The Salt Lake City Sunstone Symposium begins July 30, including a Mormon film festival. Several Mormon authors win RONE awards. The final novel by the late Linda Sillitoe, one of the great late-20th century Mormon authors, is published. Orson Scott Card writes about Brandon Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archive. Ben Abbott takes his play Questions of the Heart on a Western cities tour. Please send news and corrections to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.
Sunstone 2104 Salt Lake City Symposium, July 30-August 2, at the University of Utah. The symposium includes the “Bridges and Byways in Mormonism” film festival, which will feature 23 films about Mormons building bridges and forging their own unique paths in the faith. “They’re planning on doing a film series every year; it’s different from the LDSFF in that it’s a curated series of films around a central theme rather than an open call for submissions of new films (plus the 24-hr marathon and other things the LDSFF does so well), but it should be a great place to catch some really good LDS-themed films, both new and old. Information about this year’s films will appear here. There will be 23 films, including abstract, documentary, narrative, and animated pieces: Blessing (2009), The Book of Lone Peak (2013), Book of Visions (2005), Bundy’s Volunteer Army (2014), Bushed: Teaching Life in Alaska (2011), By Water, and Blood, and the Spirit (2004), Called to Serve (2014), Closure (2000), Drawing Horses (2013), The Faith of an Observer: Conversations with Hugh Nibley (1985), Families Are Forever (2013), The Farley Family Reunion (1990), Hawaiian Punch (2013), Kites (2010), The Mouths of Babes (1980), My Ground (2008), The Potter’s Meal (1992), Redemption: For Robbing the Dead (2011), Reserved to Fight (2008), States of Grace (2005), Transmormon (2013), Two Brothers (2011), Winsome (2014).”
Some Sunstone Symposium panels that touch on Mormon literary issues are:
“Bridging Mormonism and Popular Culture”. “Why did so many prophets lose their beards between versions of the Book of Mormon Stories comic book? How does Mormonism ,manifest itself in Internet memes and the music of the slow-core band Low? Why are Mormons such dang good fantasy writers?” Stephen Carter, Jacob Bender, Jerilyn Hassell Pool, Ethan Sproat.
“The Depiction of Women in Mormon Popular Culture.” “This panel will explore the portrayal of women, especially Mormon women, in the media of Mormon popular culture including film, literature, and advertising. Audrey Dutcher, Richard Dutcher, Micah Nickolaisen, Lori Burkman.
“British LDS Fiction: Conflicts and Contexts. “Led by two award-winning British writers with LDS backgrounds, this presentation will include short readings of their creative work and an examination of the opportunities inherent in giving openhearted literary explorations of post-correlation British Mormonism to a local popular culture who has only heard of it via Big Love.” Jenn Ashworth (The Friday Gospels) and Carys Bray (A Song of Issy Bradley). Brock Cheny, respondent.
“Be Happy, Be Mormon: A Bestselling Off-Broadway Performance.” “Kimball Allen’s first play, Secrets of a Gay Mormon Felon. A voyeuristic look into the childhood of a Bambi-loving, vegetarian, ballet-slipper-wearing, Diet-Coke-drinking gay Mormon Boy Scout. Born into a large conservative Idaho family, Kimball Allen chronicles his upbringing as a fabulous black sheep through colorful storytelling excerpted from his latest bestselling Off-Broadway show, “Be Happy, Be Mormon.”
Banquet: Eric Samuelsen: “Performing the Divide, Enacting Atonement: The Aesthetics of Bride Construction.” “We find ourselves, as a culture in the time of a great divide, at a point of crisis as acute as that of 1838. Kate Kelly’s excommunication has become a flashpoint rivaling the collapse of the Kirtland Safety Society, starkly illuminating cracks and crevasses we had managed to paper over. Eric will examine this as a cultural performance, as a way in which we enact our shared pain. Performance, as Stephen Greenblatt has shown, both subverts and contains: without retreating into comfortable conformation-bias tropes of us v. them. Eric will share some ways we might move together toward healing. Eric and actors Scott Bronson, Susan Davis Milne, and Travis Hyer will read excerpts from The Plan and other plays as a part of this exercise in bridge building.”
Sunstone Magazine, June 2014, #175 has apparently been published, but I have not seen a table of contents, so I do not know if there are any literary works.
RONE Award. Awarded by InD’tale Magazine, which is directed towards authors publishing with small publishers or self-publishing.
Anthology: A Timeless Romance Anthology: Autumn Collection – Heather Horrocks, Stephanie Black, Heather B. Moore, Sarah M. Eden, Rachelle J. Christensen, Annette Lyon (winner)
YA Paranormal: Feudlings – Wendy Knight (winner)
Fantasy/SF: Winter Queen - Amber Argyle (winner)
American Historical: Longing For Home – Sarah M. Eden (honorable mention)
Suspense: Pocket Full Of Posies – Julie Coulter Bellon (honorable mention)
New Adult: A Change of Plans – Donna K. Weaver (finalist)
Anthology: The Lord Who Sneered – Heidi Ashworth (finalist)
The RONE award is sponsored by InD’Tale magazine and the awards ceremony is in conjunction with the Romance Novel Convention in Las Vegas.
A Motely Vision posts: Responsible Mormons -vs- The Antithesis of Art
(being responsibility) (Theric), On Writing and Permission: Drafting My New Life (Laura Craner).
Jennifer Quist. “Down the Rabbit-hole, or, Jenny’s Adventures in the Mormon Book-Scene”
Van De Graaff and his comic “Mission Daze” at the Deseret News.
