This Week in Mormon Literature, October 21, 2013

The Saratov Approach is the most critically appreciated Mormon-themed movie we have seen in several years, and it looks like it is doing well in its limited opening in Utah. Lots of new national YA books this week, and a ton of YA books on the bestseller lists, including Orson Scott Card and Brandon Sanderson reaching #1 spots, with Brandon Mull nearly making it to #1 for several weeks in a row.

Blog posts and news

“Peter Wiggin as Lucifer”. Nathaniel Givens, Times & Seasons. Givens’ second Ender’s Game essay in a series. “The ambiguity surrounding Peter parallels the ambiguity with which Mormons view Lucifer. After all, Mormon theology includes most of the same pieces as traditional Christian doctrine, but in sometimes radically different context. The biggest discrepancy is the Fall . . . Peter also has some traditionally Satanic characteristics. Valentine describes his status as an accuser, when she describes how he would torment other children at school. “He never hit them, but he tortured them just the same. Found what they were most ashamed of and told it to the person whose respect they most wanted. Found what they most feared and made sure they faced it often.” He also became the ruler of the Earth. This is true in the literal sense, but there’s a deeper reality as well . . .  As I wrote in the first piece, Orson Scott Card did not set out to write a treatise on Mormon theology in Ender’s Game. The similarities between Peter Wiggin and the Mormon conception of Lucifer merely reflect Card’s Mormon upbringing. That unselfconsciousness is part of what makes the book so interesting for me, however. Intentional philosophizing within a work is often detrimental, but including these themes organically makes them much more successful both artistically and, as is science fiction’s greatest promise, as a means to thinking about these ideas in fresh and provocative ways. When I say that Ender’s Game is a distinctly Mormon book, my meaning is not that it accurately reflects true or settled Mormon doctrine, but rather that it is fruitfully preoccupied with the kinds of questions that arise in Mormonism and that Mormons tend to think about.

Click here to read some Mormon Ghost Stories.

Jenni James and Shannon Hale are mentioned in an Entertainment Weekly piece. “Will Jane Austen Ever Rest in Peace”.

Heather B. Moore, Dan Wells, and Josi Kilpack were interviewed at Mormon Artist.

Richard Paul Evans interview at The Cultural Hall podcast.

Elizabeth’s Children”, by Olive W. Burt. Relief Society Magazine, 1958. Being republished at Keepatitchinin. “Carol juggles her career as the artist for a popular magazine with her love and worry for the children of her deceased sister Elizabeth.”

Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan. “River of Souls”. Outtake from The Alloy of Law. In Unfettered anthology. Sanderson: ““River of Souls,” . . . is a Wheel of Time tale by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. Since it’s actually a sequence of deleted scenes, it’s meant to be read as a companion to your read of A Memory of Light. It’s not going to make a whole lot of sense if you haven’t read at least the rest of the Wheel of Time, but it’s a complete arc and I find it very exciting. I think you’ll really like it, and I think this anthology is a good place for these scenes because they won’t be distracting from the rest of the story.”

Tor.com review (Leigh Butler): “It was, succinctly, hella cool to read, and is sure to generate some very interesting conversation among fans about what it says about this character, as well as what it implies about the larger universe of the Wheel of Time and the nature of its central conflict. There’s not much else I can say about the story that won’t spoil it, but I feel I am on very safe ground in stating that if you are a WOT fan, you are definitely going to want to read this—if only so that you can do what we do best and fight about it discuss it afterward.”

Tristi Pinkston. “Out-of-the-Box Fiction by Two LDS Authors”. Meridian Magazine.  “When readers think of LDS fiction, they sometimes tend to categorize it in the same way they’ve thought about it for years—nice stories without a lot of meat. LDS authors have been stretching the limits of the genre for some time now and have made strides in expanding the perception of the public in regards to it, and today I’m featuring two authors who have really explored new territory and blazed trails for other authors to follow and readers to enjoy. Their books straddle the line between LDS and national, and carry appeal for both audiences . . .

Michaelbrent Collings is best known for writing horror. In fact, he’s an Amazon bestseller in that genre. So what’s he doing writing about a crime-fighting Relief Society president? Having a great time, from what I can tell. Collings’ new release, Blood Relations: A Good Mormon Girl Mystery , features Lane Cooley, a tough cop who takes care of bad guys by day and her ward family by night. The style of the book is very similar to what’s currently being done on the national market—tight, terse sentences, action-packed scenes, bad guys who are really bad—but also brings in Lane’s Mormon faith. In my favorite part of the book, Lane receives a call from a sister in the ward while investigating the scene of a brutal murder. Seeing her try to balance the information coming in her ear while dealing with the scene in front of her—two diametrically opposed situations—truly made me laugh . . . This is a mystery with grit but without the guilt.

