I feature the @MormonShorts twitter feed, blog authors wax lyrical about the inner workings of Ender’s Game and the Allred’s recent comic book FF, three new memoirs by women (two of them ex-Mormons), new national novels by Larry Correia, Peggy Eddleman, Richard Paul Evans, Brandon Sanderson, J. Scott Savage, and Robison Wells. Julianne Donaldson and Steven Westover, writing for Mormon Utah publishers, also received some national attention. Wendy Gourley’s The Story Stone is on stage at UVU, Austenland goes wide, and The Saratov Approach is coming soon. Please send any news or corrections to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.
Blogs and News
I love the @MormonShorts twitter feed. “Mormon fiction so short it’s practically immodest”. He/she/they tweet usually funny micro-fiction several times a day. A few recent examples: “Zina blogs a chapter from her post-apocalyptic Mormon novel, “The Fasting Games,” and waits for reader comments.” “Janice broke her fast halfway through bearing her testimony to the congregation.” “Aaron’s worst fear was realized when someone tagged a picture of him in a scout uniform on Facebook.” “Brother Kendrick rips his neckerchief from his collar and throws it on the ground in one swift motion. “Bring it on, pipsqueak,” he roars.”
“Ender as the Everyman”, by Nathaniel Givens (Times & Seasons). “One of my copies of the book bears Card’s inscription “A survival guide for geniuses.” Accordingly, the book functions as a kind of banner for my generation of geeks, who watched with hope and trepidation as our social circle went from the bottom to the top of the pyramid at the close of the 20th century. The common theme among fans of Ender’s Game is simple: everyone believes that they are Ender, and that his story is their story . . . What’s most notable to me is that Andrew “Ender” Wiggin—a child-genius from a science fiction future who commits his first murder at age 6—is a highly unlikely template for such intimate self-identification from such a diverse audience. When we understand why this happens, I think we can learn something important about the message Mormonism has to share with the world. It is a message that has largely been obscured by a historical bargain—dating back to the 1890s—in which Mormons gained tentative re-acceptance from the mainstream of American culture in exchange for a promise to not to emphasize the most distinctive and novel aspects of our own theology . . .
“It’s not an overtly Mormon book. There’s passing reference to the fact that Ender’s mother is an inactive Mormon (his dad is a lapsed Catholic), but other than that there’s very, very little reference to religion in the book. When I asked Card about this, he reiterated that “in Ender’s Game itself, I had no LDS agenda.” However, someone born and raised in a particular culture cannot help but inherit certain paradigms that will pervade his literary imagination. Card wrote the first draft of Ender’s Game when he was still in high school in Utah, and the book reflects the perspective an adolescent male would naturally have on The Book of Mormon. A war of extermination between two bitterly divided groups, brave young soldiers sent to battle in their parents’ stead, new military inventions, unorthodox tactical genius, and the fate of an entire people resting on the shoulders of one teenage general? The Book of Mormon has all of that, and Ender’s Game does too . . . [But] what gives Ender’s Game and more specifically Ender Wiggin such broad appeal is that the book is a strong allegory for anyone who has suffered the quietly horrific pains and vicissitudes of an ordinary mortal life. Which is to say: all of us . . .
“[Givens goes on to compare Graff to a God/tormenter/educator figure.] The appeal of Ender’s Game is therefore universally appealing: we have all felt as overwhelmed and unheroic as Ender. It is an integral element of the human condition. What is less easily accessible is the Mormon response to that condition: that we are all children of God (thus: the same kind of being as God) and that this is the only process by which we can develop to become more like Him. In this light, Ender’s Game functions both as a profound work of Mormon literature, and also a uniquely Mormon theodicy.”
FF becomes an all-ages Allred family affair (AV Club). [The article gets quite deep into the themes and style the Allreds are exploring, I am only quoting a small portion.] “Each week, Big Issues focuses on a newly released comic-book issue of significance. This week, it’s FF #11. Written by Lee Allred (Solo) and drawn by Michael Allred (X-Statix, Madman), this issue brings two brothers (and a sister-in-law) together to continue the wildly fun adventures of Marvel’s most unconventional family. After relaunching companion titles Fantastic Four and FF for Marvel Now!, writer Matt Fraction announced last month that he would be leaving both books because the time commitment for his new Inhuman series proved to be greater than anticipated . . . Fantastic Four veteran Karl Kesel returns to that title to continue Fraction’s enjoyable but standard story. FF is a far more distinctive and stylish book, so Marvel and Fraction went with an unconventional replacement: Lee Allred, brother of the book’s artist Michael Allred. A sci-fi prose writer with minimal experience in comic books (he’s written short stories for his brother to draw in Solo and Madman Atomic Comics), Lee brings a point of view to FF that is more akin to newspaper comic strips than ongoing superhero serials, and it’s a great fit for a title that plays with the conventions of the genre. Most of FF #11 is composed of humorous scenes that unfold over the course of one or two pages, from a villainous conversation shared over a bowl of Doop cereal to a boxing match between two female faculty members, delivering self-contained gags that are ideal for the limited attention spans of young readers. It’s important for an all-ages title to be accessible, and while there’s a sprawling story being built in this book, the comic-strip influence means newcomers don’t need to read the first 10 chapters to enjoy the gags in this issue . . . The future of this title is uncertain, but issues like this one show why a book like FF is invaluable in today’s superhero-comic industry. At a time when publishers are catering almost exclusively to older readers, this comic shows that it’s possible to create a book that truly appeals to all ages, and it continues to be a refreshing read with the addition of Lee Allred to the creative team.”
The League of Utah Writers Conference was held September 13-14. Angela Scott won Writer of the Year, and Liesel K. Hill won the Silver Quill.
Tristi Pinkston has started her own publishing company, Trifecta Books. “The goal of Trifecta is to merge the benefits of self-publishing and the advantages of traditional publishing into one cohesive unit. Trifecta offers competitive royalty rates, quality cover design, meticulous editing, and targeted marketing techniques to help bring the book to the attention of a nationwide audience . . . The vision for Trifecta is simple—a publishing company that seeks out the best in young adult literature, edits it well, and presents it beautifully. We need more clean young adult literature on the market. As the company grows, we will add other arms addressing the needs of the LDS market, children’s books, middle-grade books, and so forth. But because the need is so great for the youth at this time, that is where Trifecta will begin. Trifecta Books has already established a relationship with Brigham Distribution, the second-largest distributor in the state of Utah. Brigham has agreed to carry Trifecta Books’ products and represent them to bookstores locally as well as nationwide.” Jenni James and BC Sterrett are currently listed as authors who will publish with the company.
Jolly Fish Press has signed with top book distributor Independent Publishers Group. As of January 1st, 2014, IPG will distribute all of JFP’s backlist and frontlist titles, increasing their availability throughout the U.S. and the world. This marks a significant milestone for JFP and its authors. JFP officially opened its doors in November 2011, publishing its first title in the spring of the following year. Since then, it has published eleven titles, including popular books like Pitch Green by The Brothers Washburn, Blood Moon by Teri Harman, The Samaritan’s Pistol by Eric Bishop, and Fairy Godmother’s, Inc. by Jenniffer Wardell. Although still a newcomer in the industry, JFP has established strong relationships with major literary and subsidiary rights agencies across the world, garnered reviews from top industry professionals, newspapers, and authors, and acquired several high-profile manuscripts, distinguishing itself as a leader in trade books in Utah. JFP is currently in talks with top production studios for film rights of a few of its titles. Established in 1971, IPG was the first organization specifically created for the purpose of marketing titles from independent presses to the book trade. With consistent growth each year, IPG’s success has come from supporting and encouraging the growth of its client publishers in the United States and worldwide. IPG has a wide reach in the market with its distribution of publishers with academic, Spanish-language, computer and general trade nonfiction and fiction titles. IPG was acquired by Chicago Review Press in 1987.
The Good Word Podcast interview of Mckenzie Wagner, the twelve year old author of “The Magic Meadow and the Golden Locket.”
Scott Hales interview of Sarah Dunster, at Modern Mormon Men.