New books and their reviews
A Timeless Romance Anthology: Summer in New York. Mirror Press, July 12. Timeless Romance #7. Six contemporary romance novellas set in New York City. Janette Rallison, Heather B. Moore, Luisa Perkins, Sarah M. Eden, Annette Lyon, and Lisa Mangum.
Linda Adair. Trouble at the Red Pueblo. Self, July 1. Mystery. Spider Latham Mystery #4. “When Deputy Sheriff turned private investigator Spider Latham is sent to help the Red Pueblo Museum, in Kanab, Utah, he doesn’t suspect it will cause a rift between his wife, Laurie, and himself.”
Susan Dayley, Goodreads. 5 stars. “Aside from the fact that I found it hard to believe how often people gave things to Spider (seriously, just gave him expensive, if sometimes ugly, items), the story snared me into the lives of the people with their troubles and heartaches. Spider’s new friend, Karam, is delightful. I especially appreciated how much Spider loves his wife, Laurie. All in all, a great book. For those who are not already Spider fans, this story is sure to convert you.”
Rachelle J. Christensen. Diamond Rings are Deadly Things. Shadow Mountain, July 8. Cozy Mystery. Wedding Planner Mystery #1.
Mindy, LDSWBR. 5 stars. “This book is an absolute delight! I loved the characters, the mystery, the romance, the humor, the crafts (and I don’t craft). Such a fun book with excellent writing by its author and entertainment all around . . . I enjoyed how Rachelle didn’t throw all the back story and previous events before the book began, at the reader all at once. I loved easing in to the story and welcomed the addition of past events told throughout. It was a great way to keep me reading and reading!”
Melissa Dalton-Bradford. On Loss and Living Onward: Collected Voices for the Grieving and Those Who Would Mourn With Them.Familius, May 6. Collected essays.
Mette Harrison. “Each grief is unique, as each lost life is, but Dalton-Bradford is able to speak about her own experience beautifully and precisely while at the same time pointing to the universality of the experience. Some parents lose children. Some children lose parents. Some children lose siblings. Some lose jobs, homes, futures, dreams. We are all suffering grief, and this wonderful book holds you in its arms and comforts for a little while, gently pointing to a bright future that will come if only we will let it in. If you don’t know what to say to a loved one who is grieving, buy a copy of this book for you and one for them. Then read and savor and grieve together.”
Shelah Books It. 5 stars. “When it was nearing time for me to leave for college, I started counting the days. As the day of departure grew near, and I got more and more excited, I was a little shocked to see my mom in mourning. It wasn’t until I was working in college admissions that I realized that this was a thing– that parents had a hard time letting go of their college-age children. When it was time for Melissa Dalton-Bradford’s oldest son, Parker, to go away to college, she must have been going through some of these emotions. But her mourning for losing her son to college turned tragic when he died in a swimming accident during freshman orientation. Dalton-Bradford, who uses her skill as a poet to beautifully craft this memoir, uses this experience of losing Parker as the grounding narrative of On Loss and Living Onward, with stories about her own experience anchoring each of the sections of the book, but she also includes essays from others, along with quotes from famous (and not so famous) people who are intimately familiar with loss. While I can see that On Loss and Living Onward would be very beneficial for people who are grieving a loved one, I read it as someone who does not know the pain of loss. For readers like me, it’s an excellent primer, an insight into grief and loss, emotions none of us will escape if we’re lucky to live long enough. Dalton-Bradford deftly shares her own story and instructs her readership. I feel like I now have a better sense of knowing how to mourn with those that mourn.”
Michael M. Farnsworth. Haladras. Self, July 4. YA science fiction. “When Skylar’s enigmatic uncle warns him to stay away from the mysterious winged insects that have been sighted on other planets, he thinks little of it; no one has seen the insects on their own planet of Haladras. His uncle knows more than he’s telling, though. The creatures are not insects, but machines. And they’re hunting for Skylar.”
Tracy and Laura Hickman. Unwept. Tor, July 1. Mystery/fantasy. The Nightbirds #1.
Ryan Morgenegg, Deseret News. “Weird and strange are the best words to describe “Unwept: Book One of the Night Birds” by husband-wife team Tracy and Laura Hickman. It’s hard to determine what genre this amnesia book falls in. There are elements of a teen vampire novel, a romance, a thriller, a fantasy and a mystery. The plot took a lot of time to develop. It was hard to get invested in the characters as they didn’t seem invested in their world and felt one-dimensional and uninspiring until the end. But then again, after reading the book, maybe that’s exactly what the authors were after . . . It’s more weird than wonderful.”
PW: “This slow-paced start to a historical fantasy trilogy introduces Ellis Harkington, an amnesiac desperate to access knowledge that will change everything about the town of Gamin, Maine. The Hickmans take a long time to introduce the speculative elements, leaving Ellis to wander a well-detailed account of an upscale, early-20th-century New England society. While hints are dropped that something fantastical is going on—a Victrola appearing on command, the lack of concern over a shipwreck, and the blending of Ellis’s dreams with reality—the overall impression is of a period romance, not a fantasy. When the magical elements finally appear, they show up at breakneck speed, slamming the reader against some abrupt revelations about Gamin, Ellis, and her friends in the eclectic Nightbirds society. The novel is not one of the authors’ strongest efforts, but that won’t stop their fans from investing in this series.”
Kirkus: “It’s certainly all puzzling and mostly satisfying, if promising to be a thin stretch over three volumes.Hickman & Hickman fans will jump right in.”
