This Month in Mormon Literature, February 2014

I missed Jennifer Quist’s Love Letters of the Angels of Death when it came out last year, check out the stellar reviews of this literary novel. The AML Conference dates have been announced. Julie Berry is named to another Best Of list. Mirror Press’s box set of Mormon-market romances hits the USA Today bestseller list. Eric Samuelsen’s play Clearing Bombs premiered yesterday, and revivals of works by Melissa Leilani Larson and Margaret Blair Young are also happening this month. The LDS Film Festival was held in Orem. The missionary comedy Inspired Guns opened to poor reviews and box office. Marilyn Brown has a new novel out, and Kasie West’s and Kiersten White’s new paranormal sequels sound oddly similar. Whitney Award-based book reviews are starting to roll in. Please send any news or corrections to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.

News and blogs

The Association for Mormon Letters Conference will be held April 11 and 12, UVU. “New Faces of Mormonism: Are We Changing the Way We See Ourselves?” “We will consider papers discussing the implications of efforts for greater transparency in the Church, especially as these efforts relate to literature/film. Papers on the recent church statements clarifying controversial historical issues are welcome. All papers related to Mormon letters will be considered. Send proposals to glenn.gordon7@bigpond.com by March 10.”

Julie Berry’s All the Truth That’s in Me was named to the The YALSA’s (Young Adult Library Services Association, a part of the ALA) 2014 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults. The YALSA’s larger 2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults (98 books) also included Brandon Sanderson’s The Rithmatist and Steelheart, and Kasie West’s Pivot Point.

The Audio Publishers Association (APA) today announced the finalists for the 19th annual Audie Awards. The winners will be announced on May 29. Finalists include:  Fantasy: The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson; Narrated by Michael Kramer; Macmillan Audio. Original Work and Multi-Voiced Performance: Ender’s Game Alive by Orson Scott Card; Narrated by a full cast; Audible, Inc.  Paranormal: Warbound by Larry Correia; Narrated by Bronson Pinchot; Audible, Inc.

Melissa Leilani Larson: Getting to Know the Playwright, Part I, Part 2 (BYU Theater’s Dramaturgy blog).

Eric Samuelsen profile at “Artists of Utah”.

At 91, author Shirley Sealy still bursting to write. Deseret News, Sharron Haddock.

New LDS Fiction held its annual Book Cover contest. The overall winner was Fair Catch, by Cindy Roland Anderson. See each genre finalist here.

NYT Sunday Book Review “Inside the List”. “Christine Feehan’s new ­novel, “Dark Wolf,” enters the hardcover fiction list at No. 3. It’s the 25th book in her “Dark” series of paranormal romances, about a race of shape-shifters called the Carpathians — basically, kindhearted vampires who refuse to kill humans and often have energetic, soul-trembling sex with them. Feehan discovered her calling while she was still in middle school; speaking with the romance website RBL Romantica early in her career, she remembered sitting in math class and working on her first steamy love scene until the teacher confiscated her notebook. “You should have seen his face,” she said. “I was about 13 at the time. I don’t know which of us was more mortified.” But despite her early start she delayed publishing for a long time, working more than 20 years as a martial arts instructor (she has a third-degree black belt in karate) and writing for herself while she and her husband raised 11 children. “I can write with the entire household around me most of the time,” she told another website in 2002. “My husband reads all my books and had better love them — and if he doesn’t, he’d better lie like crazy with a smile on his face. The only thing I avoid while writing a love scene is my children. Children and writing love scenes don’t mix; they get you out of the mood very, very fast.””

Writing Excuses Podcast 9.4: Artifical Intelligence with Nancy Fulda

The Good Word Podcast has interviews with authors Michelle Wilson and L. R. W. Lee.

New interviews at Mormon Artists: Sarah Dunster, Carol Lynch Williams, Shannon Hale, Karen Kelsay, Adam Abel, and Ryan Little.

Magazines and short stories

Scott Hales. “The Curelom”. Mormon superhero short story at Wilderness Interface Zone.

Theric Jepsen, “Then at 2:30 . . .” Short story at 365 Tomorrows.

Leading Edge, vol. 65, is now available. Feb. 18. “Contained in this volume are five fantastic stories with gorgeous accompanying artwork (just see that stunning cover image for Blue Glow!) along with the three pieces of Flash Fiction that won this issue’s contest, an editorial about the differences between story and plot, and a couple of poems!.”

New books and their reviews

A Timeless Romance Anthology: Love Letter Collection. Mirror Press, Jan. 23. Romance novellas, three contemporary and three historical. 6th in the series. By Diane Darcy, Sarah M. Eden, Krista Lynne Jensen, Annette Lyon, Heather B. Moore, and Karey White.

Brodi Ashton. Evertrue. Balzer + Bray, Jan. 21. YA paranormal romance. Everneath #3, conclusion of the trilogy. Nikki fights Cole, and tries to destroy the Everneath. A big darker than earlier installments.

Kirkus: “As in previous installments, the prose is sprinkled with references to Greek mythology. The beautifully orchestrated obstacles and rising tension position the characters so that they must succeed or die. Although the denouement passes very quickly, the ending satisfies and will break some hearts.”

Michael Bast. Death’s Academy. Sweetwater/Cedar Fort, Jan. 14. Middle grade fantasy. First novel. Humorous story about a kid with an attitude going to school to be a Reaper.

Jennie Hansen. 4 stars. “Fun! A bit disrespectful and the main character is a brat, but a fun read anyway.”

Bookworm Lisa. 4 stars. “Night is a very interesting character. He has issues. He has a chip on his shoulder and attitude. He suffers from his father’s notoriety. Chuckles ensue when they find out his last name is Smith. To fight back, he is a rule breaker. I believe that this is a fun book for tweens and older. There is potty humor, which as a mother I know will draw my sons into the book. For my sons, it is appealing and funny. My 14 year old and my 10 year old will really enjoy reading this book.”

Aimee. 3.5 stars. “I’m not so sure I’m the biggest fan of Midnight. He breaks rules without remorse, he is disrespectful to his parents and other authority figures, he lies and he sneaks out of his house. As a mother I’m not a fan of any of these things. He pulls off a good thing in the end but I wonder at the lack of consequences for his continued bad behavior. He is young though and I think he learns some valuable lessons by the end so it’s not all bad. I just prefer to see a main character (especially in books where young kids may be reading) have a bit more respect. This book is filled with fun and adventure. The secondary characters are engaging and the story flows well. The few pictures throughout the book were fun and I liked how it enhanced my mental pictures. I kind of wish there had been more of them.”

Sarah Beard. Porcelain Keys. Sweetwater/Cedar Fort, Feb. 14. YA romance. “Aria’s life is full of secrets—secrets about her mother’s death, her father’s cruelty, and her dream to go to Juilliard.” Debut novel.

Deseret News, Shelby Schoffield. “At first glance, “Porcelain Keys” seems like a typical teenage soap opera, but it has more depth and feeling . . . The best part about “Porcelain Keys” is the musical imagery. Beard uses musical terms to describe the emotions that Aria is feeling. It is a powerful technique that makes “Porcelain Keys” an engaging read — especially to those who are musically inclined.”

LDSWBR (Mindy). 5 stars. “Wow, this was a good book. I could not put it down.  I almost finished it in one sitting. I loved the story. I was immediately taken by Aria and her life. I loved how the author pulled me into the story with subtle hints of what was to come and didn’t let go until the end. So many things happen to her and those around her, you can’t help but read all night. I know I have read a good book when I read it quickly, have tears in my eyes at some point and have a smile on my face at the end.”

Aimee. 4 stars. “I think I was expecting the usual YA book but what I got was something deeper and more substantial. This was a tender and emotional story of a girl trying to escape the hurt to find hope, healing and love.”

Marilyn Brown. The Rosefields of Zion. Currawong/Walnut Press, Jan. 17. “It is 1925, and the government wants to purchase the Rosefield family farm at the mouth of Zion National Park to build a visitor’s center. Bradley and Ellen Rosefield refuse to sell. When they pass away, the two oldest Rosefield boys assign their sister Marissa to retrieve the land title from the St. George courthouse. There she meets a debonair government official from New York who sweeps her off her feet. But are his intentions honorable?”

