This Month in Mormon Literature, August 2014

The Void, Ryan Little’s third Saints and Soldiers movie, opens in Utah theaters to strong reviews. BYU professor Craig Harline’s missionary memoir has been published by Eerdmans Publishing, a respected publisher of Christian and religious books, and has gotten positive early notices. Kimberly Griffiths Little returns with another middle grade mystery/fantasy set in the Louisiana bayou. Rachel Ann Nunes was plagiarized by a pseudonyms author. I became aware of Hamilton Springs Press/Xchyler Publishing, a new house with several Mormons on the editorial board, which has been publishing genre fiction since October 2012. Please send news and corrections to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.

News and blogs

Rachel Ann Nunes discovered another author, writing under the name “Sam Taylor Mullens”, plagiarized one of her novels, A Bid for Love. It is quite a strange story, with the author giving a series of conflicting explanations before deleting her or his Facebook account. The author also appears to have tried to attack Nunes’ other books through a series of sock puppet reviewers. David Farland started a GoFundMe account to help Nunes with attorney fees, and wrote about the situation here.

Hamilton Springs Press/Xchyler Publishing is a newish publishing house with several Mormons on the editorial board. Its website reads, “Xchyler Publishing focuses on Paranormal and Steampunk but welcomes submissions from other fiction genres, such as Mystery and Fantasy. We pride ourselves in introducing to the world exciting new authors committed to their craft.” The website is detailed about the house’s history. “In early 2012, Mary Duke and her partner determined to start a publishing company. Carrie Beeson, Mary’s mother, decided to invest in her daughter’s enterprise and became the official managing partner. They set out to do things right, hired a lawyer, drew up papers, developed a plan of operations. They started recruiting writers, created a website, developed relationships with support staff, and came up with some great ideas to promote the company. Xchyler Publishing was born. (Reportedly Skyler in Greek). At the time Penny Freeman came to XP as the Editor-in-Chief, several properties had been acquired and initial steps had been taken to develop them. XP had also completed our first short story competition, a fantasy/dragon anthology.” In March 2013 Duke had to step aside. Heidi Birch was approached to take over the business side of the publisher. “And thus, Hamilton Springs Press was born: Hamilton, after Heidi’s hometown in Montana, Spring after Penny’s in Texas. We are cross-continental business partners, living on the Gulf and West Coasts, joined by a belief in possibilities, in our writers, editors, and graphic designer, and in the vibrant, thriving health of the publishing industry. But, what to do with Xchyler Publishing? Keep it, of course, but as our paranormal and Steampunk imprint of HSP.” The house has published what looks to be eight books since October 2012, including three short story anthologies.

At A Motley Vision, Theric is doing a series of cultural and literary criticism on Shannon Hale’s science fiction novel Dangerous. Just how dangerous is Shannon Hale?, Just how dangerous is Shannon Hale? (part two), A note on Mormon cosmology in Shannon Hale’s Dangerous.

Do We Need to Walk a Tightrope? (Scott Hales). A reading of Orson Scott Card’s “Walking the Tightrope” from A Storyteller in Zion. “For me, the more interesting part of Card’s essay has to do with its application to Mormon arts—particularly in its notion that the Mormon artists give higher allegiance to their covenants than to their artistic vision. As a Mormon artist myself, I agree with this notion as I consider my covenant sacred and binding—and the core and compass of my personal and spiritual life. At the same time, I think the dichotomy is such that it creates an unnecessary conflict for the Mormon artist that doesn’t need to exist. As he does in “Prophets and Assimilationists,” that is, Card presents his readers with a kind of either/or scenario that asks them to stack one allegiance on top of another rather than recognize their interconnectedness. In “Walking the Tightrope,” which I assume refers to navigating the seemingly “fine” line between faith and apostasy, Card suggests that Mormon artists must think of themselves as Mormons first, then artists—when, in my view, covenants to consecrate all we have, including talents, ask us to be both (or all) at once . . . For me, it seems, one way to better Mormon art is to get Mormon artists—at least those bound by covenant—to stop worrying about how their work will be received by the institution (or a grassroots establishment) and go about the work of consecrated creation. My admittedly idealistic hope, at least, is that a consecrated approach—one that recognizes the interconnectedness of the covenant and artistic creation—will iron out any potential threat a creative vision might pose and shape it instead into something more positively transformative.”

Covenant editor-in-chief Kathy Gordon on “Niche or national: making your decision”. She talks about the difference between the national and niche markets and general, and then gives specific detailed advice about what kind of books LDS publishers are looking for recently in both fiction and non-fiction.

First-ever ‘Latter-day Expo’ to show off all things Mormon

Short stories

Larry Correia. “Step Outside”. Iron Kingdoms Excursions: Season One, Volume Four. Skull Island eXpeditions, May 22. Short story. “I write about a military police investigator checking out a crime scene. For those of you who play Warmachine, it is a Khadoran in occupied Llael. For those of you who don’t play Warmachine, think steampunk Russian in occupied France, but with more undead monstrosities.”

New books and their reviews

Gates of Atlantis series. Six Gate Press, July 27. Middle Grade Fantasy. 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.” All of the authors appear to be Mormon.

Laura Andersen. The Boleyn Reckoning. Ballantine, July 15. Alternative history. The Boleyn Trilogy #3. Elizabeth Tudor and her brother William struggle for the throne of England. Deseret News feature story.