Library Journal: “A gothic, unsettling, and eerie beginning to the new trilogy from the Hickmans. Creepy imagery and the withholding of information from both Ellis and the reader keep the pages turning, even if it is not always clear what’s going on within the plot.”
Tess Hilmo. Skies Like These. July 15, Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Middle grade general. 12-year old Philadelphia girl goes to Wyoming, gets involved with a boy who wants help sabotaging the chain store that is threatening his father’s business. Second novel.
PW: “Jade whips up other schemes in hopes of distracting Roy from getting himself into serious trouble—like, say, trying to rob a bank. Writing with humor and heart, Hilmo gently reminds readers of the benefits of being shaken out of one’s routine, especially the sense of perspective gained by traveling to new places and trying new things.”
SLJ: “Jade becomes his reluctant sidekick, often providing a voice of reason as Roy shares his plans, including bank robbery. She comes up with some (legal) moneymaking schemes of her own to help the cause. Despite some disappointments, the two learn a lot about themselves as the story progresses. A robust cast of well-developed characters and a delightful, swiftly moving plot will leave readers wishing for Jade to extend her stay in Wyoming.”
Kirkus: “Drawing on rich Western lore and creating characters as gritty as the earth itself, Hilmo paints a picture of a town where everyone is connected. Folks old and young prove themselves able to weather the storms—both literal thunderheads and the hardships of life—while maintaining hopeful hearts as expansive as the sky. Most refreshing: Parents, caregivers and other adults in the neighborhood only appear to be leaving the children to their own devices. In reality, they keep a loose rein, respectfully giving Jade and Roy some independence in recognition that the real adventure in life is the process of becoming. A heartening, comforting story with enough tension to keep readers hooked and a subtle message that will sneak up on them.”
Heather Horrocks. The Naughty List. Word Garden Press, July 1. Romantic comedy. Christmas Street #3; novella.
Elana Johnson. Elemental Release. Self, July 1. New Adult Futuristic Fantasy, novella. Elemental series #1.5.
Wendy Knight. Banshee At the Gate. Self, July 27. Middle Grade Fantasy. The Gates of Atlantis #1. The first of a multi-author, six volume series, that are all published simultaneously. “Middle Grade to Young Adult urban fantasy series about the paranormal creatures willing to risk everything to save the world they love.”
Melissa Lemon. Sleeping Beauty and the Beast. Self, June 20. Fantasy/reworked fairy tales.
Mindy, LDSWBR. 4 stars. “I have been a fan of Melissa’s for a long time. Her books are fabulous. I loved this unique retelling combination of Sleeping Beauty and Beauty and the Beast. Melissa did a fantastic job with this story. The characters are intriguing and the story is very enjoyable . . . The fact that the beast was a woman, was a very cool twist. I especially enjoyed the ending and how it all wrapped up. If you like fairytales and retellings, you will love this story. The ending is so satisfying, it will leave you with smiling.”
Sheila, LDSWBR. 4 stars. “Sleeping Beauty and the Beast will challenge the old telling of these tales. You will find yourself quickly enveloped in the lives of all four characters. The ending will leave you happy and fulfilled. This clean read is suitable for any tween, teen and adult reader who loves a fairy tale with a perfect ending.”
Jennifer Moore. Becoming Lady Lockwood. Covenant, July 1. Regency romance. Widowed woman fights to retain her inheritance to a sugar plantation in Jamaica. First novel.
Christine Rappleye. Deseret News. “There is an undercurrent of mystery as the planned route of the ship isn’t the usual one and the sailors find evidence of treason the French ship. And the clues lead back to Amelia’s marriage . . . a fun twist on a Regency love story. While there are a few predictable elements, the novel is well-paced; it’s a sweet love story with enough twists to keep it interesting.”
Foreward Reviews: “Set during the Napoleonic Wars, Becoming Lady Lockwood falls somewhere between historical and traditional regency romance. A bit chaste for a historical and not quite detailed enough for a traditional, it offers a small taste of the regency by uniquely focusing on Jamaican plantation life and the British navy before setting foot on the docks of London. Fans of the genre may notice the paucity of Austenesque vocabulary and dialogue as well as the characters’ tendencies to fluctuate between traditional and more casual, modern voices, but they will be pleased with the attention given to the dress and customs of the men aboard ship as well as Amelia’s foray into British society life. The tale is largely plot driven, complete with battles at sea and daring escapes, but the pacing is often choppy, leaving some scenes feeling rushed and incomplete, and others fully formed. The cast of supporting characters helps smooth the gaps with humor and insight while remaining one-dimensional themselves. The villains are always evil, the young men earnest, the crew loyal, and so on throughout, with the exception of Amelia and William, who begin as adversaries before their affection develops. Moore does a lovely job of showcasing the sizzle between Amelia and William while retaining a sense of innocence . . . a must for avid readers of Covenant Communications’ regency romances or for those who simply love the regency period without the tawdriness.”
Sheila, LDSWBR. 5 stars. “I’ve wanted to read this book ever since I saw the lovely cover. The female catches your attention with one wary look. The battleship adds to the intrigue. Does the story live up to this beautiful cover? 100% YES! Jennifer Moore has written characters that are likable, and they light up the whole novel . . . This Regency Romance is different from others I’ve read lately. Most of the novel takes place on the English battleship Venture. Moore gives such great details about the working of a ship. I was so impressed with the research she did! I learned a lot in this historical novel. How did I know that this book would become one of my favorites? Because it made me cry.”
Jennie Hansen: 4 stars.