Marilyn Arnold, AML. “Yes, Marilyn Brown has done it again. No surprise there. In her new book, “The Rosefields of Zion,” she has skillfully combined history and fiction to produce a novel you will probably stay up all night to finish. It grips both the mind and the heart as intensity builds for this family of Rosefields living and farming on priceless property adjacent to Zion National Park. Brown has done her homework, as she always does, and we learn a good deal about the history of that stunningly beautiful area. We also get fictional glimpses of county government operations in the earlier days of St. George. The story is gripping as tragedies strike the family and Brown unleashes anguish and surprises . . . As a writer myself, I have to confess that Brown’s skill with language impresses me at least as much as her gift for building a narrative that grabs the reader and won’t let go. I love the way she crafts sentence after sentence. Every sentence is good, and some are pure poetry. Take this one, for example: “The absence of the mother was still like a mist hanging in their rooms, or floating over the red rocks in the canyon, and it was a cloud of sorrows and mystery Marissa could not seem to penetrate.” We have to hope that Marilyn Brown lives a long time and never quits writing.”

Julie Daines. Unraveled. Covenant, Feb. 3. YA fairy tale romance. A witch provides a spell allowing a crippled girl to walk, but there are consequences. Second novel.

Sarah M. Eden. Hope Springs. Shadow Mountain, Feb. 14. Historical romance. Sequel to Longing for Home. Irish emigrants in Wyoming in the 1870s. “Proper Romance” series. Deseret News feature story.

Publishers Weekly: “An intriguing mix of personal morality and social justice, masquerading as romance and bound with historical twine. In the late 19th century, the American-born farmers of the small Wyoming community of Hope Springs are at war with their Irish-born neighbors . . . Tenderly written but sometimes emotionally manipulative, this novel explores and to some extent exploits the plight of the Irish after the great famine. Eden puts poor Katie through one ordeal after another, underlining a portrayal of the Irish as unfailingly good-hearted despite endless suffering.”

Library Journal. “The protagonist’s character development especially shines through in this series entry. Readers will root for her to find the happiness, love, and forgiveness for which she has always longed. VERDICT: Eden’s heartwarming romance shows how having faith in oneself and in God can lighten burdens and heal hearts. Recommend for fans of historical or Western romance and those who have longed to find a place that finally feels like home.”

Kevin Hopkins. Skylight. Cedar Fort/Sweetwater, Feb. 11. Dystopian. Poisoned air kills millions, and society collapses. Debut novel.

Krista Lynne Jensen. Falling For You. Covenant, Feb. 3. Contemporary romance. A star of the fashion industry tries to slow down in Jackson Hole, finds romance with an innkeeper.

Elana Johnson. Elevated. Self, Feb. 18. YA contemporary romance. In verse. Ebook only. 17-year old girl finds herself stuck in an elevator with her ex-boyfriend, who she has been avoiding. Secrets come out.

Nicole Giles. 5 stars. “I love the emotional impact that hits again and again with each event that leads to the one fateful day when they end up stuck together in an elevator with their secrets and their heartache. I love how it’s written. I love the voice. I love the characters. I love how real the world and the conflicts feel. But mostly, I love that Elana has managed to cram SO MUCH story into so few words. If you’ve never read a book in verse, read this one. You’ll be converted. If you’ve read one and didn’t like it, read this one. You’ll change your mind.”

Matthew J. Kirby. Quantum League: The Spell Robbers. Scholastic, Jan. 28. Middle grade SF. The Quantum League #1. “After 12-year old Ben Warner is recruited to join a “science camp” led by the eccentric quantum physicist Dr. Madeleine Hughes, he quickly realizes it’s no regular science camp. Along with his new friend, Peter, Ben discovers the secret, powerful art of Actuation–the ability to change reality by simply imagining it differently.”

PW: “Kirby infuses this action-packed spy thriller with layers of moral ambiguity. Identified as an actuating prodigy, Ben struggles to decipher how to manage his gifts and which side to use them for, knowing his choice has high stakes. Although tempted to believe one leader’s warning—“Evil people can do great harm with very little power…. We are not perect, but we are all the world has”—Ben questions the dogma and tactics of all combatants. This first book in the Quantum League series provides satisfying partial closure, while intriguing storylines to be developed will leave readers eager for the next installment.”

Kirkus: “This high-energy spy story is enhanced by the addition of scientific theory (if rather unsteadily grounded) and authentic characters. Ben’s integrity, bravery and desire to forgo his special-agent status for his mother differentiate him from other familiar genre heroes. Unfortunately, uneven pacing, loose threads and a meandering plot are ultimately the story’s undoing. An open ending promises a sequel. Refreshingly different in some ways but ultimately unsatisfying.”

Deseret News. “The plot of “Spell Robbers” moves with action-packed momentum placed in detailed settings: a disbanded amusement park, dark vacant neighborhoods and an eerie church that serves as the Quantum League headquarters.”

Lynne Larson. Saving Lucie Cole. Covenant, Jan. 3. LDS historical. Set in Southern Utah in 1903, Young Ladies general board member Ruth May Fox tries to rescue an imperiled young woman. Second novel.

Angie Lofthouse. The Ransomed Returning. Self, Jan. 23. LDS science fiction. Sequel to Defenders of the Covenant. Battle against the alien invaders or Earth continues.

Stephanie Wells Mason. On the Way Home. Deseret Boook/Eagle Gate, April 2013. eBook + POD printing. A young widowed mother struggles to support her family. She is introduced to the Church, a loving elderly woman and a fireman.

Jean Holbrook Matthews. Run For Your Life. Covenant, Jan. 3. Suspense. A suspicious link between an ongoing environmental lawsuit and the nomination of a new judge leads to a conspiracy in the US government, a murder, and a Congressman’s staff member on the run.

Jordan McCollum. Spy Noon. Self, Feb. 3. Romantic suspense. Prequel novella in the Spy Another Day series.

Kimberley Montpetit. Paris Cravings. Spellbound Books, Feb. 1. YA Contemporary Romance. “Montpetit” is a pseudonym for Kimberly Griffiths Little, who has written several nationally published middle grade novels. A high school girl gets a tour of Paris with a handsome young man, while the police try to find her.

Patrick Ord. The Curtain. Self, Feb. 27. Technological thriller. A marketing consultant uses data mining and other controversial marketing practices to manipulate customers, but the “he realizes he has inadvertently given corporations the power to destroy society for their own ends.”

Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine. 4 stars. “The Curtain by Patrick Ord is a book that left me with mixed feelings. It has every fault I’ve ever complained about in a first time novel and in indie-published novels. However the premise is fascinating and highly informative. I never thought I would recommend a book with so many technical errors, but this one I do . . . Character development is sketchy throughout this story and dialog is stilted and doesn’t feel real. There is too much lecturing and not enough action, leaving a sense of telling rather than showing. The book could use tighter editing and more professional formatting and copyediting. Where the book excels is in drawing a picture of our technology-oriented world and explaining the uses that can be made of the huge amount of personal information that can be gleaned from our naive use of that technology. Every bit of information users supply through social pages, online games, online purchasing, credit and debit card usage, polls, etc., can all be turned into profiles that tell marketers when, where, and for what we spend our money, which political issues matter to us, which charities we favor, what habits have a hold on us, who our friends and family members are, and much more. This is all fodder for mass and individual manipulation, leading many to spend more than they have, succumb to addictions, and break up families.”

Jennifer Quist. Love Letters of the Angels of Death. Linda Leith Publishing, Aug. 3. Literary fiction. Debut novel by the Canadian author. Written in second-person narration. The protagonist couple are not identified directly as Mormons, but there are plenty of hints. Blurb: “A young couple discover the remains of his mother in her mobile home. The rest of the family fall back, leaving them to reckon with the messy, unexpected death. By the time the burial is over, they understand this will always be their role: to liaise with death on behalf of people they love. They are living angels of death.” Quist’s 2012 short story “Fish Story” was nominated for the Writers’ Guild of Alberta’s Howard O’Hagan Award. Her fiction is published in Filling Station, in NorthWord and in The 40 Below Project.

