The AML Conference was held, awards were presented, and a new president announced. I hope this represents a new start after a difficult period for the AML. This month there are tons of Whitney finalist reviews, and lots of theatre reviews of new Mormon-authored plays.
The AML Conference was held last weekend in Orem. In lieu of any official announcements from the organization, here is what I can figure out what has happened, from tweets from participants Scott Hales (@TheLowTechWorld), Tyler Chadwick (@KingTawhiao) and Kjerste Christensen (@byu_librarian). I hope those involved will fill in the blanks of what I am missing.
Lifetime Achievement: Dean Hughes
Smith-Pettit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Mormon Letters: Charlotte England
Novel: Sarah Eden for Longing for Home: A Proper Romance
Theater: Ariel Mitchell for A Second Birth
(Both of the following are YA novels, so I am not sure exactly what the award titles are)
Brandon Sanderson for The Rithmatist
Cindy Hogan for Gravediggers
Memoir: Melissa Dalton-Bradford for Global Mom
Film: Garrett Batty for The Saratov Approach
Special Award: Scott Hales for the comic The Garden of Enid
The new president is Joe Plicka, replacing Glenn Gordon (does that begin immediately?). The conference will be held in Hawaii next year. Plicka is an Associate Professor in the English Department at BYU Hawaii. His faculty biography says, “Joe Plicka completed a double B.A. in English and Latin American Studies at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah (2002), where he also received a M.A. in English (2006). He earned his doctorate in English Language and Literature at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio (2011) and continued to teach literature and creative writing there for another a year as a Visiting Assistant Professor. His dissertation was a collection of short fiction (Stories for the Mongrel Heart) and an essay analyzing the inner workings of storytelling and arguing for the unique and powerful place that fictional discourse holds in any culture. While at Ohio University, Joe also spent two years as the editor of Quarter After Eight, a national literary journal, and as an organizer of Ohio University’s long-running Spring Literary Festival. He has taught introductory literature and composition classes, beginning and advanced creative writing workshops, and courses on the form and theory of fiction. He has published short stories, poems, and is at work on a couple of novels. In his other lives, he worked as a journalist, P.E. teacher, care provider at a group home, maintenance man in the dorms at UC Davis, brick cutter, pipe painter, and paperboy. Joe married Emily Austin in 2001. Emily also teaches in the BYU Hawaii English Department as a Special Instructor. They have two children.” Darrell Spencer was his PhD Committee Chair at Ohio University. You can read his dissertation here.
Stephen Carter. A Prophet by Any Other Beard? AML presentation on images of prophets in Book of Mormon illustrated books.
News and blogs
Voting for the Whitney Awards wrapped up on April 15.
BYU’s Mayhew awards were announced this week. I have not seen a list, but I see from Facebook postings that Ted Bushman (Darcy in BYU’s Pride and Prejudice) won the Mayhew Playwriting Award for Full-Length Play for his Kingdoms, and Darlene L. Young won the Mayhew Essay Award and the Hart-Larson Poetry Award.
Salt Lake Comic-Con will be held April 17-19. Among the participants will be Brad R. Torgerson, Brandon Mull, Brandon Sanderson, Bree Despain, Chad Morris, David Butler, David Farland, Eric James Stone, Heather Ostler, J. Scott Savage, Jeff Meldrum, John Moyer, J. R. Johansson, Larry Correia, Miachael R. Collings, Michaelbrent Collings, Natalie Whipple, Oberst Skye, Peggy Eddleman, Richard Paul Evans, Robison Wells, Tracy and Laura Hickman, Tyler Kirkham, Nathan Shumate, Jennifer Griffith, Mette Ivie Harrison, and Studio C.
At A Motley Vision: The Writing Rookie Season 2, #6: Stocking the Pantry (Jonathon), Tom Nysetvold on the Mormon Texts Project 2.0, (William), Notes on How to Read a Poem (Tyler), Science fiction “invested” in Mormonism: FIVE FICTIONS (Theric), Miltons & Shakespeares: a new direction (Theric), The First Course in Mormon Literature? (Kent), An embarrassment of riches (Theric on the Mormonism and Asia conference).
LDS “Great Works” and the Mormon Texts Project (Tom Nysetvold, Meridian).
Orson Scott Card on Noah the movie. He liked it! A long review, going over many of the plot details. “I think Noah is not only the most faithful depiction of the story of Noah ever made, it also offers one of the most powerful expressions of Judeo-Christian values ever presented in film. My complaints about Son of God and Passion of the Christ, for instance, centered around gross anachronisms in the former and, in both of them, an almost complete failure to present the actual message of Christ. But Noah actually gives us – even in the most fictionalized aspects of the film – a faithful rendering of moral messages throughout the book of Genesis . . . Instead of the Christian audience rejecting this movie because it doesn’t fit their Sunday school version of the story of the flood, I urge that we consider this to be Aronofsky’s Rhapsody on Themes from Genesis. In that light, Noah is not only a fine work of art, but also a psalm worthy of our respect.”
Card also gives a long review of the film Son of God, including a discussion of the problem of portraying religion in mass art. He gives the film a mixed review. “The single largest weakness of Son of God [is that] we get plenty of miracles, but no message . . . I still urge Christians to support this movie, not merely because money will help encourage more such films to be made, but also because even with all its flaws and weaknesses, Son of God delivers some powerful moments that are far better than anything in most previous attempts.”
Whitney Award review wrap-ups. Segullah Adult Speculative Round Up (Rosalyn), Segullah Romance Finalist Recap (Emily M.), Segullah Middle Grade Round Up (Shelah), Shelah’s total wrap-up. Rosalyn’s total wrap-up.
Magazines and Short Stories
Ryan Shoemaker. “Lost in Furniture Land”. Absurdist/comic short story in Juked, about a man stuck in a purgatory/IKEA.
BYU Studies Quarterly. Volume 53:1.
Poetry: Walking Out in All Weather by Dixie L. Partridge
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
KUER Radio West: Eric Samuelsen’s “3”. An interview with Eric Samuelsen and the cast of 3.
KBYU Thinking Aloud: Brandon Sanderson.
New Books and their Reviews
Deanne Blackhurst. The Madera Murder. Covenant, March. Mystery. Woman goes with her father to a crumbling estate in Mexico. “A dusty derelict ranch is not the vacation she had in mind-but Ashley can’t deny a thrilling shiver of premonition. When she hears rumors of a tragic eighteenth-century death and a long hidden treasure, Ashley joins the centuries-long search of the mysterious trove in the company of a group of American archaeological students. But as the shocking clues lead Ashley closer to the hidden riches, it becomes clear that someone is willing to kill to keep the secret of the treasure.”
Jennie Hansen, Meridian. 4 stars. “Pacing is handled well in this novel and the plot arc keeps the reader’s attention. I can’t say that I identified with any of the characters, or even particularly liked any of them—except the little female archeology student who was in love with her work. The main character has a tendency to take foolish, impulsive chances, but is intelligent and true to her personal standards. I found the setting realistic and was pleased to see the Mexico setting neither romanticized nor turned into a poverty stricken ghetto. The ending, however, is a little too convenient.”
Platte F. Clark. Fluff Dragon. Aladdin, April 15. Bad Unicorn #2. Middle grade fantasy. “This second book in the hilarious Bad Unicorn trilogy features killer unicorns, good dragons, rogue fire kittens, and a boy who just might be a wizard.”
Kirkus: “This is a book that shouldn’t work. At first, the book reads like a parody of a fantasy novel. There’s an evil unicorn and an evil rainbow and a pair of fire kittens, who threaten to lick their victims on the ankles. The early chapters are hilarious, but humor is a risky strategy: Readers might not take the book seriously when the characters are in danger. But Clark has worked very hard to make sure that the traps are both funny and frightening. The dwarven probability locks are especially clever. They’re not locks: “We have two doors in front of us,” a character explains; “If we pick the correct one, we will enter the vaults. If we pick the wrong one, we will die instantly. They are both unlocked.” The real problem is that the more serious passages of the book are a little dull. The villain, Rezormoor Dreadbringer, seems just as foolish as the characters in more traditional fantasy novels. His master plan is to capture the hero and then give him the Codex of Infinite Knowability, the most powerful spell book in existence. For every trite moment, though, there’s a joke that works beautifully. A Bieber joke at about the 100-page mark justifies the entire book. It will be dated by the end of the year, but by then, readers will be eagerly waiting for the next volume.”