Aprillyne Pike. Earthquake. Razorbill (Penguin), July 8. YA Fantasy. Earthbound #2. The fallen goddess caught in complicated intrigues.
Kirkus: “The farther into the pages, the deeper the intrigue gets—revelations fly so fast in the conclusion that readers may struggle to keep up. A twisty, fun read for the paranormal faithful.”
VOYA (Jonathan Ryder): “The book feels like two separate stories that have been skillfully welded together. One tale is a familiar “race against time” plot, as Tavia attempts to find a cure for the virus. The other is a “romantic triangle” plot as Tavia attempts to figure out her feelings for both Benson and Logan. The narrative itself is told exclusively from Tavia’s perspective, and allows the reader to join Tavia as she discovers new secrets. Although this is the second book in a series, it stands alone well. Matters from the previous book are brought up and explained without being overly summarized. The book deals with issues of trust, discovery of abilities, and romance. This would be a worthy addition to most high school library collections, and would appeal to fans of the urban fantasy subgenre that is so popular these days.”
VOYA (Rebecca Smith): “Though filled to bursting with interesting characters and complex subplots, there were several areas of the book that simply did not resonate well with this reviewer. Without having read the first novel, it was difficult to truly connect with the storyline. It felt as if I was always missing out on some inside joke; the story felt incomplete. Earthquake fails to stand well on its own. The characters are not relatable; Tavia is intriguing, yet too fantastical. While this may work for those who have read the previous installment, as a stand-alone book, it falls short.”
Janette Rallison. Son of War, Daughter of Chaos. Self, July 2. YA paranormal. High school girl drawn into an Egyptian mythology-based struggle.
Linda Sillitoe. Thieves of summer. Signature, June 15. Historical/crime fiction. Sillitoe passed away in 2010. “Set in Salt Lake City at the height of the Great Depression, Sillitoe’s last novel opens with three little girls, eleven-year-old triplets, skipping in front of their house at 1300 South, across from Liberty Park . . . Princess Alice is an elephant the children of Utah purchased by donating nickels and dimes to a circus. The girls don’t know this, but her handler takes the mammoth princess out on late-night strolls around the park when the moon is out. What they do know is that the elephant sometimes escapes and goes on a rampage, crashing through front-yard fences and collecting collars of clothesline laundry around her neck, a persistent train of barking dogs following behind. The girls’ father is a police officer who is investigating a boy’s disappearance. As the case unfolds, the perception of the park, with its eighty acres of trees and grass, will change from the epitome of freedom to a place to be avoided, even as Princess Alice moves to a secure confinement at a new zoo at the mouth of Emigration Canyon. The story is loosely based on the exploits of a real live elephant that lived in Liberty Park a decade before Sillitoe’s childhood in the neighborhood.
Doug Gibson, Standard-Examiner. “Sillitoe is best known for co-authoring the non-fiction crime book “Salamander: The Mormon Forgery Murders,” but also wrote novels, short stories, essays and poetry. In “Thieves of Summer,” Sillitoe combines several of her passions — crime reporting, elephants, family, Mormonism and the culture of old Salt Lake City — to craft a cluttered, but nevertheless entertaining summer story. It’s 1938, and in Salt Lake City’s Liberty Park area the Flynn family is surviving the Depression as best it can. Dad Evan is a police detective, consumed with a case of missing children. His wife, Rose, stays at home and with dad raises Glenn, a new adult, troubled teen Joyce and three 11-year-old triplets, Annabelle, Bethany and Carolee. Nearby lives Princess Alice, a very independent elephant that is the main attraction at the Liberty Park zoo. Sillitoe has tossed a lot of ingredients into her novel’s conflict broth, and at times the reader will wonder what exactly is the main plot of “Thieves of Summer.” It probably fits into the genre of crime fiction, but there are long interludes in which the case of the missing children, and the thoroughly evil pedophile antagonist, disappear from the novel. Also, the elephant Princess Alice, tagged pretty early as a major character in the novel, makes cameo appearances until the novel approaches its climax. Perhaps a better title would have been “The Family Flynn” because they are the real focus of the novel, particularly the parents and the two oldest siblings. The family’s challenges, which include Glenn getting his girlfriend, Margie, in a family way, as well as emotionally maladjusted Joyce being caught stealing at work and trying to harm her new sister in law, are detailed from both secular and religious consequences. Sillitoe makes it clear that for an active Mormon family in 1938 Salt Lake City, every crisis includes a reaction from the dominant church. In one episode, in which an aunt dies of complications from mumps and pertussis, Sillitoe captures the culture well in the manner the family hustles away Glenn from the quarantined home due to the potential threat to his child-bearing future. The not-always-subtle discrimination against woman is captured in how some ecclesiastical leaders handle Glenn and Margie’s pregnancy. The author captures the period piece of Depression-era Utah well, particularly in a family outing to Saltair, trips on the old public transportation system, horse-riding in the city, and an era of medicine that relied as much on hope as medical expertise. I particularly enjoyed the innocence of the conversations of the triplets regarding the crisis of Glenn, Margie, Joyce and even the stolen children. They are in that small pocket of life where they know something is amiss but are not actually sure what is amiss. Their ruminations comprise excellent writing. The climax of the novel, which is the resolution of the criminal case, is easy to predict but nevertheless clever and the writing is very strong. As mentioned, the pedophile criminal is extremely evil and sociopathic. Spending several pages in his head leaves readers wondering if they need to take a shower. Sillitoe has the talent to effectively convey the emotions and thoughts of children and adults. The Flynn father, Evan, is an extremely fair-minded, patient man, and Cynthia Sillitoe, Linda Sillitoe’s daughter and an Ogden resident, notes in the novel’s forward how easy it is to see Evan in her grandfather. After the novel’s conclusion, there are several actual newspaper articles, as well as a photo of the real Princess Alice elephant, which lived in Salt Lake City and was an attraction at the Liberty Park zoo between 1916 and 1918. I’m not sure that “The Thieves of Summer” will move beyond regional fiction. It’s a quirky mix of family tension, crime drama and an homage to an elephant, but the writing is superb and Sillitoe has produced a tale that captures interest and provides entertainment. It deserves to sell a lot of copies.”