Publishers Weekly: “Cheerfully unsentimental, the work manages a surprising joyful tone for a novel obsessed with inexorable death, with the idea that to be born is to take the first step towards the grave. Told in the second person, the work is a song of praise to mono no aware, the pathos of transience. It nevertheless celebrates the sweet moments in life along with the bitter. It reminds readers that life is short but along the way are moments that can make it worthwhile, if one only takes the time to appreciate them. A striking examination of life and death, the work is a promising debut novel.”

Montreal Gazette: “Among the uniformly high standard already established by Linda Leith’s fledgling indie literary publishing house, a standout is Jennifer Quist’s debut novel, Love Letters of the Angels of Death, an extended meditation on matrimony and mortality that flits with remarkable assurance between the naturalistic and the supernatural, the sad and the funny.”

National Post. “For all this dwelling on mortality, Love Letters of the Angels of Death can be quite perky, mostly because of the personality of Caroline. She’s feisty without being obnoxious, stubborn without being politically correct — this in spite of having undergone a feminist education at the university. It is also significant that we see her through the filter of her husband’s commentary: Throughout the novel, her husband addresses Caroline in the second person. (“Before you even know you’re awake, your eyes are already open in the darkness.”) This sometimes causes confusion as to who is really speaking, Brigham or Caroline. The technique works in the main, however, conveying to the reader the very strong impression that these two love each other . . . [The novel] has no strong narrative drive or central conflict but is powered rather by vivid set pieces — a horrific dental procedure, a frightening injury suffered by their two-year-old son on a merry-go-round. It is rather a series of linked stories with a very strong thematic unity — and very strong unity of tone — than a novel. Quist’s heroine, in particular, has a sardonic edge to her speech, as well as an eye for what makes a culture function. Her metaphors, it is interesting to note, are never from the natural world but from the world of literature and media, with references ranging from the Bible to Joni Mitchell. Quist’s prose, finally, is painstaking in its effort to capture the tangible and the olfactory as well as the visual, with sometimes disconcerting results. She makes the act of slicing a chicken in a kitchen as clinical as an autopsy. The primary emphasis, however, is on smell, a kind of echo throughout the narrative of the book’s first great display of scent — the rotting human corpse in the mobile home. The smell of the ointment on her grandfather’s bed is a reference to that first display — even the smell of the seniors discount card in her grandmother’s wallet points to it. Again, if all this sounds gruesome, there is great tenderness between Caroline and her husband to counterbalance it. “You’ve buried your face in the wool of my coat,” Brigs comments in a moment of feeling, and there is much of this in this powerfully emotional novel. “I’m crushing your face into my chest,” he comments at another such moment. It is a good crushing, and in context a small indication that death indeed can lose its sting.”

Quill & Quire. “The second-person-inside-the-first becomes the overarching leitmotif of the book. While never overtly addressing the reader, this approach suggests we’re being engaged as a kind of substitute spouse, with all the intimacy that implies. Elsewhere, Brigham’s imagination takes on writerly omniscience as he conjures his wife’s childhood and her grandfather’s death: “So you try to imagine what your grandmother’s grief must be like … but it’s hard to see how her mood could be much different from the melancholy, recovering-Calvinist temperament she seems to have even at picnics.” The author takes refreshing risks with the metaphoric potential of narrative voice: the wifely “you,” sometimes awkwardly sustained, nonetheless seems to be gathering toward some kind of revelation. That climactic moment arrives with mixed success, but conveys a heartfelt authorial grasp of life’s losses. Quist drives home her theme: husband and wife – Brigham and “you” – engage with the macabre, sorrowful aspects of mortality on almost every page. Happily, Brigham’s voice is marked by a gently jaded irony that’s free of pathos. Flashbacks to the couple’s feisty courtship, nuptials, and the raising of three sons bring the fractious pleasures of living back into the mix. Love Letters of the Angels of Death gains resonance in retrospect. Quist’s subject is the paradoxical connection and division between self and other, and how love narrows the gap while making final separation the painful, inevitable counterpoint.”

The Indiscriminate Critic. “As much as the experience and knowledge of death is central to the novel, this is equally a story about the marital relationship between Brigs and his wife. The authenticity of the small, shared moments took me quite by surprise, and made my enjoyment more personal than abstract. . . . Quist’s literary style comes across as effortless while retaining a keen edge of precision. I was simply astounded at how easily I became engrossed in the book. I’m also a big sucker for allusions and recurring thematic elements, and Love Letters of the Angels of Death is simply stacked in that respect. Two of the most outstanding examples were the Niagara Falls mummy, whose repeated mention married the notion of human remains with a dash of Canadiana, and the notion of the incorruptible saints, which artistically blurred the line between the corporal and spiritual. When Elijah was mentioned—the Hebrew prophet who was taken from the earth before he died—it was to me like putting a cherry on top of an already rich confection. Beyond the prose itself, I was also quite taken with the unique elements of style and story. A mental Möbius strip developed from trying to wrap my mind around the fact that this is a woman writing as a man writing about a woman. There was also an almost dislocated effect arising from having a first person narrator tell the story in second person point of view. And while it might appear that these refractive elements couldn’t possibly work, Quist somehow manages to make it seem as though it couldn’t be written in any other way. The telling of this tale couldn’t possibly be any better. From a personal point of view, I’m tempted to prematurely call this the best book I will read all year. I literally couldn’t pull myself away from the pages, reading it in one uninterrupted sitting. There were moments of gleeful delight where my smile could have lit up a room, and moments of shattering heartache where I felt myself audibly gasp. It hit some personal chord deep inside of me where literature is often unable or unwilling to strike. Apart from being a stunning literary debut, this is a novel that has already found a special place on my bookshelf and in my heart.  Highly recommended.”

Kellie, Segullah. “Jennifer Quist’s “Love Letters of the Angels of Death” is (contrary to the Gothic-sounding title) a lyrical, rich love story between a husband and wife. The characters are full-blooded, incredibly vibrant and above all firmly, undeniably relatable. Nobody has piercing eyes, or heart-stopping features, this is real life. The wife is pregnant in several of the stories told, they argue, sneak kisses when the kids aren’t watching, they each have their pet peeves and morbid fascinations. What they have is each other, and an obviously deep, committed relationship which is their support and anchor through ordinary, difficult, crushingly difficult experiences . . .  Quist’s book is a finalist for this round of Whitney Awards, and it is a powerhouse all on its own. For me, “Love Letters of the Angels of Death” is already firmly ensconced as the best book I have read in the last six months, and it will take seismic activity, an alien invasion AND some master-crafted literary marvel to make me even think of beginning to change my mind. Seriously, this is a gorgeous, beautiful piece of lyrical realism.”

Shelah Books It. 5 stars. “It sounds like a lot of simple things, but Quist shows (without being sentimental or heavy-handed) that it’s simple moments like these that make up a relationship, that cement a love affair. The writing is beautiful and a little bit haunting (I think it has to do with the perspective), and I found myself riveted. Since a book that focuses so much on death is ultimately a book that also focuses on faith, I was very impressed with the way that Quist handled issues of faith. I think that in books written by Mormons, we often see characters who are overtly Mormon and then seem to be characterized as “Mormon” characters, or we see authors who stay away from issues of religion and faith at all, so they don’t have to address it and possibly limit their audience. To a Mormon reader, Briggs and his wife are obviously LDS, but Quist seems to stick to looking at issues of faith and not necessarily of Mormon culture (and honestly, I’m not sure how Mormon culture looks different in Canada). Quist’s characters are faithful and mature, but their faith is undefined. Finally, and I’m reluctant to say this, because putting together one of the pieces of the puzzle of this story as it unfolded was a sheer pleasure for this reader, I was delighted to see that in a year where we had many, many books about death in the pool of books to read for the Whitneys, this is one that managed to tell the story in an artful way. I’m delighted that the Whitneys brought it to my attention, but it will be a book that I recommend to many people.”

Rosalyn. 4 stars. “This was a gorgeously written book exploring the close (sometimes constricting) ties between two people who know and love each other intimately. This isn’t a plot driven novel at all, but a character driven one, written as a series of letters (sort of) from husband to wife . . . It took me a while to get into the second-person narration, but once I got past that I found myself engrossed in the story and read it in just a couple of days. It’s a short novel, but a powerful one. I found myself repeatedly slowing down just to enjoy the prose.”