SLJ: “This rollicking urban fantasy takes place in several different worlds, in several different time periods. Max Spencer is a middle school student in Smalltown, USA. He and his friend Dirk are appealing nerds who accidentally end up transporting themselves, their friend Sarah, and a magic-store owner/dwarf to their future world-a world populated by self-aware machines and ruled by the maniacal unicorn “Princess,” who rose to power after wiping out the human race . . . With a cast of lovable characters (even Princess is a lot of fun) and a fast-paced plot, this book is sure to please readers. Zombie ducks, frobbits, wisecracking daggers, and an intelligent arcade game from the ’80s give this story a wonderfully eccentric flair reminiscent of Libba Bray’s Going Bovine.”
Deseret News, Marilou Sorensen: “While “Bad Unicorn” and “Fluff Dragon” follow a popular dystopian theme — child protagonists are transported to another domain and use magic to fight evil — Clark’s original settings and characters are fresh and new and are filled with wildly imaginative dialogue and pithy humor. The storyline is clever, are the language is clean and appropriate for all ages. Battles scenes are more spoof than violent. The book titles connote ironic images. Classic unicorns often depicted as innocent and lovable as they produce cheer and good luck. In this trilogy, the unicorn is bad and shape-shifts into a carnivorous creature whose greatest reward will be an “all-you-can-eat human buffet in a place called Texas” . . . Both books read with tongue-in-cheek theatrical puns, slang and social commentary tucked in at just the right places. While the human characters and the magic creatures are portrayed with engaging personalities, the author subtly exposes ultimate changes throughout the adventure . . . Clark develops a layered plot as he shows Max’s attempts to reclaim the mystery of the Codex as well as his being enmeshed in the power struggles of the Seven Kingdoms. Some characters that exist in the Magrus world share characteristics with humans from Max’s world. For example, a scheming Kraken coincidentally shares traits with a bully from Max’s school.”
Shannon Hale. Ever After High: The Unfairest of them All. Little, Brown, March 25. Ever After High #2. Middle grade fantasy. Will the students at the fairy tale high school agree to follow their parents’ footsteps, or rebel against the established stories.
Mette Ivie Harrison. Ironmom. Familus, June 4, 2013. “From the personal tragedy of a stillbirth to an Ironman and beyond, author and stay-at-home mom of five children Mette Ivie Harrison learned life lessons about accepting herself, moving forward, pushing to become better, and bringing her family along the way—sometimes kicking and screaming. In this riveting and inspiring first-person story of going from couch potato to nationally ranked triathlete, Mette shares her experience training and racing with her family. She explores how to manage a busy family, how to ignore the things that don’t matter, and how to focus on goals that create a stronger you and a stronger family.”
Margot Hovley. Glimmering Light. Covenant, March 3. The End Begins #2. Speculative/Last Days. Even Utah is not safe enough, and the main characters depart on separate missions. Maybe to Missouri?
Wendy Knight. The Spark of a Feudling. Astraea Press, March 17. Fates on Fire #3. YA Paranormal.
Susan J. Kroupa. Dog-Nabbed. Laurel Fork Press, Jan. 19. Doodlebugged Mystery #3. Comic mystery.
Aubrey Mace. Before the Clock Strikes Thirty. Covenant, April 1. Romance. A young girl is promised by a fortune teller that she will meet the man of her dreams. Now she is falling for a man who does not fit her imagined man.
Brenda Novak. Come Home to Me. Harlequin MIRA, March 25. Whisky Creek #6. Adult romance.
Anne Perry. Death on Blackheath. Ballantine, March 25. Charlotte and Thomas Pitt #29. Historical mystery. “As commander of the powerful Special Branch, Thomas Pitt has the job of keeping Britain safe from spies and traitors. So there’s no obvious reason why he is suddenly ordered to investigate two minor incidents: the blood, hair, and shards of glass discovered outside the home of naval weapons expert Dudley Kynaston, and the simultaneous disappearance of Mrs. Kynaston’s beautiful lady’s maid.” But there is.
PW: “A truly unusual mystery distinguishes bestseller Perry’s 29th Victorian puzzle featuring Charlotte and Thomas Pitt . . . Perry balances plot and character neatly before providing a resolution that few will anticipate.”
C. Michael Perry. Imperfections on the Edge. Leicester Bay Books, April 2. Wembley Tewkes On The Edges of Time #1. Middle Grade Epic Fantasy. A young Welsh immigrant has magic in his veins, and keeps being whisked to alternative realities.
Tristi Pinkston. Taking the Floor. BigWorldNetwork.com, March 17. Estelle Watkins Mystery #3. Cozy mystery. Ballroom dance and murder.
Melissa Leilani Larson. Pride and Prejudice. BYU Pardoe Theater, Provo. March 21 – April 4. Adaption of the Jane Austen play.
Deseret News. “It’s a pleasure to report how effectively Larson has adapted “Pride and Prejudice.” Her script is rich and humorous, showing her deep love of Austen’s treasured work of romantic fiction. It certainly cannot replace the page-by-page delight of the full novel, but it’s a wonderful introduction and may easily influence audiences to shift “Pride and Prejudice” from the “pretend to have read” to the “read and enjoyed” list.” Theatergoers are engaged in each scene and respond with enthusiastic laughter to the humorous portions. Rather than amplify the Elizabeth Bennet/Fitzwilliam Darcy despise-each-other-then-can’t-live-without-each-other romance and limit the colorful interactions of the other Bennet sisters, as some adaptations have, Larson makes the bold decision to present each of the main players. And her characters are distinctive and fully formed, with their traits intact. It’s a monumental achievement . . . Ted Bushman’s Darcy held all the confident reserve in perfect stature . . . There was also a special depth in Bushamn’s performance that helped me understand Darcy more than I ever have. Bushman’s reactions showed his sincere concern and immediate resolve for his dearest family and friends. This was accented by moments in Larson’s script, like Lizzie describing the “gentle influence of Darcy’s father, his careful consideration for his sister in every room” at Pemberley and Darcy’s immediate resolve leading to the tense but humorous little scene to correct Lydia and Wickham’s folly by arranging their marriage . . . I appreciated the uniquely theatrical aspects of the production. This was not an effort to recreate one of the many film version into a stage production. Larson and director Barta Heiner helped incorporate important parts like letter writing and family portraits to splendid dramatic effect. The scenes of letter writing had the possibility to feel inconsistent, yet never did . . . I believe anyone who loves Austen and her beloved book will adore this new play version. So grab a girlfriend (or boyfriend who needs to appreciate some funny and finer things in life) and fall in love again with Pride and Prejudice.”
Zach Archuleta, UTBA. “Melissa Leilani Larson’s new world premiere Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice at BYU has been faithful to the beloved novel, creatng a charming evening that delivers on favorite moments while helping enlighten some less familiar ones as well. Adapting any beloved text has its dangers due to high audience expectations. When I read Jane Austen’s classic text, the vibrant dialogue made her unique characters so real. Larson’s new script compares well to Austen’s text. The script is a worthy addition to the canon of adaptations and should be sought after by theatre companies that wish to bring to life Jane Austen’s. Larson’s tight script flows well from one scene to another and deals well with the classic characteristics from the story. While much of the dialogue can be taken directly from Austen’s source work, it has been placed together to create intimate piece of theatre full of the wit and precision of the original.
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.
Johnny Hebda, UTBA. “Single Wide is an original “country/pop” musical about a group of single women living in a trailer park and their struggles to survive. The book was written by George D. Nelson, who also directed the show, with music and lyrics by Jordan Kamalu. It was workshopped last semester by a BYU playwright/dramaturg/actor class and is still a work in progress . . . There is not a whole lot of plot in Single Wide, though the musical lasted near two hours, and the characters were basically stereotypes. Consequently, I felt that I knew these stereotypes within the first ten minutes, and little more was revealed about them as the show progressed. None of the characters really changed or grew from the beginning to end, which made me wonder why two hours was spent examining their lives. It took nearly an hour and half to lay out this exposition I stated in one paragraph. Moreover, I found the plot predictable and largely uninteresting . . . Despite the simplicity of the plot, the score did have some fantastic music, written with a contemporary musical theatre feel. I enjoyed many of the numbers, which had rich harmonies and beautiful melodies . . . My overall analysis is the book would benefit from some rewrites to flesh out the characters and give them more development. The musical numbers need some slicing and revising so that each number progresses the story and reveals new information. And lastly, the conflict must happen much earlier in the show. As of right now, Single Wide feels like a Sunday Night Hallmark movie, rather than a thought-provoking drama. But there are some great performances in this production and some truly beautiful songs, which makes me excited to see where Single Wide will go from here.”
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.”