My other offering today is BYUCK by Theric Jepson. Jepson is a new author on the scene, and I want to see a great deal more from him. His style is so unique and his voice is so fresh, you won’t for a minute feel like you’re reading the same old story about BYU students. Instead, it’s literary and comedic tongue-in-cheek writing, following a stream of consciousness with a great plot . . . There are so many layers to the story, every one of them completely quirky. We have college-student hijinks, of course, because this is BYU, but we also have romance, and philosophy, and moments of contemplation that loop right back around to being quirky. I have to say, I enjoyed every minute of this read. It truly was out of the box.”

New Books and their reviews

Heidi Ashworth. The Lord Who Sneered and other tales.  Dunhaven Place Publishing, Oct. 3. Regency romance short stories. “A Regency holiday anthology set in the world of Miss Delacourt.” Three stories, set in 1812-1818.

Stephanie Black. The Witnesses. Covenant, Oct. 1. Adult dystopian. Sequel to The Believer, Black’s first published book. Set in a future America where religion is a crime. In the first novel a man discovers The Book of Mormon and believes in defiance of the government. In the sequel, a group of friends struggle to better their world in the face of the oppressive government and zealous terrorists.

B. K. Bostick. Huber Hill and the Golden Staff of Cibola. Sweetwater/Cedar Fort, Oct. 8. Middle grade mystery. 3rd in the series. A search for a golden staff in a lost city in New Mexico.

Teyla Branton (Rachel Ann Nunes). The Escape. White Star Press, Oct. 12. Paranormal. Unbounded series #3.

James Dashner The Eye of Minds. Delacorte Press, Oct. 8. YA science fiction. The Mortality Doctrine #1. A world where the rich can afford addictive virtual reality fantasies. A hacker is asked to find a dangerous gamer who is kidnapping and harming others in the VR.

Kirkus: “Dashner’s matryoshka vision of digital worlds is oddly limited by realism—despite the impressive tech setups and the nod to the infinite creative possibilities of virtual reality, both Michael’s home life and real-world simulator lack presence. That absence carries over to Michael and his friends as well. They have few defining features or preferences, seemingly nothing but an immersion in a virtual world and some skills at coding. Secondary characters are much more defined through names, vivid descriptions, actual personality traits and more. While the pacing is mostly solid, Dashner goes overboard in the setup for the plot twist, revealing it too soon and making the last 50 pages a bit of a slog. High on concept, this is an intriguing read for the digital generation.”

PW: “Though the plot makes this an easy sell, some clunky writing and weak characterizations diminish the story (Michael notices the VNS agent’s “long pretty legs” and remarks, “It was clear that she was manipulative, that she used her beauty to melt men’s hearts”). The protagonists are fairly interchangeable, though when Michael explains what the VNS wants, it’s Sarah who wonders, “Why would they ask three teenagers to solve their problems?” A smart question that presumably will be answered in the next installment.”

SLJ: “The center portion of the book focuses largely on imaginative adventures in VirtNet. Readers familiar with online gaming will identify with the heroes as they query characters for information, look for Portals, and rewrite code to bring weapons over from other games. The final chapters find Michael alone in the level “the Deep,” with the safety measures disabled. Like Dashner’s action-packed “Maze Runner” series, this title is fast paced. Cory Doctorow’s For the Win (Tor, 2010) is more realistic, and Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One (Crown, 2011) is slightly more sophisticated, but this book delivers an adrenaline rush.”

i09 feature article “Why Maze Runner‘s James Dashner abandoned dystopia for virtual reality”.

L. T. Downing. Get that Gold! Zion BookWorks/Leicester Books, Oct. 2. Adventures of the Restoration Series #1. Middle grade historical adventure. “Fast-paced adventure for young readers that explores the perils encountered by Joseph Smith when local rapscallions and thieves plot to steal the sacred golden record for their own financial gain. Joseph, alone, must protect the plates of gold, or, as the Angel Moroni warned, he will lose them.”

Sarah Dunster. Mile 21. Bonneville/Cedar Fort, Oct. 8. Women’s/romance. A young college-aged woman is faced with the death of her husband and the stillbirth of her baby. She is not dealing with her loss well, is only at peace when she runs. Then she meets someone.

Shelah Miner (Segullah). “While Mile 21 definitely has elements of a romance, it’s much more an exploration of Abish’s own character . . . While Dunster does an excellent job showing the depth and complexity of Abish’s character, revealing details that explain her crustiness and her pain without exactly justifying them, the novel is about more than just Abish. She writes about Rexburg, Idaho and the surrounding countryside with such authority, affection, and clear-headedness that they almost become another character in the novel. I loved the descriptions of the streets and the farms that Abish passes as she runs, and Dunster forces readers to look at some of the inherent contradictions in a community that is as predominantly Mormon as Rexburg. As a runner, reading about someone who uses running as therapy and works through her problems by running long miles along really resonated with me. I think Dunster gets the details right here too– after a while, running is less about breathing and sore quads, and a lot more about getting outside and working oneself into a meditative state. Readers who want to go to some hard and dark places with a character and see some ultimate redemption will enjoy Mile 21. Who knows– they may even be inspired to start running marathons.”

Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine. “The other characters, though not drawn with as much depth as Abish, are fully fleshed and realistic. Most are neither all good or all bad. One of Dunster’s strongest points in this story is her ability to draw the reader into such close identification with the characters that she/he feels the character’s emotions . . . The story has a nice pace very similar to that experienced in a long distance run that I suspect other runners will recognize. It’s a little different than the arc usually associated with fiction, but works very well. This definitely isn’t a preachy sermon type of book; there’s some humor, some romance to this story, but it’s primarily a journey of personal faith.”

Deseret News (Elizabeth Reid).

David Farland. Barbarians. Oct. 3. An ebook short story prequel to the Runelords series. The story appeared in an anthology earlier this year.

Mary Gray. The Dollhouse Asylum. Spencer Hill Press, Oct. 22. YA dystopian. A virus threatens the world, and a group is brought into a strange paradise meant to save the species, but each person must pass a series of tests to remain, following the strange orders of the man who created the place, including renaming the young people after characters in the great tragic romances. First novel.

Shannon Hale. Ever After High: The Storybook of Legends. Little, Brown, Oct. 8. Middle grade story book fantasy. The series is part of tie-in with Mattel for a series of dolls and other products based on the characters. Follows the publisher’s previous partnership with Mattel for the Monster High series. Set at a boarding school for the children of classic fairy-tale heroes and villains. Raven, the daughter of the Evil Queen from the Snow White story, wants to change her destiny. When Raven discovers that two fairy-tale sisters long ago broke their pledges, she enlists the sleuthing skills of her wacky roommate, Madeline (as in Hatter), and Apple herself to unravel the sisters’ ultimate fates. A series of short stories about several of the main characters were also simultaneously released as ebooks.

PW: “In the story’s best running gag, Raven’s oddball best friend Maddie Hatter has hilarious metafictional exchanges with the narrator (“I’m really enjoying all your clever observations and helpful information”). Perhaps understandably for a doll-based franchise, outfits and accessories get frequent mentions, but Hale’s spot-on sense of humor keeps the story from feeling overly promotional.”

Kirkus: “Hale has created a delightfully revamped, newly fashioned cast of fairy-tale characters (and in hipper clothes no less—unsurprising, as the book introduces a new line of Mattel dolls) and gives readers a terrific protagonist to root for. Magic and humor abound, and fairy-tale wordplay flies. Royal good fun.”

C. J. Hill (Janette Rallison). Slayers: Friends and Traitors. Fiewel & Friends/Macmillan, Oct. 15. YA Fantasy. Slayers #2. Tori’s training as a Slayer is not complete, and she finds out she is a Dragon Lord as well.

June McCrary Jacobs. A Holiday Miracle in Apple Blossom. Sweetwater/Cedar Fort, Oct. 8. General/Christmas/romance. Tragedy strikes a local family, and a female teacher and her new friend rally the community to help. First novel.

Carla Kelly. Carla’s Christmas Collection. Sweetwater/Cedar Fort, Oct. 8. Regency London Christmas stories. “This collection features four stories that will warm your heart with Christmas cheer: “The Christmas Ornament,” “Make a Joyful Noise,” “An Object of Charity,” and “The Three Kings.”” Previously published in 2011.

Wendy Knight. Warrior Beautiful. Astrea Press, Oct. 14. YA Fantasy/romance. Riders of Paradesos, #1. “Working with the ex you secretly love to save the souls of the innocent is almost as bad as working with a mighty battle unicorn who would be thrilled to watch you plummet to your death.” Third novel. Astrea is a publisher of sweet YA romances.

Jessica Martinez. The Vow. Simon Pulse (Simon & Schuster), Oct. 15. YA romance. Two teens are best friends, but not romantically involved at all. But when the boy is finds out that he will be deported to Jordan after a lifetime in the US, she proposes they marry to allow him to stay. Which causes complications. Third novel from this very well-reviewed general YA author.

PW: “To keep their relationship believable, the couple must lie to their families, Annie’s new boyfriend, and the entire town. The ensuing complications surrounding the teens’ marriage and the technicalities of immigration law swallow the more believable and accessible storylines of Annie’s family’s grief, Mo’s complex relationship toward his family and two countries, the everyday xenophobia and prejudice he witnesses, and the pair’s changing friendship as they move into adulthood.”

Kirkus: “Narrating alternating chapters, Mo and Annie are rounded, believable and sympathetic; yet to serve the plot, they must behave in ways that make little sense. Both are careful and observant, unlikely to jump off a bridge without at least looking over the edge first. An odd narrative tension results, as if the characters would much rather do something else. Looming over the story is the urgent, hot-button issue of U.S. teens raised with American identities but lacking legal status. For Mo, deportation means returning to his wealthy family in Jordan and applying for a student visa for an Ivy League education–lowering the stakes from potentially devastating to merely inconvenient. Strong characters resist but can’t overcome a frustratingly unrealistic plot.”