Becky Lyn Rickman. The Convict, the Rookie Card, and the Redemption of Gertie Thump. WiDo, Feb. 4. Cozy mystery. Debut novel. The people of a small town rally to save an annoying but threatened woman.

Anita Stansfield, Krista Lynne Jensen, and Sheryl C. S. Johnson. With All My Heart. Covenant, Feb. 3. Romance anthology. Three romance novellas.

Kasie West. Split Second. HarperTeen, Feb. 11. YA paranormal. Sequel to Pivot Point. Teen age girl struggles with her ability to see the future, betrayals of friends.

Kirkus. “Best friends Addie and Laila uncover secrets about their community and the development of supernatural abilities. Addie, having had her potential future in Dallas wiped from her mind in Pivot Point, visits her father outside of the Compound, secret home to the paranormal community. Her path crosses with Trevor’s again, but this time, romance doesn’t come as easily. The Containment Committee has threatened her with a memory wipe if she tells anybody about the Compound, and her precognitive abilities are growing, causing headaches and moments where she loses control and slows down time itself. This time, West’s dual narrative technique weaves Addie’s story with Laila’s viewpoint . . . Although the climax passes a little too easily, the story effectively builds momentum that will leave readers pondering the questions it raises. A fast, smart thriller populated by lively characters.”

Deseret News. “Overall, “Split Second” is a satisfying story with both girls earning their romantic happily-ever-afters while facing trials that are very relatable, even with the addition of the paranormal aspects. They are still navigating the difficulties of first loves, friendships, families and staying true to oneself — difficulties that every teenager understands.”

Kiersten White. Perfect Lies. HarperTeen, Feb. 18. YA paranormal romance. Sequel to Mind Games. Sisters with paranormal powers fight the organization led by their father.

Kirkus. “The sisters’ alternating narration helps to modulate the tension, balancing Fia’s jittery, violent persona with Annie’s focused, levelheaded one. Fia’s emotional extremes verge on tiresome without quite crossing the line. White avoids sequel padding, keeping her tale lean and streamlined, and again makes skillful use of temporal shifts (readers are wise to keep track of dates and times) in constructing her suspenseful plot. If the narrative (it’s less a sequel than Mind Games’ second half) doesn’t explore new territory, there’s plenty in its template to hold readers fast.”

Carol Lynch Williams and Cheri Pray Earl. Just in Time: The Rescue Begins in Delaware. Familius, Jan. 1.  Middle grade time travel. 84 pages. Time traveling adventure, with twins going to important events in US history, with one of them turning into an animal each time. This time, with the girl as a horse, they help Ceasar Rodney ride to Philadelphia to vote for the Declaration of Independence.  The authors are the co-founders of the annual BYU Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Workshop

——-, Sweet Secrets in Pennsylvania. Familius, July 18. Just in Time v. 2. Middle grade time travel. The twins meet Milton Hershy in 1907.

Lani Woodland. Inevitable. Self, Feb. 10. YA paranormal. Yara Sivla series #3.

Whitney Finalists Roundups

Whitney Finalists 2013: First Impressions (Jessie, Dawning of a Brighter Day)

2013 Whitney Nominees (Emily M., Segullah)

YA Speculative (Rosalyn, Segullah).

Reviews of older books

Space Eldtritch II. (Alan, Elitist Book Reviews). Like. “We’ll start with “Fall of the Runewrought” by Howard Taylor. This is a continuation of Howard’s story from the first SPACE ELDRITCH anthology (which I liked). I think the highlight for me here was that Howard has developed a consistent and interesting world. The use of magic runes to create new tech was a great blend of magic and technology and it didn’t feel stale after the first story. The change from a single protagonist to a military-unit style storytelling was a different perspective on how his world has adjusted. I think this was the best story in the anthology. Hands down.”

Nephi Anderson. Added Upon (Shelah Books It). 3 stars. “The story is extremely didactic and preachy and Anderson basically goes on giving sermons for page after page at times. Despite the limitations of the story, it’s an important book for Mormons, especially from a cultural standpoint.”

Julie Berry. All The Truth That’s In Me (The Guardian). “All the Truth That’s in Me is a dark and chilling tale of abuse and secrets, of love and loss, of silence and courage. Its second person narration was one so unique and almost lyrical, with a rhythm and a kind of music I’ve never read before. Each chapter is usually only half a page long, sometimes less, it keeps with the way Judith might think, in short sequences. She’s a very calculating kind of person and seems to always see deeper than others, as if her lack of speech opened her eyes and ears to a far more intricate world only she can see and the narration portrayed it wonderfully. In some books the only characters we truly understand are the central ones, but in All the Truth That’s in Me almost every person mentioned seemed to have a life to them, some more than others but always there, shining on the page . . . Instead I found an entirely unique love that can’t be given a name for all its astonishing originality and for that I will always be grateful to Julie Berry, for showing me that, whether it is possible in real life or not, some kinds of love are just too beautiful for words.”

Melissa Dalton-Bradford Global Mom: A Memoir (John F., By Common Consent). “My favorite “Mormon” book of 2013 (the Joseph Smith Papers Project releases notwithstanding) was Melissa Dalton-Bradford’s Global Mom: A Memoir. The book wasn’t written as a specifically Mormon memoir or as a piece of historical writing about Mormonism — it is skilfully written for a general audience. The narrative contains a few isolated specific references to her Mormon faith, culture, and religious life. Otherwise, Dalton-Bradford’s Mormonism is in the background as a constant anchor steadying her life through good and (very) bad times — it is simply the religious framework of her life discussed in general terms that make it meaningful to a general audience who will be able to relate to the peace available in their own lives through their own religious faith . . . he writes compellingly about both the joy and pain of expatriate life, pulling no punches in explaining her own encounters with crippling anxiety, bordering on clinical depression, as the prospect of moving yet again to another different country and language comes into view (and after landing in the new location facing the prospect of setting up home and family life with a husband constantly traveling for business). And to her credit, she does not shy away from plumbing the absolute depths of a truly life-altering tragedy that would shake the foundation of any family. This latter aspect of the book — the focus of much of the second half on an almost surreal family tragedy — significantly raises the value of the book for any audience . . . The narrative also highlights undeniable gifts of the Spirit surrounding the family’s relationships and their decisions to move where and when they moved, each time confirming that they were on a path approved by the Lord. These spiritual interludes are very moving without any of the trite, rote, or kitsch attributes that have unfortunately become characteristic of Mormon “testimony” culture in many circles and areas. For this reason, I believe they will be moving for the general audience as well, and not just for Mormon readers.”

Orson Scott Card. Ender’s Game Alive (The Indiscriminate Reviewer) “This full cast audioplay adaptation of the classic novel is an interesting concept, but it fell short of my admittedly high expectations . . . The story itself is peerless, and really stands in a class of its own. There were definitely no problems on that front. The audioplay version brings a great energy to the proceedings, especially when it comes to conveying emotions. The huge cast of voices ensures that characters are [usually] easily identified without having to resort to constant narrative interruptions. Sound design was also impressive, with stereo effects put to great use in simulating zero-g spins or moving away from characters in the battle rooms. High marks also go the foley work, where the sounds were just enough to add to the story without becoming obtrusive. On the not-so-positive side, however, there were some real drawbacks. I’ve always laughed at the cheesy narrator voices from those old radio shows, but the complete lack of a narrator highlighted the necessity of that function. Even knowing the story as I did, there were still moments where mental orientation took a little longer than I would have hoped for. There’s also the fact that the story begins when our character is just six years old, yet absolutely no effort was put into making him sounds that young. For an audioplay — where everything is interpreted by what the listener hears — that sort of dissonance between what we’re told and what we hear really hampers believability . . . As an audioplay, Ender’s Game Alive hints at real potential for the format — even if I don’t think it’s ready for prime time just yet. If you’ve read the book before, this is a worthwhile extra which offers a unique experience. For anyone who hasn’t yet read the book, I wouldn’t recommend this audioplay as a good starting point, but I would encourage you to try out the original novel or the unabridged audiobook instead.”