“Embracing our Paradoxes”. Young Mormon Feminists. “It is filled with snappy dialogue, Mormon jokes, raw and unexpected emptions, and cringe-worthy honesty that provoke deep introspection on why we do the things we do . . . striking at the core of Mormon women’s dichotomies of faith, righteousness, and motherhood as it demonstrates the paradoxes of trying to live authentic Mormon lives, 3 given quick snapshots that compel the audience to consider the meaningful ties we hold with those around us, even those we don’t think we know very well- and perhaps especially those who we don’t know well. Samuelsen’s brilliance is evident in how each act ends with you realizing that you feel like the characters are old friends both with ecth other and yourself, and you wonder how you could possibly reach the same level of familiarity with the next set of characters only to find yourself wrapped up in their stories yet again.”
Megan Crivello, UTBA. “Plan-B Theatre Company’s ongoing mission to bring socially conscious and locally relevant plays to Utah audiences has produced numerous sold-out shows. The closing production of their latest season—The Season of Eric—is sure to follow that model. 3 by Eric Samuelsen offers three short plays performed by three extremely versatile actresses that focus on the experiences and tribulations of modern LDS women. I think that audiences will find this both a polarizing and thought-provoking evening of theatre. The first piece, Bar & Kell, shares the story of two women, both upstanding members of the local ward, who make a “project” of the third woman, an inactive and unmarried mother new to neighborhood. I’ll be honest; this piece initially offended and upset me. I felt that the caricatures were over-blown and the story details about the inactive character were ignorant and extreme. True or not, that wasn’t the point. The play is meant to showcase both extreme perceptions about “Relief Society Types” in our communities, how they are either angels armed with phone trees and Swiffers or self-righteous meddlers trying to maintain the property value of their neighborhoods. What was most compelling was the growth of the characters Kelly (Christy Summerhays), who finds the malice in her own attempted benevolence, and Brandie (Stephanie Howell), who seeks improvement of her circumstances through assimilation and acceptance from the church . . . 3 asks for some tough introspection from its audience, serendipitously asked at a time in our state when feminism, equality, tolerance, and change are all increasingly prevalent and significant. All three plays show women who are struggling with the balance (and sometimes the selfishness) of being Christian and being “righteous.” 3 will be a “must see” for many people and tickets are sure to sell fast. There is a lot of truth to the characters that are presented. I think that is why Bar & Kell originally angered me so much. I know what it is like to be a “project.” I have seen that same judgment and pity in well-meaning eyes. Because I was on the other side of the situation, I don’t identify with the story the same way other audience members did and will. That being said, 3 will hit home for many people and it is overall a very well-done production.”
Johnny Hebda, UTBA. “Real life is often more entertaining than fiction, and Jimmy Stewart—certainly one of the greatest actors of all time—whose life was worth examining. Thanks to Stewart’s script, I learned what a quality person Jimmy Stewart was off the screen in his personal life. Stewart did a nice job of creating an engaging story and highlighting many of the most memorable moments of Jimmy Stewart’s life. He found both the humor and the drama in historical events, and I found myself engaged from beginning to end thanks to his well-crafted script. Stewart’s natural and conversational writing style accentuated many of these great moments in Stewart’s life. He also brought dimension to many of the characters he created, which made for interesting scenes and moments. It was very evident that Stewart had done a lot of research in order to create such a detailed story. But I would have liked to see a bit greater development in Jimmy Stewart’s courtship and marriage to Gloria Hatrick McLean, as that was an important yet missing part of the story. The script could have also benefited by heightening some of the more dramatic moments in the characters’ lives to create greater shaping and variety to the storyline . . . Over all, Stewart created a strong script in Jimmy Stewart Goes to Hollywood that is worth exploring, and McCallister’s performance as Jimmy Stewart alone made the evening worthwhile and enjoyable. The production was both entertaining and educational as the amazing life of Jimmy Stewart, both on and off the camera, unfolded over the course of the evening. However, the lacking direction and unseasoned supporting actors kept the production from reaching its full potential.”
Chelsea Benjamin and Robert Craig, Front Row Reviewers Utah. “Will McCallister plays Jimmy Stewart and has obviously done his homework–he has the mannerisms, the drawl and the stuttering down. He brings the genuineness to the role that is almost uncanny. Tall and lanky, McCallister makes a convincing Stewart–a difficult role to do well and Will nails it . . . Because this is such a short run, we can’t stress enough how you really are missing out if you don’t come see this touching, insightful, entertaining play about one of movie’s true icons.”
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.
Ben Christensen, Front Row Reviewers Utah. “Echo’s Bielzy and Gottfried Poses Questions of Morality Without Moralizing” “I had been assured by a cast member ahead of time that this show does not preach, though, and I was not disappointed by my choice to trust his recommendation. Bielzy and Gottfried is a fascinating show that asks difficult questions without spoon-feeding the answers–in short, the type of show that Echo Theatre is becoming known for here in Utah Valley. Bielzy and Gottfried is a collection of five short plays exploring moral issues, framed by an ongoing conversation between showmen Lucius Bielzy and Joshua Gottfried, each using the plays in an attempt to prove his view of humanity is accurate. Tyrell Clement plays Bielzy as intense and playful, one of the most captivating portrayals of the devil I’ve seen. Trevor Newsome’s Gottfried is at the same time earnestly cheerful and smugly aloof, as (in my opinion) any portrayal of God should be. As the showmen present each short, a vintage circus-style poster unravels to introduce the short. Unfortunately, on Friday night most of the posters didn’t unroll all the way, but the actors handled the mishap well, with Clement at one point using his cane to pull the poster all the way down . . . The third short is the one where the entire audience, myself included, died laughing. Lori Hansen plays Sister Prescott, at first a timid housewife reluctant to give a talk at church who then rips loose, breaking every rule of church etiquette when she can’t find the notes she had prepared. Hansen gives a show-stopping performance, appropriately followed by intermission. While the first half of the show is filled with hilarious moments, the last two shorts are a little more somber, relying less on humor and more on drama. In the fourth short, Nicolas Brady plays everyman Job, who gets caught in the middle of a war between God and Lucifer . . .I was happy to see the short call out one of the problems of the Bible story when Job proclaims to God that a family isn’t like a dead puppy that you can just go to the pet store and replace. In the final short, Joel Applegate tugs at the audience’s heartstrings as Ed, a recently-deceased man desperate to find his son, Ole. Mont Connell plays opposite Applegate in a more stoic role, allowing Applegate’s pathos to drive the piece. The emotional nature of this final piece is intensified by the lighting–the only lights are behind the actors, making them seem ghostly and consumed by darkness. One of the interesting aspects of this production is that it is a team effort. One director directs the framing pieces while others direct the shorts. As a result, each short has its own feel, but there are unifying themes throughout, such as the circus/vaudeville imagery, the Snake, and the title characters’ ongoing debate.”
Christian Cragun, UTBA. “Bielzy and Gottfried is one of the first entries in what the Echo Theater is calling its Playwriting Showcase. Unfortunately, this entry featured a poor script and an unpolished production that lost sight of the goal of making the audience really think . . . The show was mainly hampered by J. Omar Hansen’s script, which felt unpolished and didactic. The purpose of the show, as stated by Bielzy and Gottfried themselves, was to have the audience re-examine their ideas of “morality.” It was done with the intent to reference the morality plays of medieval Europe. Yet the play had too few parallels to the classic style to consider it a historical endeavor, and there was so much heavy-handedness in the “teaching” that it prevented any real introspection from taking place. For the most part, the characters lacked depth and were not written in a way that allowed me to connect with them. Most of the dialogue sounded like the characters were being used to preach to the audience. But the most confusing aspect of the script can be summed up by one of my most frequent notes of the evening: “What is the purpose?” We were told numerous times by Bielzy and Gottfried that the audience should be examining and thinking and judging, but the short plays that were presented didn’t really give much to examine or apply. There was no balance in the arguments, there was no reference point for an average audience member to connect with . . . Oh, and it was a musical. Well, kind of. It was a “folk musical.” Meaning that there they used a guitar (KC Ushijima) and a piano (Michael Bascom) to sing a song every now and again. But the songs didn’t seem to fit, and they definitely didn’t add to the show. They lyrics were usually forgettable (“The box, the box, a pox on the box.”) or were drowned out by the instruments on stage. Often times the cast members weren’t sure which verse they were supposed sing. It seemed in a way like the music was an afterthought . . . There were, however, a few notable exceptions. Lori Hansen as Sister Prescott did exceptionally well in The Sermon. She had an energy that helped her control the stage marvelously in what was essentially a one woman show. I could see her character coming up with ideas, changing, losing control, checking the extras on stage, and so on. Hansen had a great stage presence that brought a new life to a struggling show . . . So in the end I walked away from Bielzy and Gottfried with a lot of questions, not about the nature of morality as the show intended, but about the play itself. I was utterly baffled by so many of the decisions made in the script. I was told (by the characters) that it was a thought-provoking evening, and I guess in a way that’s true. But I still have no idea what the show was arguing. Even Joseph McCarthy had his faults? If the Devil asks you to pick up the phone, don’t? Maybe these are just Meatball Criticisms, but there really wasn’t much else there. It felt like this production was trying so hard to make me think, but so many of the ideas seemed to only be half-developed, never coming to any semblance of a point. “Full of sound and fury. Signifying nothing.””