Heather B. Moore. Ruby’s Secret. Covenant, Oct. 1. General/Women. Newport Ladies Book Club #6.

Brenda Novak. Through the Smoke. Montlake Romance, Oct. 15. Historical romance suspense.

Tristi Pinkston. Taking Care of Business. BigWorldNetwork.com, Sept. 30. Cozy Mystery, Estelle Watkins Mystery #2. The elderly Estelle Watkins takes on another mystery.

Obert Skye. Pinocula. Henry Holt, Sept. 23. Middle grade comic fantasy/graphic novel. The Creature From My Closet #3. “Meet Pinocula, the new creature from Rob’s closet. He is a liar and a jokester and is determined to drive Rob crazy.” Third in the Wimpy Kid-type illustrated novel series.

Deseret News: ““Pinocula,” the third in the author’s series, is told in journal-like entries and unsophisticated pencil sketches (more detailed that the previous two in the series) that extend the dialogue and expand the inner-voice of a middle school student whose pre-adolescent angst and over-imagination reach out to a world that the author refuses to take seriously. The humor and pithy exchanges will draw readers that like the format of picture and abbreviated text.”

Kirkus: “Delivered in journal entries with dialogue and punch lines mouthed by the line-drawn cartoon figures on every page, Rob’s narrative ambles its way past a parental save (his dad unexpectedly drives up in a rented limo) to an abject general apology . . . Neither Rob’s guilt pangs nor Pinocula’s near reversion to wood add much force to the superficial anti-lying message, and the premise, third time through, has gone as stale as the jokes.”

Dan Wells. The Butcher of Khardov. Privateer Press, June 18. Fantasy novella. Part of the War Machine universe of stories based on characters/figurines from the battle game. Larry Correia and Howard Taylor also wrote novellas for the same series earlier this year.

Older Books and their reviews

Traci Hunter Abramson. Lock and Key (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine). “The action is fast and even seemingly innocent actions lead to serious consequences. Jay and Carina struggle not only to keep her and her sisters safe, but to discover what the key unlocks when their only clue is a picture postcard of Central Park and a short numerical sequence jotted on the card. The plot builds in a satisfying arc and the climax delivers the rapid-fire excitement and suspense readers will enjoy. Most of the characters were introduced in earlier books and are strong, intelligent people. Jay, Carina, and Bianca show growth and increase in strength and ability.”

Melissa Dalton Bradford, Global Mom (Rosalyn). 5 stars. “I’m hesitant to write a review for this book, because I don’t think my words will be adequate to the experience of reading the book. I’ve meet Melissa a few times in real life, and while I was struck by her intelligence and poise, I had no idea that so much was simmering in that brain of hers . . . More than anything, this book has me thinking about place: about how place is made up of landscape (built and natural), but also history and culture and most of all people, and the relationships among people. And of course, I’m still thinking about some of the gorgeous prose passages. Melissa’s voice is really quite astounding at times: she comes across as warm, gracious, intelligent, thoughtful, generous and deeply philosophical. Here are two of my favorite passages (if among some of the most devastating): ‘And as his head tipped gracefully to one side, the earth fell off its axis and began spinning strangely, drunkenly, into unchartable and inaccessible regions out of which only a God can escape, or from which only a God can rescue.’ ‘This land of major loss was uncharted terrain, a land with its own language of silence. It was something more than a country, it was its own planet with its own air pressure and gravitational pull.’ . . . This was the best kind of book: it made me think, it made me weep, but it also made me hopeful.”

Jodi Wind Dupree. Hadley-Hadley Benson (Deseret News). “Written in first person, the book gives a glimpse into the workings of a 16-year-old male brain. The interactions and dialogue feel real. The main characters are not static; they learn some important lessons about love and forgiveness. Hadley is portrayed in a way that honors him as a person, not just someone with a disability. Although the story concludes in a rather unexpected way, it is satisfying and full of hope.”

Jamie Ford. Songs of Willow Frost (Reading For Sanity). 4 stars. “The story shifts between the present Great Depression years of the 1930′s and Willows past in the 1920′s. It is a really sad story with only momentary reprieves of happiness. The main conflict begins to resolve itself fairly quickly but the secrets hidden within are revealed slowly throughout the book. William’s plight to meet Willow seems to come together a little too easily. But if there is fault to be found in the convenience of the plot it is more than made up for in sentiment. The raw emotion of the characters draws the reader in quickly and latches on tightly. All of the characters, from the most minor to the stars of the book, are beautifully drawn up. Touches of history add to the story line and make it all the more realistic. Once this story begins it consumes all else, being extremely painful to read at times and yet containing a positive undercurrent to keep one moving forward. So much of this book screams glamour (did you see that gorgeous cover?) but the dirtiness of this time period and Willow’s secrets powerfully fight back. Perhaps it is this paradox that makes the story work so well, allowing it to weave its way directly into the readers heart.”

