is well written with well-developed characters and a believable story line. There is action, romance, humor and a definite spiritual tone to the book. I would recommend this book for anyone interested in history, especially LDS history. I think it would be of particular interest to female readers, both young and old. It is a story that is well told and faith promoting while still being believable.”

J. Scott Savage. Air Keep (Sharon Haddock, Deseret News). “This book is full of adventurous and challenging moments as Kyja and Marcus battle all kinds of odd monsters and strange circumstances. Author J. Scott Savage has overturned just about every physical law and reality to create beings of water, air, even of butterflies and frogs. It’s a mental exercise just to keep up. There’s a racing snail featured throughout that apparently is famous for his speed yet never seems to actually move. There are beings who control the elements of the worlds throughout the universe yet can be trapped in their own spheres. It requires a bit of suspension of reality to buy into this story. But it’s harmless and entertaining as Kyja and Marcus trudge along, often “jumping” between worlds by some kind of “magic” Kyja doesn’t recognize as remarkable. Young readers who like fantasy fiction will like this book, but it’s a good idea to read them in order . . . It’s not a restful book, but fine for its audience.”

Gayle Sears. Belonging to Heaven (Gamila). “While the focus of the book at the beginning lead me to believe that the book would continue to be about George Q. Cannon’s life he kind of drops out at the midpoint and the central character of the novel is revealed to be Jonathan Napala, a Hawaiian saint who helped cannon translate the Book of Mormon into Hawaiian. I enjoyed the story of Jonathan Napala despite the books wandering plot. I could understand if some readers had a hard time sticking with the story because of that, especially if they were not naturally interested in history, but I found the story fascinating and touching. I also loved how Sears wove the Hawaiian culture and language throughout the novel. It was beautiful. I also loved how well Sears made us feel the connections of the characters to one another . . . Though, the plot was a bit loose this read was definitely worth the experience.”

Theresa Sneed. Earthbound (Jessie). “This book has the dubious distinction of being my least-favorite of all the finalists. In fact, I had to resist the temptation to throw it against the wall instead of finishing it. First of all, it creates a vision of the pre-earth spirit world as more or less a giant high school where everyone is obsessed with sports, relationships, clothes, and class. Second, the protagonist was just plain irritating. She was attracted to one guy, who was obviously a good guy, but every time he tried to talk to her she just pushed him away or acted like she didn’t want him. Then, when the other guy came along that she didn’t like and who was obviously the bad guy, she completely went along with whatever he wanted. For the entire book–she never seemed to change or grow or mature in anyway. Plus the writing really felt very derivative of Twilight, right down to the crazy ball game.”

G. G. Vandagriff. The Duke’s Undoing (Shanda, LDSWBR). “The Duke’s Undoing was an enjoyable read that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to anyone who loves a good Regency romance. I look forward to reading about the other two rogues and their ladies.”

Shawn Vestal. Godforsaken Idaho (Doug Gibson, Standard-Examiner blog). “(To see Cal Grondahl’s cartoon that goes with this post, click here). There’s an extremely profane scene in “Multiple Maniacs,” one of filmmaker John Waters’ earliest films, that takes place in a Catholic church and involves the actors Divine, Mink Stole, playing a nun, and a rosary. Waters has been quoted as saying that he got Catholicism “out of his system” with that wildly offensive scene.  I thought of Waters’ quote when I read Brian Evenson’s “Father of Lies,” a violent tale of an ecclesiastical leader shielded by religious superiors, and leaders of a religious university, from the crimes of rape, pedophilia, spousal abuse and murder. For Evenson, a former Mormon and BYU professor, it was — in my opinion — a thinly veiled attempt to shuck Mormonism out of his system. Fifteen years after the lightly read “Father of Lies,” fiction about Mormons written by lapsed Mormons is hot. There’s a lot of religion being shucked out of the systems of a lot of authors, albeit not nearly as graphically as Evenson or Waters. There’s “The Lonely Polygamist,” as well as “Elders,” and another offering, a collection of short stories, “Godforsaken Idaho,” by a lapsed Mormon named Shawn Vestal. That hasn’t got as much press as “Lonely Polygamist” or Elders,” so I invested $6 via Kindle and spent a not unpleasant few days reading Vestal’s stuff. He’s an exceptionally talented short story writer, and his critiques of his former faith range from the subtle to coshing you over the head with his prose. Although the cover features a photo of Joseph Smith, such Mormon ideals of family ties and families being forever assume greater roles in Vestal’s tales. I particularly liked his first short story, “The First Several Hundred Years Following My Death.” In it, Vestal manages to create a completely unique vision of the afterlife. In it we live eternally in the same condition that our body enjoyed when we die [Long review of the various stories]. . . The resignations of Vestal’s characters. “Sara” and Isaac Hale to live in that which repels them is an interesting theme through Vestal’s stories. Another prevalent theme of the stories is that of a father and/or husband who fails to take responsibility for his actions or preserve healthy relationships with children or spouses. In an interview published at amazon.com, Vestal says that an influence on the actions of wayward men in his stories is his father, a man who served time in jail and prison. A sidenote: There is excellent “grizzly bear” Mormon-themed fiction authored by active Mormons. Authors include Douglas Thayer, Christopher Bigelow, Todd Robert Petersen, Coke Newell, Eugene Woodbury, Jonathan Langford, etc. Yet they haven’t attracted a wide audience. One reason may be that these works are ignored by the LDS Church’s publisher, Deseret Book, which still favors bland, “teddy bear” prose on its bookshelves.”

