This Month in Mormon Literature, March 2014

Brandon Sanderson’s fantasy Words of Radiance opened at #1 on the NYT Hardcover list, and has gotten very strong reviews. National YA authors Bree Despain, Shannon Hale, Brandon Mull, Jennifer Nielsen, Bethany Wiggins, Dan Wells, and Carol Lynch Williams all had new novels published. A ton of Mormon-authored plays are just opening or will soon open on Utah stages, including new plays by Melissa Leilani Larson, Mahonri Stewart, Jordan Kamalu and George Nelson, and Eric Samuelsen. Segullah announces its literary contest winners. Brad Torgersen makes the cover of Analog. The Whitney Award voting will be soon, and there are a ton of book reviews as readers are busily going through the list. Please send any news or corrections to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.

News, blogs, and interviews

Segullah announced its 2013 Essay and Poetry Contests winners, along with two honorable mentions in fiction and creative nonfiction. “This year’s poetry contest winner is Katherine Morris for her poem “The Boy Who Listens,” stunningly evocative in its imagery wherein piercing language and content meet in the depiction of one suffering boy. Essay contest winner Kate Hansen creates distance and quiet despair in the strained relationship between father and daughter in “Flakes.” As our honorable mentions, we are pleased to share the work of fiction writer Martha Petersen in her short, poignant story of a compassionate woman who bolsters other but ultimately finds herself in need of others’ uplifting hands in “For the Record.” And lastly but certainly not least, Teresa Bruce explores her superstitions regarding eggplants in this surprising, tragic, and heartfelt essay, “Eggplant Elegy.””

At A Motley Vision: Theric on a surprising recommendation of Ibsen’s The Doll House in a 1934 edition of The Relief Society Magazine, Kent Larson’s Sunday Lit Crit Sermon #87: Orson F. Whitney on Oratory as Milk, Scott Hales’ The New Mormon Fiction: Post-Faithful Directions of a Post-Utopian Form, Tyler’s proposal for an AML conference talk on poet/sonosopher Alex Caldiero, and William Morris on Artists own special temptations.

Interviews at Mormon Artist: Authors: Larry Correia, Tristi Pinkston, Anne Bradshaw, Julie Berry. Filmmakers: Sterling Van Wagenen, JD Payne, Charan Prabhakar.

Interviews at The Good Word Podcast. Krista Lynne Jensen, Michael Bast.

Magazines and Short Stories

Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. Winter 2013. 46:4. Includes: Annette Haws. “The Gift of Tongues” (short story). Haws: “It’s about pandemics, drought, friendship, the Seventh Article of Faith, and the futility of dying hair in times of crisis.” Michael Austin, Kind of Truth Is Beauty?: A Meditation on Keats, Job, and Scriptural Poetry (essay).  Julie J. Nichols. Review: Jenn Ashworth. The Friday Gospels.

BYU Studies, 2014 (53:1).  Poetry: “Walking Out in All Weather” by Dixie L. Partridge and “Pantoum for Trevin, Who Loves to Vacuum” by Lance E. Larsen.
Reviews: “Peculiar Portrayals: Mormons on the Page, Stage, and Screen” edited by Mark T. Decker and Michael Austin, reviewed by Eric Samuelson.
“City of Joseph: A Historical Musical of Nauvoo,” books and lyrics by R. Don Oscarson, music by Maughan W. McMurdie, directed by Scott Eckern, reviewed by Callie Oppedisano.

Brad R. Torgersen‘s “Life Flight” is the cover novelette in  Analog, March 2014. “Generation ships will be incredibly involved undertakings, but it’s inevitable that some things will go wrong, and when they do, much will hinge on how well we adapt to the situation.”

Tangent Review: ““Life Flight” is the 80 year audio journal of a boy’s life on an interstellar slow-ship. He was supposed to go into stasis after 10 years but discovers that his body can’t tolerate it. Instead of being able to wake at their destination as a young adult ready to meet the challenges of a new world, he’s trapped in a bitter-sweet existence, doomed to live out his entire life watching all those around him rotate in and out of stasis. While the story itself reads well, I confess to being disappointed. Early on, the young boy comments that the ship’s computers are smart enough to perhaps “learn to be people.” Unfortunately, that potential plot angle was never developed. I anticipated a more intriguing tale that interwove both the computer’s evolution into sentience with the boy’s struggles to master his rage at being denied a new life like everyone else. But then, that would have been a totally different story. Still, recommended.”

Right Fans review. “Torgersen takes a page from Daniel Keyes’ book and records his point-of-view character’s thoughts and feelings in journal form — and in my judgment, I think he does a masterful job. Like Keyes, it seems Torgersen knows exactly how to adjust his style and tone to reflect his main character’s gradual evolution. The early journal entries are simple and perfectly convey the concerns of a pre-teen child; the later entries grow steadily more mature and reflective. And it all works. Throughout, the main character’s emotional arc is profoundly interesting — and, thankfully, morally grounded. When his childhood dreams are tragically ripped away, he initially loses himself in suicidal ideation and a selfish sense of entitlement. But as he grows older and wiser, he realizes he can still find meaning in his life by focusing his attentions on the other people on board — and ultimately, while he is robbed of the chance to set foot in the promised land, he’s strangely okay with that result because he knows being the guardian and shepherd of the mission still mattered . . . High recommended.”

News books and their reviews

Tracie Hunter Abramson. Chance Are. Covenant, March 3. Contempoary romance. Maya Gupta escaped an impending arranged marriage in India as a teenager, she has thrived in America. But now she faces cancer. Geared towards the national audience, a new direction for Covenant.

Laura D. Bastian. Eye on Orion. Astraea Press, Feb. 25. YA science fiction romance. Girl falls in love with a boy who turns out to be the bodyguard of a princess from a distant planet.

Marlene Bateman. A Death in the Family. Covenant, Feb. 3. Cozy Mystery/Suspense. Erica Coleman Mystery series #2.

Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine. 4 stars. “Erica is an unusual private investigator. It’s not that she’s female or that she’s a former police officer; it’s because she’s so extremely OCD she drives everyone around her crazy. She’s also a great cook who follows every recipe in exact, precise detail . . . There’s a strong cross section of personalities in the secondary characters and since most are family members or long time employees, these family dynamics are important to the story. The author does well in creating both strong family bonds and the pressures placed on these relationships through doubt and suspicions. Some readers will find the maze of clues, red herrings, and possible suspects a challenge, but die-hard mystery fans will quickly figure this one out. Even when the murderer is known early on, it’s still fun to follow the twists and turns and try to make sense of the motive. There are ten pages of recipes at the back of the book.”

Braden Bell. Luminescence. Bonneville/Cedar Fort, March 11. Middle grade speculative. Middle School Magic (The Kindling) #3, conclusion.

Rachel Branton (Rachel Ann Nunes). Your Eyes Don’t Lie. White Star Press (self), Feb. 27. Romantic suspense. Not a direct sequel or series but a tie-in with recurring characters from Tell Me No Lies.

Michalbrent Collings. The Colony: Velocity. Self, Feb. 23. Horror. The Colony series #4. A lost child has returned as something else.

Ali Cross. Blood Crown. Self, Feb. 28. YA SF.

James Dashner. Gunner Skale. Delacorte, March 11. YA Science fiction. E-book only short story, part of the Morality Doctrine (The Eye of Minds) virtual reality universe.

Bree Despain. The Shadow Prince. EgmontUSA, March 11. YA fantasy romance. Into the Dark #1. Lord of the Underworld comes to the mortal world to find a young bride. Small town Utah girl goes to a prestigious performing arts school and encounters him.

PW: Despain builds on the original Persephone myth, laying the Greek references on thick, from a private community called Olympus Hills to a rock opera based on Orpheus and Eurydice. Repeated praise of Daphne’s musical talent gets tiresome, but her hostile reaction to Haden’s assumption that she’s his property is delightful. Despain alternates between Haden and Daphne’s viewpoints with a skill that helps buoy a middle section bogged down with exposition and Underlord angst.

