The AML Conference/AML Awards and LDStorymakers/Whitney Awards are coming up. Also more publishing and writing conferences. Memorials for Lu Ann Brobst Staheli. Several films premiere at the LDS Film Festival, especially Freetown. Plan B premiere’s Matthew Ivan Bennett’s play A/Version of Events in Salt Lake City. Well reviewed new books include the YA urban fantasy/horror debut Shutter, by Courtney Alameda, Shannon Hale’s Princess Academy finale The Forgotten Sisters, Gregg Luke’s fantasy/suspense The Healer, Jennifer A. Nielsen’s YA alternative history/fantasy set in ancient Rome, Mark of the Thief, Obert Skye’s Snicketesque middle grade fantasy/dark comedy Witherwood Reform School, and A. L. Sowards’s WWII historical/romantic suspense The Rules in Rome. Theric is having some fun with his latest story title. And tons and tons of book reviews, the Segullah women are trying to kill me with all of their reviews.
The AML Conference will be March 28, 1-5 PM, at the UVU Library in Orem, Utah. The AML Awards finalists were announced in February, and the winners will be announced at the conference. Details about the conference will be forthcoming.
LDStorymakers Writers Conference will be held May 15-16, at the Utah Valley Conference Center, Provo. The Whitney Awards finalists were announced in February, and the winners will be announced at the Whitney Gala at the end of the conference.
The Latter-day Saint Publishing Professionals Association will have its initial organizing event from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm on Friday, April 3, 2015, in Salt Lake City. “The purpose of LDSPPA is to provide support and networking for Latter-day Saint publishing professionals and for students and others considering a career in publishing … LDSPPA’s focus is not on publishing about Mormon topics because that is already the focus of other organizations. Instead, LDSPPA will focus on opportunities and challenges for LDS publishing professionals, their professional development, careers in publishing, and education to prepare for publishing careers.” Among the founders are Steven Piersanti (president and publisher of Berrett-Koehler Publishers), Sue Bergin (newspaper and magazine author and editor, BYU employee and adjunct), Brad Farmer (CEO of Gibbs Smith), Christopher Robbins (founder of Familius and CEO of American West Books), and David Mills (a partner at Families).
The 2015 Indie Author Hub Writing & Publishing Conference will be held June 19-20, at the Marriott Hotel Provo. Instructors will include Andrea Pearson, Stacy Lynn Carroll, Abel Keogh, Christine Kersey, Cindy Hogan, Janette Rallison, Taryn A. Taylor, Karey White, Maria Beuchat Hoagland, Nichole Van, Annette Luthy Lyon, Rachael Anderson, Heather Brown Moore, Rachelle Jolley Christensen, James Curwen, Catia Shattuck, Gwen Haggen, Nicholas Wells, Penny C Sansevieri, Chad Anderson, Michaelbrent Collings, Karlene Brown. Conference heads: Rachel Ann Nunes and Christine Kersey.
15th Annual Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Conference, June 15-19, 2015. Waterford School, Sandy, Utah. Sponsored by the BYU English Department. Carol Lynch Williams is the conference director, and other presenters will include Kathi Appet, A.E. Cannon, Lisa Mangum, Julie Berry, Natalie Whipple, Dean Hughes, David Farland, and Jennifer Adams.
Lu Ann Brobst Staheli
In Memoriam: Author, editor, and educator Lu Ann Brobst Staheli, of Spanish Fork, Utah, passed away on February 9, 2015 after an eight-month battle with cancer. For more information on Lu Ann, please see her own home page/blog, her Goodreads page for a list of her books, detailed tributes by Heather B. Moore and Annette Lyon, and a recent site created by friend J. Scott Savage in order to raise money for Lu Ann’s medical bills. Scott says that the fundraising effort is still open, as the family could use the support. This interview with Tanya Mills also includes lots of information about Lu Ann’s childhood and the stories behind some of her books.
Articles and blog posts
Scott Hales. “More than a ‘Subspecies of American Literature’: Obstacles Toward a Transnational Mormon Novel.” The Journal of Transnational American Studies. New literary criticism/scholarship about Mormons writing transnational/global novels. Among the novels discussed: Coke Newell’s On The Road to Heaven, Margaret Blair Young’s Salvador, Toni Sorenson Brown’s Redemption Road, and Ryan McIlvain’s Elders.