Ben E. Millet. Provocop. March 27-June 7. Desert Star Playhouse, Murray. Musical comedy/parody. Sharron Haddock, Deseret News. Preview.
Jocelyn S. Biggons, UTBA. “Let’s just get it out there: though I’ve enjoyed Desert Star productions in the past, their current production, ProvoCop, is not a show I want to see again. But as any former patron of the playhouse can tell you, the play isn’t the only performance of the night. After ProvoCop comes the Prom Night Olio, a skit and song musical review focusing on—you guessed it—the prom. The humor (I believe I snorted at least twice) and chemistry of the actors during the Prom Night Olio was a direct contrast to the flat, drawn-out, and frankly boring ProvoCop which proceeded it. As both performances have the same cast, it became apparent to me that the fault of ProvoCop lay in its script, not in any lack of talent from the performers. Desert Star’s ProvoCop is a spoof of the RoboCop film, but in this version, the cop-turned-robot is a straight-laced Mormon police officer from Provo whose main objective is to protect Provo from the evil of caffeinated beverages . . . Obviously written to pander to local audiences (which most shows at Desert Star are), RoboCop just can’t overcome the problems with Millet’s script. Millet has produced over two dozen shows for Desert Star, so obviously he’s a seasoned and usually successful comedy writer, but in this case, it just didn’t work. The script lacked a clear genre to parody and ended up awkwardly in-between adventure, cop show, and just general goofiness. Also, the humor in the script was often reaching for laughs in an embarrassing kind of way . . . Though I admittedly didn’t care much for ProvoCop, I was happy the evening ended well with the Prom Night Olio. All of the laughter, chemistry, and entertainment I’d been missing in ProvoCop were there above and beyond expectations in the Olio, but for this reviewer, it felt like it was too little, too late. Here’s hoping the script can be tightened and the cast can figure out how to add the spark found abundantly in the Olio also into ProvoCop.”
Reviews of Older Books
Traci Abramson. Deep Cover (Shelah) 3 stars. “I’m happy to say that Abrahamson’s writing has come a long way since I started reading her work four years ago. While her secondary characters are still relatively undifferentiated, both Kelsey and Noah are rounded and complicated, and the book deals with interesting Mormon cultural issues in addition to the main plot surrounding the terrorist plot. I will say that I absolutely hated the last chapter, from a feminist POV, but overall, I am delighted to say that Deep Cover was an Abrahamson book I enjoyed.”
Traci Hunter Abramson. Chances Are (Jennie Hansen, Meridian). 5 stars. “The main characters are multi-dimensional. Maya has a great deal of courage; she’s intelligent, and has a hard time admitting her limitations. It’s difficult for her to ask for help. Ben is a talented athlete. Most things have come easily for him in life and he tends to just go along with what others want unless a moral issue is involved. They both jump to conclusions too easily. They’re both likable characters. Several secondary characters stand out as particularly likable too. The plot proceeds to an exciting denouement just as in Abramson’s suspense novels and the setting in Washington, D.C, the city, rather than the political center, shows all the markings of a person who knows the city well. Abramson has researched cancer quite thoroughly and portrays the emotions, the fatigue, weakness, pain, and huge expense involved very well. The only part she didn’t touch on is the huge amount of treatment that still follows after the surgery part is over.”
Amber Argyle. Winter Queen (Shelah) 2 stars. “While Ilyenna is, in many ways, a fantastic heroine (she’s super-tough– don’t mess with her), the story as a whole didn’t work for me. I know that this has a lot more to do with my own inability to get caught up by most fantasy (and fairy stories in particular) than it does with Argyle’s story itself. That said, I found that I had to force myself to keep reading (books with a lot of world building are particularly hard for me), and then I kept getting confused with who the fairies were and who the clan guys were. But the main character is interesting and someone to be admired, and I’m sure that the right audience would enjoy Winter Queen.”
Amber Argyle. Winter Queen (Rosalyn) 3 stars. “There’s a lot to like about Argyle’s Winter Queen, starting with this gorgeous cover. I also enjoyed the strong heroine, Ilyenna, who leads the women of her clan and has a confidence most seventeen-year-olds would envy . . . The world-building here, particularly the clan structure, was interesting to read about. Argyle’s writing is clean and sure, and her characterization of the main characters was well done. But I struggled a little with some of the violence Ilyenna encounters and the two story lines (the clan conflicts and the fairy world) never really meshed for me.”
Braden Bell. Luminescence (Mindy, LDSWBR). 5 stars. “There are many secrets revealed, a wonderful back story, and many surprises along the way in this very enjoyable book. The ending had me in tears, well, the tears came sooner at some points, but the last few chapters were my favorite. So many exciting events take place through the whole book. Once I got to a certain point while reading, I couldn’t stop until I was finished. Not only will your kids enjoy this series, you will too.”
Stephanie Black. The Witnesses (Shelah) 3 stars. “The “believers” alluded to in the title of the first novel are Mormons in hiding, and the religious discussions that take place in the second half of the novel were interesting to me from a publishing point of view. This is a novel that would seem to have broader reach without all the Mormon stuff, but it also seems pretty central to what Black wants to do here. It seems that a lot of the stories this year include conversion narratives, which I’m not sure is a super-successful approach for authors who are preaching to the choir.”
Stephanie Black. The Witnesses (Rosalyn) 3.5 stars. “The plot here was tangled and intricate, but I thought Black did a good job keeping the pace of the story going. However, because it was a sequel (and I have not read the first novel in the series), I was fairly lost for the first fifty or so pages. Once I figured out who everyone was and how they were related, the story picked up considerably. And while I personally was intrigued by the idea that the LDS religion persisted (in secret) in this new world forbidding religion, some of the passages dealing with concepts from the Book of Mormon felt a little bit forced. But the high-stakes plot and detailed political maneuvering make the book worth a read.”
Stephanie Black. The Witnesses (Jessie). “I’ve read so many dystopian books with teenage protagonists that it was a little weird to read one with adult characters instead. This is the second book in a series and it took a bit of time to really get into the story and figure out who everyone was and sort out what was going on–though I do think the author did a better job of establishing what had happened previously than some authors I’ve read do. That being said, I still thought the book was a little boring; there were a lot of characters and I had a hard time really feeling like I got into their heads or caring about what happened to them.”
Shannen Crane Camp. Chasing June (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books) D. “As much as I liked the premise of [the first books in the series], I cared little for its heroine, its melodrama and its bumpy prose. It received a D from me. Considering that, I was a little surprised to find its sequel, Chasing June, nominated for an award in this year’s competition. Hoping for a better-written novel this time around, I jumped right in—and came up empty. My main beefs? Plot, for one. An annoying love triangle formed the main conflict, which turned me off right from the beginning because I couldn’t understand why one guy would like a girl as self-absorbed as June, let alone two. It would have worked much better as a subplot. Also, June. Ugh. She’s not developed well enough to be sympathetic or particularly likable. Since she gets everything she wants without having to try very hard, she never grows as a character or as a person. With no interests outside of clothes, boys and acting, she comes off as superficial and snotty. Frankly, I can’t stand her. My biggest beef with this series, though, is that it barely explores the part of its premise I find most interesting—that of an LDS actress trying to maintain her standards while also working to build a career in the cutthroat world of Hollywood stardom. On the bright side, Finding June is a clean, upbeat read that straddles the fence between young adult and new adult, thus appealing to older teens who want more mature drama without graphic sex, language, etc. Although there are LDS themes in the book, it’s really not preachy. Non-LDS readers should be able to enjoy it without too much confusion. Also, can I tell you how much I love the covers on these books? They’re adorable.”