Kirkus: Mirroring their alternating (and sometimes overlapping) narratives and music lessons, they first clash and then begin to harmonize in their shared adventure. While their fish-out-of water experiences would have been sufficient material for a first installment, Despain attempts to layer apocalyptic deadlines and a convoluted tale of the prophecied Cypher who can find the lost Key of Hades atop reinterpretations of the tales of Orpheus and Persephone. Daphne and Haden occasionally surprise, but they are ultimately a standard heroine and hero. Naturally and supernaturally attuned to the music of the world, Daphne is inexplicably and irritatingly special, while her counterpart, Haden, is darkly handsome as well as sensitive but scarred. An overcrowded modern romance equally inspired by ancient Greece and Glee.

LDSWBR (Mindy): 4 stars. “I love the mythical legend behind this story, and the author does a great job of creating mysterious characters who have their own agendas.  I loved Daphne instantly, but Haden took a while to grow on me.  Bree wrote this bad guy well.  How are we supposed to think that Daphne would go with Haden willingly.  Bree takes time to develop their relationship, while revealing back story carefully throughout the story that helps the reader get to know Haden better.  While Haden has his powers, Daphne has gifts of her own.  There are many exciting events that take place with great twists and surprises that will keep you wanting more when you finish reading.”

Shannon Hale. Dangerous. Bloomsbury, March 4. YA science fiction/superhero. Utah (one-handed, half-Paraguayan) girl enters a NASA-like summer boot-camp, become infected with alien technology, giving them super powers. She becomes a hero to save the world. Hale’s first try at science fiction.

PW: “Hale delivers an action-packed SF thriller with plenty of surprises and an intriguing premise. It’s a solid story, though it suffers from erratic pacing and a few elements that don’t quite gel, including a melodramatic love triangle, an overly complicated plot, and quirky details (such as Maisie’s father’s love of puns) that jar with the harrowing events that unfold.”

Kirkus: “Fairy-tale–telling Hale tackles straight-up science fiction in a tale seemingly tailor-made to forestall complaints about lovelorn teen heroines and all-white casts of characters . . . Cue a dark, superherolike tale: Friends die, adventures are had, kisses are exchanged, the Earth is saved. The tale is choppy at times and weak on worldbuilding, with surprisingly thin characterization—but girl power abounds, and the pages keep turning. The romance that Maisie resists and recognizes as mostly just a hormonal rush is endearing and happily doesn’t quite overshadow saving the world or her family, although it sometimes comes close. A change of pace that largely succeeds, showing that Hale’s range is wider than her readers might have expected.”

SLJ: “This fast-paced science fiction novel with echoes of the “Fantastic Four” comics doesn’t let up for a moment. Maisie is a strong, smart heroine with a wry sense of humor, and readers will be rooting for her to save the world. A must-read for fans of superhero adventures.”

Jennifer Ann Holt. Discovering Peace. Bonneville/Cedar Fort, March 11. YA general. Sequel to Delivering Hope. The teenage mother who places a baby and the adopting mother of the first novel both struggle with life after the event.

LDSWBR (Mindy): 5 stars. “Another triumph for Holt. I enjoyed seeing the other side of adoption.  What happens after the mother gives her child to strangers to raise and love as their own.  I really enjoyed the alternating points of view from Ally and Livy.  While I was reading, I found that Livy amazed me.  She is a great character and what she does for someone in this story brought tears to my eyes.  I couldn’t put this book down at times.  It is usually not too often that I will stay up way too late to read, but I easily slipped into Ally and Livy’s world because they are such easy characters to love.”

Bookworm Lisa: 4.5 stars. “Beautifully written. It takes on some hard and heart wrenching subjects and brings them to life in a way that I found empathy and understanding . . . This book doesn’t leave the reader with a complete happy ending. It leaves the reader with hope. It leaves the reader with a sense of love and most of all forgiveness.”

Carla Kelly. Reforming Lord Ragsdale. Sweetwater/Cedar Fort, March 11. Regency romance. Originally published in 1995 by Signet. A dissolute lord and a woman determined to save him from his profligate ways find healing and surprising love.

Josi Kiplack. Fortune Cookie. Shadow Mountain, March 4. Cozy/culinary mystery. Sadie Hoffmiller #11. With her own wedding in only a few days, Sadie gets involved in an investigation in San Francisco.

Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine. 5 stars. “There will be one more book in this series, (Wedding Cake coming fall 2014) and admittedly a twelve book series sounds pretty daunting for most readers, but this series isn’t the kind of series that leaves the reader hanging at the end of each volume and feeling annoyed waiting for the next portion of the story. Each book is self-contained with the story wrapped up at the end. Even the romance portion presents a problem and resolves it within one book. The connecting link between books is Sadie Hoffmiller, a middle-aged widow, who stumbles into one mystery after another and her slowly evolving relationship with Pete and their respective children. We also see a gradual evolution of Sadie as an annoying, nosy neighbor to a qualified and thoughtful investigator . . . I’ve read them all, except the final one which isn’t yet available, and have enjoyed each, though I have my favorites. Pumpkin Roll stands out and so does Fortune Cookie . . . Kilpack’s characters are memorable and distinctive. Their self discovery is sometimes poignant and sometimes humorous, but always thought provoking and realistic. The plot is challenging and not easily deciphered in advance. Background and settings are smoothly blended into the story and this reader found the ending left me both satisfied and eager to read the next volume.”

Chad Morris. The Avatar Battle. Shadow Mountain, March 4. Middle grade fantasy. Cambridge Hall #2. The second semester at the time travel school.

LDSWBR (Mindy): 5 stars. “Chad Morris has got himself a hit with this series.  The Avatar Battle is even better than The Inventor’s Secret.  The action hits you right at first, and develops a great mystery that had me guessing until the end, which I love!  There are very fun twists and turns that I wasn’t expecting that kept me turning pages fast!”

Young Adult Book Review: “One of my favourite aspects of the series is the imaginary world itself; it’s full of fantastic technology that creates a most intriguing universe for the story to play out in. The technology ranges from time travelling devices to tons of cool toys that the kids get to play with.”

Brandon Mull. Sky Raiders. Aladdin, March 11. Middle grade fantasy adventure. Five Kingdoms #1. Boy stumbles onto the Outskirts, five kingdoms that lie between wakefulness and dreaming.

Publishers Weekly (Starred review): “Mull opens the series with this fanciful, action-packed adventure in which a sixth-grader is stranded in a strange world where magic is real and dreams have power. After Cole and his friends are lured into a haunted house on Halloween, they are viciously kidnapped by slavers and transported to the mysterious “in-between place” known as the Outskirts. Cole is soon separated from the other kidnapped children and sentenced to work with a band of misfits who salvage treasures from bizarre flying castles. As Cole tries to find a way to escape and rescue his friends, he makes new allies and is drawn into a desperate gamble to defeat a rampaging construct made of rogue magic. Armed with amazing treasures and thrown into battle against terrifying odds, Cole must learn to become a hero. Although Mull packs quite a bit into this initial installment, he skillfully mixes the capricious logic of dreams with high stakes and constant danger. The intriguing premise, strong world-building, and numerous twists make this a real page-turner.”

Kirkus: “Mull gives his protagonist opportunities aplenty to demonstrate courage, quick wit and a talent for teasing. He also lays inventive twists on magical gear and workings and crafts such oddball monsters and settings that even a native-born character complains at one point, ‘I keep waiting for this to get less weird, and it keeps not happening.’ From the evidence, readers may consider that a promise from the author. Sequels are certain, and they should be welcomed by all who like plenty of “odd” in their odysseys.” Deseret News feature story.

Jennifer A. Nielsen. The Shadow Throne. Scholastic, Feb. 25. Middle grade fantasy. The Ascendance Trilogy #3 (started with The False Prince). War, kidnapping, and a daring rescue.

Kirkus: “Jaron, irascible, incorrigible king of Carthya, faces the loss of his kingdom, his friends and his life in the gripping finale . . . Jaron devises a series of improbable, dangerous and ingenious plans designed to surprise his enemies as well as readers. Through his self-reflective, first-person narration, Jaron confesses friendship and love have greater power to wound him than villains, plots and enemies. In the end, friendship and love win out, as Jaron and his loyal friends confront their foes to determine Carthya’s future in a harrowing conclusion. From one cliffhanging episode to the next, wily Jaron’s rebellious, undisciplined spirit carries the day as he battles to save everything he holds dear.” Deseret News feature story.