RT Book Reviews: 4.5 stars. “In the conclusion to her Boleyn trilogy, Andersen brilliantly brings her alternate world into the reality we know as Elizabethan England. Readers will hold their breaths, as the heartwrenching tale unfolds and the fully developed characters move toward their destiny. It’s a powerful novel that carries readers right into Andersen’s world, making every character and event so real you’ll believe you are there. Andersen proves she is a genius at recreating the drama, passion and fantasy of history.”

Library Journal: “Andersen has written an enjoyable ending to a series that has delighted many Tudor fans with its clever nods to actual history and well-researched forays into the land of “What if?” Though the love triangle portion of the plot strains credulity at times, the author ultimately brings all her main characters to an emotionally satisfying and entertaining denouement that should thoroughly please fans of the first two books.”

Julie Coulter Bellon. Ring Around the Rosie. Self, July 30. Romantic suspense. Hostage Negotiation Team #4. The head of the Hostage Negotiation Team has to bargain for the lives of his team and his ex-wife, Sarah, the woman he still loves.

Carys Bray. A Song for Issy Bradley. Ballantine Books, Aug. 12. General. It was published in June in the UK, see my summary of the UK reviews, as well Bray’s comments about her connection to Mormonism. Bray, who is British (from Southport, Merseyside), grew up as a member of the Church, but is no longer a member. This is her debut novel.

Julie M. Smith, Times and Seasons: “How much did I like this book? So much that I do not regret the night of sleep that I lost to my inability to put it down. (That has literally never happened to me before. I always hate myself in the morning.) Meet Bishop Bradley, the obediac. His wife Claire, who is not so much. His children, each with their own challenges. The character depiction and development is top-notch. The plot is, in turns, hilarious and heartbreaking. The family’s Mormonism doesn’t just permeate every scene, but every line, every thought. And every bit of Mormonism is here: our agony over our past and present, our faith and foibles, our cultural quirks and so much more. The author’s info announces that she has left the church and while your book group may have trouble with the one moderately graphic sex scene and f-bombs, I felt this was an ultimately faith- and culture-affirming book. I’m not going to say much more about it, although there is so much to discuss here–from how polygamy impacts women’s lives today, to how we balance church and family and obedience and autonomy, to how we deal with tragedy, to thinking about the inevitable dramas of marriage, to what we do to our young women, to how we think about miracles. This one’s a winner.”

Kirkus: “When 4-year-old Issy dies of meningitis, her Mormon family struggles with sadness, doubt and faith . . . Each chapter follows a different Bradley, and Bray brings her characters to complicated, messy life with her tremendous power for empathy. It’s rare to see religious faith explored so deeply in popular fiction, and though Ian’s nearly unquestioning devotion can make him seem like the villain at times, Bray does a remarkable job of illuminating each character’s hopes and fears. An absorbing, beautifully written debut novel with surprising moments of humor.”

Harper’s Bazaar (UK): One of four notable debut novels. “If you’re one of those people who likes your holiday reading to leave you puffy-eyed behind your sunglasses then look no further. Issy Bradley is dead. And the Bradley family have no idea how to cope. Well, all except one; Ian, the man of the house and head of the local Mormon congregation. For the rest, though – Claire, Zippy, Alma and Jacob – Ian’s certain knowledge that they’ll see their daughter and sister again in heaven is less of a comfort. Brought up a strict Mormon, but no longer practising, Bray brings humour, empathy and knowledge to what is fundamentally a novel about grief and faith – and whether the latter can emerge from the former unshaken. The Bradley’s don’t. And nor, I guarantee, will you. Read this if you like: Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You.”

Library Journal: “With wit and compassion, plus insider knowledge of the Mormon way of life, Bray exposes the raw emotions of a family in crisis. An intriguing and heartbreaking story from an author to watch.”

A Thoughtful Faith podcast interview. Discussion of the book by Gina Colvin in the podcast that specializes in those struggling with or transitioning away from Mormonism.

Colin P. Douglas. First Light, First Water. Waking Lion Press, July 3. Poetry. Blurb: “”Words: matter, element, spirit, intelligence, / Light, glory, agency, male, female, God, man. / And behind the words? / For that there is no word.” In First Light, First Water, a collection of poems and prose poems by Colin B. Douglas, words definitely matter, and working in and through the words is a delicate but profound sensibility of the elusive but irreducible reality beyond words. The first section, “A Certain Tree,” explores the relation of man and woman, of God and man, of time and eternity. The second, “Last Night’s Equations,” portrays people and places found only in dreams, at once delightful and disturbing. With poetic influences from the Bible to Rimbaud, from Breton to Rexroth, this stunning collection will leave readers moved and wondering, dreaming dreams of their own.”

Waking Lion Press is owned by Jack Lyon, who also runs The Editorium. Lyon was a managing editor at Deseret Book in 1980-2006.

Debra Erfert. Relative Evil.Xchyler Publishing/Hamilton Springs, July 19. Romantic suspense. An author of thriller novels finds her own life becoming dangerous, and fears her step-mother may have killed her father. First novel.