Julianne Donaldson. Blackmoore (Shelah) 3 stars. “My daughter Maren, who is seven, asked me a question: “Mom, why is it that Frozen is set in the past, and everyone wears dresses and rides horses, but everyone acts and talks like they’re from our time?” Of course, Maren is one perceptive and precocious girl, and she got me thinking. I was reading Blackmoore at the time, and the “problem” she presented with Frozen is one that seems to plague historical romances, and especially seems present in Blackmoore. I think historical novels are tricky, because they put readers back into a certain time and place, with certain social conventions, and manners of speech. Sometimes an author will, for example, work so hard at accurately portraying Renaissance dialect that it gets in the way of the story. We have a problem with some of the stories in the bible because men and women don’t follow the same roles they did back then, and it’s also a challenge for authors not to plop a modern heroine into a historical novel. Unfortunately, that’s what I think that’s what Donaldson does in Blackmoore. Kate (which seems like such a modern version of Katherine) wants what modern girls want– freedom to live and travel and experience life freely. And while I can understand that she comes to this approach both from the bad examples of her mother and sister and some kind of altruistic sense of love for Henry, it’s interesting to me that she doesn’t seem to have a sense of self-preservation beyond the trip to India. This was an intriguing novel that kept my attention, but sometimes that attention was drawn to the historical v. modern problems that the story presents.”
Peggy Eddleman. Sky Jumpers (Rosalyn) 4.5 stars. “A terrific middle grade novel–it’s easy to see why it’s been getting all the buzz it has. It’s got a great action sequence combined with heart, and should appeal to most young (and not-so-young) readers . . . Eddleman’s writing is pretty straight-forward and unadorned, but that works perfectly for this novel, as it doesn’t get in the way of the action. But what I liked best was that, in addition to the great concept, Hope has a rich character development, as she finds a way past her concerns about fitting in and making her parents proud. The central message–to find your strengths and use them–is one that all children need to hear.”
Peggy Eddleman. Sky Jumpers (Jessica Day George) 4 stars. “This book was a lot different from what I’d thought. I’d thought it was just a fantasy book, and frankly the cover didn’t wow me. But it’s actually post-apocalyptic, with a society trying to survive in a technologically challenged world. Even children are encouraged to try and invent new technology, to replace all that was lost in the war. But it’s also a very small, personal story. The heart of the story could have taken place in the 1800′s, on another planet, it doesn’t matter . . . because it’s really about people. Very well done!”
Sarah M. Eden. Longing for Home (Jessie). “This book has some good things going for it–the historical setting is great and I liked all three of the main characters involved in the love triangle. However, the pacing and the plot were just not working for me. Some parts of the conflict seemed to drag on too much and others were resolved too quickly; in fact, the ending wasn’t really a very satisfying one, which was annoying after reading a book that was 400 pages long. This book had potential that it just didn’t live up to.”
Sarah M. Eden. Longing for Home (Shelah) 3 stars. “Longing for Home is a romance, I guess, because Kate is courted by both Archer and by the handsome Irish rascal Tavish (who is actually a pretty good guy). However, it strays from the genre in several important ways too– there’s no clear resolution to the love triangle at the end of the novel, and it seems, to me at least, that the arc of the story is much more about Kate discovering who she is and how to overcome the challenges in her life (mainly her sister’s death, her father’s coldness toward her, and her own illiteracy) than it is about which eligible bachelor she will pick. Kate can be prickly and repetitive and thick skulled at times, but I think she’s ultimately a pretty endearing character. I see that there’s a sequel and I hope that there will be more character development of Joseph and Tavish in the next installment.”
Sarah M. Eden. Longing for Home (Jamie Reynolds, AML). “This piece of historical fiction is as clearly written, effectively edited, and well developed in both plot and character as any historical fiction that I’ve read elsewhere.”
Phyllis Gunderson. The Mounds Anomaly (Rosalyn) 4 stars. “This suspense wound up being surprisingly enjoyable. In fact, it reminded me strongly of Elizabeth Peter’s novels, which is about as high a compliment as I can pay it. Matt Howard and Amelia Peabody would have gotten along swimmingly . . . Matt herself is a delightful narrator: smart, funny, slightly perverse. And the anomalies she encountered (mostly based on real artifacts–you can read the historical details at the end of the novel) are fascinating. And the idea of a massive cover-up by professionals is appealing (Gunderson even manages to avoid making it sound paranoid). My only real issue with the novel was that it was short–after building suspense quite successfully, it wraps things up really quickly, and with a solution that felt, to me, like a let-down.”
Phyllis Gunderson. The Mounds Anomaly (Shelah) 3 stars. “I was captivated by Matt’s character. The story, however, was a bit more problematic. First of all, it seemed kind of strange to have a book that takes place in the recent past (2008, if I remember right) in the historical fiction category. I understand why Gunderson or the Whitney Committee would want the novel, which focuses on Matt’s growing obsession with ancient burial mounds discovered across North America that contain material that seems to be of European origin, to be in the historical category, since the mounds themselves are ancient, but I think it would work better in the mystery/suspense or perhaps the general fiction category, especially given that there’s so much emphasis on character development. I learned a lot about the mounds while reading, but I learned more about Dr. Howard, which is, I always think, the mark of an interesting novel.”
Jennie Hansen. Where the River Once Flowed (Shelah) 3 stars. “While I loved the setting of this novel and felt that Hansen had a great sense of place in the New Mexico ranch, it was uncomfortable for me to read about Iliana, who was basically a pawn in the games of the men she encountered. Her grandfather doted on her, yet married her off when she was fifteen to a kind man who didn’t love her, and neither man succeeded in protecting her from Ben. She was basically a placeholder, standing in for the land the men really wanted. And while Hansen did a good job establishing that Travis was a good guy, the romance between the two seemed more convenient than organic.”
Jennie Hansen. Where the River Once Flowed (Rosalyn) 3 stars. “I really wanted to love this book, because I don’t think enough historical [fiction] about the American West delves into the rich Hispanic culture that flourished there in the 18th and 19th centuries. And to her credit, Hansen’s story does nod to the complicated (and often unfair) politics that affected the region when American settlers flooded west and began claiming lands, often indifferent to the pre-existing claims of the dons and their haciendas . . . The story had lots of good elements, but at times it verged a little on melodrama for my taste (particularly the villain). I had a lot of sympathy for Iliana and wanted the best for her, but was often frustrated with how passive she had to be in her own story. I also wanted more backstory at the beginning–it seems like there was a lot of dramatic possibility in the unfolding relationship between Iliana and her husband, Ross, but the novel skips from their rather reserved courtship to a year after their marriage (maybe this is so we’re not too attached to Ross and thus have room to be swayed by the inevitable later romance?) I also really disliked the storyline about Iliana’s young son, but won’t say more to avoid spoilers! That said, this is a clean (if at times a little violent) historical romance set in an interesting era of the American West.”
C. J. Hill. Echo in Time (Shelah) 3 stars. “My guess is that C.J. Hill did a lot of character building in her first novel– fans of the book know who the characters are (what their desires and motivations are), and now they want them to do something. But contest judges have to look at the novels in isolation, and what I see here is a lot of exciting action, a strong finish, an exciting conclusion, and bad guys with laser boxes around every corner, but what I don’t see much of is what I like best in novels– the character development. This is one of those second novels where I feel like I’ve been thrown into the water to swim without a life preserver, and I flounder around a bit before I find my footing.”
C. J. Hill. Echo in Time (Jessie). “I wasn’t very excited about reading this book, but it surprised me by being one of my favorites in the speculative category. Even though it is a sequel, I felt like I was able to pick up the plot and understand who everyone was and how they all fit together. There were parts that felt somewhat derivative of other books like The Hunger Games and Matched, but I still had a lot of fun reading it.”
C. J. Hill. Friends and Traitors (Jessica Day George) 4 stars. “Really excited to see what happens next. This book was even better than the first, because the familiarity with the characters lets Hill (and the reader) have a bit more fun. I like the moral conflict of whether or not the dragons should be killed, and what side Dirk and even Tori should be on.”
C. J. Hill. Friends and Traitors (Shelah) 3 stars. “While there’s plenty of high-flying (literally) action, Hill doesn’t sacrifice internal conflict at the expense of external conflict. The story here is one that has a female protagonist but would be equally accessible to male readers, and it’s definitely one that I could see my teen readers enjoying, even if they hadn’t read the first book in the series.”
Jennifer Ann Holt. Discovering Peace (Jennie Hansen, Meridian). 4 stars. “Holt has done a superb job of portraying the mixed emotions, both the joy and the pain, that go with infertility, relinquishing a baby, and going on with life following adoption. She is equally sympathetic to the birth mother and the adopting couple. She includes the spiritual steps taken as well as the emotional and physical journey both Alison and Olivia experience. Discovering Peace presents an interesting story and great characters over approximately five years in time. Both of the principle characters achieve considerable growth and maturity through a difficult experience. Several strong spiritual points are made as the story explores an understanding of the atonement, makes a distinction between “giving up” a child and “giving a child a chance for a better life”, and takes a look at the impact an “out-of-wedlock” pregnancy has on the lives of those close to the birth mother and adoptive parents. Characterization and plot are both handled well and dialog is comfortable. However, the use of two unusual and almost identical names for two secondary characters was distracting and confusing; Shanelle and Shaylan.”