120-plus years ago, B.H. Roberts was writing Mormon kitsch literature. Doug Gibson, The Political Surf. Gibson goes over the plot of the Roberts’ 1889 novella “Corianton: A Nephite Story” in some detail. “When I use the word “kitsch,” it’s not an insult; it’s an acknowledgment that these are simple, faith-promoting tales that serve as support for either LDS Church history or Scriptures and are gobbled up as “spiritual nutrition” by many faithful members.”
“The Falling Shackles”, by Margery S. Stewart, Relief Society Magazine, 1954, is being anthologized at Keepaptichinin.
Scott Hales. “‘This Earth Was Once a Garden Place’: Millennial Utopianism in Nineteenth-Century Mormon Poetry” Religion and the Arts, Vol. 17:4, 2013.
Short stories and Magazines
Sunstone Magazine #172. August 2013. Check out the retro design of the logo. The issue includes: Tabernacle of Flesh, Fiction by Eric Freeze, Adam and Steve and the Empty Sea, a play by Matthew Greene, The Living and the Telling, By Lisa Torcasso Downing (essay, about her brother’s death), Still and Small, By J Washburn (essay), and Adventures of a Mormon Bookseller: A Fascinating Life, By Curt Bench.
Amazing Stories book review of Beyond the Sun, which has stories by Fulda and Torgerson.
Larry Correia. “Destiny of a Bullet” and Howard Tayler “Heartfire”. In the anthology Called to Battle, Sept. 25. From the Warmachine game universe.
Shannon Hale. “Bouncing the Grinning Goat”. In the anthology Guys Read: Other Worlds. Sept. Fantasy and science fiction anthology includes stories by Rick Riordan, Tom Angleberger, Neal Shusterman, and others. Hale’s is a “girl in armor” fantasy story, the only story with a girl main character in the anthology. Deseret News review: “Much like a giant variety pack of candy, a collection of short stories is filled with old favorites, new flavors worth another try, some that are better left unfinished and some that leave you wanting more . . . Certainly, the book includes some exciting reads — like Riordan’s tale of the demigod Percy Jackson forced to work for Apollo to find and save one of his Golden Singers for a concert on Mount Olympus; or Hale’s telling of a half-starved young girl who talks a medieval bar/hotel owner into letting her work as a bouncer on the premise that she can use magic she may or may not have to enforce the rules — there are a few that certainly need not be read more than once, or perhaps skipped over altogether.”
New Memoirs and their reviews
Melissa Dalton-Bradford. Global Mom. Familius, July 16. Memoir. Segullah contributor. “After more than twenty years living internationally—sixteen addresses, eight countries and five different languages—writer Melissa Bradford shares a fantastic journey of motherhood that will inspire any family.” Includes the death of one of her sons.
Luisa Perkins, A Motley Vision: “Dalton-Bradford retells her expat adventures with vivid detail and funny, self-deprecating anecdotes . . . Since she is writing to a general audience, Dalton-Bradford discusses the church only in passing. Wherever she lives, she mentions finding comfort and support in her ward, and she and her family serve in a variety of capacities. Later in the book, for reasons that will become apparent, she is more overt in mentioning prayer and the way her faith sustains her . . . I have a small wish list of things I think could have improved the mostly excellent memoir. The very first chapters are a bit overwritten, their self-conscious prose distracting from the stories they are telling. Throughout the book, I felt somewhat removed from Dalton-Bradford’s husband and children, seeing them only from her perspective . . . But these complaints are minor. I find myself recommending Global Mom to just about anyone: other parents; anyone living “in the mission field”; people who dream of living abroad; and those who love to travel, if only via the pages of a book.”
Michelle L, Segullah review: “Melissa can write. I know a lot of writers. I’m a fair writer myself. But I know only a few who have been touched by the finger of God and gifted with flowing, poetic, gorgeous words. When Melissa sends a text or an email her words sing. You can imagine the beauty of her book.”
Deseret News: “While her everyday escapades paint a stunning picture of life in an international household, her experiences are not all peaches and cream. In this book, Bradford also delves into the most dour and severe moments that her life has to offer, including the death of oldest son. Her descriptive style dredges a painful hollowness that is nearly tangible as she shares her darkest memories. Bradford’s writing is flowery and detailed which creates an airy buffer around the core of the story. This can be distracting at times, but the heart of the work is poignant and beautiful. The book is a series of family oriented snapshots that frame the life of a loving and determined global mother.”
Gabi Kupitz, AML. “Bradford has a unique writing style. It is at once arm’s-length, yet personable—worldly, yet earthy. The big new words are really not all that big—just put together in unexpected ways with hardly a cliche to be found. The humor is self-deprecating; the pain—beyond compare. I found myself laughing out loud (I read this out loud) and sobbing out loud, as well . . . The author’s ability to play with words is a gift. For example, she writes of having to take phone calls in languages she is/was uncomfortable in speaking and so describes herself as “a gerbil trapped in the bottom of a spinning barrel…” and, “I did survive the language gulag…” (The person I read this to loved these descriptions–“gerbil” and “gulag” being two favorite words).”
Nicole Hardy, Confessions of a Latter-day Virgin. Hyperion, Aug. 20. Memoir. About a woman who remains single at age 36, when she decides to leave the Church. Originated in a New York Times Modern Love column from January 7, 2011, “Single, Female, Mormon, Alone”. Blurb: “In her funny, intimate, and thoughtful memoir, Nicole Hardy explores how she came, at the age of thirty-five, to a crossroads regarding her faith and her identity. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Nicole had held absolute conviction in her Mormon faith during her childhood and throughout her twenties. But as she aged out of the Church’s “singles ward” and entered her thirties, she struggled to merge the life she envisioned for herself with the one the Church prescribed, wherein all women are called to be mothers and the role of homemaker is the emphatic ideal.”
Kevin Barney, By Common Consent: “I suspect some readers of Nicole’s book may [not understand] her angst over wanting to remain in the Church and keep its standards. The reader may well be thinking, “Why?” While Nicole lays the angst out there, you never really get a sense of what it was she found valuable and fulfilling in the first place about her Mormonism. Now I personally didn’t feel that lack, because as a committed and faithful Mormon, I naturally filled in that lacuna on my own. I knew what she meant, what went unexpressed. I’m just guessing that for many readers who are less familiar with Mormonism, her reticence to (finally) abandon it will be puzzling. I enjoyed the book. Her story is a Mormon cliche, engagingly told. I wish we had a better answer for how to better integrate singles into the Church, how to treat them as fully adult rather than as overgrown children, how to respect them, how to make use of their talents in our wards, how to integrate them more fully in our social beehives. I wish there was some answer for those singles who age out of the young singles wards, who want nothing more than to find a faithful, LDS mate to marry in the temple, but for whom it’s just not happening for any of a myriad of reasons. I wish I knew what the answers were, what policy steps the Church could take to stem the tide of our losing so many of our singles.”
New York Times: “There are wisecracks to spare and no shortage of wry asides. But laced as it is with a tortured strain of self-denial as rare in secular American culture as that red Himalayan panda, Hardy’s story may seem appealing — and comprehensible — only to those who have been raised in conservative Christian churches. Through quite a bit of the book she defensively chafes against the numerous platitudes issued by her fellow faithful. Yet while she has good reason to erupt at the bad theology — at one point she receives a patronizing e-mail from a bishop telling her she should repent for going on vacation with an unmarried man, because he suspects sin has transpired when it did not — the memoir can read uncomfortably like a string of tantrums. When Hardy writes of what brings her joy outside church — salsa dancing, scuba diving, travel to Cuba — her words take on an inviting poetic radiance. But the Mormon Church also brought her joy, she says after leaving her faith, and what’s missing here is a record of the ways in which “it made my life feel purposeful, and centered and right.” She doesn’t really make clear why the church inspires her to sacrifice the many opportunities for sexual pleasure that come her way, whether she’s waitressing in her hometown, Seattle, or living for a spell in the Cayman Islands. We know she fears the loss of her family’s love if she turns her back on this spiritual home, but its comforts never take substantial shape on the page . . . Who would Hardy say this God is? We don’t see enough of this deity in her book. A fuller glimpse would have made this a consistently, rather than fitfully, powerful document of what a liberated woman’s faith looks and sounds like.”