Stephen J. Sterling. Persona Non Grata. Bonneville/Cedar Fort, July 8. Political thriller. A high school teacher/LDS seminary teacher goes to Crimea to rescue a former student, and they get dragged into an international struggle in Eastern Europe. “Dive into a world of corrupt diplomats and ambitious tyrants as Paladin follows the Spirit to not only rescue an old friend, but also to save a free people from the jaws of dictatorship.” First novel.
Laura Stoddard. The Dreamosphere. Sweetwater/Cedar Fort, July 12. YA fantasy. First novel.
Sheila, LDSWBR. 4 stars. “This new take on a person’s dreams and where they collect was fascinating. Main character, Gwen, is an interesting 11 year old girl who is quite surly. She seems to be very unhappy and not friendly at all. We soon find out why, as it’s revealed that she feels guilty for her younger sister’s death. The reader also learns early on that Gwen can go to a place called “The Dreamosphere” where all of her dreams are kept . . . One thing I really liked was how this novel subtly deals with some major issues, like death, grief and bullying and I liked the way they were presented and dealt with. As the story moves along, there are some surprising answers to who is messing with Gwen’s dream orbs and her friends. This fantasy suited for tweens and teens is exciting and sets things up well for another book in the series. I truly liked the ending to this story!”
Mindy, LDSWBR. 3.5 stars. “I enjoyed the idea behind this book, someone has been breaking in to her dreams and changing her personality. I felt bad for Gwen and all that she has gone through, you can tell right away that something is off with her. I was glad that the author eased the reader into her life. I liked the mystery behind her “secret” and what happened to her to make her the way she is. She is having a hard time in school and when an old friend starts to visit her in her dreams to help her, it seemed to me she wanted to be in the dream world instead of the real world. I did enjoy the events that take place in the story. I was happy when she started figuring things out, but thought it was wrapped up too quickly, but was glad when this unhappy girl with no friends, starting getting some answers and was able to make friends and be happy.”
E. M. Tippetts. A Safe Space. Self, July 12. New Adult/Romance. Someone Else’s Fairytale #4. 19-year old starlet finds romance with a bad boy.
Aimee, Goodreads. “I have to admit that I devoured this book in one day. It just sucked me in and gave me a great story of young love. What I really loved was that I was expecting a great but fluffy sort of romance but I got something deeper to go along with the fluff . . . I connected with the characters, I felt for them and wanted them to succeed. I enjoyed the interactions between Lizzie and Devon. The dialogue and the sizzle- it was good stuff.”
Julie Wright. Spell Check. Self, July 1. YA paranormal. A girl discovers the family secret of magic. “Ally accidentally sends her parents to the jungle to fight anacondas, turns her brother into a mute, and curses the entire cheerleading team with an illness that has no cure, proving that her spells need a little checking.” Includes some Swedish mythology.
Reviews of older books
Denver Acey. The Quantum Breach (Jennie Hansen, Meridian). 5 stars. “[This] is one of those books that changes the reader’s view of computers and social media forever. It moves news stories such as the hacking of millions of Target credit cards from inconvenience to personal loss. It draws the connection between identity theft and cyber crimes. It shows how easily we play into the hands of industrial thieves or become pawns of foreign governments, terrorists, and domestic criminals bent on treason . . . It’s fascinating to follow someone who really understands technology as he carries out the various steps of a hacking job targeting one of the most secure installations in the world. Acey doesn’t overwhelm his audience with technical jargon, nor does he over-simplify. There are a lot of violent happenings in this story, but the author handles them the same way he does the technical material, hitting a good balance between necessary facts and too much information. The characters, even the bad guys, are an interesting mixture of distinct characteristics. Tanner is challenged at several different levels. There is a matter of his personal ethics and promises he made at his baptism. There’s a professional high and some ego involved in attempting to outwit some of the best computer minds in the world. There’s loyalty to his parents. Even his relationship with his captors with their different personalities and their constant supervision of him challenges his ability to survive, keep calm, and think through his complex situation. The plot is compelling, easy to relate to, but complicated enough to keep the reader’s attention focused. It builds in a satisfying way, foreshadowing is subtle, and all in all, Quantum Breach is a book I can readily recommend to anyone who enjoys a great adventure and anyone who belongs to a social media group.”