Kathy Oram. Ungifted. Bluefields, Feb. YA paranormal/urban fantasy. Supernaturals  series #2. Human girl (whose father is running for President) drives vampires wild.

Jolene Perry. The Summer I Found You. Albert Witman Teen, March 1. New adult romance.

Brandon Sanderson. Words of Radiance. Tor, March 4. High fantasy. Stormlight Archive #2, sequel to The Way of Kings. The series is planned to be 10 books long. Trapped in an interminable war with the Parshendi, the kingdom of Alethkar is further handicapped by quarreling aristocrats and the racial divisions between the elite lighteyes and downtrodden darkeyes.

PW: “Kaladin’s situation echoes the Parable of the Faithful Servant and while most readers will miss the significance, both the myth behind the ascension of the lighteyes and certain aspects of the Parshendi recall the Curse of Lamanites, a now obscure bit of American folklore. Those elements aside, the novel is weighty without being ponderous, and delivers a satisfactory story despite being part of an episodic secondary world fantasy series.”

Library Journal (Starred review): “Sanderson’s skill at worldbuilding is unmatched, and in the “Stormlight Archive” series he has developed an innovative magical system and combined it with rich, complex characters to create a compelling story. His eagerly awaited sequel to The Way of Kings exceeds expectations. This developing epic series is a must-read for all fantasy fans.”

Elitist Book Reviews, Alan. “Books We Love”. “The second book of The Stormlight Archives, WORDS OF RADIANCE, comes crashing down on us after a near four year absence. And ooh boy, does book 2 deliver on what it’s promising . . . Finishing the last Wheel of Time book kept Brandon Sanderson busy, and it’s obvious that he picked up a few things from Jordan, both good and bad The fight scenes are beautifully realized making them quite easy to picture and visualize. Some of these scenes highlight what Sanderson learned from the combat scenes in Mistborn. But unlike his first book, his descriptions serve us well in envisioning his heroes. In the first novel, it seemed like Dalinar was the only character I really got a solid feel for. This time, the dialogue has improved dramatically, and I found myself enjoying some of the other characters much more. Shallan and Jasnah in particular leapt off the page in a way that I felt the first book failed to deliver. The interludes showcased different characters, including new viewpoints that brought the world into sharper focus. Brandon added a time-bomb to this book and it drives his story. The idea of the deadline kept most of the pacing quick and focused around the shared threat, and the fact that most of the characters eventually end up in the same location helps to keep his story on track in a way the first book lagged through. (I’m looking at you, Jasnah) . . . But, no one is perfect, and a tome weighing in at over 1000 pages has a lot of room for errors. There were times when Brandon left the pacing behind and gets distracted enjoying his own characters (this time I’m looking at you, Kaladin).  The setting is great and his detailed worlds is what drives Brandon’s success, but there are a few points where he wanders into unnecessary details–he could have trimmed 100 pages off this book, maybe more . . . Brandon learned a lot from Jordan and picked up some great habits…and some very bad ones. Long-winded exposition pushed me away from the stories a few times, while some dialogue jarred me out of his characters. A lack of conflict and action bogged the book down a bit in the middle. All of these issues pale when you get to the final tenth of the book. Suddenly, the first 1900 pages of this series make sense, and you get a pay-off that’s two books in the making. And man, oh man, oh man, oh man, is it one heck of a payoff. That end section alone should cement Brandon in the halls of epic fantasy for all time. If you like epic fantasy, Sanderson, or awesomeness in book form, you should probably read WORDS OF RADIANCE. In fact, who am I kidding? Everyone should read this book. And the first one. You won’t regret it. I promise.”  Deseret News feature story.

Rebecca Talley. Imperfect Love. Self, March 1. Contemporary romance. Young wife discovers she will have a baby with down syndrome, which destroys her marriage. Finds romance.

Gamilia. “I thought this was a pretty decent read. I found Lauren to be a compelling character and her story interesting. Sometimes I felt like the secondary characters seemed a little flat and stereotypical, and I wished that more time was spent on the second half of the book as it seem more rushed than the first half. The author really created a great rapport between Lauren and Ethan, but I’d have liked to see a bit more of Ethan’s character. Overall, this was a solid and enjoyable read even if I would have preferred to see a bit more complexity in some of the a characters.”

Devri Walls. Wings of Lomay. Stonehouse Ink, Feb. 4. YA Paranomral. Solus series #4.

Bethany Wiggins. Cured. Walker Children’s, March 4. YA post-apocalyptic. Stung #2. Starts with a new heroine who eventually meets the characters from the first book. “The Hunger Games with a wicked sting.”

VOYA: “Following Stung this second of the series introduces a new heroine who remains a lesser copy of The Hunger Games/ Girl with the Dragon Tattoo heroines. Jack, more interested in romance with Kevin than survival, vacillates between excitable foolishness and hormonal meltdown. There seems to be little connection among the events of the plot line, and characters, other than Jack, are one-dimensional. Nevertheless, teenage girls interested in young love in dangerous circumstances are likely to find Cured a very satisfying read.”

Kirkus (starred review): “While the Mad Max–esque raiders and zombielike beasts (children transformed into murderous monsters by their vaccines against the bee flu) seem to be standard post-apocalyptic fare, Wiggins poignantly raises issues of transformation and redemption. Despair and destruction are sweetened by hope and love.” Deseret News.

Dan Wells. Ruins. Balzer + Bray, March 11. YA dystopian. Partials #3.

Kirkus: “Wells concludes his post-apocalyptic, action-packed trilogy with a literal bang and a lot of blood. Believable characters face tough moral choices, and though the end is tidy, the twists and treachery that get readers there are all the fun. It’s enjoyable alone but best read after the first two. Science (fiction) at the end of the world done right.”

Carol Lynch Williams. The Haven. St. Martin’s Griffin, March 4. YA dystopian. Teens in a mysterious hospital founded in 2020 are kept isolated from the world, and have lost their memories. What is this place? (Hint: clones).

Publishers Weekly: “Haven Hospital & Halls exists in one of the more sadistic dystopias offered in the recent explosion of this niche—it’s an enclosed facility whose inmates, called Terminals, are kept drugged and indoctrinated, occasionally taken out for surgical mutilation, allegedly to stem the progression of the deadly disease infecting them. Shiloh, the narrator, has already lost a lung, and others have lost arms and legs. A brew called the Tonic keeps them quiescent and forgetful as they await their next operations. But Shiloh has an unusually strong memory, and one of “the males,” Gideon, has an unusually strong will. It takes half the book for these two to join forces, at which point the search for escape and answers begins. Therein lies the problem: the chemically lobotomized characters don’t know what is happening to them or why and lack the gumption to drive much discovery. Thus, while Williams (Waiting) painstakingly details their horrific days and hints of Shiloh’s awakening, the plot stagnates, and character development consists mostly of fear and confusion.”

Kirkus: “Williams, who is developing quite a varied repertoire, manages the information meted out by her deluded narrator with great skill. The simple but gripping focus on only one aspect of her dystopia sheds light on a moral question that young readers will have no difficulty answering: Are all people created equal–or not? Deliciously enigmatic.”

Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books: “Readers familiar with Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go will find this novel a pale imitation, and fans of clone-centered science fiction will likely deduce its primary reveal from its very premise. Still, Shiloh emerges as a compelling character, as she fights a deeply entrenched desire to obey authority for the sake of her freedom and the lives of those she cares about. Even readers who guess the truth early on will get caught up in her emotional journey: her sense of betrayal, her fears of getting caught, and her hesitation to risk any connection with the reckless Gideon. The moral compass of the story points unwaveringly toward life and liberty for the clones, making this a solid recommendation for those who like their science fiction with clear heroes and villains as well as fans of clone-perspective stories like Farmer’s The House of the Scorpion and Pearson’s The Adoration of Jenna Fox.”