Nichole Giles. Descendant (Rosalyn). 3.5 stars. “I’m a sucker for this kind of book (provided it’s well written): an interesting blend of mythology and contemporary setting. I loved the unfolding relationship between Abby and Kye and the mythological elements were interesting. I was not as enamored with the historical flashbacks that provided readers with an explanation of why Abby and Kye were bound together, and what they were fighting against. (I suppose it’s because I didn’t have the same connection to the historical characters). The writing was generally good and the plot fast-paced.”

Teri Harmon. Blood Moon (Rosalyn). 3 stars. I really went back and forth on this book. I like the magic system here quite a bit. Harman has devised six different branches of witchcraft, and twelve witches (a man and woman from each branch) together are capable of forming a Covenant–a particularly powerful union of Covens. The story also flashes back to a catastrophe that happened decades earlier in the town, and I found myself increasingly intrigued by the historical figures. To be honest, sometimes I was more interested in what was happening to these minor characters (perhaps because there remained a big mystery about them) than I was with what was happening to Willa and Simon. While I liked Willa and Simon well enough as individual characters, I didn’t love the fact that theirs was a kind of insta-love–the fact that they were drawn so powerfully to each other by magic seemed to rob their relationship of individual choice (and a lot of romantic tension). The writing style was a little uneven too: some of the descriptions, particularly, were lovely–well-written and vivid. But at other times the prose seemed almost over-written, as if it could have benefited from just a little more pruning.”

Tamara Hart Heiner. Inevitable (Rosalyn). 3 stars. “Aside from a lovely cover, this book had an interesting premise–Jayne can See people who are about to die violent deaths, presaged by the strong smell of lemons . . .  the concept, I think, is great. My problem was that I had a hard time relating to Jayne–initially, her passiveness drove me crazy. Why *wouldn’t* she just meet her sister’s eyes? Even if she hasn’t been able to prevent deaths in the past, maybe she could do something about her sister. (If it were me, I would). It also wasn’t until half-way through the book that we found out Jayne really *had* tried in the past to prevent deaths (up to that point, all readers see is Jayne saying that she can’t do anything. It was hard for me to believe this without seeing it.) . . . After the action picked up in the middle of the book, I stopped being so irritated by character flaws and actually enjoyed the end of the book.”

Josi Kilpack. Pumpkin Roll (FoxyJ). “I’ve ended up reading Kilpack’s Sadie Hoffmiller mysteries in backwards order; after picking up the series earlier this year for the Whitney Awards, I’ve become interested in going back to read the first few that I missed. This one seems to have been a turning point in the series, at least based on so many later references to ‘what happened in Boston’. I did enjoy this one quite a lot and thought it was quite tightly plotted and had a good level of tension and real menace. The most recent book I read by Kilpack didn’t quite live up to the level this one did, so I hope future offerings will get back there again.”

Lisa Mangum. After Hello (Gamila). “I enjoyed the characters and setting of the novel and it reminded me in small way of The Fault in our Stars, except the novel was far less depressing, as the book is ultimately not a tragedy, and has a happy ending. I guess the only problem I had with the book is that I felt like the stakes to find the art weren’t high enough personally for Sara. The book kind of slowed for me in the middle because I had a hard time believing that Sara would go through all this trouble and blow off her dad for some guy that was actually kind of a jerk to her when they met. Still, over all I found this to be an interesting read.”

Heather Ostler, The Siren’s Secret. (Rosalyn). “This wasn’t my favorite book that I’ve read recently. While there is a lot of potential in the story, it didn’t quite live up to that potential for me . . . This was another case where I had a hard time with the main character because she was sometimes irrational. Sometimes she was passive–for instance, she finds out that she’s cursed and instead of trying to fight it or find a cure, she just accepts it and starts moping. But in other cases, she acts quickly (often rashly) without thinking things through and she blows hot and cold in her relationships (both with friends and romantic). And maybe this is authentic teenage behavior, but I’ve read lots of teenage heroines who don’t rub me quite the wrong way as much as Julia did. Lots of readers seem to have really enjoyed this book, so it’s possible that it’s just me.”

Brad Torgersen. Lights in the Deep. Tangent review (Louis West): “All ten of Brad’s stories are a joy to read, full of realistic characters facing horribly difficult challenges and plots that twist in delightfully unexpected ways. Settings vary from the bottom of the ocean to interstellar space, near future, far future and alternate realities, and even a few include aliens. Every story is what I would call “hard” science fiction, built around a core of possible, if not projected, science and technology. However, what I found most compelling to Brad’s stories is his unyielding belief in what science fiction should be . . . The two stories I found most compelling are “The Chaplain’s Assistant” and “Chaplain’s Legacy,” the second being a longer sequel to the first. How do you teach alien mantes, a warrior race that had nearly destroyed human civilization, about the concept of God when they have none themselves?”