Melanie Jacobson. Second Chances (Shelah) 4 stars. “Jacobson really has her finger on the pulse of the modern Mormon romance. She captures the dialogue of twentysomethings, she uses the right pop culture references, she’s funny, and she integrates Mormon culture in a way that feels natural and right. The books will undoubtedly feel dated in a couple of decades, but who cares? They’ll represent how things were in a certain time and place. While the reader knows from the moment Nick agrees to become the bachelor that he and Lou will end up together, what makes the story great is that Lou doesn’t know it, and since the story is told from her point of view, we’re able to experience all of her anticipation and pain as she watches Nick date a different woman each night. Jacobson also does a great job showing growth in both characters– in Nick over the years when he and Lou were broken up and Lou coming to some self-realization during the course of the narrative. It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Melanie Jacobson’s work. Two years ago, she had two finalists in the Romance category (The List– of which Second Chances is a spin-off and Not My Type) and for me, the voting came down to Jacobson v. Jacobson. Last year, she had two more funny, smart, adorable finalists (Twitterpated and Smart Move), and once again, readers must have split their votes. This year, with one finalist, I’m really hoping that it’s her year. Fingers crossed!”
Krista Lynne Jensen. The Orchard (Shelah) 3 stars. “I felt that both Alisen and Derick were interesting, rounded characters, while many of the secondary characters were fairly flat. Persuasion is a prickly novel, and in some ways I wonder if, at twenty-three, Alisen is too young to fill the Anne Elliot role (since Anne is twenty-seven and on the shelf in Persuasion, and twenty-three is still a baby by modern standards). However, Alisen seems wise beyond her years, and I found myself really rooting for Alisen and Derick as the novel went on. My guess is that they will name their children things like Jane and David– simple, and hard to misspell.”
J. R. Johanson. Insomnia (Jessica Day George) 3 stars. “I’ll call this fantasy because I don’t actually have a psychological thriller or horror shelf. . . But it is fantasy. And it isn’t. And it is horror. And it isn’t. And I’m not saying these are bad things, either. It was hard to categorize, and in a good way. There was a lot of very different stuff going on. This was a gripping, gripping book. I was SO FREAKED OUT for Parker. He’s dying, he knows he is, because his brain hasn’t slept in years. So yes, he meets someone whose dreams are actually soothing and who allows him to sleep in her dreams, so naturally he wants to keep connecting to her so he can see her dreams. But does he REALLY need to do it in this completely stalker way? I would say no. I really struggled with the fact that this book seemed to rely far too much on what I call “sitcom complications.” If Parker had just “used his words” (like we say to our children) to tell someone, anyone, what was happening to him, he could have gotten help earlier, or at least would have had some understanding allies. He communicates poorly with everyone: friends, his mother, this girl, ALL THE TIME . . . Still this was a VERY promising book. Johansson’s writing is quite good, and I really loved her characters and cared about them. I only picked this book up because of the Whitney Awards (it looked too freaky for me), but I am going to read the second one, because I do want to know what happens next. I just need Parker to use his words better.”
J. R. Johanson. Insomnia (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books) C. “I’ve always found dreams fascinating, so I’m drawn to tales with premises like the one that drives Insomnia. Having read novels similar to this one, I was happy to discover some fresh elements in this debut novel As much as I appreciated these novelties, however, they didn’t do enough to save this story from being confusing, unfocused, and melodramatic. Poor character development and a flimsy plot just made things worse. In the end, I liked the idea of this novel a whole lot more than the novel itself. Bummer.”
Dorothy Keddington. Hearth Fires (Shelah) 3 stars. “Sometimes in writing our strengths and our weaknesses are a hair’s breadth apart. That seems especially true in Hearth Fires. Keddington does a fabulous job creating the world of the family ranch in Southern Utah. I was able to picture the red rocks, the horses grazing in the pastures, and even the homey, overstuffed furniture in the family room. But sometimes those details drove me crazy, especially early on in the story . . . The speed at which the relationship developed in Hearth Fires seemed a little Anna-Hans to me. They spend a few days together, during which time she’s hopped up on pain meds and he’s her knight in shining armor, then he leaves, and when he comes back, they’re engaged and [spoiler alert!] married a month later, and have a baby less than a year after that. I know that true love trumps all and Mackenzie got the chance to know her beau when he was out fighting dragons on her behalf (which also sort of bugs), but I would have liked to see their relationship develop with the two of them together.”
Carla Kelly. Safe Passage (Rosalyn) 3 stars. “I’m a long-time fan of Carla Kelly’s . . . so I went into this book with admittedly high expectations . . . The historical details–of a time period I admittedly do not know much about–were fascinating. I liked, too, that this novel was told primarily from Ammon’s perspective (something not as common from historical romance novels), and that it explores the reconstruction of a marriage rather than the typical meet-fall-madly-in-love scenario. That said, I wasn’t always convinced by the on and off relationship between the two main characters and found the initial reason for their estrangement a little far-fetched: not that it couldn’t have resulted in misunderstanding, but that the two allowed that misunderstanding to grow to the point it did.”
Carla Kelly. Safe Passage (Shelah) 4 stars. “Kelly is one of the gems of the Whitney Awards. I was introduced to her work by reading the Whitneys, and every year I am excited when I find one of her books on the finalist list. Her stories are always well-plotted with interesting characters, and Safe Passage is no exception. Her work straddles the line between historical fiction and romance, and Safe Passage, with its story of an estranged couple falling in love again as they work together was interesting and sweet, without being saccharine.”
Josi Kilpack. Rocky Road (Shelah) 4 stars. “I’ve read six of the ten culinary mysteries “starring” Sadie Hoffmiller, and Kilpack is not resting on her laurels. Sadie has come into her own as a character over the course of the novels. She has developed and deepened and changed, and her motivations for solving crimes are more mature than they were ten books ago. Her relationship with Pete is also progressing in a satisfactory direction. And I feel that Kilpack has grown more self-assured and confident as a writer through this extended exploration of Sadie. Her writing keeps getting stronger and stronger, and I’m sad that this series is approaching its conclusion.”
Jordan McCollum. I, Spy and Spy for a Spy (Jessie). “I decided to review these two books together, since they are pretty similar and one is just a sequel to the other. There were some things I really liked about the books–they were fun to read, the pacing was good, even towards the end with the final chase scenes, and the setting was unique. I didn’t like the voice very much, but I think that was mostly just my personal preference. I don’t like first-person that is overly familiar and sounds too much like someone just telling me a story; it tends to get annoying, especially after reading two-books’ worth of it. I also had a hard time with the characterization of the protagonist; she often alluded to things in her back story that might have made some of her actions make sense, but I just got frustrated when more wasn’t explained.”
Heather B. Moore. Esther the Queen (Shelah) 4 stars. “Moore does a nice job recreating the life of a young Jewish girl living in Babylon. Stories from the scriptures often feel flat or contain elements that seem strange or contradictory or inexplicable, and Moore fleshes the stories out– she makes the life in King Xerxes’ harem come to life through sensory details, and she does a great job making the details that seem strange (like why Esther didn’t tell her husband she was a Jew before they got married, or at least before the plot to kill all of the Jews was hatched). The side stories are also interesting and believable, and I found myself rooting for a happily ever after for Esther and her king.”
Heather B. Moore. Finding Sheba (Jessie). “The premise of this book was fascinating and I liked the idea of combining flashbacks of the past with an investigation in the present. Moore is particularly skilled at writing about ancient times and I always love the details she includes in her writing about life in Biblical times. However, I felt like this book was a bit of a mess when it came to plot and characterization; there were many different people doing many different things, and keeping them all straight while they all came together was difficult.”
Heather B. Moore. Finding Sheba (Shelah) 3 stars. “Finding Sheba is another book where the Segullah readers had strong and dissenting views. As someone who read all forty books, I tend to judge a book quickly. If the story and the characters don’t grab me in the first hundred pages, I’m likely to start skimming. Finding Sheba is a complicated story with lots of main characters . . . I felt that the double romance, coupled with the puzzle of who killed Dr. Lyon and the main issue of the tombs felt a little heavy for a single story. Dr. Morel felt like a creepy, untrustworthy character, and I kept expecting him to turn out to be a bad guy, so the conclusion to his part of the story felt unrewarding. The story took a long time to get off the ground, which is bad for the contest and impatient readers like me, but I trust my colleagues, who say that the book is richly-layered and rewarding for those who persist.”