The Boston Globe: “Despite its provocative title, Nicole Hardy’s terrific new memoir, “Confessions of a Latter-Day Virgin,’’ is not a salacious book. Yes, Hardy writes about her quest to make love with a man and lose her virginity. But that quest is a frank and endearing examination of a young woman’s sexuality and her place in a very traditional religion which unequivocally preaches that “there is only one right way to live. One complete truth.” Neither is this a book bashing religion generally or the Mormon Church specifically . . . “Confessions” is also, above everything else, a great story. The reader is right beside Hardy as she struggles with her “unplanned celibacy.” She is a beautiful writer who expresses her loneliness and frustrations in complete and original ways. On Grand Cayman she gets a job dressing mannequins and such close proximity to “a manufactured body” reminds her of how she longs for an intimate relationship. “Sometimes the flat of my hand rests too long against a rippled abdomen. My cheekbone rests against the plane of a shoulder blade, or a breast finds home in the muscled valley of a backbone groove.””
Kirkus: “To her credit, she still managed to maintain respect for the imperfect and often contradictory system that, though unable to completely accept or understand her need for independence, still “taught [her] so much about integrity and love.” A searching, sensual celebration of one woman’s struggle for identity and autonomy.”
Booklist: “In this achingly candid memoir, Hardy delves more deeply into the dilemmas faced as she aged out of the church’s “single ward” and into her thirties. At a time when her mind should have been on the Mormon tenets of marriage and motherhood, Hardy found herself more interested in writing. (Reading Refuge by Mormon writer Terry Tempest Williams had proved a pivotal moment in life. A Mormon woman, writing? “I didn’t know such a thing existed,” Hardy writes. “Could exist.”) Falling in love with a Catholic man vexed Hardy further. Could she make it work with a partner who didn’t share the views that had guided her throughout her life? Although her account occasionally gets bogged down in too much detail, Hardy’s confessional tone is engaging, and her story is moving.”
Lynn Wilder. Unveiling Grace . Zondervan, Aug. 20. Memoir, anti-Mormon.
Janet Reiss. Religion News Service: “Although Unveiling Grace follows the same basic trajectory of other memoirs in its genre, I found it a cut above, and I hope active Mormons will give the book a fair hearing . . . I was pleasantly surprised to find the book itself was more even-handed than its packaging would suggest. Wilder . . . knows Mormonism. And yet the book is not a traditional go-for-the-jugular exposé. The temple section, for example, is even a little vague when compared to memoirs written by the likes of Deborah Laake twenty years ago. Wilder certainly sees her journey out of Mormonism as one from error into light—she now considers Mormonism a “works-based faith” that removed her from “the bigger God” of the evangelical tradition she now embraces—but she is civil to the religion she left behind. She recounts many beautiful spiritual experiences she had while a Mormon, including an electric sensation at her patriarchal blessing and the joy of raising her children in a religion that so heavily emphasized family love. Speaking of love, I am always skeptical when non-Mormons who write books about Mormonism’s flaws say they do so because they “love” the Mormon people. I’m rarely feeling the love, to be honest. But with this memoir, I could at least glimpse it at times, and believe that Wilder’s heart is in the right place. So I hope Mormons will evaluate the book based on its own merits without shooting the messenger or dismissing it sight unseen or any of the other knee-jerk reactions that we have adopted because—let’s face it—we have been burned far too many times. I certainly don’t agree with many of Wilder’s critical assessments of Mormon theology . . . But overall, the memoir is a fair account of one family’s spiritual journey in and out of Mormonism.”
PW: “Wilder’s memoir belongs to a new breed of ex-Mormon exposé. It’s not salacious. It’s not full of wild revelations. It’s not even particularly angry . . . While the tone of the book may represent a fresh direction in Mormon-evangelical relations, as memoirs go this account feels workmanlike, even plodding. It’s overly detailed, about 80 pages too long, and riddled with a surprising lack of narrative tension. The same elements are present in the author’s life at the Mormon beginning and the evangelical end—happy and close family, various miraculous experiences, stable lives, etc.—with the only differences being a move from Utah to Florida and an involvement in music and ministry to persuade the “dear Mormon people” of the truth of the biblical Jesus.”
New books and their reviews
A Timeless Romance Anthology: Autumn Collection. By Heather Horrocks, Stephanie Black, Heather B. Moore, Sarah M. Eden, Rachelle J. Christensen and Annette Lyon. Mirror Press, Aug. 2.
Deseret News: “Just in time for fall, six locally loved authors have produced a collection of romantic suspense novellas which will tingle the spine and thrill the heart. Rounding out the fourth of the four-season series, “A Timeless Romance Anthology: Autumn Collection” is a delightful harvest read.”
Jacob Proffitt (Goodreads): 4 stars. Jacob gives detailed reviews of each story. He liked the Stephanie Black story most of all, with Heather B. Moore close behind.
Traci Hunter Abramson. Lock & Key. Covenant, Sept. 2. Romantic suspense. Saint Squad #7. More adventures from the extended Navy SEALs family.
N. C. Allen. The Grecian Princess. Covenant, March 1. Historical suspense. Isabella Webb series, #3.
Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine. “The third and final volume in the Isabelle Webb series by N.C. Allen is The Grecian Princess in which the author wraps up the many dangling threads left from Legend of the Jewel and the Pharaoh’s Daughter . . . Being the last book in the series and with the addition of three more people in their group in the course of this book, there are a lot of resolutions that take place and unless the reader has read the previous volumes he/she may become confused by the large cast.”
Tyler Chadwick. Field Notes on Language and Kinship. Mormon Artists Group, September. Artworks by Susan Krueger-Barber. “The editor for Fire in the Pasture was Tyler Chadwick, a young scholar and poet from Idaho. After the publication of the anthology, Mormon Artists Group approached Chadwick to write a book to answer a simple question: Why does poetry matter to you? He responded with Field Notes on Language and Kinship. The book is a direct response to the works in Fire in the Pasture. Chadwick reacts to them in several ways, as a scholar, memoirist, essayist, and poet. Field Notes on Language and Kinship is published as a two-volume edition. The anthology, Fire in the Pasture: Twenty-first Century Mormon Poets, is rebound in hardcover; and Chadwick’s original volume is bound as a companion work, covered with hand-pounded amate barkskin papers from Mexico’s Otomi Indians and brown Japanese Asahi silk. One of Chadwick’s sources of inspiration is visual art, and Field Notes on Language and Kinship includes eight artworks created especially for this project by Susan Krueger-Barber. Just as Chadwick’s text brings multiple disciplines of literature to bear, Krueger-Barber’s works are multi-disciplinary, mixed media works. Each of them combines photography, painting, and collage (using fragments torn from a copy of Fire in the Pasture). The publication is limited to 25 copies, signed by the artists and numbered. AMV feature story.
Larry Correia and Mike Kupari. Swords of Exodus. Baen, Sept. 24. Military-political thriller. Sequel to Dead Six. A master thief and a mercenary team up to defeat a Central Asian warlord with world-wide destruction on his mind.
Chad Daybell. Martial Law. Spring Creek Books, July 22. Last days speculative. “Times of Trouble” series #2. UN peacekeeper troops come in to help restore order in the collapsing US, but then their true intentions become clear.
Jeff Needle, AML. “I liked the first volume, and looked forward to the next installment. I wasn’t disappointed . . . Readers must be prepared to suspend their critical faculties before diving into any work of apocalyptic fiction. In order to fill out a story, authors must often present situations and characters which, when studied closely, raise more questions than they answer. For example, in the story, Nathan is able to use his priesthood powers to bring about some amazing miracles. One wonders why the accumulated priesthood powers in Salt Lake City were unable to prevent the city’s destruction! . . . Yeah, we ask these questions. It’s a problem when reading books like this. What you want to do is just sit back, enjoy the story, and learn gospel principles from the story’s characters. And Daybell does an exceptional job of bringing these to life in these stories. And make no mistake: books like this would be the poorer if they didn’t include scenes that build faith and create a desire in the reader to become more involved, not just in Church and family, but in the wider world, where Christian influence is so badly needed. One word, with a raised eyebrow. Daybell has chosen to include, at the close of the book, a chapter from a work by a Suzanne Freeman. I was unfamiliar with this author. She has written a book titled “The Spirit of Liberty” in which she claims to have met the Founding Fathers in the Spirit World . . . If you enjoy an uplifting and exciting gospel-based tale, these books will serve you very well. Enjoy!”