Vox Popoli review, 3 stars.

Karen Tuft. Unexpected (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine). “Far from being a run-of-the-mill Romance, Unexpected by Karen Tuft throws the reader a few curves . . . Both Natalie and Ross are great characters and their healing and growth are important elements of the story. There are times when the reader will wish Natalie had a little more backbone and would stand up for herself more. And there are times when Ross’s seeming arrogance is a little over-powering. Natalie’s children and Ross’s sisters are also fun, believable characters. Other characters, though not drawn in as great detail, are well done as well. For a story that is largely plot driven, there is an enjoyable level of character drive as well. The plot is fun and frequently shoots off in an unexpected direction. As in any romance there are certain predictable elements, but there are enough surprises to keep the reader satisfied and enjoying the ride.”

Natalie Whipple. Transparent (Gamila). “Alright, I know this sounds x-men, and I’m not really a huge fan of this mutant trope, but I loved the small scale of this novel. A vulnerable girl trying to navigate her way through high school, her first crush, and her seemingly insurmountable family issues . I loved the details of how Fiona’s invisibility affected her everyday life, her sense of self, and her relationship with others. I have to say that I loved the way the teen romance worked out in this book. Like the setting it is small, subtle and in a market saturated with epic teenage love stories with protagonists that just can’t keep their hands off each other even in the most unlikely of circumstances Whipple presents the exact opposite. Without a single kiss Fi and Seth build a tender and honest relationship. An excellent read that I’d recommend to everyone.”

Film

The Saratov Approach. Opened Oct. 9 in Utah (23 theaters), then rolling out to Arizona, Idaho and Nevada on Oct. 25. Drama based on the true story of two missionaries kidnapped in Russia in 1998. Garrett Batty, the writer/director made Scout Camp and worked on various Mormon Messages videos. Starring Corbin Allred (Saints and Soldiers) and Maclain Nelson (Vamp U). PG-13.

Salt Lake Tribune feature story about the making of The Saratov Approach.

Saratov director and actors interview at The Cultural Hall Podcast.

The Cultural Hall: “THE SARATOV APPROACH set a number of box office records over the weekend – pulling in over $202,000 in its first 4 days on just 23 screens in Utah. That makes it the top opening LDS-genre film in the past decade and second overall for all LDS-genre films to the first THE WORK & THE GLORY film. And for the weekend – THE SARATOV APPROACH landed in the top 25 of all films nationwide.”

Salt Lake Tribune review (Sean P. Means). 3 stars. “Equal parts nerve-jangling thriller and faith-empowering drama, “The Saratov Approach” is a low-budget movie that builds up its tension in a tightly confined space . . . The movie also shows how a small budget can go a long way . . . The stateside scenes are rather routine, but they are countered by the moving scenes of Allred (a familiar face to Utah audiences from the “Saints & Soldiers” movies) and Nelson re-creating those days of captivity. In their portrayal of the missionaries, combatting their fear and finding comfort in their faith, Allred and Nelson give “The Saratov Approach” a quietly resolute strength.”

Deseret News review (Josh Terry). “It is a successful film for many reasons, but none more impressive than its ability to keep you in suspense when you already know the outcome of the story . . . “The Saratov Approach” wisely chooses to focus its time on the missionaries and their captors. Part of this could be due to a limited budget, but the important story is what is happening within that relationship. Propst and Tuttle, played in excellent fashion by Maclain Nelson and Corbin Allred, respectively, slowly make their way through a barrage of emotions, confronting fears of their captors and their own mortality, and slowly coming to understand the role their faith will play in their predicament. The acting job by their captors is no less impressive . . . “The Saratov Approach” is a film that could easily falter as it gets lumped into the category of Mormon cinema, and the well-tread subcategory of missionary movies that is so prominent within it. But director Garrett Batty’s effort is admirable, not just because he’s trying to emerge from an uneven and often maligned genre, but because he’s successful.”

Mormon Movie Guy. A-. “Batty’s direction achieves potent verisimilitude, eschewing cinematic flair in favor of gritty realism. This choice proves to be a double-edged sword: the “you-are-there” tone is what gives the film its power but also leads to over-reliance on shaky handheld camerawork that gets distracting. Also, a few of the supporting actors deliver their lines either melodramatically or without sufficient emotion. These are small moments, however, and they are so few and far between that they do no significant damage to the overall impact of the movie. What’s more, the film’s intensity is punctuated by wonderful moments of hope, beauty, and humor. Robert Allen Elliot’s musical score has a contemporary feel that adds to, but never distracts from, what’s happening on screen. The Saratov Approach isn’t just great Mormon cinema, it’s great cinema, period. It skillfully contrasts the darkness of greed and desperation with the ultimate light of compassion and courage. Even though faith in Christ is a key theme, this is a great human story that people will be uplifted by regardless of their beliefs.”