Julie Wright, Melanie Jacobson, Heather B. Moore. The Fortune Café. Miror Press, March 13. Romance. “A Tangerine Street romance”, a novel in three parts. A Chinese restaurant in a colorful tourist street offers fortune cookies rumored to come true. Three stories of romance, about a waitress and two young women who come to dinner.

Reviews of older books

Whitney Finalists: General Fiction round-up (Shelah, Segullah)

Whitney Finalists: YA General round-up (Rosalyn, Segullah)

Whitney Finalists: Historical round-up (Jessie, Segullah)

Timeless Romance Anthology: Love Letter Collection (Deseret News).

Traci Hunter Abramson. Deep Cover (Jessie). “I thought that some of the pacing in the book was a little off and some parts felt rushed, but generally I liked it. I particularly liked the main character and how her questions about her job and her life decisions were handled.”

Julie Berry. All the Truth That’s In Me (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books). B+. “I’d never heard of Julie Berry until All the Truth That’s In Me was nominated for a Whitney Award.  The novel’s worthy of one, for sure.  It’s well-written, tightly-plotted and uniquely told.  Our heroine—the very empathetic Judith—tells a harrowing tale, one that’s full of mystery, sorrow, shame and, ultimately, redemption.  While the book is mostly clean, it’s not an easy read. What is it, then?  How about surprising, disturbing, and absorbing?  I still had some questions by the end of the book, but overall, I found this one very satisfying.”

Julie Berry. All the Truth That’s In Me (Shelah) 4 stars. “I’m grateful to the Whitney Awards for finally making me get my butt in gear to read it, because the book is fantastic. The writing is spare and poetic (in fact, it might be too poetic for a barely literate girl, which I attribute to the fact that it could be told in retrospect), and the story is rich and engrossing. I loved watching Judith find her voice (literally and figuratively) over the course of the novel. My only frustration with the story is that I was unable to place is historically, and as a reader, I wanted to know where and when it took place. I’m sure this was intentional on Berry’s part for some reason, but this reader would have felt enriched by a clear historical context.”

Julie Berry. All the Truth That’s In Me (Rosalyn) 4 stars. “This is the second book I’ve read in the last two weeks with a second person point of view. Like Jennifer Quist’s Love Letters from the Angel of Death, this novel is told entirely in second person, as short snippets directed to Lucas, Judith’s childhood friend and the boy who has her heart . . . This book surprised me in a lot of good ways. The language itself was lovely: lyrical, almost poetic prose. But the story was surprisingly readable. I think I read it in about two days, pulled along by a quick-paced plot and a burning need to know what happened to Judith. Many of the other characters also proved to have unexpected depths, which I liked.”

Julie Berry. All the Truth That’s In Me (Lu Ann Brobst) 3 stars. “The first half of the book was so disjointed and hard to follow that I almost abandoned, but since it was a finalist for the Whitney I made myself finish. The second half was better, but there were still a lot of things that didn’t get answered, although I think the author was trying to tie up the loose ends. They just weren’t portrayed clearly enough to understand. I’ll be interested to see what my students think when I put the book on the shelf next week but I have a feeling most of them will abandon.”

Marilyn Brown. The Rosefields of Zion (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine) 3 stars. “Marilyn Brown is known for writing literary fiction more than genre fiction though her newest novel straddles the line between the two. The Rosefields of Zion takes place in 1925 and is the story of a family, the Rosefields, who are the last holdout of farmers who don’t want to give up their land for Zion National Park . . . Murder, deceit, and unrequited love are all part of the story, much as is found in genre fiction, but there is no happy ending. In genre fiction the story usually revolves around actions and a satisfactory resolution while in literary, the story is often more about the characters and their growth and development. Frequently the ending is sad or haunting. Marissa’s development is not as strong as I expected. She starts out naive and gullible with a reluctance to take charge of her life and never changes much. Some may say this is part of her strength of commitment, but it can also be seen as a symbol of her inability to truly move on. She drifts through life, letting life and others make her decisions, hoping rather than doing, and never really committing herself to anyone or anything other than Michael. She and Michael both display a level of integrity in their refusal to act on their strong attraction to each other. Even after they learn they have been victimized by lies they opt not to betray others to whom they have made promises. The story is set in Southern Utah around Zion’s red rocks and St. George. The descriptions of the area are poetic and beautiful. The book is filled with side bar stories and flashbacks that are often out of chronological order. Every happening is so heavily foreshadowed there are no surprises, leaving the real story that of Marissa’s angst in dealing with the misfortune that befalls her family and her personally. Though the setting is a small Mormon community, there is little that sets the area apart from any other small western community other than Marissa doesn’t accept when offered a drink, the young people rehearse a dance for the gold and green ball floorshow, and the Relief Society prepares a luncheon following the funerals. The LDS references are cultural rather than doctrinal.”

Marilyn Brown. The Rosefields of Zion (Tristi Pinkston, AML). “I do have to say that I don’t feel this is Marilyn’s best book. There were several shifts in the time frame that were difficult to follow, and there was one large reveal at the end that I felt we’d been told right at the beginning, thereby causing some confusion. It felt just a little bit unpolished to me. However, don’t let my little comment there keep you from picking up and enjoying this story which tells of the trials and triumphs of a family and the rich history of this piece of land we’re blessed to have in our beautiful state.”

Shannen Crane Camp. Chasing June (Shelah) 3 stars. “I’ve now been reading for the Whitney Awards for four or five years, and one of the things that never seems to change about them is that there are lots of books that are parts of a series. Sometimes, the author does a great job giving new readers the necessary backstory and making them feel like they have the information they need to enjoy the novel in front of them. Sometimes the books have a satisfying conclusion, even when the author anticipates that there will be future books in the series. This book, fell short on both counts. A new reader would have a hard time appreciating June and Joseph’s relationship, and would know virtually nothing about Ryan, the guy who comes courting in the second half of the novel (who plays a supporting role in the first book). The book didn’t conclude so much as leave a reader hanging. I did like how Camp painted a picture (accurate, if sometimes painful) of life at BYU. I know that some of June’s roommates are painted to look pathetic, but June can also appear whiny, insecure and plagued by some of the Mormon cultural conventions as well. I had fun reading this one, but I’m not sure it will be popular with readers who haven’t read the first novel.”  

Shannen Crane Camp. Chasing June (Rosalyn) 3 stars. “While there were lots of fun elements to the story (bizarre roommates, college life, a swoony new love interest), I struggled a little with this book. My overall sense was that while things were hard for June . . . things never get *too* hard . . .  I think, though, that what really got me here was a minor side-plot, where one of the characters (unnamed here to avoid spoilers) develops some eating disorder(ish) behaviors. I recognize that Camp was probably trying to drive home a message for young readers about the importance of loving themselves and their bodies as they are without relying on the opinions of strangers, but I found myself really bothered by how this part of the plot unfolded. Like some of the other plotlines, when resolution came, it came quickly and permanently–and it seems to me that eating disorders can be a serious enough issue that their resolutions are neither quick nor always permanent. My opinion is probably a minority as most other reviewers seem to really love this story–and it’s true that June is cute and fun and there’s a lot of teenage wish fulfillment in the story that will appeal to many readers.”

James Dashner. The Eye of Minds (Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books): “Strongly reminiscent of Neal Stephenson’s cyberpunk classic Snow Crash, this high-intensity science fiction adventure emphasizes suspense from its very first scene and never lets up. Fans of video games, especially quest and puzzle-platforms like Portal, will revel in the mission-based narrative, while readers enjoyed Doctorow’s Little Brother or Falkner’s Brain Jack will find themselves at home in the hacker-friendly cyber-setting. Characterization isn’t deep, but the relationship between Michael and his friends provides plenty of playful banter. A last-minute twist subverts everything the reader knows about Michael, provides the perfect set-up for expected sequels, and makes for a bombshell ending that will have readers rereading and then coming back for more.”