Julianne Donaldson. Blackmore. Shadow Mountain, Sept. 10. Regency romance. Part of Shadow Mountain’s “Proper Romance” line. Second novel.
PW: “Donaldson’s second Regency romance is riveting and evocative . . . Readers will be absolutely captivated by the beautiful imagery, sizzling tension (which never manifests explicitly, earning the book its designation of “proper”), and mesmerizing plot.”
Fire and Ice: 5 stars. “An absolutely stunning second novel by Julianne Donaldson. This book is a treasure that will remain forever on my shelves and be shared through generations. Julianne has taken Jane Austen’s style and period and crafted a novel that is poetic, deep, haunting and classically romantic . . . There are so many levels of symbolism, sentiment and character development that one could safely read and re read Blackmooore over and over again . . . The Gothic tone and mysterious setting of the moors next to the sea make this a wonderful Fall or rainy day read.”
Shanda, LDSWBR. 5 stars. “Blackmoore is an enthralling, heart-twisting romance with a depth that I greatly appreciated. There were highs and lows throughout as well a heart-pounding-yet-clean chemistry that carried me through the darker elements of the story . . . The details were expertly done, not too heavy, but enough to picture Blackmoore in my mind with minimal effort. The descriptions of the stark beauty of the moors and Robin Hood’s Bay had me pulling up Google so I could see the area for myself. When Kate hears a woodlark’s song for the first time I was so moved by the scene that I again searched online so I could hear what she was hearing. The characters were interesting and dimensional, even those that made a minimal appearance in the story . . . Though Blackmoore carries a bit darker and more serious tone than Edenbrooke, it is a well-written and memorable love story that fans of clean-but-still-toe-curling romance will enjoy. I highly recommend it.”
Sheila, LDSWBR. 5 stars. “Julianne truly knows how to write a beautiful romance. I loved her first published book, Edenbrooke. It was at the top of my favorite reads of 2012. Blackmoore is going to be at the top of my favorite reads for 2013. One of the ways I judge a book is how I felt after reading it. Well, I felt absolute joy and fulfillment! It would be best to describe reading Blackmoore as, taking a long, emotional journey, with many twists and turns, and finally happily arriving at your destination finding all is well. Julianne’s writing can only be described as lyrical. So many times the words you are reading feel like a beautiful Serenade that is being played.”
Peggy Eddleman. Sky Jumpers. Random House, Sept. 24. Middle grade post-apocalyptic. Debut novel, first of a series. WWIII’s biological weapons have destroyed almost everything. A 12-year old girl and her friends try to save their town by jumping through poison clouds. Action.
PW: “While the focus on inventions occasionally borders on hard-to-swallow, a general sense of adventure and wonder permeates this tale, making it a fun, quick read. Eddleman brings a strong sense of atmosphere to this post-apocalyptic coming-of-age piece, and the underlying message—that it’s possible to contribute in unexpected ways—is a positive one.”
Kirkus: “Hope is a likable but bland heroine, and she faces stereotypical villains. Any real suspense is diffused by obvious plot twists and a predictable ending. This first installment in a new series draws heavily upon several familiar stories, but while imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the result is often a shadow of the original. Another post-apocalyptic copycat.”
Deseret News: “For a post-apocalyptic middle grade story, Eddleman manages to infuse hope and adventure onto every page and into every character. “Sky Jumpers” has plenty of action and more than enough heart to work its way into the hearts and minds of readers everywhere . . . The world-building is solid and well-explored, pulling the reader into a time so different from the one in which they live, but so alike in the themes of survival and coming of age.”
Richard Paul Evans. Michael Vey 3: Battle of the Ampere. Simon Pulse/Mercury Radio, Sept 17. YA Speculative. Book 3 of a 7 book series. Big seller.
Deseret News (Sharron Haddock): “It’s an action-filled story, but Evans is able to maintain a sense of reality during the journey.”
Liesel K. Hill. Persistence of Vision. Tate Publishing, Jan. 29. Adult dystopian fantasy. Interchon series #1. Won the LUW Silver Quill. “In a world where collective hives are enslaving the population and individuals have been hunted to the verge of extinction, Maggie Harper, and independent 21st Century woman, must find the strength to preserve the freedom of the future, but without the aid of her memories.” Her next book Shadows of Valor, will be released by Jolly Fish in October.
Ellen Hopkins. Smoke. Simon & Schuster, Sept 10. YA. Written in verse, about two sisters, one of whom has killed their oppressive and abusive Mormon father. Sequel to Burned. The series has been hailed for its lyrical quality, but has been criticized for its extreme depiction of contemporary Mormons.
Kirkus Reviews: “Two sisters wrestle with guilt and fear after one kills the father who battered them . . . The lives of undocumented Americans, a renegade hate movement and a wild horse wary of trust are all organic to the plot. A strong, painful and tender piece about wresting hope from the depths of despair.”
Wall Street Journal: “The author’s wildly popular young adult novels, which are written in free verse, deal with dark issues like teen prostitution, meth addiction and domestic abuse. The teen characters curse, have sex, drink and lie to their parents. Her latest, “Smoke,” covers even rougher territory, from fatal hate crimes to patricide. Ms. Hopkins has repeatedly landed on the American Library Association’s list of the most frequently banned and challenged authors. She topped the list in 2010. Last year she ranked fifth, just behind “Fifty Shades of Grey” author E.L. James . . . Ms. Hopkins says that writing in verse helps her snare readers who might be intimidated by a 500-plus page book. Her novels, which are aimed at readers ages 14 and older, read like prose. They have linear plots and dialogue, but the words are arranged on the page to look like poetry and often have a rhythmic cadence. The sentences form geometric shapes, cascading down in a single column or floating down the page in undulating lines. Some pages are almost completely blank except for two or three lines. (One page in her first novel, “Crank,” about drug addiction, contains just 12 words: “no limits, no top end, just a high velocity rush to madness,” it reads). Sometimes, the sentences fall into two columns that can be read together, horizontally, or vertically one by one . . . Some critics find her style off-putting. Kirkus Reviews has called her work “melodramatic and very often overwrought.” A reviewer on Amazon dismissed her novel “Impulse” as “choppy and unreadable.”
Robert Marcum. For Love of Country. Covenant, Sept. 2. A Nation Divided #2. Historical fiction. The Civil War family epic continues.
Frances Lee Menlove. The Challenge of Honesty: Essays for Latter-Day Saints. Signature Books, Sept. 1. Essays. Dan Witherspoon, editor. Menlove, a psychologist and Doctor of Divinity, has been writing essays for Dialogue and Sunstone since those journals first started.
Melissa Prince, Rational Faiths. “The Challenge of Honesty contains her influential essay of the same name, followed by more recent essays, sermons and devotionals on various topics. The collection is simultaneously conversational and scholarly. In a world where journalism is often characterized by explosions of emotion and unchecked rhetoric, Menlove presents the reader with cool, collected and well-thought out essays. Because she is a regular contributor to Sunstone and Dialogue, Menlove may be viewed by some in the Mormon community as a more provocative LDS member, but this collection offers insights for the full spectrum of Mormons–and indeed all religious people seeking to better understand their belief and faith . . . The second half of the book is comprised of devotionals given by Menlove yearly for the last decade. As expected, they are in a more narrative form and include many meaningful experiences from her own life. In these devotionals, Menlove again addresses the subjects of her previous essays along with other general religious themes like self-righteousness, charity, and hope. She delivers these topics in a delightful and intellectual way, relating them back to issues in the LDS Church. These sermons inspire introspection on topics that are valuable to all people, even if you disagree with the conclusions she eventually reaches.”
H. B. (Heather) Moore. Beneath. StoneHouse Ink, Sept. 25. Suspense. Novella, prequel to Finding Sheba.
Elsie Park. Shadows of Valor. Jolly Fish Press, July 27. Historical adventure/romance. Set in medieval England. A mysterious heroic figure defends a town. Debut novel.
Deseret News: 4 stars. “Park weaves a medieval spell in her page-turner of a historical romance . . . These and others make “Shadows of Valor” easy for readers to be pulled into 14th-century England. Park has a gift for making the good guys human and even the vilest of characters pitiable. Park understands the role religion played in medieval England and brings God, faith and repentance into her novel. With characters from the very devout to the uncaring, Park puts the perfect amount of faith into her romance without coming across as preachy. A book for those who love happy endings, “Shadows of Valor” has grin-inducing romance and mild violence but is clean enough to comfortably lend to Grandma.”