Heather B. Moore. Heart of the Ocean (Rosalyn) 3.5 stars. “The setting was the first thing that drew me in–I’m a sucker for ninteenth-century anything, and Moore’s attention to historical detail (evident in all four of her finalists this year) really shines here. I particularly liked the Puritan village, which seemed antiquated compared to the more fast-paced New York society Eliza had abandoned. The romance between Eliza and Jonathan was sweet and engaging. Moore mentions in the end note that this was one of her early novels, originally abandoned and recently revised for publication, and I think that shows a little here. While an interesting story with some good suspenseful moments, this doesn’t quite reach the quality of some of her other novels.”
Heather B. Moore. Heart of the Ocean (Shelah) 3 stars. “When I read the books for the Whitneys, I take part in a discussion group with the other women at Segullah who are also reading. While most of them felt that Heart of the Ocean wasn’t the strongest book in the category this year, due in part to the genre mixing, the lack of a tight story, and the unsympathetic male protagonist, I enjoyed it more than many of the others. I think that’s in part because I’m not a huge fan of the genre, and Heart of the Ocean felt less “speculative” than the others and more like a dark, gothic romance.”
Jenny Proctor. The House at Rose Creek (Theric Jepson, AMV). Another detailed Theric review, broken down into sections. “The Language and Conventions Apparent in The House at Rose Creek”, “Who Will Teach the Young?”, and “Complexity and the Mormon Bugaboo”. “I’ve done some reading on Proctor’s blog and at different points she refers to The House at Rose Creek as both LDS Fiction and not really LDS Fiction per se. In other words, the same concern all LDS writers grapple with. Does our Mormonness exclude us from the larger literary discourse? Is there room for us? Will anyone read a Mormon book? I’m not sure how her novel answers this question. To me, its requirement that Kate’s romances with both a man and a faith be consummated (more or less simultaneously) is a bit offputting. I like a bit more uncertainty, ambiguity in my fiction. And I know that happy endings are (sort of) a requirement of romance and I certainly don’t mind happy endings. For many fictions the destination is known—it’s the path we take to get there that matters. Consider Ms Austen . . . But all that said—and believe me, I did a lot of yelling at this book while walking to school (and pausing in my journey to scribble in the margins)—I do see a writer working to engage with the complexity of the world around us. Sure, none of those complexities quite hit this time, but I’m hopeful that as she gains experience and confidence (and perhaps bolder editing) that Proctor will take more chances and write something surprising and challenging and, therefore, ultimately more powerful and meaningful in the future. I think she can do it. If she can be a little less cautious—a little more willing to mourn with her characters that mourn (rather than plotting their next happy moment in which that mourning is all but forgotten)—then she can write something that is more than a pleasant read. I would love to see her try.”
Jennifer Quist. Love Letters of the Angels of Death (Sharron Haddock, Deseret News). “Quist tries her hand at an unusual writing style — sort of a first person, multiple voices style that is at best, confusing and at worst, quite frustrating . . . It gets easier once one gives up on continuity and treats each chapter as a new small story and analysis of death. In every case there is a sense of loss, anger and distance from the actual pain. It’s like approaching the situation with a 10-foot pole in hand . . . There’s not much about eternal life or hope or even faith in God. Instead, there are little treatises on regrets and missed opportunities as those who knew the dead people are drawn into funeral or final arrangements, paying off creditors, etc. There are a number of voyages into the lives of various relatives who turn up at the end as well. The stories are fine, but seemingly meaningless overall. There’s a tinge of bitterness on almost every turn and a lot of raw edges. This novel is not for those looking for a pleasant read. It is different and descriptive and yet somehow doesn’t miss a single death or family moment cliché.”
The Deseret News changed the version of this review on its website, after Quist complained about a section which said the book was “clearly…not the perspective of the Church.” Jessie Christiansen wrote a reply to this review at this blog called “How to Write a Bad Book Review”, and Theric wrote In which Theric takes [minor] issue with a review in the Deseret News at AMV.
Becky Lyn Rickman. The Convict, the Rookie Card, and the Redemption of Gertie Thump (Jaymie Reynolds, AML). “Although some references may be uncomfortable for the most conservative readers, LDS readers will likely find Rickman’s book to be refreshingly down to earth. These readers will appreciate the Christian themes of loving one’s neighbor, seeking to be more Christlike, and finding personal redemption. Readers will see elements of their own shortcomings in the main characters, but will also be able to identify with characters who are imperfect and flawed but still striving to become better than they’ve been. Most readers will also find that the humor in Rickman’s portrayal of her characters balances out the weaknesses that she imbues them with.”
Brandon Sanderson. Steelheart (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books) C+. “It’s a tale stuffed to bursting with danger, death and dazzling super beings. An intense page-turner that never really stops to take a breath. It’s not the kind of thing I usually read, but hey, it’s Sanderson, so I gave it a shot. Given how much the author’s Mistborn series enthralled me, maybe I was expecting too much from Steelheart because, although this novel thrills, it does so in kind of a generic way. I’m sure I’m going to be in the minority on this, but I found Steelheart a little disappointing. The characters didn’t pop for me, the prose seemed kind of stale and the world-building (which I’ve come to think of as Sanderson’s very own super power) just wasn’t up to par. For me, the whole story lacked the originality I’ve come to expect from this author. So, yeah. I know lots of readers adored this book—unfortunately, I’m really not one of them. Not that I detest the book or anything, I just found it frustratingly average. Ah, well.”
Brandon Sanderson. Steelheart (Shelah) 3 stars. “I’ve said this before and since Sanderson has a finalist almost every year, I’m sure I’ll say it again. When I read books by Brandon Sanderson, I recognize that they’re good. His plotting is solid, his characters are strong and multi-dimensional, and his writing is clear. Many people love his work, but it doesn’t move me. It feels, especially in Steelheart, to be extremely male (if writing can be male or female). This is the kind of book that my teenage son would line up to see if it were made into a movie, but if I were his chaperone at that movie, I would fall asleep almost immediately.”
Jeffrey S. Savage. Dark Memories (Rosalyn) 4 stars. “Jeff Savage is a master of writing creepy, as his middle-grade novel, Casefile 13: Zombie Kid, demonstrates. But where that was delightfully, kid-friendly, creepy, this novel is definitely meant for adults. And while I am not a huge fan of horror, this book kept me riveted (and up way later than I planned) . . . Surprisingly, I enjoyed this book. I loved the characterization of Cal, and the mystery unfolded in intriguing, if suspenseful, fashion. The horror (in the old-fashioned terror sense, not the more modern gore-fest sense) was also very present, and if, like me, you’re susceptible to horror I wouldn’t recommend reading when it’s dark outside. The only downside for me was that, like many scary stories, once the big secret is revealed things no longer seem quite as scary . . .”
Jeffrey S. Savage. Dark Memories (Jessie). “I’m not usually a fan of horror but I survived reading this book. I think its the strongest in the category, but it will probably still bother some people even though it’s somewhat ‘horror-lite’ (and published by Covenant). The plot kept me guessing and had just enough suspense to keep my interesting going without freaking me out so much that I didn’t want to keep reading. I thought the biggest weakness of the book was the characterization; most of the characters were too much of stock cliches for my taste.”
Gale Sears. Belonging to Heaven (Shelah) 3 stars. “Gale Sears is one of our strongest authors of LDS historical fiction, and while I felt that the end of the book was ultimately satisfying, it was hard for me to get into Belonging to Heaven. The first chapter felt almost completely unnecessary, and for a while I had a hard time knowing whose story this would really be, since the early chapters seemed to focus more on Cannon than on Napela. Also, I really, really, really think that Sears should ditch the footnotes at the end of each chapter– all but a few of them seemed superfluous, and those that are necessary could go at the end of the novel. Despite these shortcomings, I learned a lot about the early church in Hawaii and I was deeply moved by the final chapters of the novel.”
Gale Sears. Belonging to Heaven (Rosalyn) 3 stars. “The first chapter of Gale Sears’ Belonging to Heaven sucked me in immediately–I loved the detailed historical perspective on 19th century Hawaiian culture. After that, however, the book began to slow for me a little. The story follows roughly Jonathan Napela’s conversion to the Mormon church and George Q. Cannon’s early missionary efforts on the island. Both stories are interesting and deserve telling–but sometimes I felt that Sears told *too* much. I didn’t need detailed conversations about every event in the story. As interesting as the historical element was, the book felt long and at times I was tempted to skim. The last portion of the book is one of the most interesting, as it describes Jonathan’s retreat to a leper colony to be with his wife (his refusal to leave her is especially touching).”