Craig Harline. Way Below the Angels: The Pretty Clearly Troubled but Not Even Close to Tragic Confessions of a Real Live Mormon Missionary. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, August 14. Memoir. Blub: “When Craig Harline set off on his two-year Mormon mission to Belgium in the 1970s, he had big dreams of doing miracles, converting the masses, and coming home a hero. What he found instead was a lot of rain and cold, one-sentence conversations with irritated people, and silly squabbles with fellow missionaries. From being kicked — literally — out of someone’s home to getting into arguments about what God really wanted from Donny Osmond, Harline faced a range of experiences that nothing, including his own missionary training, had prepared him for. He also found a wealth of friendships with fellow Mormons as well as unconverted locals and, along the way, gained insights that would shape the rest of his life. Part religious history, part coming-of-age story, part witty spiritual memoir, this book takes readers beyond the stereotypical white shirts and name tags to reveal just how unpredictable, funny, and poignant the missionary life can be.” Eerdmans Publishing is a distinguished, 100-year old independent publisher from Grand Rapids, which specializes in academic and theological Christian books.

Russell Fox, BCC. “Harline is a BYU professor of European history and fairly prolific author, as well as the presenter of a speech on how religions and cultures change that every informed person ought to listen to, has written a beautiful, hilarious, and haunting book. You may have caught a couple of glimpses of [excerpts] a while ago on Times and Seasons. It is a mission memoir, one that Harline states he’d wanted to write for many years, but didn’t really feel like he could until nearly 40 years had passed since his mid-70s sojourn in the short-lived Belgium Antwerp Mission. The reflective wisdom and writing skill which he’s developed over those decades is very much on display in this book; it’s the best, most thoughtful, funniest and truest recreation of missionary life–especially the internal life of a missionary–that I’ve ever read.”

Julie M. Smith, Times and Seasons. “This may be the most painful book I have ever read. Which kind of painful, you ask? Well, it’s a little hard to describe, but let’s call it a tender, commiserative sort of a pain, stemming from Harline’s ability to do something that we almost never see done: to illustrate the immense internal burdens that not-all-that-apocalyptic-when-you-really-think-about-it external circumstances can create. Seriously: this is not a book about genocide, child abuse, starvation, or POW camps. It’s a book about a middle-class American kid who went on a mission to Belgium in the 1970s with too-high expectations and had to figure out how to trudge through days filled with difficult companions, rain, and no baptisms. But I think it is the very banality of the external experience weighed against the crisis of the internal one that I found so compelling. After all, you can read an (excellent) book like Unbroken and think: that was amazing, and it has nothing to do with my life. But you read Way Below the Angels and think: this is me–a kicked-over anthill on the inside, even when things are really not all that bad on the outside . . . Harline provides an unusual kind of balm in the form of an epically raw and genuine account of his mission. This isn’t a tell-all expose (pretty much the worst sin a missionary commits in this book is writing a letter on a not-P day). This isn’t, obviously, a missionary hagiography, either. Instead, it is real life, lived in the mundane middle. We get very few missionary narratives like this . . . Throughout the book, he describes immense (internal) struggles along with a scant, precious few rays of light that end up revealing an awful lot about God and, I think, ultimately make this a faith-promoting book. (Faith-promoting in the real world of real life. Not faith-promoting in the sense of perpetuating a faith-promoting-but-ultimately-unsustainable view of life.) nd he’s funny, so that helps. When you can’t get past the front matter without laughing, you suspect that he (and you) will be OK in the end. The book can be a little over-written, a little trying-too-hard-to-write-cleverly and be funny. But sometimes it is brilliant, like when he compares the examination of his motives to the public dissections in old Dutch paintings. And when he recounts personal inspiration that, fittingly, comes in the most mundane of ways. And the fact that, nearly forty years later, he still felt somewhat traumatized by his mission made me feel . . . less lame about the minor problems that I fret about today. The real battles in life (for some of us anyway) are huge, if small, and Harline’s book is a welcome exploration of them.”

Hearts & Minds (a Presbyterian/mainline Christian bookstore blog). “You know this has to be a good book for the editors of one of the most storied and prestigious religious publishers in America to offer it as one of their biggest titles of the season. No, this guy doesn’t covert to Protestantism, and there is no grand conclusion, but, wow, does he write well – colorfully and creatively (does the subtitle give you a hint that he’s upbeat about it all?) And this memoir is certainly about his pondering his own faith, choices, the nature of spiritual experience (including failure) as he ponders the role of religion in his life, and in our culture. And did I mention he’s a good writer?  As Jana Riess writes of it, “How could a memoir that primarily deals with religion and rejection be so flippin’ hilarious? Craig Harline’s experience as a Mormon missionary in Belgium in the mid-70s are ingeniously funny, but they also point to important issues – how religious people deal with apparent failure and navigate grown up faith after childish certainties have proven inadequate.” Here is a nice, thoughtful interview with him in a 15 minute video clip.”

Mette Ivie Harrison. The Bishop’s Wife. Soho Crime, Dec. 30. Mystery.

Kellie, Seagullah: “What does a knock at your front door early in the morning mean to you: curiosity or alarm? What if you knew a couple from church and one day the wife was reported missing, or her husband said she had deliberately left her husband and daughter the night before? What have you already decided? So begin’s Mette Ivie Harrison’s contemporary exploration of the world of ward politics, judgements, snap assumptions and above all everyday people trying to make sense of the mess and joy of life, and each other . . . I have read many of Harrison’s non-contemporary novels, and while I am a happily devoted fan of the fantasy/sci-fi/fable genres, The Bishop’s Wife was a very welcome and skilled immersion into contemporary fiction. In particular, I appreciated how the title character, Linda, was not painted as a paragon of a woman, or endowed with increased spirituality or discernment simply because she was the bishop’s wife, or the main character. Linda struggles with the demands put on her by loved ones and irritating people in her ward, she makes snap judgments and really dislikes some people – exactly how real people (how we) can be in our lives. The ongoing complications and effects of situations from long ago still resonate in Linda’s life, and the difficulties and rash decisions Linda makes are not sugar coated, unbelievable or unrealistic. I also appreciated how the patriarchal structure of the church is presented, and the ongoing struggles different characters have with the interpretation thereof in many areas of faith and life. The Bishop’s Wife is a mystery story, but is also an honest exploration of how women can be pulled in too many directions by personal history, the best of intentions, sick individuals and loved ones. This is not a light, fluffy, Disney fairy-tale story, but it’s all the more honest, compelling and relatable because of it . . . Rated: M – Some themes of grief, marital strife, spousal/child abuse, emotional abuse.”