“Mentor to Brandon Mull, James Dashner chose morality, LDS Church over mafia”. Deseret News. Feature article on David Farland and his conversion.
The YALSA awards were announced and Julie Berry’s The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place won an Odyssey Award “Honor Recording”, one of three honorable mentions given to the producer of the best audiobook produced for children and/or young adults. “The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place written by Julie Berry, narrated by Jayne Entwistle and produced by Listening Library. In a very clever, very fun, very Victorian murder mystery, young boarding school ladies bury the dead while maintaining perfect manners. Jayne Entwistle makes death-by-poison a laugh riot with her dark, dry narration and amazingly lively characters in this delightfully macabre tale.”
As always, keep up with the wonderful Mormon literary criticism at A Motley Vision. There are too many great posts for me to mention here.
Some literature posts at Segullah: Rosalyn, “Taking a Leap of Faith”, about the decision to become an author, and Jessie, “Surprise: I Like Fantasy Novels” about her surprise at falling for the work of Tolkien and Brandon Sanderson, and Emily Milner on poetry based on scripture.
INSCAPE: A Journal of Literature & Art, a BYU magazine, released its Fall 2014 (34.1) Issue.
Jerry Earl Johnson (Deseret News). “’Edgy LDS Writing’ is not a contradiction.” “The buzz among local book people this week is over a recent adult mystery novel by Mette Ivie Harrison (The Bishop’s Wife) … Let me say I realize the term “edgy LDS writing” sounds like a contradiction to many people. But every group has its limits. And every group has writers who push them. An acquaintance of mine, David Kline, has been called an “edgy Amish writer,” for example … Of course, being an edgy LDS writer is all a matter of one’s point of view. I have LDS friends who think Mark Twain pushes things. Most writers, in and out of the faith, seldom guess where their work will fall. Like the porridge of the bears, it might be “too hot,” “too cold” or a nice mix. As for Harrison’s book, I did sense an agenda in her writing at times, a kind of “shake ’em up” approach. Some of the more provocative aspects of LDS culture seem to have been included just to trigger tongue-clucking, as if we were even more out of sync with the world than the Blue Men of Morocco. On the other hand, Harrison has an eye like a Nikon camera and an educated ear. I was amazed at her perfect pitch in her choice of words and gestures.”
Ellen Fagg Weist of the The Salt Lake Tribune has been leading a monthly Utah Lit program. First she writes a feature article, then leads a video chat, which is then uploaded to Youtube. February’s selection was “The Bishop’s Wife” by Mette Ivie Harrison.
Shannon Hale on sex segregation at some school visits. “…I do not talk about ‘girl’ stuff. I do not talk about body parts. I do not do a ‘Your Menstrual Cycle and You!’ presentation. I talk about books and writing, reading, rejections and moving through them, how to come up with story ideas. But because I’m a woman, because some of my books have pictures of girls on the cover, because some of my books have ‘princess’ in the title, I’m stamped as ‘for girls only.’ However, the male writers who have boys on their covers speak to the entire school.” Orson Scott Card comments sympathetically here. In related news, Hale’s The Princess in Black was optioned by Universal Pictures.
An Irvine Daily Pilot feature story about Tim Wirkus and his novel City of Brick and Shadow.
By the book: 12 LDS titles to read right now (Ashley Dickson, Utah Valley 360).
When the Mormons met Darwin’s Origin of the Species (Blair Hodges, BCC). In honor of Darwin day. “To find out more about how one of the most popular LDS authors of the early twentieth century sought to improve Darwin’s image, you’ll need to wait until Peculiar Pages releases a new edition of Anderson’s last novel Dorian. The new edition includes analytical essays and notes on Anderson’s text. I contributed an essay on Mormonism’s relationship to science, from which this blog post was adapted in order to tease you into buying a copy. It should be available in the next few months.
“In Search of the Great American Bible.” By Rollo Romig, The New Yorker. About the Book of Mormon, inspired by Avi Steinberg’s non-fiction memoir The Lost Book of Mormon.
An interview with Writers of the Future second quarter winner Scott Parkin.