Shanda, LDSWBR. 3 stars. “The pace of the story kept things moving well and the writing was enjoyable. There were a few things I noticed in the uncorrected proof that I hope were caught before final publication . . . as well as a few phrases that felt too modern for the story. The intrigue and all of the “bad guys” are easy to figure out almost from the beginning (which could be intentional), yet Shadows of Valor is still a fun, quick read that many readers who like historical/medieval romance will enjoy.”
Brandon Sanderson. Steelheart. Delacorte, Sept. 23. YA fantasy. Reconers #1. Short novel. Things are going badly, as a few humans get super powers, and use them for evil. A boy fights back. Deseret News feature story.
Niall Alexander, TOR.com. “Broadly speaking, at least. In actual fact I found Steelheart’s first act rather lacking. The several action scenes it revolves around are absolutely adequate, but the plot punctuating them is predictable, the prose unpolished and the characterisation bland. Add to that—and this disappointed me most of all, given Sanderson’s knack for knocking up neat new milieus—a great many of the specifics of this particular post-apocalypse appeared arbitrary . . . I’m glad I gave Steelheart a chance to redeem itself. Admittedly, it mightn’t have the best of beginnings, yet Sanderson finds his feet in time to make the remainder of his tale sensational. The aforementioned problems are still problems, but only with one small part of the entire narrative, because when the pace picks up, it rarely relents; the characters, including our protagonist, only really come into their own when in one another’s company; whilst the story gathers such force as it goes that the reader can’t help but be swept up, up and away with it.”
PW: “On the heels of his YA debut, The Rithmatist, Sanderson opens another series for teens with an ultraviolent yet playful entry into the superhero genre . . . Although readers may not be surprised at the twists that arise, the near-constant action, Sanderson’s whiz-bang imaginings, and a fully realized sense of danger (the brutal opening scene alone will hook many) make this an absolute page-turner.”
Booklist (Starred). “”Snappy dialogue, bizarre plot twists, high intensity action, and a touch of mystery and romance; it’s a formula that sucks readers into the prologue, slings them through one tension-filled encounter after the other, and then, at the strange and marginally hopeful conclusion, leaves them panting for the sequel.”
SLJ: “This fun, fast-paced, futuristic science-fiction superhero story is the first in a projected series . . . This enjoyable read focuses more on action than character development and is perfect for genre fans who love exciting adventure stories with surprising plot twists. Readers will be rooting for David, a super geek with a love of weapons, who can hold his own against Epics with names like Nightwielder, Conflux, or Firefight.”
Kirkus Reviews: “A straight-up Marvel Comics–style action drama featuring a small band of human assassins taking on costumed, superpowered supervillains with melodramatic monikers. It’s certainly a tried-and-true formula . . . As further sign that Sanderson isn’t taking any of this too seriously, the cast of Epics includes not only the likes of Steelheart, Faultline and Deathpoint, but Pink Pinkness and El Brass Bullish Dude, and some of their powers are equally silly. Stay tuned for sequels. There’s violence and gore in profusion, cool gear, hot wheels, awesome feats, inner conflicts on both sides–all that’s missing are the pictures.”
Elitist Book Reviews: “The setting is really fantastic. By setting the book in a present day earth Sanderson can really get down to what it is these Epics do and how they work. He can highlight the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) changes in society as a result of these super beings. I love the idea of a being as powerful as Steelheart claiming the city as his own . . . The thing that had me turning the pages though was the pacing. This book moves along smoothly from one scene to the next. There’s plenty of action, but then even the interpersonal scenes are gripping . . . If you’re a fan of Sanderson’s work, go buy it. If you’re a fan of super heroes, go buy it. If you’re a fan of good books that you don’t want to put down and keep you up late in the night turning pages to finish reading and then you’re sad when it’s over because you have to wait for the next book in the series and that’s going to take so long and I don’t think I can wait that long, then go buy it. If you’re a fan of slow boring books with no characterization and little plot, then I’d advise against it.”
J. Scott Savage. Case 13: Making the Team. HarperCollins, Sept. 24. Middle grade comic monster fantasy. Case Files Series #2. “The three monster-obsessed friends must take on a mad scientist who is literally stitching together a Frankenstein-esque football team.”
Kirkus: “The Three Monsterteers are back and ready for another hair-raising, funny-bone–tickling adventure . . . The addition of the girls not only broadens the book’s appeal, but adds a humorous layer of boy-girl interaction that preteen readers will get a kick out of . . .The best and most satisfying part about this series is that the monsters and mystery are real and not figments of the kids’ imaginations. Another thoroughly satisfying thrill ride.”
Karen Tuft. Unexpected. Covenant, Sept. 2. Contemporary romance. A single Mormon man and a divorced Mormon woman overcome heartbreak. Second novel.
Robison Wells. Blackout. HarperTeen, Oct. 1. YA paranormal thriller. First in a series. A virus gives teens superpowers, some become terrorists, and so the government searches for all of them. A prequel novella, “Going Dark”, was released in August.
PW: (Starred review). “Wells knows how to snare readers’ attention and hold them spellbound. In this unnerving thriller, he ingeniously connects the stories of four teens—all afflicted with a bizarre virus that has given them powers ranging from super-strength and invisibility to mind control—who live in an America under siege by terrorists . . . There is no shortage of white-knuckle action or eyebrow-raising violence—fans of Wells’s earlier work won’t be disappointed.”
Kirkus: “Wells’ new novel brings home all the uncertainty and fear that comes from the threat of modern warfare waged with terror . . . While the end brings the immediate episode to a conclusion of sorts, more and bigger conflicts loom. In a world where terrorism is an increasing threat, this fast-paced book brings it home.”
Steve Westover. A Nothing Named Silas. Sweetwater/Cedar Fort, Sept. 10. YA dystopian. 16-year old in a world of slavery where your position is assigned.
PW: “Westover shifts gears from YA fantasy (the Crater Lake series) to dystopian science fiction with a Mormon gloss. Falling somewhere between The Hunger Games and Ayn Rand’s Anthem, the book follows the adventures of disgraced aristocratic youth Silas . . . Silas is frequently helpless or undeservedly arrogant, rendering him an uninspiring hero and narrator, and the other characters exist either to torment him or explain things to him, never developing real personalities themselves. Overloaded with lengthy exposition sequences and undercut by slapdash worldbuilding, the story becomes a heavy-handed screed that only those sharing the author’s political and religious views will likely enjoy.”
Kirkus: “This dystopia starts out strong but falls to a weak plot . . . Westover sets up a reasonably though not startlingly imaginative dystopia. If he is using it to make a political statement, he does not belabor it but focuses on the plot–which, alas, makes little sense. Taelori has no obvious reason to murder her daughter, and no benefit would seem to accrue from doing so. Gideon has no reason to murder Taelori. These senseless schemes appear to exist merely to advance some action and are consistent with the one dimensionality of the characters. Thin, thin, thin.”
Sheila, LDSWBR: 4 stars. “This Dystopian novel is one that really shook me up. There is a lot of deep thinking going on for the reader . . . There is definitely a political undertone found in this novel. There is a slight love interest here, but it has more action and suspense than some of the other dystopian novels out there today. Though this book is listed as a YA (young adult) book, I highly recommend that only teens over the age of 16+ read this novel, along with adults. Some of the scenes may be too harsh for anyone younger, due to some violence and methods of degradation. This book is very well written and will bring out many emotions in the reader. Some of the things that happened stunned me, but also made me look at life differently. If you are looking for an action packed and thought provoking book, A Nothing Named Silas will fully satisfy you.”
Reviews of older books
Eric Bishop. The Samaritan’s Pistol. (Publishers Weekly). “Bishop’s Western thriller pays homage to the ruggedly handsome, modern-day Marlboro man, his kind and generous Mormon neighbors, and the quintessential Good Samaritan . . . Taut, well-paced and fresh, Bishop’s sharp debut ends with cliffhangers that suggest a sequel.”