Kimberly Griffiths Little. Time of the Fireflies. Scholastic, July 29. Middle grade mystery/fantasy. Blurb: “When Larissa Renaud starts receiving eerie phone calls on a disconnected old phone in her family’s antique shop, she knows she’s in for a strange summer.”

PW: “Little returns to the Louisiana bayou setting of The Healing Spell and Circle of Secrets in a summer story that follows 12-year-old Larissa Renaud in her quest to save her family from past tragedies that are bleeding into their future. It all begins with an ominous call from a disconnected phone in the antique shop her family has moved into. “Find the fireflies. Trust the fireflies,” insists a mysterious voice that somehow knows who Larissa is. Her family has recently returned to her mother’s childhood town so Larissa’s mother can make peace with her sister Gwen’s death. After Larissa learns that the fireflies can transport her to the past, she tries to unpack decades-old secrets that may threaten her family in the present day and that seem to be connected to a doll that belonged to her mother’s late sister. Little’s strengths lie in building a strong sense of the history of a place, its inhabitants, and how one can greatly affect the other. A satisfyingly creepy mystery, wrapped up in the bonds of family.”

Kirkus: “Suspense builds quickly and doesn’t falter until the mystery is solved and restitution is made for long-ago transgressions. Larissa’s first-person narration is fresh and engaging, and the richly evoked south Louisiana setting serves to ground this ethereal tale in a real time and place while contributing to the mysterious mood it requires. For those fond of exceedingly creepy but not-too-violent stories of the supernatural. Fans of Mary Downing Hahn will devour this one.”

SLJ: “This is a haunting, well-constructed tale that keeps readers guessing until the end. The feel of the old bayou infuses the story and the well-developed characters fit into the landscape, moving along in a plot filled with suspense, adventure, and mystery. A perfect choice for lovers of ghost stories, historical fiction, or just a good yarn.”

Carrie Stuart Parks. A Cry From the Dust. Thomas Nelson Publishers, Aug. 12. Mystery. Author is not a Mormon.

PW: “Gwen Marcey is a forensic artist, single mother, and cancer survivor. When she accepts an assignment to reconstruct the remains of recently unearthed victims of the Mountain Meadows Massacre—an incident in 1857 in which more than 100 men and women were killed by Mormon settlers in Utah—she gets entangled in a present-day murder mystery. One of the visitors to the historic site is killed, and a security guard also turns up dead. Positive that her own life is in danger, Gwen sets out to help the police and the FBI track down the killers. A good friend, her ex-husband, and her unruly teenage daughter all play their parts in Gwen’s quest for answers. Parks, in her debut novel, has clearly done her research and never disappoints when it comes to crisp dialogue, characterization, or surprising twists and turns. Contemporary Mormon fundamentalism, a clever alternative theory about the martyrdom of Mormon founder Joseph Smith, and a determined search for the truth are blended artfully in this fast-paced, exciting novel.”

AML-list review, Julie Nichols. “Its fascinating central premise (which I won’t divulge in too much detail, lest I spoil everything for you) is all about the complexities and contradictions of Mormon history. The hypotheses and alternative history it proffers are very interesting indeed. Carrie Stuart Parks is a multi-talented new voice. Raised and still living on a ranch in northern Idaho, she’s an FBI-trained forensic artist whose previous publications are how-to-draw and -water-color books. She teaches forensic drawing; she’s a Christian with Congregational and Unitarian Universalist ties; and she runs the Great Pyrenees kennel she inherited from her parents. All of these interests dovetail in A Cry from the Dust. The cover of the book shows Joseph Smith’s death mask. The Prologue presents in gruesome detail the horror of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, from the point of view of one of the victims. And the rest of the novel is a wild romp through the twenty-first century world of LDS fundamentalists, alternative Mormon history, and vengeance taken over a hundred years later. Whom to trust, what to do when you can’t, and how to put the pieces together—these are the crucial questions. Even where the representation of both present-day and historical Church are skewed, the fast-paced plot keeps you turning the pages and marveling at the possibilities suggested here. It’s worth a lively book group discussion at the very least . . . What impresses most about this first novel is the research into Mormon history and the authoritative familiarity with the workings of forensic art. These, and the swift pace, the strong characterizations, the rich details of setting and historical possibility, all make for a page-turner Latter-day Saints will ponder for days.”

Clair M. Poulson. Falling. Covenant, Aug. 4. Suspense. “After the devastating loss of his fiancée, war veteran Major Corbin Daniels has left the military behind and retreated to the tiny desert town of Moab, Utah, determined to pick up the pieces of his life. Corbin’s work as a helicopter pilot allows him to do what he loves, and his side business as a private investigator provides plenty of low-key intrigue. But when a routine flight over the desert reveals the body of a prominent Moab citizen, Corbin’s quiet civilian existence slips through his fingers.”