Stephen Carter. The Hand of Glory (Rosalyn). 3.5 stars. “I made the mistake of starting this book just before bedtime, which I would not recommend, unless you enjoy being frightened and creeped out before trying to sleep–I do not! I had to finish the book before I could sleep, which either means that I am easily frightened (possibly true) or that the author did an extremely good job making the book creepy and disturbing (definitely true). So no, I can’t say that I love this book, but I think it will appeal to readers who *do* enjoy being scared by the books they read.”

Julianne Donaldson. Blackmore (Jessie). “I admit that I didn’t like Edenbrooke (Donaldson’s first book) as much as most people I know did. I thought it was a little boring, so I had somewhat lower expectations for this book. I don’t know if it was just my lower expectations, but I was pleasantly surprised and ended up really liking this book. The plot had interesting twists and turns I didn’t expect, the main character and her love interest were both fun to read about, and there was some interesting commentary on love, family, and personal growth.”

Sarah Dunster. Mile 21 (Jessie). “Reading this book was a bit of a struggle–on the one hand I quickly became emotionally invested in the story and wanted to keep reading to find out what happened to the main character; on the other hand, it was so emotionally intense that I had to take a few breaks just to calm down a bit as I found myself a little too wrapped up in the story. I thought one of the strengths of the book was that, although the main character was really unpleasant, I ended up caring deeply about her by the end of the book. I’ve read a lot of discussions lately about the idea of ‘likeability’ and fictional characters, and agree with the idea that characters don’t have to be someone we would want to be friends with. But it can still be difficult to really get into and enjoy a book with a protagonist that is so rude, immature, proud, and difficult to deal with. As a reader, I knew why she behaves the way she does, and that helped me feel more sympathetic and willing to root for her as she struggles to grow and change. This really is an excellent book for so many reasons; one of my only complaints is that the cover is terrible (I hate the picture and the tagline is misleading).”

Sarah M. Eden. As You Are (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine). 4 stars. “Sarah Eden has a knack for just the right pacing in her books. As in her previous books, the action moves along comfortably, supplying background as it goes without unloading info dumps on the reader while endearing the characters to us, and at the same time introducing the crisis the characters face. She gradually shifts the action to greater intensity, resolves some of the lesser problems, then provides a smashing, satisfying ending. Regency Romances are strong on manners, social position, and the conventions of the regency period in England, but Eden takes hers a step further in showcasing a more universal human dilemma faced by Corbin and Clara. In this story, the main characters make discoveries concerning who they are outside of the narrow strictures of their society . . . Both Corbin and Clara are well developed as characters and both grow and gain greater insight as the story progresses, but my favorite characters are the children. Obviously the author is familiar with the various motivations , misconceptions, repetitions, and dialog of small children.”

Eric Freeze. Dominant Traits (Jennifer Quist). [Quist talks about how she knows Freeze from High School.] “We have both set stories in the same southern Alberta town where we went to school, the place that inspires his “Ridgeview.”  We both write fiction deeply rooted in real life . . . Though I’ve been on the giving end – force-feeding my family, friends, and high school classmates doses of our histories, fictionalized, printed, bound between the brittle, narrow margins of my perspective — I don’t think I’d ever been on the receiving end of this kind of storytelling in so direct a way until I read Eric’s book.  Seeing it from the other side had a much greater impact on me than I expected . . . It was good for me to read Dominant Traits . . . Reading it helped me consider my own writing in a new way, with greater empathy, with more tenderness and patience for what I demand of everyone. Here was another writer not only playing my game but playing much of it on the same field – the same place and time . . . The collection, in many ways, is men’s fiction — if the prevailing literary privilege will allow me to talk of such a thing.  It’s smitten with the male problem of imagining erections and ejaculations are far more salient in the world outside their own pants than they actually are.  The other half of humanity rolls its eyes, scoots to the cold side of the bed, and tells those Very Important erections to just go to sleep, for crying out loud.  I’d like to see a man my age write a meaningful, earnest, literary love story without any penises in it.  I’m not protesting out of stodginess.  I’m protesting because I’m tired and disappointed with male (and often female) writers taking the slimy, easy shortcut to writing about intimacy.  Work at sex and intimacy in a different medium once in a while, fellas.  Feel free to prove me wrong with examples in the comments. In the age of “post-fiction,” writing from life is accepted and understood, sometimes preferred.  Maybe it’s not considered cheating anymore.  I don’t believe in creation ex nihilo – that everything we know must have been created by some kind of magic out of emptiness.  I don’t believe in it physically or artistically.  Ex nihilo nihil fit.  I’d wager Eric Freeze doesn’t believe in it either.  Everything created is organized out of pieces of things that are here already – Big Bangs exploding whenever someone or something comes crashing through us.”

Annette Haws. The Accidental Marriage (Shelah Books It). 4 stars. “I loved seeing Mormon culture at work, and seeing the way that people’s interpretation of what it means to be Mormon can rub up against other people’s interpretations. I loved seeing self-righteousness and hypocrisy at work. I loved seeing Nina resisting the boxes she found herself put in. I’m delighted to see authors who aren’t afraid to present the complications of Mormon culture.”

Dorothy Keddington. Hearth Fires (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine). “Though her books, including this one, are not explicitly LDS, Keddington is frequently credited with being one of a handful of LDS writers who pioneered novels for and about LDS people. Her books support LDS values without straying into doctrinal preaching or directly referencing the Church. Her warm, easy style has led to a large following of readers and serve as encouragement for many LDS novelists who wish to write stories set within the framework of their own culture and values. In this novel the main characters are strong, intelligent, and likable. Their growth is handled well, but I would have liked a little more background for William. There are resolutions that take place off stage which would have been better closer to the main characters. The romance portion of the story is strong, but never delves into explicit intimacy. The romance happens a little too quickly for some tastes, and with a real life couple I would recommend they take a little time to get acquainted under more normal terms. Keddington writes almost poetically of both the California coast and the red rocks of Utah. Her descriptions bring the background to life. The suspenseful portions of the story are so gripping it’s nearly impossible to set the book down while reading those chapters. She understands and utilizes dialog well. The middle sags a bit with too much emphasis on family history stories that really have little to do with the plot but serve as filler. Suspense fans may be disappointed in so much epilog after the story actually ends, but romance fans will love it and find it a wonderfully appropriate Valentine’s Day read.”

Josi Kilpack. Shannon’s Hope (Shelah Books It). 3 stars. “I applaud Kilpack for taking on a challenging topic and for showing how difficult it can be when someone you love struggles with addiction. Ultimately, for me, the book felt more like an after-school special or a Lifetime movie than it would have if it had been more about characters and interactions and less about a subject matter.”

Annette Lyon. Band of Sisters: Coming Home (Shelah Books It). 3 stars. “I am the first person to admit that my review of Annette Lyon’s first Band of Sister’s book was not as generous as it could have been . . . But I started this book with what I hoped was an open mind, and I’m happy to report that I found it much more interesting and complex and less sentimental than the first novel . . .  One of the things I loved about this novel is watching how all five women grew so much while their husbands were gone, but might not have recognized that growth until they had them back. They learned to rely on themselves, and they almost universally found themselves bristling when they had to answer to someone else on a regular basis . . . I liked seeing the very real struggles of these women and felt that Lyon added depth to their characters.

H. B. Moore. Ruby’s Secret (Shelah Books It). 3 stars. “Moore’s writing is smooth and the story is very readable. Ruby is an engaging character and I think many readers will identify with her struggle.”

Jenny Proctor. The House at Rose Creek (Shelah Books It). 3 stars. “I think that Proctor is a good writer who knows how to create characters, keep readers interested, and work with conflicts. I really thought that the story of Kate’s family history was fascinating. However, I’m not sure about how I feel about this turning into a conversion narrative. If the book is written for a general, non-LDS audience, would they feel manipulated by the turn the story takes? If the book is written for an LDS audience, then would the conversion narrative be interesting to someone who is, theoretically, already converted? I thought that part of the story was less compelling than the rest of the story.”