Eric Bishop. The Samaritan’s Pistol (Deseret News). “The narrative is filled with ranch vocabulary, which may be an interesting aspect for anyone into horse riding. The story is left open-ended, giving the possibility of future installments. Jim is not a Mormon and is living in an area where The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the dominant religion — and Bishop includes a few Mormon characters, too. “The Samaritan’s Pistol” is an intriguing read, but the book is full of offensive language, including a few rough characters who frequently swear, smoke and drink alcohol, and some extreme violence. There are many expletives, including some that are of a sexual nature and others that are disrespectful to women, and there is sexual innuendo. While the story is fun and a diversion, it is difficult to recommend due to the frequent profanity and descriptions of violence, sexual innuendo, dishonesty and crime. Though the vulgar language used may be realistic in the setting of the story, it is not necessary to tell a good tale.”
Heather Frost. The Guardians (Rosalyn, An Equivalent Centre of Self). 3 stars. “This book started off quite slowly, I thought. For all the talk at the beginning of the book about how much danger everyone is in, there’s little actual threat in their day-to-day life . . . At the end, though, I was a little disappointed that some of the real peril was resolved with less consequence than their could (should?) have been. And while I liked the characters, I didn’t love them–for one thing, I started to get annoyed at how often Patrick and Kate told each other what wonderful people they were. I’d rather *see* their wonderful characters in action than hear, again, about how virtuous/smart/brave etc. they are.”
Dean Hughes. Under the Same Stars (Deseret News). Feature story about how this is the 70-years old Hughes’ 100th published book. “Writing historical fiction from any era does come with its challenges. It requires meticulous research to get the facts correct and to not apply present-day values and make assumptions about what it was like. “These have been some of the hardest books I’ve ever written,” Hughes said of the Come to Zion series. “A lot of my readers are LDS and a lot of them feel they know that history — and they do know quite a bit,” Hughes said. “You’ve got to get it right.” However, while people know this history of the pioneers, the stories are at times simplified or one well-known story that only happened to a few people is applied to just about all pioneers. And when the historical facts differ from what is widely accepted, readers start to wonder how much is fiction or fact. “We have an understanding of the early Saints and we get it wrong most of the time,” Hughes said. Also, they weren’t much different than members of the LDS Church today in terms of human nature, faith and struggles.”
Rebecca Jamison. Emma: A Latter-day Tale (Deseret News). “While many modern Emma adaptations simply follow Austen’s story without adding much of a twist, Jamison made the story her own. Her characters have fire, high standards and flaws to pick apart. Within each chapter, Jamison illustrates a lesson, whether it be about healthy body images, relationships, commitment or respect. The pages are heavy with language and themes members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will love and appreciate, like deciding on whether to go on a mission, praying for answers and relying on faith and family. Emma’s strong character is resilient and independent, but her journey to better herself will resonate with any young woman. But above all, Jamison’s incredible storytelling champions her characters and brings them to life. Each page is like a piece of furniture, strategically picked and placed to make the home whole.”
Carla Kelly. Safe Passage (Elizabeth Reid, Deseret News): 4 stars. “Author Carla Kelly understands how to meld history with romance. She has managed to take the Mexican Revolution, an event not well-known to most Americans or members of the LDS Church, and turn it into riveting literature. While being swept away in the book, readers can also learn a great deal about this pivotal time in LDS and Mexican history.
Carla Kelly. Safe Passage (Jennie Hansen, Meridian). “Kelly has a distinct style of writing that includes ironic little twists of humor in a story that is not humorous. Her descriptive prose gives a panoramic view without wasting words and the reader discovers little hidden gems in unexpected places. Her characters are well-developed and realistic. It’s easy to like, respect, and root for Ammon and Addie while forgiving their flaws. In the romance portion of the story, the author doesn’t ignore the strong physical attraction between the young pair; it’s definitely there, but the story is more one of love than lust. The historical elements of the story are well researched from the little day to day actions of the time period to the large revolution related events. The first couple of chapters grab the reader’s attention, then the action shifts to a higher, more dangerous level and stays there with only brief breathers.”
Josi Kilpack. Shannon’s Hope (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine). “To be honest I’d had enough of the Newport Ladies Book Club series and hadn’t intended to review the second wave of books in that series . . . Shannon’s Hope was a great surprise. Instead of rehashing the same events from still one more perspective, this book could easily stand alone and barely touches on the events of the first series. Shannon is married to a man she adores, has a twelve-year-old son who has been the pivotal point of her life since he was born, and she has a troubled, drug addicted twenty-one-year-old stepdaughter whom she loves and wishes to help. The stepdaughter, Keisha, left her mother’s house two weeks ago and hasn’t been heard from since, though Shannon has called her daily without a response . . . Kilpack’s Shannon is skillfully drawn as a good woman who cares deeply for her family, but has a tendency to over worry and take too much responsibility. She’s intelligent, a little socially inept, getting by on too little sleep, feels her son letting go of their overly close bond as he becomes a teenager, is overloaded by her husband’s business slump which has left her working overtime to support her family, and has a deep need to feel appreciated. Along with realistic characters, Kilpack has created a skillful picture of addiction, the conflicting demands of family life, and a plot line that flows smoothly and easily until the reader realizes before the characters do that changes have occurred or were there all along unseen, and that Shannon has pushed herself into a corner, put her marriage and career at risk, and has created problems rather than solved them.”
Josi Kilpack. Rocky Road (Sheila, LDSWBR). 4 stars. “The action is toned down in this book, but the mind games are there aplenty. There are also twists and turns that will continually lead you astray, just when you think you have figured things out, surprise you’re wrong! The recipes in this book are off the charts . . . This book has more Christian themes than other Sadie books, and some violence, but nothing graphic. Rocky Road will take you on another fun ride, where a more sensible and confident Sadie takes the wheel steering the way to another exciting read.”
Patrick Madden. Quotidiana (Rachel, GoodReads). 1 star. “I wanted to like these essays by a BYU writing professor, but I found them patronizing and shallow. I think it would have been better without the quotes from other writers and “interesting facts!” I wholeheartedly agree that contemplation of daily “quotidian” life is worthwhile, but I was expecting something like a true-to-life Munro story or an extended contemplation on a subject, and instead got a mashup of blog posts and wikipedia entries. Glimmers of genuine emotion and self-discovery were obstructed by annoying self-awareness of form and coincidental “connections.” I stopped when Madden started an essay by explaining the allusion he made in the title. If an allusion can’t stand on its own, maybe it shouldn’t be made? Why make an allusion and then assume your readers won’t understand it?”
Kelly Nelson. The Keeper’s Quest (Rosalyn, An Equivalent Center of Self). 3 stars. “The Keeper’s Quest (The Keeper’s Saga, #2)To me, this seemed to suffer from the same problem that many second books do: the first book has a clear story arc, but the second is tasked with setting up the crisis of the third book, and so the plot struggles to find its footing for a while . . . While I think that the Keeper/time travel concept is interesting, I think the book as a whole would have been stronger if the first part were edited more, to get to the central conflict more quickly.”
Steven L. Peck. The Rifts of Rime (Rachel, GoodReads). 4 stars. “A few things set The Rifts of Rime apart from other anthropomorphic animal tales. The fact that these people are animals is in the forefront of their gestures, speech, and yes, even poetry. I loved how the animals’ languages differed in not only sound, but also their use of smell and space. I appreciated the cursing that revolved around parasites like ticks and fleas, and the idioms that featured acorns and nut caches. The “quickened” beings (those blessed with the capability of speech) have a common religion not unlike Mormonism, and I was touched by the Folk’s contemplation of their religious stories as literal, metaphorical, or utilitarian; usually I find fantasy religions cheesy. While I loved all the aspects of a semi-scientific fantasy animal world, this is still a young adult novel, and there are a few characters who are plain evil without much of an explanation about what their motivations are. However (spoiler), some of the evil’s followers are dealt with in a way that encourages children to think about conflict and good/evil in a more sophisticated way, so I can’t fault the story too much there.”