Shawn Vestal. Godforsaken Idaho (Julie J. Nichols, AML). “What’s stunningly worthwhile about “Godforsaken Idaho” to begin with is that it’s writerly. The language is apt and perfectly paced from the first line of every story to its stunning sharp close. Not only is each story brilliantly constructed, but the collection as a whole is an architectural masterpiece. The stories go backward in time . . . . [Summaries of each story] . . . Perhaps from this set of summaries you can see to some degree how spot-on the language and pacing of every story is, from the level of the individual word and sentence to the construction of a mood, an atmosphere, that never misses a beat. Recurring relationships, names, themes, conflicts revolve forward and backward among the stories, and if you read the last one first and work your way back to page 1, as I also did, you see even more sharply the genealogy of deception, doubt, frustration, resentment, anger, family betrayal, violence, death. It’s terrific fiction . . . Each of these gave me a new way to consider what might have been, what could be. They busted the clichés. I liked them very much. So it is with “Diviner” and “Gulls” in *Godforsaken Idaho.* These stories offer perspectives which, if not full of the golden light we often associate with Joseph Smith, or with the coming of the seagulls to save the pioneers, are still more than reasonable, and full of integrity. I also loved “Winter Elders,” strangely enough; it, too, seemed to me to reimagine a nearly-scriptural situation, the Mormon missionaries pushing themselves on a self-excluded “lost sheep” until he has to take action to verify his choice and refute theirs. I grokked this violent, angry narrator as much as I sympathized with Emma Hale’s bewildered, rigid father in “Diviner.” . . . *Godforsaken Idaho* helps set the rule for outstanding literary Mormon fiction: don’t make Mormonism the point of the story. Let Mormonism be the setting, the background, the milieu, but let the characters work out their lives as they must. This rule defines where Mormon literature must proceed. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend *Godforsaken Idaho* to certain bright, well-read, excellent Mormons I know. They’d be put off, would wonder what the point is. I *would* recommend this book to people who identify themselves as literary readers first, Mormons second; intellectuals first, believers maybe not at all. That’s a significant band of people, actually. *Godforsaken Idaho* is meaty the way a thick steak is meaty—it may not be the healthiest, best-for-your-cholesterol-levels fodder you can consume, but if you’re a meat-eater, you will chew with gusto and come away with thicker blood and a full gut. You may even want another steak soon. To those of us who are not literary vegetarians, Vestal seems to be a writer we can trust to wake us up gorgeously to a certain angry reason, a certain subversive truth.”

Carole Thayne Warburton. Poaching Daisies (Jennie Hansen, Meridian). 5 stars. “A romantic suspense novel with a touch of humor that will appeal to a wide spectrum of readers . . . All in all, Warburton has created a great cast of characters with differing viewpoints and objectives. The plot is well-developed and each time I thought I knew who was responsible for the bear deaths and for trying to kill Penny, a new twist came along that sent me on a different path. This book will appeal to many readers. It has a suspenseful mystery. It’s full of great details about nature. Sometimes it’s really funny. There’s a convoluted romance or two. It has two heroines who take life by the horns and don’t wait around for someone else to rescue them. And it has a couple of men who are strong enough to appreciate strong, intelligent women.”

Dan Wells. The Hollow City (Jessie). “I don’t normally read very much speculative fiction, and this book was pretty weird, especially as it got to the end. I also thought the concept was better than the execution; the story felt oddly anticlimactic and seemed to drag in places–I think the unreliable narrator was almost too unreliable at times. However, compared to all the other books in the category this was the most well-written and the most readable so it was easy to vote for it as my favorite.”

Camron Wright. The Rent Collector (Jessie). “This is the book I thought I wasn’t going to like. On the surface it seemed like it was just going to be another inspirational novel, where the plot and characters were derivative stereotypes that exist only to advance a particular agenda. I was also wary of the use of poverty-stricken characters from a third-world country in a moralistic novel–the stereotype of wise, happy people living in poverty needs to be banished forever. I also didn’t like the first-person narration because it felt a little unnatural and veered a little too close to telling rather than showing. However, after a while I became really lost in the story and found myself enjoying this book despite my hang-ups. I took a step back and viewed it more as a fable or allegory and really liked it a lot. I particularly liked the way the author wove in literature and history throughout the book.”