Standard Examiner (Steve Sallas). 3.5 stars. ““The Saratov Approach” is not just a good Mormon movie, it’s a great and powerfully moving experience that resonates even beyond religious boundaries . . . Suddenly, the film goes to another, unexpected level, that, if true, demonstrates the emerging faith of these two young men to such a degree that it’s difficult to imagine. That pushes “The Saratov Approach” to a place that will universally touch your heart, no matter what you believe. And therein lies the strength of this well-told and well-acted story, which deserves to be seen by one and all.”

Davis Clipper. 3 stars. “I really enjoyed The Saratov Approach, despite having a few qualms with the movie. The acting performances of Allred and Maclain are more than adequate, reflecting on the spiritual and emotional struggles of the missionaries rather well (although Allred, a fine actor, looks like he’s closer to 39 than 19 years old). The supporting cast is less so, especially during one scene in which Propst’s mother gets a little too melodramatic upon learning of the kidnapping. Despite the outstanding  performances from Allred and Nelson, the two men portraying the Russian kidnappers (Bogolyubov and Veadov) are a little better, giving The Saratov Approach a little more gravitas than other “local” productions . . .  Batty also gets credit for making a film about Mormon missionaries without using their story as a religious platform. In other words, people of all faiths will be moved and understand the spiritual message of The Saratov Approach without feeling like they’ve just sat through an LDS missionary lesson.”

Kevin Burtt, LDS Cinema Online. B+. “The Saratov Approach could have been only a circumstantially LDS film — a kidnapping story that just happened to involve LDS missionaries — and in the hands of a non-LDS director it may have been.  In Batty’s hands, the missionary work and spirituality aspects of the story are more heavily emphasized.  Propst and Tuttle talk at length before and during their captivity about the joys of missionary work and “spending all your energy doing good”.  Tuttle recites the text of the first missionary discussion several times, first to ward off nervousness, but later in earnest to teach their captors about God’s love . . . Other than a valentine to missionary work, the deeper spiritual message The Saratov Approach tries to present isn’t clear — perhaps the only real questionable aspect of a decent film.   After their capture, Tuttle laments not heeding his inner warning not to go to the appointment (“I felt it, the quiet voice!”) — potentially a dangerous message, implying that the Lord always warns LDS missionaries of trouble, and therefore victims of accidents or violent crime are partly to blame for “not listening to the Spirit” . . . One suspects there is “confirmation bias” at play here, where the lesson changes based on the result, not on the situation.  This wouldn’t be the first nor the last LDS-themed message that proposes that “God guides the righteous through the Holy Spirit to make good choices and avoid struggles” and “God lets righteous people struggle to help them grow as individuals” despite the seeming contradiction, and Batty’s film doesn’t delve into the spiritual implications enough to help navigate this paradox. And perhaps there’s no need.  The movie is effective enough at face value, and viewers will read into the spiritual message whatever they will without needing the film to explain the mysteries of the plan of salvation.  However, The Saratov Approach is coming out during a bad year for missionary safety, albeit not largely because of random violence.  The film stops short of saying “The Lord will always deliver his righteous servants from harm”, although that message is still implied . . . The spiritual elements of The Saratov Approach are best founded when showing missionaries and their families taking comfort in prayer and the inner knowledge that they are children of God.  Deeper subjects about the role of divine intervention in the creation or resolution of missionary tribulations, not as much. The LDS elements and emphasis may prevent The Saratov Approach from finding a significant non-LDS audience, but there’s nothing preventing anyone from enjoying this tense kidnapping story, that’s well-written, well-directed, and well-acted.”

Modern Mormon Men group review. Scott Hales: “The Saratov Approach gives me hope in the future of Mormon cinema. Like the best Mormon films, it strikes a nice balance between the gritty and the uplifting. It testifies of gospel principles without detracting from the realities that make life challenging for peoples and communities. It also reminds us that life is the outcome of an ongoing chain of choices that asks us what kind of person we want to be. In this film, we get characters–kidnappers–who make terrible choices even though they are initially motivated by righteous desires. We also get missionaries who struggle to be Christ-like to their captors when every instinct seems to compel them to do otherwise. Mormon films like The Saratov Approach are not made very often. However, when they are, they remind us of the great things that can happen when we take ourselves, our stories, and our faith seriously.”

Kyle: “The Saratov Approach grabbed my attention from the very beginning. The production quality was top notch, and the script didn’t read like some video produced at Church headquarters. Obviously the religious tones of the movie were there throughout, but what I appreciated most was that this movie could just as easily have been about Baptist, or any other religion’s, missionaries, and the religious message would have been the same. In other words, despite being about Mormons, this movie didn’t scream “hey only Mormons will get this!!!” I’ll admit that I was a little bored in the middle, as it is very dialogue heavy with not much action, but it was worth it to get to the end of the story and feel along with the characters the relief and joy of being free.”  Plus others.