Sarah Dunster. Mile 21 (Rosalyn) 4 stars. “I really loved this book. Though I am not a runner nor a widower, I resonated with Abish’s struggles to come to terms with her life, particularly within LDS theology, which holds that her marriage to her husband is eternal. How does one come back from that? If she’s married to him (and loves him) for time and eternity, what is she supposed to do with the rest of her time on earth? How does she move on from him–and does she even want to? I loved that Dunster managed to ask serious questions without resorting to trite or pat answers–and that she created a realistic look at life inside the bubble of a singles ward (including the good and sometimes terrible things that people do to each other under the banner of their faith). And I’ll admit–I cried. Quite a bit, actually, and I’m not one to cry easily when I read. The crying wasn’t so much because the novel was depressing (far from it, actually), but because I found myself so moved by Abish and her growth.”

Peggy Eddleman. Sky Jumpers (Shelah). 4 stars. “This books is a nice balance between internal and external conflict. Hope’s character is well-developed, but there’s also plenty of action. I felt like I wanted a more complicated narrative, but I later learned that the book is the first of a series. It doesn’t necessarily feel like the first book of a series, and the conclusion is satisfying in and of itself. Eddleman read from her book at my kids’ school a few weeks ago, and both of my elementary-age kids couldn’t wait to get their hands on this one. My son kept asking me how I liked it. It’s one I think he would like too, even though the protagonist is a girl.”

Sarah M. Eden. Hope Springs (Gamila). “I felt like Hope Springs was a really satisfying read. After Longing for Home was over I really was annoyed about how the whole love triangle was set up. By the end of the Hope Springs I felt like the author put a unique spin on the whole trope. I felt like Eden took advantage of the triangle to take an honest and comparative look at two different romantic relationships.  This allowed reader to discover along with Katie what a relationship based on true love looks and feels like.  I really enjoyed both the main characters and all the side characters too. I wish Eden would do a book with some of the more prominent minor characters because they all have interesting stories too.”

Sarah M. Eden. Hope Springs (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine) 4 stars. “The book is long, almost 400 pages, and the greater portion deals with the prejudice against the Irish and the feud between the “Irish Road” and the “Red Road.” It’s not a quick, light read and though the romance element is a strong component of the story, the history of the Irish and the treatment given them are more vital to the story than the romance. The characters are developed well and their growth and adjustment to the realities of their lives are portrayed realistically, allowing the reader to feel a real attachment to these people. The plot doesn’t hold a lot of surprises and is perhaps a little too drawn out, but is nonetheless compelling and holds the readers interest. There are a few confusing point of view switches, but for the most part the formatting and copyediting are commendable. I found the ending a little too tidy, but I prefer that to a lot of dangling loose ends and unresolved issues. This is a well-crafted book offering hope over hate.”

Jessica Day George. Wednesdays in the Tower (Shelah). 3 stars. “While the first novel seemed satisfying in and of itself,  Wednesdays in the Tower suffers from the “second in a trilogy” syndrome. It lacks the character (and castle) development that was so delightful in the first story, and it leaves off in the middle of the action, not coming to a satisfying conclusion for readers of this particular book. The writing is still great and Celie is just as engaging in this story as in the last, but the book seemed geared toward readers who want to read the third book as well as the second.”

Phyllis Gunderson. The Mounds Anomaly (Jessie). “I’m not sure why this book is in the historical fiction category in the Whitneys; I kept waiting for some kind of flashback or events set in the past, but there aren’t any. I really liked the main character and thought she was quirky and interesting, but felt like there wasn’t a lot of clearly developed conflict in the book and it ended abruptly just when I thought the action was getting started.”

Jennie Hansen. Where the River Once Flowed (Jessie). “This book was OK, but had the problem of doing too much telling and not enough showing. It seemed to just move through the plot and not really get into the characters’ heads much, and I found some of the action to kind of confusing, especially since a lot of different things happened that were all passed through rather quickly.”

Krista Lynne Jensen. The Orchard (Rosalyn) 3 stars. “Had high hopes for this book, which was based on Jane Austen’s Persuasion. (And as anyone who knows me will attest, I’m a sucker for Austen adaptations). This book was sweet, rather than deeply stirring. In some ways, Jensen’s previous book had more depth. Here, of course, she’s somewhat limited by the Austen book she chose. And of all Austen’s books, Persuasion is her most mature, and her most subtle. A difficult one to adapt. (Probably also my most favorite) . . . I thought for the most part her adaptations made sense. I loved the Montana setting (brought back fond memories of my childhood). The characters were interesting and nice, but I don’t feel particularly drawn to any of them. Overall, a sweet, clean read but not a profound one.”

Krista Lynne Jensen. Falling For You (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine). “Sometimes reading a series of books out of order leaves the reader confused, but this was a rare discovery for me, a book I would have enjoyed more if I hadn’t read the first book in the series first. Falling for You by Krista Lynne Jensen picks up the story of older sister Elizabeth from The Orchard. I didn’t dislike The Orchard, in fact I liked it a lot, but secondary character Elizabeth was not an appealing character in that book which made her personality change and portrayal as a sympathetic main character in Falling for You hard to accept. The switch from a brash, arrogant secondary character to a lonely, insecure main character didn’t feel real. The personality changes in the younger sister’s love interest between the first and second book didn’t feel comfortable either. Both books are enjoyable, but I would have liked them better without the connection between the two and the abrupt personality changes which didn’t quite work for me . . . Jensen has a leisurely writing style that moves the story ahead at a slower pace than some readers will enjoy and she includes a lot of scenes and descriptions which do nothing to advance the story. Other readers will revel in this comfortable, relaxed style. Though there are some excellent action scenes, this story deals more with character growth than action. The character portrayals and their growth is well done and believable within this volume; it is only the jump between volumes that makes getting into this second volume a little awkward.”

Marion Jensen. Almost Super (Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books): “Weak characterization and run-of-the-mill action scenes mean that the execution is less engaging than the concept, and the resolution, designed to set up for future vanquishing of the still-pretty-mysterious Joneses in a sequel, barely scrapes by as satisfying as a conclusion to this novel. Underdog superhero kids are usually crowd-pleasers, however, so this may gain traction as an up-and-coming series for fans of Cody’s Powerless.”

J.R. Johansson. Insomnia (Shelah). “The premise of Insomnia is really interesting, and I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in the world of the first half of the novel. Overall, I found the book a strong contender. However, Parker is a male character, and this felt like female book. I don’t know how to explain it, but the preoccupation with girls and relationships made me feel like this was a book more geared to female readers than male readers, which surprised me because of the male protagonist.”

Elana Johnson. Elevated (Deseret News). “Every word Johnson writes carries an emotional heft that lifts readers up to the highest happiness and then sends them crashing down to the depths of despair. Johnson appeals to so many emotions, each done as well as the last, including love, abandonment, trust and betrayal. Although a quick read, “Elevated” is not a light read. The novel addresses tough issues such as military deployment, death, drug abuse and teen pregnancy, but Johnson doesn’t preach or chastise. The language is clean and there aren’t any sex scenes. All of these issues just exist, and readers can decide how they feel about them. Because the novel is written in verse, a type of narrative poetry, Johnson chooses every word carefully. It is easy to flow from the first word to the last without ever putting down the book. Johnson shows outstanding talent in this form, and her words are beautiful, important and deeply felt.”

Dorothy Keddington. Hearth Fires. “I had more fun than I expected when reading this book. I’ll admit that I was a bit skeptical before starting it and I did poke fun at the ‘rugged cowboy attorney’ that is the love interest. However, if you are in the mood for a fun romance and ready to suspend disbelief for a few hours, this is a great book. I thought the romance seemed a bit rushed, the ending particularly, but it was still a lot of fun.”

Sara B. Larson. Defy (Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books): “The first half of this heroine-centered fantasy suffers from too much introspection on Alexa’s part as she goes through the inevitable push-and-pull romance with Damian and rebuffs advances from Rylan, who seems to exist only to cause romantic tension between the two lovers. Damian’s appeal, however, is undeniable, both as a romantic lead and a genuine character: his is actually the much more interesting story, as he has had to pose as a spoiled and petted prince while planning the overthrow of his cruel father and as a result, he’s unable to really trust anyone. The unspooling of his secrets—and there are many—drives the book’s second half, and the climactic scene in which Alexa and Damian confront and kill the men who took so much from them is both powerful and narratively satisfying. While lacking the polish of Cashore’s Graceling, this will likely still satisfy teens looking for a blend of swordplay and romance.”