Liesl Shurtliff. RUMP: The True Story of Rmplestiltskin (Rosalyn) 4 stars. “There was a lot to love here: I loved Shurtliff’s effortless writing, and Rump’s charmingly flawed character. I loved his off-beat sense of humor and his propensity for rhymes. I as also impressed with the way Shurtliff stayed true to the original retelling (down to the promise of the first-born child) and still make Rump likeable. And I liked Shurtliff’s exploration of the power of names, something I’ve long been fascinated with. Overall, I think this is a delightful middle grade book–one most young readers would find fun, relatable, and funny to boot.”
Liesl Shurtliff. RUMP: The True Story of Rmplestiltskin (Jessica Day George) 4 stars. “Rumplestiltskin is a fairy tale that’s honestly always creeped me out. Maybe it’s because of the Shelly Duvall Faerie Tale Theatre version, which I saw at an impressionable age. So I was reluctant to read this, frankly. But this is a fine little story that I wished had gone into deeper depth. Quite fun for middle readers, who I think often get robbed of retold fairy tales, since they usually end up in the YA department, with lots of romance added in. There’s no romance here, but some nice exploration of friendships instead.”
Donald S. Smurthwaite. Road to Bountiful “Of two minds regarding Smurthwaite’s Road to Bountiful.” (Theric Jepson, AMV). A detailed critique of the novel’s style. “Julie Sloan largely rose and fell on the strength of its narrative voice, and the same is true of Road to Bountiful times two . . . Smurthwaite’s set himself a difficult task in this book. Not only does he need to maintain two separate narrative voices, he also needs to have them slowly merge over the course of the novel while remaining distinct. No easy task . . . Smurthwaite is capable of truly lovely moments. He presents masculine relationships honestly, capturing the sharing of secrets to create closeness and the keeping of secrets to maintain that closeness. And so while I get tired of Levi’s occasionally absurd narcissism (see the biker bar scene) and every random character talking just like him (see the biker bar scene) and the fifteen-pound-sledge lesson-learning (see the words on grace at the end of the biker bar scene), in the end I was charmed by the book and enjoyed it quite a bit. Cut out the stally philosophizing and the ending is even beautiful.”
Dan Wells. Ruins (Emily W. Jensen, Deseret News). “Like an action movie, Wells’ “Ruins” has a battle sequence followed by a dire situation, followed by more intense gunfights and so on, leaving the characters, and the reader, often out of breath. But Wells still finds time to insert mini-moral lessons throughout the book.”
Robison Wells. Blackout (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books) C. “As unoriginal as Blackout is, it’s still kind of tough to describe. Plot-wise, there just isn’t much. And what is there sounds like every other novel in the YA sci-fi/dystopian section. I can forgive a familiar plot if its coupled with a vibrant setting, intriguing characters or vivid prose, but I found none of that in Blackout. What the novel does have is action. Lots. And while the intensity was enough to keep me reading, the story really didn’t impress me otherwise. In a word: meh.”
Robison Wells. Blackout (Shelah) 2 stars. “I was very hopeful while reading the first few chapters of Blackout. The initial scenes, with the bad guys destroying the Glen Canyon dam, and the high school dance at a rural Utah barn made me hopeful that the whole book would have similar strong setting and past-paced action, but once the characters were rounded up, the story fell apart for me. Furthermore, there were too many competing voices and narrators to differentiate, especially since the characterization was not especially strong, and Wells seemed to rely on the characters to tell the story instead of showing it in scene. This one felt more like a first draft than a well-edited, well-considered finished product.”
Kasie West. Pivot Point (Jessica Day George) 3 stars. “Interesting. For the first 100 pages, I was extremely frustrated, because the book was apparently just one big YA love triangle, where our heroine ignores deeper issues like divorce, a best friend with a troubled home life, and the fact that she superpowers, in favor of deciding which hot boy she likes better. Le sigh. Over half-way through the book, however, it turns out that there are in fact several sinister things going on, and the ending is quite thrilling. Also, if you think back over one of the timelines, there were clues about some of it, but honestly at the time I just thought the main character was kind of dim. I honestly wish West had taken one of the timelines in another direction, though, and not had it be a love triangle. I am just so tired of love triangles in YA! It’s not West’s fault, it’s my personal pet peeve right now, and I was bound to take it out on a book eventually.”
Bethany Wiggins. Stung (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books) B+. “I love the whole Sleeping Beauty aspect of this novel. It brings a new spin to an overly-familiar storyline, while introducing the reader to the rules of Fiona’s dystopian world in a way that feels both natural and suspenseful. Fi’s a sympathetic character, one who’s easy to relate to and root for. As you can imagine, Stung offers plenty of action, intensity, and zombie gore. A bit of romance, too. Overall, it’s a fast-paced, engrossing tale that stands out from its peers (at least for me) because of its tight prose, interesting characters and heart-pounding action. So what if Stung‘s nothing we haven’t seen before? I enjoyed it. A lot.”
Julie Wright, Melanie Jacobson and Heather Moore. The Fortune Café (Gamila). “Novellas at their best! Seriously, this has been my favorite novella collection that I have read. The romances were all well-written with likable characters and interesting plot twists. They all follow the same set-up. The main characters order a meal at the fortune café and once they read their fortune cookie it comes true. I really liked how the stories intersected a little bit and we got to see the characters in each others stories. It is fun and gave a sense of the little California community they all live in. All three of these authors are at the top of their writing game in this collection. Worth the read.”
BYUtv’s ‘Granite Flats’ returns for second season (Deseret News). “The town sheriff and an FBI special agent stand in the living room of Maj. Slim Kilpatrick, describing to him the missing Soviet satellite that was retrieved from a lake in town, only to go missing again. The sheriff and the agent are trying to find someone in town with communist sympathies who might have stolen the satellite. Little do they know that, mere feet away, behind the basement door, sits the missing satellite they seek. So begins the second season of BYUtv’s original series “Granite Flats.” Described by executive producer/director Scott Swofford as a “suspense, romance, adventure and mystery,” the series follows the residents of a small Colorado town in the midst of a communism scare in 1962. The eight-episode first season premiered last April, the first original dramatic program for the network. “Granite Flats,” along with “Studio C,” “American Ride” and a slate of new projects in 2014, connects with BYUtv’s family-minded goal of high-quality entertainment alternatives. Entertaining every member of the family was the driving force behind the creation of “Granite Flats,” according to Swofford. “The adventure we set out on was to make family entertainment that’s sophisticated and interesting and not just for children,” he said. “A great way to do that is to go back to a time in the 1960s when overt sexuality and onscreen violence and significantly intense language weren’t part of the culture.””
April 6, 13, 20
Brandon Sanderson. Words of Radiance
PW Hardcover: #12, #15, #22 (5 weeks). 4966, 3239, 2313 units. 48,088 total.
USA Today: #63, #95, #138 (5 weeks)
NYT Hardcover: #8, #10, #14 (5 weeks)
NYT Combined Print & Ebook Fiction: #25, x, x
Christine Feehan. Dark Lycan
PW Mass Market: x, #13, #15 (2 weeks). 8855, 7613 units. 16,468 total.
USA Today: x, #191, #139
NYT Mass Market: x, #25, #23 (2 weeks).
Shannon Hale. Ever After High: The Unfairest of them All
PW Children’s: x, #9, #10 (2 weeks). 10,659, 8183 units. 18,842 total.
USA Today: x, #87, #102 (2 weeks)
NYT Middle Grade: x, #5, #8 (2 weeks)
Shannon Hale. Ever After High
PW Children’s: #21, #25, #22 (26 weeks). 3093, 3050, 4037 units. 48,327 total.
Brandon Mull. Sky Raiders
PW Children’s: #15, #20, #25 (3 weeks). 5501, 4163, 3604 units. 21,561 total.
NYT Middle Grade: #9, #9, #13 (4 weeks)
Brandon Mull. Spirit Animals Book 1: Wild Born
PW Children’s: x, #21, x. 3381 units. 29,335 total.
NYT Series: x, #6, x (1 week)
James Dashner. The Maze Runner.
USA Today: #7, #8, #13 (19 weeks)
NYT YA Series: #2, #2, #2 (78 weeks)
James Dashner. The Scorch Trials
USA Today: #144, #66, #57 (4 weeks) (322 the week before)
James Dashner. The Death Cure
USA Today: #196, #120, #109 (6 weeks)
Orson Scott Card. Ender’s Game
NYT Mass-Market Paperback: #13, #17, #16 (77 weeks)
Anne Perry. Death on Blackheath
PW Hardcover: x, #21, x (1 week). 2071 units total.
USA Today: x, #142, x (1 week)
NYT Hardcover: x, #20, x (1 week)
Brenda Novak. Come Home to Me
USA Today: x, #119, x (1 week)