Jenny Proctor. The House at Rose Creek (Jessie). “ I was surprised that this book ended up in the general fiction category rather than the romance category, since I had it pegged as a romance. However, it is also the story of a woman’s self-discoveries, personal change, and conversion to the Church, so it is more than just a romance. At first I felt like the main character was the sort of stereotypical unmarried “career woman” that seems to only exist in fiction, but she did grow on me as the book progressed. More than anything, though, I felt like the action in the book was a little too muted and the motives of the characters a little too unclear. I would have enjoyed more depth to the plot and a little more digging into what the characters really thought about things.”

Pamela Reid. Small Grain of Sand (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine). 3 stars. “Small Grains of Sand is a reference to oysters that get a small irritating grain of sand inside their shells and manage to improve those grains of sand until they turn into beautiful pearls. This theme shows the power of overcoming irritants and obstacles, thus forming better lives. The author follows the central theme very well. The setting or background of this novel is used effectively and is a delightful escape for those in northern climates. The story moves a little too slowly for those who prefer high action novels, but is a relaxing read for those who like detail and a more leisurely pace. The major characters are likable and the plot follows a nice fiction arc. I found it refreshing to read a story set in a totally different part of the world than that of most LDS novels.”

Steven L. Peck. A Short Stay in Hell (Doug Gibson, Standard Examiner). “It’s perhaps the oddest book I have read, but it’s also so compelling that you can’t stop reading . . . I like this novella, and I’ll likely read it often, searching for meaning in a hell of the mundane. A hell that contains an eternity of the mundane, whether it’s books that make no sense, stairs and floors that never end, mundane mumbling and threats from the other side of the chasm, mundane evil, or relationships that last so long that they become mundane. That’s a pretty effective hell.

Brandon Sanderson. Steelheart (Rosalyn). 4.5 stars. “The world Sanderson creates here is fabulous: fascinating powers (and weaknesses) for the epics, interesting technology, and the character interplay among the Reckoners is fun to watch. But mostly, he keeps the action moving along so quickly that it’s hard to put the book down. Sanderson even manages to raise some interesting moral and ethical questions about the nature of power and those who seek to wield it. Fun, fast, fascinating–a great read for people who like action, dystopian, super-heroes, or even just a good story.”

Donald Smurthwaite. Road to Bountiful (Shelah Books It). 3 stars. “Smurthwaite is a gifted writer. His sentence structure and pacing are excellent, and he knows how to say what he wants to say in order to get a reaction. I was delighted by the early chapters of the book. However, as the narrative continued, I found myself less enamored with the story, which felt sentimental and simplistic. I can see how readers who read to be uplifted or to have their emotions stirred would like this story, but I felt that Smurthwaite had the writing chops to make it better and more complicated with less overt motivations.”

Kasie West. The Distance Between Us (Rosalyn). 4.5 stars. “I really loved this book–easily the best YA book I’ve read since Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl. This is my kind of YA: cute, charming, uplifting–but with just enough tension and difficulties to keep the story grounded in reality . . . I thought both the main characters here were adorable–and I liked the secondary characters, too. The drama between Caymen and her mom felt real: they love each other, but they struggle with each other, too. And I cheered for Caymen as she figured out what she wanted on her own terms. Mostly, though, I thought this was a charming romance–exactly what I was hoping it would be.”

Steve Westover. A Nothing Named Silas (Rosalyn). 3 stars. “The story as a whole moves pretty quickly. For a dystopian world, this felt new, like something I hadn’t seen before. However, once Silas became established in Labor, I had a hard time relating to Silas, whose sympathies seemed attached to a pendulum and changed frequently, depending on what he’d just been told. I wanted Silas to trust his own judgment a little more. I also felt a little underwhelmed by the big secret–I know some readers/reviewers loved the climax reveal, but it didn’t quite work for me.”

Jennifer Shaw Wolf. Dead Girls Don’t Lie (Rosalyn). 4 stars. “I enjoyed this one–it was cleanly written and the tension builds nicely. If I was frustrated with Jaycee because of her insistence on keeping secrets (rather than enlisting the help she desperately needs), I also realize there might not have been as much of a story.”

Julie Wright. Victoria’s Promise (Deseret News). “Utah author Julie Wright brings readers yet another delightful read — with an engaging story line, perfectly timed humor and a character relatable to anyone who has had fears of falling in love. Wright truly gives readers all the inside information they’ve been waiting for after reading about Tori in the other Newport Ladies Book Club novels.”

Film

Inspired Guns. Missionary comedy. Adam White, director/writer. “Mormon Missionaries begin teaching two birdbrained members of the mafia who think the Elders are messengers from “The Boss” with a hidden message on the next hit.” $175,000 budget. White and several of the producers and actors previously made a film called Chick Magnets in 2012. January 24, 2014 in 18 Utah theaters. It does not appear to have done too well, after a week it went down to just a small handful of theaters. Covenant Communications will distribute the DVD. White ran a successful website business, retired, and is now making movies.

Provo Herald feature story. The Good Word podcast interview with Adam White. The Cultural Hall podcast interview with White and the actors.

SL Tribune Review: Sean P. Means. 1 star. “Mix idiotic comic gags with a mawkish religious message and you get “Inspired Guns,” one of the most insipid movies to ever come out of the Mormon Cinema genre . . . The characters in writer-director Adam White’s script have a collective IQ equal to a goldfish, which is the only way the plot can progress toward its inevitable “wacky” resolution. About the only genuine laughs come from seeing Salt Lake City locations double for New York and from the hamfisted way White inserts the spiritual message amid the lame jokes.”

LDS Cinema Online. Kevin Burtt. B-. “Inspired Guns has funny moments but isn’t up to the level of better LDS comedies like The RM or The Best Two Years.  As expected from a first-time writer/director, there are some amateurish elements within the production and writing, but not enough to ruin the film.    LDS audiences who remember Mobsters & Mormons may feel deja vu all over again at seeing the same Mafia clichés and stereotypes, although Inspired Guns approaches it from a new angle without simply recycling the same jokes. The humor in general is hit-and-miss but White keeps the pace moving, and there’s enough good lines and comedic moments that the film doesn’t drag.  The film gets a lot of mileage from common missionary conversations being misinterpreted in different ways depending on whether mob men or federal agents are listening:  ”investigator” (police versus missionary) or “Family” for instance.  It’s all contrived, of course, but still clever at the same time.  One funny moment has mob guys afraid of “sleeping with the fishes” misunderstanding the missionaries’ desire to “dunk them in the water as soon as possible.” It’s basically a one-joke premise, and your mileage may vary about how funny you find the contrived mistaken identity / mistaken impression moments from scene to scene.   Unlike many comedies that empty their quiver too early,  Inspired Guns saves some surprises (and laughs) for the end . . . Having an identifiably flawed character is fine in a film — admirable even, especially as a nod to authenticity for real missionaries.  (Just about every RM in the world has served with a guy like Fisher.)  The problem is the film doesn’t seem to recognize these as flaws . . . But the film skips the other half of the equation.   Elder Fisher doesn’t ‘learn’ anything in the end.  He doesn’t receive his needed attitude adjustment — his ‘comeuppance’, if you will.   Right up until the end, he’s the same person, and he gets everything he wanted on his own terms, including that one last desired baptism . . . Inspired Guns serves as a decent, if not exceptional, LDS comedy with some funny moments.   The film certainly isn’t The Best Two Years‘ equal (few films are), but it’s entertaining enough.   I just hope the potential future missionaries and their families that see it will recognize which of the two main characters is more worthy of emulation, and which one could use a little more humbling.”

Standard Examiner. Steve Sallas. 1.5 stars. “I never laughed once during “Inspired Guns” and yet I heard a smattering of laughter from a more appreciative crowd . . . None of it makes any sense, especially when the big twist is revealed, begging for answers to more than a few questions . . . And why do we have another mobsters and Mormons movie so close on the heels of 2005’s “Mobsters and Mormons?” (which is starting to look like “The Godfather” by comparison). Sorry, but for me, “Inspired Guns” felt like a swift kick to the tenderloins. Hopefully, you’ll have a much better experience.”