Carolyn Steele. Willow Springs. Cedar Fort, Aug. 12. Western romance. The first book in Cedar Fort’s Pure Romance series of clean, sweet love stories.

Deseret News. “Steele’s book is woven with lovely threads from the past, and her storytelling is a notch above the usual. Her ability to create authentically motivated characters and to keep them moving through an intriguing plot is wonderful. It’s easy to fall in love with Crissa and Drake and to find a good measure of compassion for Garth, the antihero.”

Paul Mark Tag. How Much Do You Love Me? Sweetwater/Cedar Fort, Aug. 12. Historical romance. Blurb: “Lovers James and Keiko marry quickly before James goes to World War II and Keiko to an internment camp. At Tule Lake, the Tanaka’s internment camp in northern California, Keiko’s and James’s daughter, Kazuko, is born. Nearly sixty years later, Keiko has a stroke and lies near death, while James suffers from Alzheimer’s. A chance occurrence makes Kazuko suspect that her mother has been hiding a secret from the internment. Fighting the clock before her mother’s death, she races to unearth the mystery and uncover a secret that could overwhelm the family.” Don’t know if the author is Mormon. He has self-published several novels in the last few years.

Rebecca Winters. A Cowboy’s Heart. Harlequin, Aug. 5. Contemporary romance.

Reviews of older books

Linda Adair. Trouble at the Red Pueblo (Jennie Hansen, Meridian). 5 stars. “Liz Adair’s new Spider Latham Mystery, Trouble at the Red Pueblo, captures the mystery and splendor of the red rock country and modern spirit of the west. In a style similar to that of Tony Hillerman and Clair Poulson, she mixes a solid mystery with a modern western. It has been ten years since her last Spider Latham Mystery, but she has plans to write more of them in the near future . . . Spider is far from the typical Western literary hero. There’s an honesty and realism to him that real westerners will recognize and love. He’s not a twenty-something quick-draw, but a man who has raised two sons, loves his wife, and values the land his ancestors settled as early pioneers. He’s a deputy sheriff who isn’t paid too well and has difficulty figuring out modern electronic gadgets like smart phones. He’s kind and compassionate to family, friends, strangers, and animals, but struggles to deal with assumptions and jealousy. His manner of speech and his thought processes ring true and endear readers to him. Spider’s wife, Laurie, is a strong woman in many ways. She has a kind, gentle style that draws people to her, but she also has a keen mind and is in many ways as much of a detective as her husband. She’s also knowledgeable concerning horses and western culture. Other minor characters are strong, distinct people who greatly enrich the story. The background for this story is the Utah/Arizona border area between Kanab and Fredonia with its red rocks, high temperatures, and Anasazi ruins and artifacts. Adair does a great job of bringing this setting alive as part of the story, making visualizing the magnificent scenery easy yet a natural part of the story. The cover is a beautiful shot of an ancient dwelling, highlighting the contrast of red rock with deep blue sky. Other technical aspects of the book are not as completely satisfying, but are not glaring distractions either. The plot moves at a deceptively relaxed pace, drawing the reader in with interesting tidbits and wonderful dialog, until the reader is surprised to discover how quickly the action is moving. The conclusion is satisfying both as a resolution to the mystery, but as it relates back to a couple of other issues introduced early on.”

Ann Dee Ellis. The End or Something Like It (Shelah Books It). 3 stars. “The End or Something Like It is emblematic of Ellis’s signature style. She uses short sentences, paragraphs, and chapters and features characters whose teenage lives are complicated. Emmy is overweight and unpopular. She resents the way Kim ditches her for other friends even as she’s dying. Ellis does a great job capturing Las Vegas in the story, and in showing Emmy’s angst, but sometimes I want a little more lushness in the language of her stories.”

Shannon Hale. Dangerous (Reading for Sanity). 4.5 stars. “Shannon Hale is simply too talented for fairness.  She launches into the YA/Sci-fi genre with no awkwardness, I felt like she’d been writing this genre forever.  Her story stuck with me, moving so quickly that putting the book down wasn’t an option in case the characters did something without me.  Her characters are believable, flawed, real, and relatable.  Even her side characters had amazing backstories.  It really felt as though they were real people with real experiences.”

Moriah Jovan. We Were Gods (Theric). “Variants in What’s Important to Mormons differ so much from character to character, book to book, that she seems to capture something of the real variety in Mormonism that I’m becoming more aware of all the time. Chad: “I know that,” he answered crisply. “And that’s okay because I did the right thing. The only approval I need is mine. And the Lord’s.” He paused. “Crap. Should’ve put him first.” Chapter with motherly flashbacks overdone. Falls into caricature and melodrama . . . A very familial and warm and satisfying ending which may not have been possible without so many books, giving us close looks to so many characters. Valedictory. Almost don’t want her to keep writing any more. We have a happy ending now! Look away! Look away!”

Jennifer Moore. Becoming Lady Lockwood (Jennie Hansen, Meridian) 4 stars. “This is not your run-of-the-mill Regency Romance. Though I’ve always enjoyed an occasional break from more serious books with an occasional Regency, I’ve grown a bit tired of them of late. Consequently I was slow to pick this one up, but when I did, I received a delightful surprise. Instead of the balls, season, manners, and emphasis on clothing generally paramount in a Regency novel, Becoming Lady Lockwood takes place primarily aboard a British war ship during the Napoleonic Wars . . . Amelia is a strong and likable character the reader can’t help cheering for. She’s clever, hard working, and has a fun sense of humor. Though she begins with a somewhat limited viewpoint of life, her experiences as the book progresses broaden her outlook and she becomes more balanced. Most of the characters in this novel are male. A few are developed well, but the less important characters are stereotyped which doesn’t hurt a story of this length. The plot is handled well, follows a distinct fiction arc, and keeps the reader entertained. Moore delivers punch lines well and in spite of knowing before-hand much of what is going to happen there is no let down by the lack of surprises. A happy ending is a Romance requirement, but the author makes her characters truly work for it.”