Lindsey Leavitt. Going Vintage (Shelah) 4 stars. “The story has a cute premise, and Mallory has a great voice. I also think that Leavitt does a nice job capturing the supporting characters, both male and female. The book made me laugh out loud in certain places, and my daughter wanted to read it based on the cover and what she read on the jacket. My main quibbles are that Leavitt takes the book in some serious places with some of the side stories (involving the mother and grandmother, in particular), and I found myself more interested in those stories than I was in the main rebound romance story. And while I applaud the ways that she mirrors some of the issues Mallory is experiencing through the side stories, I felt that they were too easily resolved and got short shrift. But overall, an enjoyable read, and one I think teenage girls would definitely enjoy.”

Lindsey Leavitt. Going Vintage (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books) B-. “Vintage is a good way to describe this novel because it’s everything you’d expect from the always upbeat, always funny Lindsey Leavitt. With its warm, peppy tone; its quirky, relatable characters; and its pointed, but not preachy moral, Going Vintage is vintage Leavitt.  Which is what makes the book so fun.  Is it the most original story I’ve ever read?  Nope.  The most impactful?  Nuh uh. Still, it’s a light, enjoyable tale that’s perfect for the lazy days of summer.”

Jordan McCollum. A Spy for a Spy (Shelah) 3 stars. “There seems to be a lot more romance and a lot less mystery or suspense in this novel, and I missed the puzzle aspect of the story. I also find myself a little more frustrated with Danny’s character in this story, since he doesn’t seem willing to cut Talia a break, and continues to be impatient with her work and lack of interest in planning a wedding. I guess that’s what happens when a traditionally raised Mormon boy marries a CIA agent?”

Jordan McCollum. I, Spy (Shelah) 3 stars. “The opening scene of the book draws readers in immediately, and I found myself enjoying the first two-thirds of the novel quite a bit (despite thinking Danny is a whiner). I loved Jennifer Garner in the Alias series back in the day, and the books remind me quite a lot of the series (Talia is always getting dressed up in some getup to get ready to meet someone). The last third of the novel felt like one extended conclusion, with lots of action and violence and threatened violence and plot twists and, quite frankly, it dragged a bit for me. But overall, a fun read, and I was happy to delve into the sequel after reading this.”

Jordan McCollum. I, Spy (Deseret News). “While popular culture has glamorized the dark side of covert operations, Jordan McCollum found a way to electrify Talia’s mild CIA experiences, even as Talia’s every thought bleeds with high morals and standards . . . McCollum’s storytelling is easygoing with an occasional splash of sass. She paints Talia not only as a strong woman, but a compassionate partner in both work and play. She’s the type of spy who doesn’t get lost in the adrenaline, values human life and is uncompromising in the risks she takes to protect the ones she loves.”

Torrah Montgomery. The Princess Chronicles: I’m Not Cinderella (Deseret News). “It’s a fun, fresh look at the Cinderella story, and contains humor that is reminiscent of ‘The Princess Bride.’”

H. B. Moore. Esther the Queen (Jessie). “I have really enjoyed all of Moore’s novels that are based on scripture stories. She manages to add complexity to characters that aren’t described in much detail in the scriptures, but still keeps their actions understandable given what we know from the scriptures. I like that she doesn’t shy away from some of the more difficult details or update things so much that the stories don’t fit into a historical context anymore. I enjoyed reading about Esther and feel a greater appreciation for her story now after reading this book.”

Heather B. Moore. Esther the Queen (Rosalyn) 3.5 stars. “Esther has always been one of my favorite Biblical heroines, and I enjoyed reading Moore’s meticulous recreation of her story. Thought the overarching plotline remains true the Bible account (if the timeline is abridged), Moore does a nice job of fleshing out other details. I wasn’t entirely convinced by the backstory to Haman, but I thought the accounts of the harem and Persian court culture were fascinating, and Moore did a great job making the romance between Esther and the king believable and compelling. My major complaint is that the story wrapped up too quickly. After building for some time to the confrontation between Esther and Haman, things seemed to resolve fast.”

Heather B. Moore. Ruby’s Secret (Rosalyn) 3.5 stars. “I liked that the perspective of this romance was that of an older woman–I don’t think we see that often. And I liked how caring and concerned Ruby was for the women around her. I did get frustrated at times with Ruby, because I felt she was punishing herself too much, but that did seem in keeping for her character.”

Heather B. Moore. Ruby’s Secret (Jessie). “I really like this author and I enjoyed the other book from this series that I read last year, but I didn’t like this book as much as I would like to. Too much of the action was telling rather than showing and it too often felt like events were just happening in order to move the book forward instead of creating actual change in the characters. Despite the fact that so much of the book took place in the main character’s head I still felt like I didn’t really get to know her very well. I had to force myself to keep reading because I had a hard time really caring about the protagonist.”

Chad Morris. The Inventor’s Secret (Shelah) 3 stars. “(Morris’s) books are action-packed, and Morris seems to rely on constant motion and on really cool inventions and technological advances to keep the plot moving in The Inventor’s Secret. The book seems to rely much more on external conflict than internal conflict, but many young readers may be so entranced by all the bells and whistles of time travel and technology that they might not care.”

Chad Morris. The Inventor’s Secret (Rosalyn) 3.5 stars. “I thought this was a cute story–there’s a lot to love in the setting and all the fun technical tools Abby and Derick use, and the various clues were interesting and inventive. This isn’t the kind of middle grade you read for the style (as you would Gary Schmidt or ClareVanderpol), but for plot. Though there were a few elements that stretched my credulity (Abby’s friend Carol seemed a bit over the top, and the whole thing about the clues seemed more like an interesting plot device than a realistic ploy), the book was fast-paced but still had heart. I think my 8 y.o. son would enjoy this a great deal.”

Jennifer A. Nielsen. The Runaway King (Shelah) 4 stars. “The Runaway King is just as well written, and Jaron is just as cunning as he was in The False Prince. Furthermore, the book doesn’t have middle book syndrome. Nielsen manages to give us a decent backstory on from the first novel without weighing down this narrative, and although the book is part of a trilogy, it has its own satisfying conclusion. What it lacks is the plot twist that made The False Prince so great. I think it’s a solid story, but lacks the sparkle of its predecessor.”

Jenny Proctor. The House at Rose Creek (Shelah) 3 stars. “I’m wavering between 3.5 and 4 stars, but will give it the benefit of the doubt because I did enjoy it . . . 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 (Rosalyn). “Proctor does a great job establishing the southern setting of this novel, and I thought she did a great job characterizing Kate. I do agree, though, with the question Shelah raised about the book’s audience. For a primarily Mormon audience, some of the long explanations of the faith Kate begins investigating seem unnecessary; for a non-Mormon audience, they might seem a little didactic. Personally, I enjoyed the other plotlines (particularly the complex relations with her extended family) more than the faith substory.”

Jennifer Quist. Love Letters of the Angels of Death (Theric Jepson, AMV). “The frequency of “you” (and the solidity of the husband’s solitary voice) occasionally made me feel slightly uncomfortable, as if I were sitting on the bus in front of a couple made of one silent partner and one champion mansplainer. And here, although I force my own students to play the New Criticism game, I took some comfort in the sex of the author. This is a woman writing as a man writing to a woman, which creates a layer to the fictional couple’s relationship that allows me to listen to the man’s words without feeling oppressive. At times, I was mystified by the things he knew about her—and the detail! Sure, they share a true-love intimacy Princess Bride can only hint at, but he knows things no one can know. At one point, he tells a story in which he up-front admits “we never speak of [one] afternoon” (161) that only she experienced, yet he recounts to her. It would be no spoiler to explain how this is possible assuming you are a cleverer reader than myself (suffice it to say, I had my assumptions backwards—like a dolt), but at other times he tells her of things only he has ever known—and only he may ever know. For instance, “that sound you only make when you’re asleep . . . the worst thing I’ve ever heard” (38)—which, naturally, is born of dreams triggered by daytime views of the unnaturally preserved dead. Back to this issue I’ve stupidly brought up—(A Woman Wrote This Book)—let me point out now that she writes men extremely well. I certainly see myself in the “part of my unconscious mind that hears the little cries in the night and sleeps on and on—fat, loathsome, and fatherly in a way that’s more reptile than it is human” (39) . . . Love Letters of the Angels of Death is my new go-to novel on issues of matrimony and mortality, and the volume I’m most likely to shove into the hands of anyone who does not think those inseparable.”