Tyler Whitesides. Janitors: Curse of the Broomstaff (LDSWBR). Shanda: 4 stars. “In the Janitors series, Tyler Whitesides has created a magical, adventure-filled world that middle-grade boys and girls will enjoy visiting again and again. With humor and lots of Glopified action, Spencer and Daisy continue to battle threats to education and learn to use even more magical cleaning supplies as they form new alliances and new enemies . . . Though this third book is over 300 pages, it reads quickly. The Janitors series is great for 8-12 year olds who love adventure and magic, but parents might enjoy it just as much. There is a fair amount of disgusting (they deal with a lot of garbage after all), and readers are introduced to a fun character who takes trash-obsession to a whole new level.”
Sheila: 5 stars. “Janitors has become one of my favorite Middle Grade series. As a teacher, I’m often asked by students and parents what books/series I recommend they read. Janitors is one that I highly recommend and often do . . . With engaging and bright characters, beefed-up energy and action, and written especially for elementary age kids, (Even though teens and Adults will love the books too!) the Janitors series needs to be put on your children’s to-read list today.”
Wendy Gourley. The Story Stone. Utah Valley University, Noorda Regional Theatre, Sept. 26-30 and Oct.1-5. ““The Story Stone” tells the story of two teens from warring tribes who find they must work together to access the magic of the story stone. The script was written by UVU graduate Wendy Gourley and is geared toward audience members ages 12 and older. The production will feature live performances by George Grant, a professional theater musician from Pocatello, ID. Grant uses native aboriginal instruments and vocal techniques to enhance the storytelling. All the actors are current UVU students, and Barrett Ogden, a UVU adjunct faculty member, directs the play.”
Russell Warne, UTBA Review: “What is most striking aspect of the production is its use of music (much of it from George Grant) that draws from non-Western sounds to create mystical feeling that establishes the setting of the play as being very different from modern day America. The music is also paired with beautiful movement that provides imagery to accompany the vocals and narration. Director Barrett Ogden used these elements and the comforting atmosphere to create a visually interesting piece of theatre . . . But the beautiful visuals and quiet instrumental music do not save The Story Stone from its basic script flaws. Gourley’s story feels like a secular parable that tries to teach its audience a lesson without having any grounding in a larger moral framework. (Even Bertolt Brecht had the moral framework of socialism for The Good Person of Szechwan.) The result is a lesson that is little more than, “Be nice to others so that they are nice to you, and everyone will get along.” Although it’s a nice lesson, it is also one that doesn’t need an hour and a half to teach. Also, the stories with the story of Lux and Cor are sometimes problematic. One story (the tale of debate between the queen and the chicken farmer) was so opaque that the intended lesson was not clear, while others had lessons that were so obviously connected to the outside narrative that it became pedantic. I also question Gourley’s decision to make some of the last half hour deal with propaganda, political subversion, and parliamentary procedure in a play directed at teenagers . . . So, as a piece of theatre for young audiences, The Story Stone does not succeed. My wife, a middle school drama teacher, said that she would not recommend it to her students because it would be too long and boring for that age group. But as a piece of abstract experiential theatre influenced by non-Western traditions and modern theatrical philosophies, it succeeds much better. The traditional rules of what a play “should be” were broken repeatedly during the performance—something that Utah audiences need to experience more often. Despite its flaws, The Story Stone is a welcomed change from the typical theatrical experience.”
Wendy Gourley. Making Mochi on the Moon. Orem Public Library, Sept 16 – 20, 2013. Short play about a Japanese-American girl in the Topaz Relocation Center during World War II. With special guest artist Motoko. The tour of readings is part of A Voice From the Dust produced by the Orem Public Library and the Utah Humanities Book Festival.
Carl Bell. Deseret: The Musical. Covey Center. Sept 5-23.
Russell Ware, UTBA review: “Deseret – The Musical might be the play that has the most distinctively Utahn identity of any play I have reviewed for UTBA . . . The score that Bell has created for Deseret owes much to the golden age of musicals in the 1940′s and 1950′s. Bell’s debt to the era is especially notable because of the many corralaries Deseret has with the works of Rodgers and Hammerstein—especially Oklahoma!. Indeed, much of Deseret feels like a Western homage to Oklahoma! Both plays take place in a territory, there are two pairs of romantic couples, and even songs like “This is the Place” and “Could It Be That This Is Love?” seem to vaguely echo famous pieces from the Rodgers and Hammerstein work. Likewise, aspects of the script seem to harken to Oklahoma!, including a town social, a grubby outcast (although Niner is considerably more likeable than Judd Fry), and a woman having to choose between two men. The number of parallels to Oklahoma! and other classic musicals (for example, The Music Man and Hello, Dolly! came to my mind during “The Train Is a Comin’” and Hilda’s dialogue, respectively) are considerable; once I accepted Deseret for what it was, it didn’t bother me. In a way, the familiar structure and plot elements became almost comforting. What was more troublesome was the second act script, which was a mess. The opening scene was confusing, and the closing scene felt out of place compared to the rest of the (mostly non-religious) tone of the play . . . Act two also has the two most unnecessary songs in the play, “Deseret” and “T-R-O-U-B-L-E.” In general, I found the second act script a letdown because the first act was well written enough that at intermission I was genuinely wondering which man Allyson would choose. Finally, Deseret – The Musical lacks what every great Rodgers and Hammerstein show had: a message. The interesting characters and the growth that they experience is fertile ground for crafting a message for Deseret‘s audience to take home. Not taking advantage of that is supremely disappointing . . . The task of revising a script is much easier than revising a score (with its goregous harmonies that suprass anything in the Rodgers and Hammerstein catalog), and I think that with help from one of Utah’s many playwrights Deseret could become a production at local arts councils, LDS stakes, and maybe even at historical sites. Despite my critical reservations about the play, though, I must admit that I enjoyed meeting Allyson, Jacob, Daniel, and the other characters in Deseret . . . Deseret -The Musical is not as polished as the Golden Spike that completed the Transcontinental Railroad. But it has charm, talented leads, and a worthwhile first act. The play takes place in a vital time in our state’s history and serves as an interesting vehicle to explore how some Mormons today understand their relationship with the outside world and each other. If audience members can accept that much of what they will see is completely new, then they should enjoy it.”
Ashley Ramsey, Front Row Reviewers. “The talent in this cast blows the roof off the theatre . . . Deseret does struggle in a few areas. There were some sound issues that made it hard to hear and the music track was oftentimes far too loud to hear the singing. While Daniel Whiting’s set design is absolutely beautiful, the show involves many elaborate set changes involving large set pieces which are mostly done during blackouts . . . The biggest struggle the show faces is the script itself. It is quite long (nearly 3 hours) and there are oftentimes so many storylines happening it is easy to get lost. Throughout the show, there were so many high stake things happening, I wasn’t sure which one I was supposed to be emotionally investing in. The writing at times was also a little bit cheesy and predictable. Overall, Kymberly and her cast have done a great job with this production. It is very rare that show comes along you can take the whole family to. So load up the handcart (or mini-van) and head down to a great evening of uplifting and fun entertainment.”
Ashley Ramsey and Amber Cummings. Dialogues. UVU, Sept. Based on the dialogues of Plato.
UTBA: “Plato’s Crito takes place in a museum when a visitor named Crito suddenly finds six statues of famous people have come to life. As the play unfolds the statues mourn their untimely deaths, discuss justice, and question each other’s choices. Interspersed in the discussion are remembrances, a fantasy sequence, and a few music sequences. Dialogues is part of UVU’s freshman reading program, and it has become an annual tradition for a play based on one of the freshman reading books to be performed at the student center courtyard.As a play, Dialogues is rather bewildering. The six historical figures that hold most of the audience’s attention have almost nothing in common. Therefore, hearing them interact with each other is strange. As if listening to Socrates and Joan of Arc talk to each other weren’t odd enough, the play takes an extra weird turn when Anne Frank tries to sing a “boogie woogie” song or when Malcolm X, Joseph Smith, Roza Robota, and Anne Frank dance to an Irish drinking song. As if the bizarre action were not enough, the shallow characterization makes Dialogues particularly tough to handle. Ramsey and Cummings rely almost entirely on audience knowledge of the historical figures in order to make them real human beings. But take that away, and the characters are rarely more than the gray statues that they were at the start of the play. Joseph Smith, for example, rarely does more than hold a book and occasionally mention God . . . Perhaps Dialogues is a nice component of UVU’s freshman reading program. But if you’re not a required by a class assignment to attend or if you’re not familiar with the original Crito dialogue, it’s not worth seeing.”