Film

BYU Center for Animation wins 12th Emmy in 10 years + Video (Deseret News). “The BYU Center for Animation continued its decade-long winning streak after winning first place in the animation category last weekend for “Estefan” at the 34th College Television Awards . . . The six-minute 3D animated short took nearly two years to complete, with 25-40 students working on the project at any one time.

Theater

Miguel Santana. The Righteous and Very Real Housewives of Utah County. Post Theater, University of Utah, May 15-26. A prose novel version of the story was published in 2012. “A bittersweet tale of forbidden love and family secrets. When the widowed matriarch of the Pratt family falls in love with a man not of their faith, the women in her life are catapulted into turmoil. The play is a provocative trip through the dissonance of self-righteousness with insights into Utah’s conservative culture. A story about love and learning to live authentically.”

Salt Lake Tribune Preview: “Based on the first English novel by Mexican writer — and Utah resident — Miguel Santana — the show opens Thursday at The Post Theater at Fort Douglas. The story follows Emma Harris, a Mormon widow, and the younger wives of the Pratt family, as Emma defies social and religious conventions to give herself a second chance at love . . . Santana grew up in Mexico; his family converted to Mormonism when he was 11. “Utah became the Promised Land,” he said. “When my partner and I moved to Salt Lake three years ago, I became very aware of Mormon family dynamics, especially of those like mine, divided — the faithful, righteous, churchgoing Mormons and the ones who have ‘strayed away.’ ‘Righteous Housewives’ is an examination of those familial negotiations, a look into my own experience, navigating love and social expectations.” He said the core of the play is unconditional love. “How do we love those whose lives seem so different than ours? How do we get to that universal value of being and letting be? The women in this play are wrestling with this conflict, each in their own space, in their own skin and context.” KRCL’s Radioactive interview with the author, director, and lead actor.

Bestsellers

New York Times Bestseller Lists, May 12, 19. Also USA Today and Publishers Weekly.

Hardcover Fiction

#24, x. A MEMORY OF LIGHT, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (13th week). The NYT reduced extended list from 35 places down to 25 on May 19th. Dropped off USA Today after 10 weeks.

Mass Market Paperback

#13, #23 ENDERS GAME, by Orson Scott Card (29th week).

#22, x. THE HOST, by Stephenie Meyer. Fell off both the Mass Market and Trade Paperback Lists. USA Today: #71, #90 (129th week).

Middle Grade

x, #15 THE FALSE PRINCE, by Jennifer A. Nielsen (4th week). Just holding on.

Hardcover Graphic Books

x, #1 TWILIGHT: NEW MOON, VOL. 1, by Stephenie Meyer and Young Kim (1st week). The latest in the series shots straight to the top. PW Hardcover Fiction #25. 3272 units sold in its first week.

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3 Responses to This Week in Mormon Literature, May 11, 2013

  1. Andrew Hall says:

    Whitney Award winners:

    Lifetime Achievement: Lael Littke

    Outstanding Achievement: Carol Lynch Williams

    General; Camron Wright for “The Rent Collector”

    Historical: Carla Kelly for “My Loving Vigil Keeping.”

    Mystery/Suspense: Traci Hunter Abramson for “Code Word.”

    Romance: Julianne Donaldson for “Edenbrooke.”

    Speculative fiction; Dan Wells for “The Hollow City.”

    General Young Adult: Lisa Mangum for “After Hello.”

    Speculative YA: Brodi Ashton for “Everneath.”

    Middle Grade: Jennifer A. Nielson for “The False Prince.”

    Best Novel By a New Author: Julianne Donaldson for “Edenbrooke.”

    Best Youth Novel of the Year: Jennifer A. Nielson for “The False Prince”

    Best Novel: Camron Wright for “The Rent Collector.”

    No big surprises, these were all well-respected books, which were often mentioned as 1st or 2nd on people’s lists of favorites in each category. I can perhaps detect an unsurprising bias towards familiar authors, particularly those working within the mainstream LDS market. I think few voters had heard of Ka Hancock or Jessica Martinez before the finalists were announced. That’s fine, they lost to worthy books, and the academy members have heard of them and read their books now. The process makes for a nice cross-pollination of work.

    • Jonathan Langford says:

      Andrew,

      Thanks for giving the winners. I’m kind of disappointed that Hancock didn’t get something, as I thought her book was fantastic, but since I hadn’t read the books she lost against I’m not really entitled to an opinion about whether the choice of the voters was a good one.

  2. Thank you (Darryl Eccles, AML) for the positive review of my book, Mattie.

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