Carys Bray. A Song for Issy Bradley (Julie J. Nichols, AML). “This lovely novel is like Jenn Ashworth’s *The Friday Gospels* in a number of ways: it’s British; it’s about British Mormons (there will be a panel about British LDS fiction, in fact, on Friday, August 1, at the 2014 Salt Lake City Sunstone Symposium—we should all be there); it’s about a family in crisis; it follows each of the family members in their sincere efforts to deal with that crisis. As Ashworth’s novel does, the somewhat distressing overall impression Issy Bradley gives of British Mormonism is that it’s clichéd, all black-and-white, and deserves to be gawked at with some disbelief, as a strange culture only the lumpen classes would even think about embracing, and then with good intentions but predictably laughable results. For an educated, active American Latter-day Saint who sees nuance and sophistication every day in her private studies and in the service rendered by and for her ward members, that’s a source of a certain amount of dismay. Maybe it shouldn’t be. Obviously, there are as many kinds of Mormons as there are people: working class and professional, uneducated and well-read, ones young in the gospel and seventh-generation descendants of pioneers, the blindly faithful, the cynical, the struggling, and the brave. It can certainly be argued that we need well-crafted literature that depicts all of these. And, like The Friday Gospels, A Song for Issy Bradley is indubitably well crafted. But where there’s menace and darkness (including dark comedy) in Ashworth’s novel, Bray’s is lyrical, even sweet. It ends beautifully, with an image that will make you weep. Bray’s outlook is ultimately genuinely uplifting. The book deserves reading not only because of its technical excellence but because that excellence is in the service of healing and hope . . . In many ways the book is heart-wrenching. But more important, it’s eminently readable. Because the book isn’t yet published I’m prohibited from quoting, but believe me when I say that every sentence is pleasing, every image apt and followed up most gratifyingly in later chapters. Bray leaves no loose metaphors. She’s a fine writer—her book of short stories, Sweet Home, available on Kindle, received high reviews in Britain—and this first novel is a gem. Bray grew up in a strict LDS home and is now disenfranchised, but she uses the conflicts inherent in a Latter-day Saint setting in literarily mature ways. Read this book alongside Ashworth’s. Attend the session at Sunstone. And watch the possibilities of the (British *and* American) LDS fiction scene expand!”
Sarah Eden. Hope Springs (FoxyJ). “This book has a somewhat awkward title, and I’m still a little unclear about whether it’s supposed to be a sequel or the second half of the first book, or whether that distinction even matters. I just thought the titling was a little strange. I had some issues with the first book and wasn’t sure I’d like this one, but I was pleasantly surprised. This book was more action-oriented and felt like it had a better plot arc, with more events moving things along and less talking and dithering. There was a twist at the end that I really didn’t see coming and I thought that was handled well, though I felt like there were a few plot elements and characters’ stories that weren’t resolved as much as I would have liked them to be.”
Anne Dee Ellis. The End Or Something Like That (Rosalyn). 5 stars. “The End or Something Like It, is deceptively simple. The opening chapters are just a single sentence apiece. And the voice (an authentic, quirky, 14-year-old named Emmy who’s mourning the death of her best friend Kim the year before) is sometimes repetitive, sometimes simple, sometimes abrupt. But for all that there’s a strangely lyrical quality about the voice. I found Emmy wholly believable as a character in mourning. At the same time, despite the potentially depressing topic, the book itself isn’t depressing: it’s much more a believable portrait of friendship between two young women, and Emmy’s recollections of Kim are bitter-sweet, funny (often), off-beat, and charming. The story switches between the present and the past (when Kim is still alive), as Emmy struggles with Kim’s acceptance of her death and Kim’s insistence that Emmy try to contact her after she dies . . . As the novel weaves back and forth between past and present, readers get a glimpse into Emmy’s relationship with Kim (and understanding as to why Emmy feels so much guilt about her death) and Emmy’s gradual re-emergence from a sort of mourning cocoon. I thought it was lovely.”
Dean Hughes. Fresh Courage Take (Julie J. Nichols, AML). “This volume makes a satisfying conclusion. As always, Hughes’s great strengths lie in his abilities to evoke a historical moment through details of setting, and to generate sympathy for characters through details of personality and behavior . . . The early-Church story is by far the more gripping of the two . . . I wonder why Hughes felt he needed to include the present-day Lewises, in fact; they don’t seem to have a source of tension or to be on a quest that compares in intensity with their ancestors’ journey. True, switching points of view is a signature Hughes move. It provides variety and contrast. But my reading energy surged whenever the story turned back to 1842, and receded when it moved forward in time. I applaud Liz’s strength and courage and admire Will’s fortitude—that is, I now have an even deeper respect for the mettle and spirit of *all* those early Saints. Their determination to carry on in the face of hunger, thirst, illness, and hundreds of miles of separation, stays with me yet. We twenty-first-century Americans don’t always appreciate those adversities unless we’re brought to them through something like Hughes’s perennially excellent combination of research and imagination. This is his hundred-and-first book. We ought to be forever grateful for what he gives us when he writes.”
Moriah Jovan. Paso Doble (Theric). LDS Eros: Mo’ Moriah, mo’ Jovan. “If you’re not familiar with Moriah’s work, you might check out my reviews of The Proviso or Magdalene. Paso Doble shares their DNA. As with all the Dunham books, the lead characters are enormous, godlike figures who tower over the landscape . . . I’ve labeled this post part of the LDS Eros series because what I’m most interested in from a Mormon-literature standpoint is Moriah’s navigation of this relationship between a “manslut” and an “ice-vagina.” Or, more importantly, someone for whom sex has been cheap and someone who holds it so dear she demands another’s life in exchange for access. (That might sound melodramatic, but I think it’s a fair description of how it seems on the outside to many people.) It’s a clash of sexual cultures—and cultures that are diverging at speed. People embarrassed to be virgins at 20 are written about with the same bemused pity as those who choose virginity until marriage at age 29. We have two soulmates and the rules state they must get together. But in addition to the little navigations every relationship must make, they have a massive gulf between them called divergent sexual norms. And that’s the most striking element of their story. Additionally, speaking as a male writer, Moriah’s descriptions of Victoria’s (female) sexual need and confusion provide me with vocabulary I would not otherwise have. I know her work is too explicit for many Mormon writers, but I think you shoudl read her anyway. We need to deal with sexuality more as a people and reading her work is a great place to consider how it can be done . . . In the end, Paso Doble is a fun read, especially if you like to laugh at the foibles of gods—while falling in love with them yourselves—and a useful read, if you want to think about ways to attack sex from a Mormon standpoint.”