Eric Samuelsen previews his play Nothing Personal at Plan-B (SLC), which will run October 24-November 3. It is based on the Susan McDougal case (Whitewater and the Clintons) and Kenneth Starr’s prosecution.
Austenland. In its 5th week the film greatly expanded its reach, going from 58 to 274 total theaters. The theater average take went down from $4194 to $1778. As a result, the next week the number of theaters went down to 234 theaters in its 6th week, and down to 107 theaters last weekend. The film has made $1,732,524 so far. It opens in UK theaters this week.
Eric Samuelsen review. “The movie is great fun. And I don’t know how significant any of this is, but the talent behind the camera is strongly LDS. This might even be the next evolution in Mormon cinema–a smart, well-made, entertaining mainstream genre film, made by LDS people, but intended for a popular audience . . . Anyway, yeah, it’s a rom-com, but an awfully well-made one–I had a blast . . . I liked it, the whole basic-level/platinum-level dynamic. It’s actually about the most Regency-accurate thing in the whole concept. I mean, one defining characteristic of the Regency era (or British society ever), is the importance of class, of social difference. Jane Austen’s novels are acutely aware of class, of the subtle gradations of privilege. She was a keen observer of it, of how all women in gentle society were not even remotely equal. Jane gets ‘basic-level’ service, and plays a suitably Austen-accurate character. It works . . . Here’s what I liked best about this movie. Okay, it’s a rom-com. Okay, Jane’s the protagonist, and she’s smart and a good person, but also sort of plain and average and unlucky in love. We like her. We root for her. To find Troo Luv at the end of the movie. And there are two romantic possibilities for her: Martin the stable-boy; Henry the Mr. Darcy. A love triangle. And Martin and Henry aren’t real, they’re both actors, playing roles. So how seriously should she take their professed affection for her? Is one of them sincere? Would you believe it if he told you? Could they both just be actors acting? And until the very end of the movie, I truly, honestly did not know which guy she’d end up with. So that’s a good thing, right? Suspense?”
An Ordinary Hero. Loki Mulholland. KBYU-TV. Documentary about the filmmaker’s mother, who as a 19-year old participated in the civil rights struggle in the South. She was arrested and two months in a Mississippi jail for her participation in the Freedom Ride in 1961. She participated in the Woolworth lunch counter sit-in in 1963. Deseret News feature.
The Saratov Approach. Garrett Batty, writer/director (Scout Camp). Starring Corbin Allred (Saints and Soldiers) and Maclain Nelson (Vamp U). Based on the true story of two missionaries kidnapped in Russia in 1998. Opening Oct. 9 in the Mountain West. Utah Valley 360 feature story. There are pre-release screenings in Layton, BYU, Orem, St. George, Boise, and Mesa on Oct. 2nd-3rd. Cedar Fort appears to be involved somehow, they are promoting the film.
Us and Them: Religious Rivalry in America. Bryan Hall and Jack Donaldson, directors. Deseret Books and Excel Entertainment DVD release, Oct. 1. Documentary about Mormonism in America.
Kevin Burtt, LDS Film Reviews. “Halls hits the road with his camera crew to interview street preachers, Evangelical pastors, and Christian talk-radio hosts — including some nationally prominent names such as Bill Keller, Rev. Robert Jeffress, and Richard Land — to get their views on Mormons and “non-Christians” in general. Us And Them isn’t just about the war of words between Mormons and Evangelicals, though. The documentary also examines the political environment surrounding Mitt Romney’s two presidential runs, and looks at Evangelical involvement in politics throughout history . . . Hall’s narration takes a “can’t we all just get along?” approach, and the message about respecting minority rights and beliefs within a “Christian nation” is a relevant one. Hall attempts to appeal to Evangelicals’ patriotism (if not their religion) by discussing the 1st Amendment protections afforded by the Constitution and the reason colonists came to the New World in the first place. Arguably, the biggest issue with this section of the documentary is that it doesn’t provide data to place the Christian Right political activity in context. As in: much of the Evangelical rhetoric seems strident and exclusionary, but are people actually listening? Is Evangelical influence in politics increasing or decreasing? Is the US really becoming more of a “Christian Nation”? . . . In the end, Us And Them will interest anyone looking at how politics and religion intersect today. The biggest issue may just be a lack of depth — a reliance on quotes and anecdotal interviews without corresponding hard data behind them. However, the subtext of religious pluralism within the ‘melting pot’ of America, and getting along with your “neighbors” of different faiths will be enlightening to Mormons and True Christians™…if it finds any significant audience among them. Hopefully, Hall’s vision of different faiths understanding one another and getting along together will come to pass.”
Dr. Smith & the Fantastic Castle. Marco Lui, director/writer.
Kevin Burtt, LDS Film Reviews. B. “Italian filmmaker Marco Lui turned some heads at the 2011 LDS Film Festival when his first movie The Book of Life inspired encore showings. Acting again as writer/director/actor, Lui has returned with Dr. Smith & The Fantastic Castle (screened at the 2013 LDS Film Festival). Both films demonstrate a spark of creativity that shows Lui as an uncommon filmmaker of vision. None of this necessarily means Dr.Smith is a great film, nor equal to The Book of Life — it’s neither. Dr.Smith is short (barely peeking over an hour) which doesn’t give Lui the time to fully develop the themes and the relationships he surely intended. There are many unexplained questions about the setting and the narrative. There’s one major production issue (discussed below) that severely hampers the film experience. Still, the ideas and vision are there even if the execution isn’t up to par. Dr. Smith and the Fantastic Castle could be called a successful failure — an inessential film that nevertheless demonstrates the talent of a creative and visionary filmmaker . . . The combination of these factors make Dr. Smith & The Fantastic Castle more of a interesting creative prototype rather than a significant stand-alone experience. Still, you have to admire anyone who’s willing to put so much effort into their art, even with the assured realization that the eventual audience for an LDS film from Italy will be microscopic. I don’t doubt that, given better production resources, Marco Lui has the potential for many great things. Here’s hoping he finds some helpful supporters to make his next creative vision fully a reality.”
A blog on recent LDS comedy available online, BYU’s Studio C, and Deseret Book’s Pretty Darn Funny.
Bestseller lists, Sept. 22, 29, Oct. 6.
Songs of Willow Frost, by Jamie Ford.
NYT Hardcover x, #11, x (1 week).
PW: Hardcover: x, #12, #21 (2 weeks). 7890 units.
USA Today x, #70, x (1st week). It does not look like it is stacking up to be the big best seller that Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet was (USA list for 89 weeks).
Dark Lycan, by Christene Feehan.
NYT Hardcover #6, #18, x (2 weeks)
USA Today #6, #52, #106 (3 weeks)
PW Hardcover: #?, #11, #16 (3 weeks)
Blind Justice, by Anne Perry. Fell off the bestseller lists after 1 week.
Dark Storm, by Christine Feehan
NYT Paperback Mass Market: #22, x, x (1 week)
PW Paperback Mass Market. #16, #20, x (3 weeks). 5,381 units, for a total of 26,366.
USA Today: #?, #116, x (5 weeks)
Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
NYT Paperback Mass Market: #4, #4, #3 (49 weeks)
NYT Paperback Trade. #14, #13, #15 (5 weeks)
NYT Print and ebook combined. #14, #12, #17 (11 weeks)
PW Children’s: x, #23, x (9 weeks). 2,293 units, for a total of 44,104.
USA Today #33, #30, #34 (43 weeks).
Michael Vey 3: Battle of the Ampree, by Richard Paul Evans.
NYT Children’s Series: x, x, #2 (1 week).
PW Children’s: x, x, #1 (1 week). 22,009 units.
USA Today: x, x, #10 (1 week).
Spirit Animals Book 1: Wild Born, by Brandon Mull
NYT Middle Grade: x, #2, #4 (2 weeks)
PW Children’s: x, #1, #5 (2 weeks). 15,047 units.
USA Today x, #100, #132 (2 weeks).
Smoke, by Ellen Hopkins
PW Children’s: x, #7, #16 (2 weeks). 10,421 units.
NYT YA: x, #6, #12 (1 week)
USA Today: x, x, #102 (1 week)
The Maze Runner Series, by James Dashner
NYT Children’s Series: x, #8, x (61 weeks)