Deseret News. Josh Terry. “A well-intentioned caper that is just too overloaded to make sense. Some of the comedic elements are a lot of fun, such as the elders leading a confusing discussion on the importance of family with the confused mobsters, or another miscommunication that leads them to believe the first book of Nephi (mispronounced “Neppi”) is an encoded escape plan sent by their mafioso godfather. But more often, the “wucka-wucka” brand of humor misses its mark, and feels tedious next to the film’s better-executed scenes. Several of these disparate plots come together toward the end of the film and almost justify some of the earlier material. But there’s still a sense that the individual parts aren’t coming together. Believability is a tight line to walk, even with wacky comedy. And as “Inspired Guns” careens between zany and heartfelt, it’s difficult to understand just what tone White was going for.”

Mormon Movie Guy (Meridian Magazine): C+. “The film, written and directed by Adam White, leans perhaps a bit too heavily on broad characterizations and ethnic stereotypes for its comedy, but that’s not to say there aren’t some inspired moments of humor. The cast are clearly enjoying themselves . . . David Skousen’s cinematography and Stephen Anderson’s musical score give the film a professional gloss. Though White’s screenplay could have used more polish (some of the jokes are real groaners and a few dramatic scenes feel forced), the story has a surprisingly satisfying payoff, on both a comedic and a spiritual level. Fans of LDS comedies such as The Singles’ Ward, The RM, and Mobsters and Mormons will find much to like here. What’s more, you can bring the whole family.”

Deseret News feature: “Adam White hopes to “raise the bar” for LDS comedies with the release of his new movie, “Inspired Guns,” which hits Utah theaters Jan. 24. The film depicts what might happen if two Mormon missionaries got caught up in a dangerous Mafia operation . . . When asked what would distinguish “Inspired Guns” from other Mormon movies, White said, “It was never about Mormon culture — it was more of a situational comedy. There have been a lot of LDS comedies that have been made in the past that kind of touch on the quirks of the religion, but this is more of a missionaries-meet-the-mafia and the funny situation that would cause.”

The 13th LDS Film Festival 2014 was held Feb. 5-8 at the Orem SCERA Center for the Arts. Here are some of the film premieres .

Wayward: The Prodigal Son. Writer, Director: Rob Diamond. Modern retelling.

Deseret News (Sharron Haddock). “The family in “Wayward: The Prodigal Son” has plenty of money. They can afford to hand over half a million dollars to the uppity and ungrateful son who leaves home to lose it all. They can also — apparently — stand the cost of paying off his gambling debt once again and lose a pretty nice car to boot . . . Getting the picture? “Wayward,” which lead off the 2014 LDS Film Festival, is a nicely shot movie. The actors, for the most part, do a decent job. And if you can get past some of the obvious and oft-used plot devices, it’s not hard to watch . . .  It’s just that, as an overall story, it’s a bit unbelievable . . . The father, played by Rob Diamond (who also wrote and directed the film), is almost a saint. He never shows his frustration. The timing is a little compressed, as well, in this 98-minute film. Tyler gets into major trouble quickly and his turnabout is overly simplified. Also, be aware that this is not a movie for children. The themes are adult and parents would have to spend a while after the movie explaining things like gambling and prostitution to youngsters even though nothing sexual is spelled out and the gunplay is all show.”

LDS Cinema Online. C+. “Good idea, good intentions, bad execution.   The heart of the story is there, and the final inevitable scene with Tyler and his father embracing is as moving as it should be.  However, characterizations from scene to scene are all over the place.  I had no idea what was driving Tyler to flee from his home in the first place (Low self-esteem?  High ambition?) nor what his goal was.  Neither could I understand the dynamics of his relationship with his father or older brother, which seemed to change from scene to scene. Not helping is an over-the-top gambling + violent bookie subplot and one of the least plausible prostitute characters in movie memory.  (Shouldn’t it be easy to create a realistic modern story of a youth getting involved with drugs or gangs before hitting rock bottom?  Wayward revolves around a million dollar poker game and a shady criminal conspiracy which just distances the story from real-life situations that real LDS wayward youth encounter.) Also not helping is that the movie skips an important component of the original Prodigal Son story: the older brother’s own journey of repentance and forgiveness.   Will, the older brother here, contributes significantly to family woes through his own poor decisions, but the film never spends the necessary scenes reconciling him with his father or brother.  (Where’s the equivalent scene in Wayward to the 26:04 mark in the earlier short film when the older brother kneels in humble, sincere prayer and asks for help and forgiveness?)”

Common Chord. Director: Deric Olsen; Writer: Trevor Carroll, Deric Olsen. Also has appeared at the Picture This Film Festival in Calgary and Flathead Lake International Cinemafest in Polson, MTAfter the tragic death of his ex-girlfriend, Kyle struggles to accept the responsibility of being a father to Teigan, the young daughter who they had together. Amidst pressure from Teigan’s grandfather, Bill, for legal custody and Kyle’s desire to pursue his dreams of being a professional musician, he strives to find his way.

LDS Cinema Online: B. “Common Chord is well directed, acted, and produced. Its biggest problem may be simply that the story is too familiar. Plenty of indie films have hit the “young listless guy needs to grow up when he becomes a father” angle and Common Chord doesn’t diverge enough from the ‘formula’ to be distinctive. We know from the beginning how the film is going to progress, from the hero being tempted to follow his dreams but turning back because of a promise to his kid, to the grumpy grandfather who never thought the young man was good enough for his daughter in the first place, but has his heart softened by the end. However, I liked that the grandfather has enough characterization to show that he’s lonely and hurting as well from the death of his daughter, and he’s not just the “villain” of the piece . . . Common Chord is a good film, just without that one original or creative element to push it from ‘good’ to ‘great’.  Unfortunately, I think this one is going to get easily lost and forgotten in the indie film scene after it’s released.”

Cripta. Writer, Director, Producer: Marco Lui. Six young virtual archaeologists are learning a special lesson about the truth. A virtual enemy sequesters their curator – he will be the ransom to force them to solve an enigmatic videogame. The key for all will be the word truth. Will they be able to arrive at a conclusion? Italian with English subtitles.

LDS Cinema Online. D. “Like his previous films, Cripta showcases Lui’s creative and original visual style with impressive camera work and visual effects, especially given the obvious budget constraints.  Cripta is also (fortunately) in Italian with English subtitles, rather than the poor dubbing that crippled his previous film.  Now viewers can enjoy the lyrical sounds of the Italian language while still following along with the subtitles (numerous spelling and grammatical errors notwithstanding). And…we’re done with the positive things about the film.  (*sigh*) Lui has admirably never been shy about adding Mormon doctrine and theology to his films.  Like The Book of Life, Cripta quotes from scripture liberally, including the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, and even the LDS Bible Dictionary.  Cripta discusses the power of scripture, the Atonement, and the need for baptism, including baptism for the dead. That’s all fine, but what kept The Book of Life from becoming a dull Sunday School lesson was tying the doctrinal content to a compelling story with interesting characters.  Cripta is a mess because it has neither.  The six students are completely interchangeable, and their dialogue becomes nothing more than a pointless screenwriter’s trick to spout exposition through a variety of voices.  Even Lui’s trademark humor and wit are absent . . . Featuring Mormon doctrine in a film isn’t the problem, hearing a 80 minute Sunday school lecture with no insight or entertainment value is.  This is a waste of a genuinely talented filmmaker.  Back to the drawing board, please!”

Sharron Haddock, Deseret News. “Given that Marco Lui is a filmmaker who likes to make movies that are unusual both in topic and approach, his new movie “Cripta” shouldn’t be a surprise. The film is a surprise, however, because it doesn’t really work. It’s all over the place as it tries to blend a video-game approach with an online puzzle that six different teenagers try to solve. The answers they’re seeking are pretty obvious, so the tension that builds each time they try to pass a level feels forced. It’s like sitting through a Sunday School lesson where all the answers are the same. It also goes on too long without a change in how it works. The teens work their keyboards and jump up and down when they succeed. There’s no real storyline or movement.”

Uphill Battle. Amy Kenney: writer, director. DVD release on February 3. Three years after a painful divorce due to her husband’s addiction to pornography and subsequent infidelity, Erica Stratton works as an accountant to provide for her two children. Though she appears independent and strong, she struggles to free herself from the devastating memories of her broken marriage. Firm in her resolve to never trust again, she meets Michael and begins to question her decision.