Josi Kilpack. Fortune Cookie (FoxyJ). “This is the second-to-last of Kilpack’s Sadie Hofmiller mysteries. . When I found out that this was not the last book in the series, I was worried that it would feel like the author was just trying to stretch things out too much by suddenly having Sadie’s long-lost sister appear. Instead, I liked that the story really delved into family issues and problems from the past that can crop up at inconvenient times. I have also appreciated how Kilpack has often included characters who aren’t very friendly, and don’t get more friendly or understandable with time. Sometimes life and people are just unpredictable like that.”
Lindsey Leavitt. The Chapel Wars (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books, C+). “(It) gives readers everything they’ve come to expect from the popular YA author. The quirky, upbeat story is filled with humor, romance and colorful characters. A vibrant, unique setting, brought to life by a Las Vegas native, definitely adds to the novel’s appeal. As much as I enjoy a fun, breezy read, especially one written by Leavitt, this one disappointed me a little bit. The plot felt thin and far-fetched. Dax didn’t strike me as all that likable—I get that he’s hot, but he’s got to have at least a little substance to make me want to root for him. Speaking of substance, I think that’s what was really missing in this one for me. It was a little too breezy, you know? All in all, the book kept me entertained, but in the end, it was just an okay read for me.”
Jean Holbrook Mathews. Run for Your Life (Jennie Hansen, Meridian). 5 stars. “This tale of conspiracy and intrigue involving an environmental lawsuit and the nomination of a new judge squared off against energy interests is waged both in Washington, D.C. and Arizona with more than a little involvement of foreign interests. The author has a solid understanding of the way Senate committees, politicians offices, and the judicial branch work. She also takes care to not link her characters to either major party. She creates strong main characters readers can cheer for. Congressman Max Southland is a little disappointing; he’s congenial and caring, but not someone who actually gets much done. Perhaps that’s realistic too. I liked that since both major characters had lost someone they loved, the hint of a possible future romance between the two is kept subtle. Run for Your Life is one of those page turners that’s hard to put down. Only after finishing the book did I find myself questioning whether the villain is realistic or a bit too much like the caricatures that appear in extremists’ conspiracy theories. I also question the ethics of some of the CIA’s actions in the story. Nevertheless it’s a well-written and exciting story that makes clear the problems brought about by excesses by both extremist liberals and conservatives, but especially by those lacking ethics and motivated by greed.”
Bryce Moore. Vodnik (Rosalyn). 4.5 stars. “This young adult urban fantasy was a refreshing and fun blend of mythology and contemporary culture, set in Slovakia (Trencin, to be exact) . . . The story started a little slow and it took a little while for me to get into it, but once I did, I tore through the rest of the book quickly. I loved the funny quirks belonging to the mythological creatures–I also loved that they were nothing like the usual span of paranormal creatures in urban fantasy. I also liked the many different unexpected twists: that the pretty girl he meets turns out to be his cousin, not his love interest and that we never quite know which of the supernatural creatures to trust, as they all tell different stories. Refreshingly, Tomas has a mostly functional family, and I loved the vivid Eastern European setting. I lived for a year and a half in Hungary, which neighbors Slovakia, and this book transported me back there. Really, though, all I need to say about this book is that Brandon Sanderson wrote an awesome blurb for it. Given how much I’ve loved all Sanderson’s books (that I’ve read), his endorsement is all I really need to say.”
Boyd Jay Peterson. Dead Wood and Rushing Water: Essays on Mormon Faith, Culture, and Family (Melissa DeMoux, Deseret News). “While Petersen has allowed scripture and the words of modern prophets to shape his views and mold his beliefs, his personal insights bring an intriguing twist to this compilation. His struggles with family matters, depression, complex Mormon dogma and his distaste for what appears to be hypocritical behavior of some members of the church each flavor his writing. Petersen views himself as a log helping to bridge the gap between people of differing religious perspectives. His compositions are well sculpted, meticulous and deeply meaningful to him. Although he does tend to push the boundaries of simple or plain thoughts, Petersen’s work rings with his love of his chosen religion and desire to explore its precepts more deeply.”
Jolene Perry. The Summer I Found You (Rosalyn). 4 stars. “I’ve spent the last several days since I finished The Summer I Found You thinking about the book. Aside from the fact that the lovely cover and title don’t have a lot to do with the book (which takes place during the school year and not on a beach), there was a lot to like about the book.Jolene Perry is a master at writing emotional scenes–at cutting to the emotional core of each character and I think that shows here . . . Plotwise, there’s not a lot that happens in this novel. But I thought it was a compelling character study of two people who are struggling to find themselves and their place–and the way they brought their strengths (and weaknesses) to each other. They’re not perfect: Aidan is in denial about a lot of the things he needs to do (his List) to get his life back in order; Kate is in denial about the seriousness of her condition. She struggles to be open and forthcoming, and those weaknesses nearly cost her her relationship with Aidan. Genre-wise, this book felt like it straddled NA and YA. It’s billed as NA, and I would definitely say it’s not for young teens (language, some sex and discussions about sex), but parts of it–particularly Kate’s point of view–still felt very YA to me.”