Sheila A. Nielson. Forbidden Sea (Reading for Sanity). 4 stars. “You know how you’re just reading along and thinking “Hmm…I think I may be too old for this book” and then the next thing you know, you’re all “But what happened to the pretty green mermaid!?” That was totally me. I’ve read quite a few books in this new genre that rehashes fairy tales for JFic and YAFic, so I’m no newcomer. I enjoy the retelling of the stories, and sometimes I really like the fun twists. This one does not disappoint. First of all, it’s got a really old school fun feel; think more along the lines of Keturah and Lord Death than, say The Lunar Chronicles. And I liked this style, actually, because it’s fun to have that old-timey feel when there are mythical creatures and deep-seated lore involved. Also, having it take place on an island gave it a feel of isolation and fear from a secluded population who know that they’re just sitting there, waiting to be captured by the mermaid. The author is a children’s librarian and you can totally tell that she knows her way around a good story and is a really competent writer . . . The story is fun—it’s got all the elements of a good story. Strong characters. Plenty of opposition. Nearly impossible odds. A good ending. Really, it’s something you should read if you like this kind of thing. My book club just recently read it and we all enjoyed it. It’s a fast, fun read, and due to its depth and thought-provoking themes can be enjoyed by old and young alike.”

Steven L. Peck. Incorrect Astronomy (SF Poetry). “When Astronomy is incorrect, is it still Astronomy? Is it still a system? After reading this collection of poems by Steven L. Peck, I’d say yes. Incorrect Astronomy spans a broad spectrum of insight and interest into a legion of areas. The collection begins with “Her Father’s Critique,” which seemed an odd first piece, but reading it, I think it perfectly sets the stage for future explorations. “Her Father’s Critique” hints at a young artist’s decision to quit painting, while “The King Fisher” offers reflections on Jung, his studies and his reason to continue through the vision of a dream . . . These poems cover a broad range of emotion through observance and the complex imagery of nature and our relationship to it. We see the inner and outer workings of the natural world—from the delicate brush strokes of the artist to the vigilant soldier’s observance on the borderlands . . . Through the lens of astronomy, the observance of war, moons and mechanical men, to geography, fragile ecologies and our psyches—this is a moving and surprising collection. It carries an unexpected energy, a great interconnected system, like a web of netted threads.”

Rebecca Talley. Imperfect Love (Jennie Hansen, Meridian). 4 stars. “Imperfect Love tackles several difficult topics related to love; an unequal marriage relationship, poor family relationships, and the challenge of expecting a physically and/or mentally challenged infant . . . At first I didn’t like Lauren much because she seemed weak and wishy-washy, but she grew on me as she became stronger and developed a backbone. Ethan is a strong, likable character, but most of the other characters have more negative than positive characteristics. I would have liked a better balance, especially from Lauren’s mother and sister. Talley deals well with the unit Lauren teaches on the Holocaust and without spelling out the comparison the reader sees the connection between the Jews who were denied life and the fate of her unborn baby. The references to her pupil who learns she is adopted are not handled as well, but also opens a line of thought concerning the baby Lauren is carrying. This book will be enjoyed by many readers. The relationship between Lauren and Ethan will appeal to romance readers while the overall story provides much to think about for those interested in social issues. Talley’s style is warm and comfortable, providing the reader with a satisfying reading experience.”

Johnny Townsend. Dragons of the Book of Mormon (Darlene Young). “Disclaimer: I read only the first two or three stories and then quit. Despite the overly-long diatribe introduction that did all it could to persuade the reader that to dislike the book is to prove oneself closed-minded, I found this book to be more propaganda than fiction. The stories lacked plot; the characters lacked complexity. I really am open-minded about depictions of Mormons in literature–that is, if I feel that what I’m reading qualifies as literature. I didn’t, here. There was definitely an agenda, though.”

Kasie West. On The Fence (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books). B. “Between its summer-y cover art and July release date, you can probably tell that On the Fence, is an easy, breezy, beach-y kind of book. The plot never gets too complicated, the themes too dark or the characters too angsty. With an equal mix of the constant ribbing and intense loyalty that defines the best brother/sister relationships, the Reynolds family feels strong and real. Their bond lends the whole story a warm, playful overtone that makes it a happy, hopeful novel. Sure, it’s cliché and predictable, but On the Fence is also lots of fun. As long as you don’t expect too much depth, you’ll enjoy this light, easy read about not just discovering who you are, but also finding the courage to be that person, in spite of the consequences.”

Kasie West. On The Fence (Rosalyn). “Kasie West does contemporary YA romance as well as just about any author I can think of–she ranks right up there in the company of Stephanie Perkins and Jennifer E. Smith (okay, she’s not quite Rainbow Rowell, but I can live with that). Her books are sweet, funny, and filled with normal characters who have generally healthy relationships but still imperfect lives . . . I thought the friendship-based romance here worked well, and I loved that Charlie was able to experiment with new things (makeup!) without losing the essence of who she was. And West does an excellent job of including just enough darkness (what actually happened with Charlie’s mom, and why won’t anyone talk about her) to keep the fun, fluffy romance grounded. Perfect summer read.”