Theric also has a short spoiler-ish blog post about the change of POV near the end of the novel. “Anyway. That’s my big issue with the novel. I think it’s still apt to get my vote for best novel in the general category in this year’s Whitney’s, but we’ll see how that chapter sinks into my lasting impression. I don’t think it can damage my otherwise powerfully positive feeling, but we shall see. We shall see.”

Jennifer Quist. Love Letters of the Angels of Death (Jessie). “Reading this book was an experience in falling into another reality for several hours; I didn’t want it to end because I felt like I was getting to know the world, and two particular people, in new and intimate ways. There were so many beautiful passages that left me nodding with agreement at their insight into life–family relationships, marriage, and the tiny details that bind us together. This is the kind of writing I love–layered details that keep my brain working to make connections throughout the book, realistic characters that feel like friends, and a feeling like I am really living in someone else’s life for a time.”

Ryan Rapier. The Reluctant Blogger (Theric, Dawning of a Brighter Day). “A quick metareview and my own look at its many positive attributes.” “The novel’s view of the damaged Mormon male (viz Todd) is invaluable. Digging into his suffering provides that valuable experience literature excels at: helping us understand people whose experiences are not our own—in this case, someone almost like us except his wife dropped dead of a brain aneurysm. Todd is real and accessible and in a state of ruin . . . In retrospect, most of the high points in the story (I could also include the moments he connects to his father) are about Todd reconnecting to those he loves. His children, his father, his fiancee, his friend, his Father.”

Ryan Rapier. The Reluctant Blogger (Theric, AMV). “A novel with deep, structural flaws.” “I don’t buy for a second that this book is made up of blogposts. And especially not blogposts intended for an audience of one. (The only person with access to this posts is Todd’s therapist.) . . . One literary lesson The Reluctant Blogger teaches is that function cannot be so easily divorced from form. So choose your form carefully, o novelist! then use that form well.”

Ryan Rapier. The Reluctant Blogger (Theric, Modern Mormon Men). “What it thinks it’s saying about Mormon culture and what it is actually saying about Mormon culture.”

Jeffrey S. Savage. Dark Memories (Shelah) 3 stars. “I opened Dark Memories on my Kindle before checking which Whitney category it was nominated in. I guessed that it was nominated in Mystery/Suspense, because I’ve read works by Savage in that category before, but it was quickly apparent that this was no normal mystery. Dead children appear, the walls of a mine seem to weep and moan, and people have the strangest kinds of dreams. The book reminded me a lot of a Stephen King novel, and I was both surprised and a little delighted to see Covenant Communications publishing a horror novel. The book was entertaining and delightfully creepy.”

Liesl Shurtliff. RUMP: The True Story of Rmplestiltskin (Shelah) 4 stars. “She turns the tables so readers sympathize with Rumpelstiltskin instead of the evil miller’s daughter who forces him to turn straw into gold. This novel is delightful. When I’m reading 40 books in a couple of months, I often find myself trudging through them. But Rump was one that I would have read quickly regardless. The story is adorable and Rump shows a lot of growth over the course of the novel. There was plenty of action in the story, but it was Rump’s ability to grow as a character that kept me entertained and satisfied as I read.”

Donald Smurthwaite. Road to Bountiful (Rosalyn) 3.5 stars. “The plot itself is slow and gentle, as what was to have been a quick drive turns into a more leisurely road trip. Smurthwaite is a good writer and I liked the way both characters began to rub off on one another. Some of the descriptions of the landscapes were stunning.  But I felt that the character arcs (esp. Levi’s) were a little too steep—it didn’t feel true to the complexity of life for Levi’s mindset to have been so overwhelmingly changed over a few days. However, the story definitely has its charms and would appeal to readers looking for a clean, sweet, non-romantic novel.”

Donald Smurthwaite. Road to Bountiful (Jessie). “This was the closest thing to an inspirational book in this year’s group of finalists and I worried as I started it that I would feel preached to or that the characters would just be stereotypes. It surprised me by being a rather fun (and quick) read that was quirky and lovingly written. I particularly liked the characterization of Loyal, the older man–he did have a lot of wisdom to share, but he also grew and changed along with Levi.”

Donald Smurthwaite. Road to Bountiful (Shelah) 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 (Shelah) 3 stars. “While the characters are fine (I especially liked her best friend’s boyfriend), I felt like the central conflict of the novel was a little flat. It felt heavy-handed to have the whole story built around a Cinderella narrative (culminating in a surprise at a ball!). The conclusion of the story redeemed it somewhat, but also complicated it in a way I’m not sure I liked, but overall, I would have liked to see a little more depth from the plot.”

Kasie West. Pivot Point (Shelah) 4 stars. “I really enjoyed Pivot Point. The narrative unfolds chronologically, and in alternating chapters, we see what happens in scenario A and scenario B. There are different schools, different friends, different potential love interests. And in both cases, she has a relationship with her best friend. All of West’s characters seem well-drawn and nuanced, and I particularly liked Addie. I also like that the decision she makes is one that is not without its complications. This was a great read and one that I hope my kids would enjoy for the challenges Addie faces and the maturity she gains as part of her experience.”

Jennifer Shaw Wolf. Dead Girls Don’t Lie (Shelah) 3 stars. “This is the only one of the YA books that one of my children actually read. My twelve-year-old daughter, Annie, is a Pretty Little Liars fan, and for some reason the book reminded her of PLL, so she asked me to renew it from the library so she could read it. When she was about a hundred pages into the book, she said, “Why is this book so racist?” The book takes place in a small town in Washington, where most of the long-term residents are white, and migrants from Mexico work on the farms. The teenage children of these migrants are generally portrayed as gang members (although [spoiler alert] so are some of the white kids). Regardless, I can see how a young person would feel that there’s some racial stereotyping going on in the story. Jaycee reminds me most of all of one of those dumb girls in a horror movie. She keeps getting herself in situations where I, as a reader, would go, “How can you be so stupid? Stay away. Run far away.” But Annie seems to be enjoying the story so far, so I guess it’s reaching its target audience.”

Theater

Melissa Leilani Larson. Pride and Prejudice. BYU Pardoe Theater, Provo. March 21 – April 4. Adaption of the Jane Austen novel.

Jordan Kamalu (music and lyrics) and George Nelson (book and additional lyrics). Single Wide. BYU Margetts Theatre, Provo, March 26-29. Kamalu is a BYU student, Nelson a BYU faculty member. “This semi-staged workshop production showcases a new musical about love, loss and moving on for a community of neighbors in a trailer park . . . The story follows a community of single women living in a trailer park in the southern United States. The proximity of their lives creates simultaneous times of support and conflict. Katy, the protagonist, lives with her mother, Amanda, and son, Sam. She is trying to change the future for herself and Sam through hard work and education. Flossie, the antagonist, was befriended and brought to the park by Katy. She is trying to change her future by finding a man to take her away. Into this world moves Guy, a veteran from the war in Afghanistan. He is attempting to hide away from the world long enough to regroup emotionally. His desire to hide is thwarted by 11-year-old Sam’s need for male companionship. Guy is innocently drawn into Sam’s world where he meets Katy, Flossie and the other women.”  Some of the music can be heard on soundcloud.

Eric Samuelsen. 3. Studio Theatre at the Rose Wagner, SLC, March 27-April 6. Plan-B Theatre. “Three short plays about Mormon women confronting their own culture. In Bar and Kell, two women help a single mother and confront their own motives. In Community Standard, a woman serving on the jury of an indecency trial is forced to confront issues in her own marriage. And in Duets, a woman confronts the choices she has made by marrying a gay man.” Directed by Cheryl Ann Cluff. Samuelsen on writing the three plays in 3. Salt Lake Tribune preview. “Premiere,” although two of the plays, Bar and Kell and Community Standard were produced as Three Women by a student production at BYU in 2000, and then at the Villa Theater in 2001. Bar and Kell was published in Irreantum in Spring 2000.