Brandon Sanderson. The Stormlight Archive (Orson Scott Card, Hatrack River). “I thought, as I read the first two volumes of Brandon Sanderson’s magnificent fantasy epicStormlight Archives, that this was obviously the best candidate to be the next sprawling feature-film-quality series to follow George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. Then somebody in a position to know told me that Sanderson plans for this to be a ten-volume series. Ten? Really? Since Sanderson is the writer who was engaged to finish Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series of big thick fantasy novels, you’d think he’d be keenly aware of the fact that it takes a long time to write all those big thick books, and nobody lives forever . . . Though I enjoyed the first volume of Wheel of Time, the pace of storytelling was so slow that I simply gave up. There is such a thing as too much show, not enough tell . . . And at least he has conceived his ten books, not as a single project, but as two complete five-book series. Presumably book 5 will give us real closure, and the second series will be starting anew. This is very thoughtful planning on Sanderson’s part. Sanderson has earned a reputation as a creator of fascinating magic systems, but I hope he never gets confused and thinks that’s why his books are good. They’re good because he understands human nature, and writes compelling characters into exciting, moving, intelligent stories. Though his first novels were remarkably good (and I reviewed them accordingly), he is only getting better. His YA novel The Rithmatist is a delight — who thought geometry could be made exciting? — and his novella The Emperor’s Soul is simply brilliant fiction. If he had a Spanish-sounding last name instead of a Nordic one, The Emperor’s Soul might have been called Magic Realism,and been highly praised in literary magazines. But there can be no doubt that The Stormlight Archives is meant to be his magnum opus, and deserves to be. Only two volumes are available right now, The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance, but I urge you not to wait until the series is complete before beginning to read them. Each book brings the story to a point of fruition — though of course they also leave plenty of story issues yet to be decided . . . This may sound either incomprehensible or foolish, but I promise that all is unfolded in a way that makes them seem natural and rational. Sanderson, like George R.R. Martin, is of the new generation of fantasists who borrow relatively little from Tolkien’s Middle Earth and instead do their world-creation according to the principles of science fiction. Magic is treated systematically, as if it were a science, and as a result, readers begin to understand the rules and limitations under which magic functions. Without such rigor, it’s hard to tell a powerful story, because, as Judson Jerome once said to me, “If anything can happen, who cares what does happen?” Nobody handles magic more rigorously than Sanderson, and as I tell my writing students, the more detailed the rules become, the more story possibilities emerge. Thus the storytelling in The Stormlight Archivesis lush and endlessly surprising, yet never feels false or contrived.”
Ben Abbott. Questions of the Heart tour. Laramie, Moscow, Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, Eugene, Berkeley, Palo Alto, San Luis Obisbo, Ventura, Los Angeles, Mesa. Aug. 2-Sept. 15. “Ben Abbott—a straight, practicing Mormon—interviewed a dozen men and women of his faith who are gay (or are closely connected to someone who is) and crafted this play based on both the interviews and his journey coming to terms with them. It is a solo performance: Abbott plays the Interviewer as well as the subjects, taking dialogue directly from the transcripts and displaying the vast range of experiences, attitudes, and journeys of those he interviewed.” Eric Samuelsen talks about Questions of the Heart and the documentary film Far Between made by Kendall Wilcox and Bianca Morrison Dillard, which contains interviews with gay Latter-day Saints.
Becky Baker, Much Ado About Zombies. Covey Center, Oct. 24-Nov. 1. Eric Samuelsen, the director, gives a preview. “A terrific writer named Becky Baker has been doing the adaptation, having combed all of Shakespeare to find every even vaguely zombie-sounding line. I love what she’s doing with the script. She’s bright and talented and unafraid–everything I like in a writer. And as we talked about a setting for this version of Much Ado, I kept thinking it might work if we set it in some version of Victorian society, a society absolutely saturated by the fear of death. But it’s a fictional world, obviously, not Shakespeare’s Messina, but some approximation of reality.”
July 13, 20, 27, Aug. 3
Dashner continues to be strong, even before his movie comes out, kept out of the top of the YA series list only by Divergent. Ender’s Game sales cooled a bit after the movie run ended, but they back up strongly. After so many great YA novels, it is nice to see Shannon Hale consistently in the best seller list.
James Dashner. The Maze Runner.
USA Today #21, #22, #17 (34 weeks)
NYT Children’s Series: #2, #2, #2, #2 (93 weeks)
James Dashner. The Scorch Trials
USA Today: #75, #69, #70 (19 weeks)
James Dashner. The Death Cure
USA Today: #99, #87, #93 (21 weeks)
James Dashner. The Kill Order.
PW Children’s: #16, #16, #18, #18 (13 weeks). 4010, 3853, 4166, 3940 units. 76,011 total.
Shannon Hale. Spirit Animals #4: Fire and Ice.
PW: #8, #14, #21, #21 (4 weeks). 9500, 3926, 3507, 2864 units. 20,855 total.
USA Today: x (dropped off after 1 week at #65)
NYT Children’s Series (Spirit Animals): #7, x, x, x (2 weeks)
Shannon Hale. Ever After High: The Unfairest of them All
PW Children’s: #25, #25, x, x (15 weeks). 2805, 2691 units. 81,796 total.
Orson Scott Card. Ender’s Game
NYT Mass-market paperback: #12, #15, #13, #9 (91 weeks)
PW Sci Fi: #1
Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnson. Earth Awakens
PW Sci-Fi: #6
Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnson. Earth Afire
PW Sci-Fi: #8
Christine Feehan. Air Bound
PW Romance: #4