Theater

Theater Review: Ben Abbott, Questions of the Heart (Segullah).

Film

Saints and Soldiers: The Void. Released to 9 Utah theaters, August 15. Ryan Little, director, producer, screenwriter, cinematographer. Adam Able, Gil Aglaure, Randy Beard, Ray Meldrum, producers. Cast: Danor Gerald, Adam Gregory, Bart Johnson, Matthew Meese. Go Films, Koan. The third film in the series. The Void is set during the last days of the European theater in May 1945. Hitler has already committed suicide, and the Allies are sweeping away the last vestiges of the Nazi army. But even if many feel the war is over, others sense danger. When a destroyer tank crew is ambushed by German fire after being diverted into a danger zone called The Void, lives still hang in the balance. But while The Void’s surface conflict is between the embattled American troops and the desperate German soldiers hunting them, the film’s title also carries a double meaning, referring to the gap between African-American soldiers and their white counterparts.

Salt Lake Tribune (Sean P. Means) review. 4 stars. “A riveting action drama with a strong message . . . Little, who also wrote the screenplay this time, creates a well-paced drama that balances the action with emotional themes of duty and equality. (Despite being a continuation of a franchise considered an early success in Mormon Cinema, the closest thing to a mention of Mormonism here is a soldier who doesn’t drink and hails from Pocatello.) Little’s greatest talent is employing Utah locations and restored World War II-era vehicles to create authentic and exciting battle sequences.”

Deseret News (Josh Terry) review. “The mark of the Saints and Soldiers franchise has been a mission to create an authentic visual product in spite of the limitations of a non-Hollywood budget. In “The Void,” this effort comes across through the use of several destroyer tanks, which are featured so prominently that they almost become characters in the film. And given the relative lack of religious content, you almost leave the theater wondering if “Tanks and Soldiers” might have been a more honest title. Thanks to elements like these tanks, “The Void” boasts some effective moments and is able to work in some impressive pyrotechnic effects during its action sequences. But it also struggles against a sluggish script that uses expository dialogue to spoon-feed the audience rather than let the actors’ behavior send a more natural message. “The Void” often seems too concerned with its uplifting message that’s obvious to the audience, where more subtlety and a “show, don’t tell” method might have resonated with more power. A focus on the ambiguity of an early scene in which American troops have to discern the intent of a German family stranded on the side of the road could have better embodied the tension and relief of the encounter, but instead the scene is used to quickly demonstrate the different levels of charity among the different soldiers . . . In sum, “Saints and Soldiers: The Void” offers an important message and some nice visuals. But there’s still the feeling that a little more focus on writing and execution would have etched a more enduring experience.”

Scott Renshaw, Salt Lake City Weekly. 3 stars. “The list of directors making old-school American war films at this moment consists of exactly Ryan Little, so it’s a good thing he’s not too shabby at it. As in his previous two Saints and Soldiers films, he’s following American G.I.’s fighting in post-D-Day Europe, though once again no characters return . . . The character drama focuses mainly on tensions between a black soldier, Sgt. Owens (K. Danor Gerald), and racist Cpl. Simms (Adam Gregory), with some unfortunately predictable interludes for speeches about the unfairness of black soldiers risking their lives for a country that discriminates against them. But Gerald gives a solid performance as an emotionally wounded soldier still trying to do his duty, while Little continues to craft effectively kinetic battlefield set pieces. The Void may set out to teach lessons in tolerance, but it’s better teaching a lesson about how you can still make an old-school war movie work.”

Adam Mast. St. George Sun Independent. 4 stars. “”The Void” is another solid entry in the “Saints and Soldiers” franchise. While these films aren’t on the same scale as something like “Saving Private Ryan,” it should be noted that Little gets a lot of mileage out of limited funds. This movie is beautifully shot. Furthermore, Little does a good job of building the rapport between his characters before they’re thrown into battle. K. Danor Gerald emerges as a cast standout. As Sgt. Owens, a dedicated officer who must keep his anger in check as racial tension escalates, Gerald anchors the movie, no question. He brings passion, vulnerability, and toughness to the role. Look no further than a scene in which Owens tells an ignorant solider a hard-hitting story about his father. It might be the most powerful moment in the film, and it’s because Gerald completely owns it. There are certainly moments in the script that are conventional and a bit heavy-handed, but Gerald is so effective that he rises above those moments. As a director, Little has a terrific eye, and it’s clear he’s a WWII history buff. The battle scenes in “The Void” are well-executed, and while the climax of the picture could have been a little more grandiose, it’s solid nonetheless. In terms of intensity, this might be the edgiest entry in the series. It features, among other things, a Russian roulette sequence, but rest assured, the film refrains from graphic violence. This is a PG-13-rated movie, and will greatly appeal to those who enjoy old-school war films. As stated earlier, there are stretches in “The Void” that are a little heavy-handed, but overall, the cast (most notably, Gerald) is strong, the look of the film is gorgeous, and Little’s direction is solid. I was a fan of the first two pictures, and “The Void” keeps the streak alive. Here’s hoping Little makes a fourth.”