LDS Cinema Online (Kevin Burtt): My Grade (considered without the “porn addiction” boogeyman): B- My Grade (with it): C-. “Uphill Battle is written and directed by Amy Kenney from Stand Strong (and features most of the same actors).  The first half is a decent, if not original, story about The Wronged Woman Who Must Learn To Love Again, while trying to communicate with her two teenagers.   Unlike Stand Strong which constantly preached to you about the spiritual lessons you were supposed to be learning, Uphill Battle is more understated initially . . . Halfway through, there’s still an undercurrent of “Men are Pigs, Women are AWESOME!” like something you’d see on the Lifetime Channel, especially with flashbacks showing Erica’s ex-husband to be an abusive jerk without nuance.   But we can deal with that.  [Burtt then goes into a discussion of how addiction works, and why this film does not portray it correctly.] . . . It’s not that I expected Uphill Battle to have an open discussion of sexual issues (Erica and Michael don’t even kiss until the end credits), but that’s what this particular subject requires.  If the film wasn’t prepared to address this issue appropriately, it should not have been made the central core of the narrative . . . In the end, I kind of wish Uphill Battle had just stayed as the Lifetime Channel movie the first half was leading towards.  A ham-fisted and inaccurate approach to a serious and complex issue isn’t going to help anyone dealing with that issue in the real world.”

Storm Rider. DVD release, Oct. 22, 2013. Director, writer: Craig Clyde; Writer, Produer: Bryce W. Fillmore; Producer: Dave Hunter. Cast: Kevin Sorbo, Kristy Swanson, C. Thomas Howell. Stone 5 Studios. Spoiled 18-year old Dani Fieldings world is turned upside down when her father gets arrested for securities fraud, and she has to leave her upscale life in the city to stay with her gruff Uncle Sam out in the country. As Dani and her uncle struggle to bond, she’s given an orphaned horse to foster and train.

Sharron Haddock, Deseret News. “If the recipe for a good movie is simply beautiful photography, pretty good acting and a happy ending, “Storm Rider” has what it takes. However, this Hallmark Channel-style movie also has a few elements that make the story a little implausible. Everybody gets what they need or deserve by the conclusion of the film. The rocky relationships smooth out, the “wicked witch of the West” goes away and — surprise — the favorite horse wins the race . . . Again, this flick is sweet and easy to watch. There’s no sex, no violence, no harsh moments.”

Missed Connections. Director: Brandon Ho; Writer: Joseph Reidhead. Romantic comedy. Has been showing at several festivals. Won Best Independent Feature at the Bakersfield Film Festival.

Begin Again. Director: Joshua Samson, Lisa Spurrier, Bill Gillane; Writer: Lisa Spurrier. About a 12-year old placed in foster care.

A Light in the Woods. Writer, Director: Elizabeth Hansen. Modern fairy tale. Kids lost in the woods find a mountain woman

Theater

Eric Samuelsen (writer and director). Clearing Bombs. Rose Wagner Center, SLC. February 20-March 2, 2014. Plan-B Theatre’s “Season of Eric” Samulesen imagines what might have happened in 1942 when the economists John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich A. Hayek spent the night on the roof of King’s College Chapel in Cambridge. It was a college faculty assignment, to spend the night there and extinguish any German incendiary bombs that might drop in an air raid.   Salt Lake Tribune preview.  Eric’s essay about the play.

Stephen Carter: “May I recommend you catch a performance of Eric Samuelsen‘s play “Clearing Bombs”? The most dramatic introduction to economic theory I’ve encountered.”

Melissa Leilani Larson. Little Happy Secrets. Innovative View Theatre, Cedar City.  February 20-23, OTC Training Center. Directed by TJ Penrod.

Larson’s Martyrs’ Crossing is currently in rehearsal at Hillcrest High School in Midvale, Utah. Performances are March 27 – 29.

Her first commissioned work, an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, will be staged in BYU’s Pardoe Theatre, directed by Barta Lee Heiner, March 21 – April 4.

Marvin Payne, playing the role of Mr Bennet in Pride and Prejudice has written a charming anecdote about a recent rehearsal.

Margaret Blair Young. I Am Jane. Feb. 25th- March 1. BYU “Education in Zion” theater, JFSB. Story of black Mormon pioneer Jane Manning James.

Steven Fales. Mormon Boy Trilogy. Richmond Triangle Players (Richmond, VA), Jan. 16-Feb. 9.  Trio of autobiographical one-man shows — “Confessions of a Mormon Boy,” “Missionary Position” and “Prodigal Dad,” running in repertory. Preparing for a planned New York run. They tell the story of Fales’ upbringing as a Mormon, his mission, marriage, attempts at “reparative therapy”, his time as a drug-dependent sex industry worker, his excommunication and divorce, and HIV-positive status. The oldest of the three, “Confessions”, goes back to 2004.

Washington Post: “Not surprisingly, “Confessions” is the most polished production in the trilogy, and the one that best exemplifies Fales’s flair for writing that shifts with artful boldness between levity, bleak drama and warmth . . . “Missionary Position” — a 2009 prequel to “Confessions” that centers on Fales’s years as a missionary in Portugal — lacks the forward momentum and deftly variegated rhythms of “Confessions.” But it has a disarming candor, and the fantasy sequence about da Gama (complete with cartoon-style projections) is pleasantly zany . . . The darkest of the plays is “Prodigal Dad,” which pivots around Fales’s legal battle to stay involved in his children’s lives. Although moving and often suspenseful — and still as funny (“The Excommunication Polka” crops up here) — the piece feels too long: On Saturday night, when Fales gave it a spirited airing, script in hand, it clocked in at 21 / 2 hours. (The other shows are about 90 minutes each.) Even when he’s off-book, some trimming will be in order.”

Mahonri Stewart. Jimmy Stewart Goes to Hollywood. Covey Center for the Arts on March 28-29. Zion Theatre Company. Directed by J. Scott Bronson.

J. Omar Hansen. The Horrible Monster of Danky Swamp. Nov. 21-23, 2013. Ben Lomond High School, Ogden, UT. Children’s play.

Bestsellers

January 26, Feb. 2, Feb. 9, Feb. 26, Feb. 23 (I missed a couple of the PW lists).

Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card

NYT MM Paperback: #6, #4, #4, #9, #9 (69th week)

USA Today: #79, #120 , #108, #119, #69 (64th week)

Dark Wolf, by Christine Feehan

PW Hardcover: #2, #11, x, x, x (2weeks). 19,610 units total.

USA Today: #8, #67, x, x, x (2 weeks)

NY Times Hardcover: #3, #20, x, x, x (2 weeks)

NYT Combined Ebook and print: #3, x, x, x, x (1 week)

NYT Ebook fiction: #3, x, x, x, x (1 week)

Memory of Light, by Robert Jordon and Brandon Sanderson.

NYT MM Paperback: #9, #14, #14, x, x (4 weeks)

Ever After High, by Shanon Hale

PW Childrens: ?, #16, ?, #21, #20 (18th week). 2973, 2459, 2807 units. 18,650 total.

NY Times Middle Grade: #15,

Spirit Animals: Wild born, by Brandon Mull.

PW Childrens: #?, #20 , ?, x, x (19 weeks). 2489 units. 7078 total.

The Kill Order, by James Dashner

PW Childrens: ?, #25,  ?, x, x (2 weeks). 1968 units. 4894 total.

The Maze Runner, by James Dashner

USA Today: #32, #79, #133, #136, #149 (16th week)

NYT Children’s Series: #5, #5, #5, #7, #8 (70th week)

Romance Through the Ages. Amy Harmon, Janette Rallsion, Rachael Anderson, Heather Horrocks, Karey White, Diane Darcy, Heather B. Moore. Mirror Press (box set).

USA Today: x, x, x, x, #127, x. (1 week)

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One Response to This Month in Mormon Literature, February 2014

  1. Th. says:

    .

    I’m reading Quist’s book right now, and so far it is excellent. I’m a bit weirded out that she went to high school with Eric Freeze. What is going on in Canada?

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