Eric D. Snider comments (Movie B.S. with Bayer and Snider). “I was surprised at the quality of it, first as a kidnapping thriller, but also as a spiritual drama, which is not an angle that you see very often in the kidnapping thriller. I think it is very interesting how that played out. It is not necessarily Mormon specific, but it definitely comes from a place of faith and belief in God . . .  I was very impressed by the intensity and the quality of the acting. I am not going to write a formal review, as I know some of the people who made it.”

Meridian Magazine interview with the director.

The Maze Runner movie release was pushed back to Sept. 19, 2014. But 20th Century Fox also bought the option to the sequel, The Scorch Trials.

Austenland. Down 5 theaters in its 10th week, currently in 45 theaters. $45,000 this week, for a total of $1,966,000.

Theater

Rob Lauer. Geeks and Gangsters. Leicester Bay Theatricals, Sept. Comedy. LCT is publishing the script of the play and making amateur and professional rights to the play available. GEEKS & GANGSTERS tells the story of the two geeky Cleveland teenagers–Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster–who created Superman during the Great Depression and then lost all rights to the character while still young men. The show was first produced in 2007 at Western Wyoming College, and it features a host of roles than can be played by teens and young adults.

Bestsellers

October 13, 20, 27.

Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game hit #1 on the NYT Mass Market Paperback list. Branson Sanderson’s Steelheart hit #1 on the NYT YA list, but has settled down in the last two weeks. Besides Sanderson, Brandon Mull, Shannon Hale, James Dashner, and Richard Paul Evans are also on the YA/Children’s lists. Sanderson, Mull, and Dashner had a bet on who would sell the most last week. Mull won, so Sanderson and Dashner have to use pictures of Justin Bieber for their social media profile pictures this week.

Nielsen BookScan Top 20 novels for 2013 so far, from week ending June 30th.  #11. A Memory Of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (Tor)

Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card

NYT Paperback Mass Market: #7, #2, #1 (52th week)

NYT Paperback Trade. x, #24, #19 (6th week)

NYT Print and ebook combined. x, #12, #8 (13th week)

USA Today #55, #20, #14 (46th week). Highest position ever in the USA Today list.

PW Mass Market Paperback. x, #34, #12. 7063 units.

PW Children’s #24, #45, #14 (11th week). 4639 units.

Steelheart, by Brandon Sanderson

New York Times Young Adult: #1, #7, #7 (3rd week).

USA Today: #21, ?, x (2nd week)

PW Children’s #2, ?, x (2nd week). 9546 units in its first week.

Spirit Animals Book 1: Wild Born, by Brandon Mull

NYT Middle Grade #3, #3, #2 (5th week)

PW Children’s #7, #15, #11 (5th week). 5294 units, ? units, 5221 units. 30,477 total.

Ever After: The Storybook of Legends, by Shannon Hale

NYT Middle Grade: x, x, #7 (1st week).

PW Children’s: x, x, #13 (1st week). 5087 units sold.

The Eye of Minds, by James Dashner

NYT Young Adult: x, x, #8 (1st week)

PW Children’s: x, x, #17 (1st week). 4364 units in first week.

The Maze Runner Series, by James Dashner

NYT Children’s Series: x, x, #9 (62nd week).

Michael Vey: Battle of the Ampere, by Richard Paul Evans

NYT Children’s Series #4, x, x (2nd week)

USA Today #73, x, x (2nd week)

PW Children’s #3, #20, #21 (4th week). 3287 units. 36,155 total.

Smoke, by Ellen Hopkins

PW Children’s #19, ?, x (3rd week). 2999 units, 13,420 total.

Songs of Willow Frost, by Jamie Ford.

NYT Hardcover. #21, x, x.

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2 Responses to This Week in Mormon Literature, October 21, 2013

  1. Andrew H. says:

    Variety article on The Saratov Approach.
    http://variety.com/2013/film/news/young-mormon-moviegoers-have-faith-in-real-life-pic-saratov-approach-1200752524/
    “Writing its own box office success in the history books, ”The Saratov Approach,” the real-life story of two Mormon missionaries who were kidnapped and tortured in Russia, has quietly become a local B.O. hit in heavily Mormon areas throughout Utah, grossing nearly $500,000 in two weeks on only 23 screens.
    During its opening frame two weeks ago, the film, which is written and directed by Garrett Batty, averaged $11,000 per screen — the highest per-screen average for a limited release that weekend.
    “Saratov Approach” has generated a groundswell of support from the Mormon community, especially Mormon teens and Brigham Young U. college students, who are touting the film on social media . . .
    The film expands Friday to heavily populated Mormon cities outside Utah, including Mesa, Ariz., and Boise, Idaho. Major U.S. markets such as Denver, L.A., Houston and Sacramento expand on Dec. 6.
    Purdie said he anticipates “Saratov” to play at approximately 500 locations at its widest, with potential for cross-over appeal. In fact, the nation’s largest theater chains including Regal, AMC and Cinemark are requesting the film have a wider footprint based on its early success.”

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