Jonathan Decker, Meridian. “Like the tanks that figure so prominently in its plot, Saints and Soldiers: The Void lumbers along in need of a tune-up but nevertheless packs a wallop when it counts . . . The film’s good intentions are diluted somewhat by a meandering screenplay, too many one-dimensional characters, an overload of expository dialogue, and supporting actors who fail to convey the necessary urgency. Thankfully, the central performances are all good, especially by K. Danor Gerald in the lead role, as well as Studio C’s Matt Meese in a dramatic turn that proves he’s got broader range than expected. The opening credits, a combination of newsreel footage and aggressive animation, are quite impressive. Director Little continues to display a talent for action sequences as well as quiet, intimate moments of decency. With a bit more focus in the storytelling and polish in the casting this could have been as excellent as the first Saints and Soldiers. As it is, The Void is still worth a watch.”

The Cultural Hall podcast interview with Ryan Little, Adam Able, and Danor Gerald.

Deseret News feature story on actor Danor Gerald.

Deseret News feature story on a roundtable of actors and filmmakers from the entire Saints and Soldiers series.

Danor Gerald, star of The Void, will also star in and direct Margaret Blair Young’s film Heart of Africa.

Ally Condie reports, “The MATCHED film has nothing new to report, I’m afraid. Disney let the option lapse. :(.”

Video reveals Mormon woman’s transgender journey (Peggy Fletcher Stack, SL Tribune) “At 4, Eddie Hayward told his Mormon parents he wanted to be Cinderella and go the ball. By 10, he said he had two people inside of him — one male, one female. Six years later, he thought he was gay. Now, at 26, the young Latter-day Saint knows her real identity — Eddie is Eri, a beautiful and confident transgender woman. A 15-minute documentary about Eri’s experience completed in 2013 by Salt Lake City-based filmmaker Torben Bernhard — in partnership with KUER’s VideoWest —has now been viewed more than a million times and recently was featured in The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Huffington Post and People Magazine. It earned the Artistic Vision Award at the 2014 Big Sky Documentary Film Festival and was named the 2014 Utah Short Film of the Year.”

LDS Film Festival continues at Peery’s “In celebration of the Ogden Temple Open House, Peery’s Egyptian Theater is proud to present an LDS Film Festival.” The LDS Film Festival, hosted by Peery’s Egyptian Theater in Ogden, UT, continues with movies about church history and culture, from Aug. 1 to Aug. 16. The films include “Saints and Soldiers”, “The Errand of Angels”, “Storm Rider”, “Sacred Stone: Temple on the Mississippi” , “Pride and Prejudice: A Latter-Day Comedy”, “The Singles Ward”, “The Singles 2nd Ward”, “The Other Side of Heaven”, “Baptists at our Barbecue”, “Trail Of Hope”, “The Best Two Years”, “Ephraim’s Rescue”.

Bestsellers

August 10, 17, 24

Christine Feehan. Dark Wolf

PW Mass Market: x, x, #7 (1 week). 11,616 units.

USA Today: x, x, #99 (1 week)

NY Times Mass Market: x, x, #9 (1 week)

 

James Dashner. The Kill Order

PW Children’s: #15, ?, #20 (16 weeks). 4124, ?, 4029 units. 88,278 total.

 

James Dashner. The Maze Runner.

USA Today #21, #19, #12 (37 weeks)

PW Children’s: x, x, #7 (1 week) 7951 units.

NYT Children’s Series: #2, #3, #2 (96 weeks)

 

James Dashner. The Scorch Trials

USA Today: #64, #67, #69 (22 weeks)

 

James Dashner. The Death Cure

USA Today: #88, #94, #88 (24 weeks)

 

James Dashner. The Eye of Minds

NY Times Young Adult: x, x, #15

 

Orson Scott Card. Ender’s Game

PW Sci Fi: #2

NY Times Mass-market paperback: #9, #10, #10 (94 weeks)

 

Nathan Hale. Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Treaties, trenches, mud and blood.

NYT Graphic Hardcover: #8, #8, x (12 weeks)

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4 Responses to This Month in Mormon Literature, August 2014

  1. Jonathan Langford says:

    Thanks for the shout-out about Rachel’s experience. I hadn’t heard about it. (I’ve been busy in my own little corner and not out and about much in the Mormon literary scene recently…)

  2. Th. says:

    .

    Just realized that Rachel’s plagiarist named herself after a hero of Mormon lit.

    Not cool.

  3. Andrew Hall says:

    An update on plagiarism of Rachel Ann Nunes’ book. Nunes’ lawyers have filed the complaint in federal court, and papers were served to the suspected plagiarist. Although the suspect has been named, Nunes says “I make a plea for my supporters to refrain from bullying, name-calling, or attacking the defendant online.”
    http://rachelannnunes.blogspot.jp/2014/09/update-on-stm-plagiarism-case.html
    http://johndopp.com/plagiarism-sam-taylor-mullens-busted/

  4. Andrew Hall says:

    Salt Lake Comic Con will be held September 4-6 at the Salt Lake City Convention Center. Among the Mormon authors who will be participating are Brandon Sanderson. Richard Paul Evans. Tracy and Laura Hickman, David Farland, Shannon Hale, Brandon Mull, Larry Correia, Jennifer Nielsen, Brad R. Torgerson, Robison Wells, Dan Wells, Brian McClellan, Michaelbrent Collins, Bree Despain, Jessica Day George, Adam Gladwell Sidwell, Lisa Mangum, Julie Wright, Heather Ostler, J. Scott Savage, DJ Butler, Natalie Whipple, J.R. Johansson, Sara B. Larson, Sandra Tayler, Jaleta Clegg, and Frank L. Cole.

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