Mahonri Stewart. Jimmy Stewart Goes to Hollywood. Covey Center for the Arts on March 28-29. Zion Theatre Company. Directed by J. Scott Bronson. “The play details Stewart’s rise in Hollywood and the challenges and opposition he faced there,” according to a news release. The play will also depict the friendship between Stewart and Margaret Sullivan through its ups and downs. Bronson noted that many of the scenes in the play reflect portions of Jimmy Stewart’s films.” Utah Backstage preview.

James Arrington. Farley Family Reunion. SCERA Center, Orem, March 31-April 5. James Arrington’s one-man comedy. Pre-show catered picnic: 6-7 p.m. March 31 or April 4. $10.

J. Omar Hansen. Bielzy and Gottfried. Echo Theatre, Provo. April 3-19. Bielzy and Gottfried are businessmen, or producers, or perhaps they are allegorical characters representing God and Satan… Five short plays, about the creation story, Joseph McCarthy, a woman having a meltdown while giving a Sacrament Meeting talk, Job, and waiting to go to the spirit world. First produced Fall 2012 at BYU-Idaho.

Melissa Leilani Larson. Persuasion. The College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, St. Joseph, Minnesota. April 3-6, 10-12. Also Martyr’s Crossing at Hillcrest High in Midvale, UT, March 27-29.

“PROVOCOP” — “Mission Field Tested. Eagle Scout Approved.” Musical comedy/parody. March 27-June 7. Desert Star Playhouse, Murray.

Eric Samuelsen. Clearing Bombs. February 20-March 2, 2014. Plan-B Theatre, SLC.

Zach Archuleta, UTBA. “If the idea of a play about economics sounds questionable to you, I would suggest that any person who’d like to get some grounding in the subject would benefit from attendance . . . Samuelsen’s method of taking a complicated academic subject and injecting it into a play is reminiscent of Wit or Proof—modern classics that discussed Renaissance English poetry and complex mathematics as intimate parts of the storylines. Like these shows, Clearing Bombs explores how very human people dealt with problems in light of great intelligence. Clearing Bombs, however, does not use economics as a background character trait, but as the driving force of plot . . . I did appreciate the balanced approach Samuelsen gave to each of the characters and the history that helped drive them. As opposed to some shows about genius minds that focus on their eccentricities, this show portrayed brilliant minds in a mostly balanced character. The characters were a little stereotypical Austrian, British intelligentia, and an ignorant bloke, but they all had tangible human experience that helped define them. Keynes became jaded and put off by the glories of writing his book and mentored Hayek to be wary of the “success” it brings. Hayek gave a powerful speech about the fall of Germany and Austria after World War I from the greatest nations in the world with the greatest minds, to a place where people could not afford to buy a loaf of bread because the money was worthless. Likewise, my heart went out to Mr. Bowles as he spoke of the sacrifices of two daughter nurses and three sons fighting in the war, as his family was “just doing our part.” Luckily, between the debates and sentimental moments there were some moments of laughter . . . Overall, I was very impressed with Clearing Bombs. The direction, also by Samuelsen, drew attention to the speaker or to the pondering face of the onstage listener. Samuelsen’s pacing for 95 minutes of an on-again, off-again debate was brisk and compelling . . . It is a lesson that is approachable and entertaining, and left me wondering which path that modern society will choose to take in the future.”

Barbara M. Bannon, Salt Lake Tribune. “Eric Samuelsen is a playwright in love with ideas, especially when those ideas clash and collide. Pitting the theories of two prominent 20th-century economists against each other may not sound like a likely subject for dramatic action, but Samuelsen’s “Clearing Bombs” . . . proves that education can be entertaining . . . But what makes “Clearing Bombs” really work is its third character, Mr. Bowles, their supervising fire warden, who knows nothing and cares even less about economics — until the two men reveal to him, as Keynes says, that “economics is everyday life.” Keynes and Hayek explain their diametrically opposed economic theories to him using examples like football and buying beefsteak and cabbage at the local market. That makes the ideas accessible to the audience.” The Utah Review. Long feature story.

Margaret Blair Young. I Am Jane. BYU, February. Peggy Fletcher Stack’s SL Tribune preview. Young discusses the purposes and history of the play.

Microburst Theatre Festival, an omnibus of seven short original plays by female BYU students, won several “Distinguished Achievement” (runner-up) awards at the Kennedy Center College Theatre Festival, going against representatives from universities from all over the country. It was one of six plays chosen for Distinguished Productions of a New Work, one of four plays chosen for Distinguished Directors of a New Work, and one of seven plays chosen for Distinguished Achievement for Performance and Production Ensembles. Microburst Theatre Festival originally was performed at BYU in October 2013. Plays and playwrights featured include “Twenty” by Taryn Politis, “A Modest Proposal” by Amy McGreevy, “Rules” by Katie Jarvis, “Stealing Crowe” by Amberly Lourde, “Man vs. Mace” by Amanda Welch, “The Shoelace” by Chelsea Hickman and “Mississippi Izzie’s” by Chauntel Lopez. The production was directed by George Nelson. Utah Valley University’s production Next to Normal won for Outstanding Production of a Musical, Distinguished Achievement in Music Direction, Outstanding Lighting Design, Outstanding Performance and Production Ensembles, and Outstanding Performance by an Actress. It was the first time a university had won top honors at the annual Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival two years in a row.

Film

The Saratov Approach appears to have ended its theatrical run on March 6. It grossed $2,146,999. I think that is the best a Mormon movie has done at the box office since 2004’s The Work and the Glory. The DVD was released March 22.

Bestsellers

March 2, 9, 16, 23, 30

Brandon Sanderson. Words of Radiance.

USA Today x, x, #2, #37 (2 weeks)

PW Hardcover: x, x, #1, #10 (2 weeks). 30,176, 7394 units. 37, 570 total.

PW Top Ten: x, x, #7, x (1 week)

NYT Hardcover Fiction: x, x, x, #1, #5 (2 weeks)

NYT Combined E-book and Fiction: x, x, x, #1, #11

NYT E-book Fiction: x, x, x, #1, #18

Orson Scott Card. Ender’s Game

USA Today:  #46, #94, #95, #123, x (67 weeks)

PW Childrens x, #25, x, x (1 week) 2242 units, 15,440 total.

NYT MM Paperback: #8, #8, #12, #14, #19 (74 weeks)

Brandon Mull. Sky Raiders

USA Today x, x, x, #98 (1 week)

PW Childrens x, x, x, #13 (1 week). 8293 units.

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

Brandon Mull. Wild Born

NYT Middle Grade: x, x, x, x, #15

Shannon Hale. Ever After High

PW Childrens: ?, #13, #15, #17, #20 (23 weeks)  4166, 3914, 3695, 3526 units, 38,147 total

NYT Middle Grade: #15, x, x, x, x

Jennifer Nielsen. The Shadow Throne.

USA Today: x, x, #114, x

PW Childrens: x, x, #14, x  (1 week)  5318 units.

NYT Children’s Series: x, x, #6, x, x (1 week)  (for The Ascendance Trilogy)

Dan Wells. The Partials Sequence (Ruins)

NYT Children’s Series: x, x, x, x, #8 (1 week)

James Dashner. The Maze Runner series.

NYT Children’s Series: #6, #6, #8, #10, #7 (75 weeks)

Nathan Hale. One Dead Spy

NYT Hardcover graphic novel: x, x, #5, #4, #3 (3 weeks) [One Dead Spy makes the list for the first time two years after it was released!]

 

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3 Responses to This Month in Mormon Literature, March 2014

  1. Jonathan Langford says:

    So much going on! So many books, so little time…

    Thank you, Andrew, for letting me know about all the books I wish I had the time to read! And best wishes to all those publishing Mormon authors out there.

  2. Th. says:

    .

    Agreed. One could read nothing but better than average Mormon books and barely keep abreast of the best.

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