Steven Peck’s ‘Down Courthouse Wash’ was reviewed in Locus Magazine by Lois Tilton. (You’ll have to scroll down a bit to see it). “I like this one pretty well, not only because the aliens are treated science-fictionally, but for the light, smooth narrative and the narrative voice. This author has gone a lot further towards mastery of the writing craft than some others here.”
Shadow Mountain built J. Scott Savage a mechanical dragon as part of the advertising for his upcoming series Cove.
Publishers Weekly The Most Anticipated Books of Spring 2015 includes A Heart Revealed by Josi S. Kilpack, to be published by Shadow Mountain on Apr. 7. “Kilpack weaves a haunting, mesmerizing story about a wealthy woman who must take a hard look at the selfish and cruel person she’s become and decide who she wants to be.”
An update on the “Sad Puppies”, a protest/group action by a group of conservative science fiction authors, including Brad Torgersen, protesting what they see as political bias in the Hugo Awards process.
Radio Shows and Podcasts
Mette Ivie Harrison talks about The Bishop’s Wife at Radio West, KUER.
The Cultural Hall Podcast: LDS Film Artists Ep 163. Featuring Margaret Blair Young (Heart of Africa), Brad Barber (Peace Officier), Garrett Batty (Freetown).
Kathleen Morris at Mormon Artist has been working hard doing podcasts on Mormon literature and arts in Utah:
Episode 10: Laura Allred Hurtado, global acquisitions curator of art in the LDS Church History Department. March 4, 2015
Episode 9: Eric James Stone. February 17, 2015
Episode 8: Mormons at Salt Lake Comic Con FanX15. February 3, 2015. Among the interviewees were: Jett Atwood, Howard Lyon, Life, the Universe, and Everything, David Farland, Larry Correia, David J. West, David J. Butler, Michaelbrent Collings, Richard Paul Evans, John Seuferling, Chris Hoffman, and Bree Despain.
Matthew Ivan Bennett. A/Version of Events. Plan B Theater Company, Rose Wagner Theatre, Salt Lake City, March 5-15. Debut of a two character play about a road trip where fresh grief over a child’s death has arisen to change a young Mormon couple’s relationship. Bennett grew up as a Mormon, but is no longer a member.
Salt Lake Magazine. “A/Version of Events emerges as Bennett’s most personal play, building upon an arc of profoundly intimate connections in himself and in his relationships which also have marked earlier Plan-B works … the characters and dialogue are as starkly realistic as imaginable, revealing just how disastrous the effects of contempt and criticism can be as two people struggle to know and love each other again amidst the harrowing emotional challenges of coping with a child’s death.”
Morag Shepherd, UTBA: “A/Version of Events is bold, fearless, exciting … and you should probably go see it. Playwright Matthew Ivan Bennett takes his audience on a road trip, a trip that is about so much more than just getting somewhere. Cooper and Hannah have hit the road to leave the past behind, both figuratively, and literally, while finally realizing that the past is always present, and cannot be outrun … The directing of this play is simple and profound. There isn’t a heavy concept that gets in the way of the beautiful and poignant dialogue and acting, but rather pointers that signified the imagery and themes of this work … Even though both Cooper and Hannah’s version of events are different, and messy, and complex, there versions come to be respected by the other. Just as the event of 9/11 is varying, and messy, and hard to sift through and process, so are the events, and truths of Cooper and Hannah. Furthermore, without giving too much away, this is a play that is not only important, but enjoyable, and worth the ride.”
From an interview with Bennett, on the Mormon elements: “I was sketching out new play ideas on the train, and had an idea about a Mormon couple who had been party people in college but then settled down — out of social pressure and (for the man) real faith … I was raised LDS, but left as a teenager. Like anyone, I struggle with Big Questions, and my reference point for them is unalterably, sometimes maddening, sometimes helpfully, influenced by my upbringing. So LDS people — especially liberal, outsider LDS people — have a vibrant presence in my creative mind. I suppose Cooper and Hannah could have been Baptists from Colorado, but, as a writer, I like rendering the people I know. I like looking for the universal in the incredibly peculiar and specific sociology of my city.” SL Tribune preview. UTBA preview.
Jordan Kamalu (music and lyrics) and George Nelson (book and additional lyrics). Single Wide, a new country/rock musical, has been selected to be performed off-Broadway in the 2015 New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF) this summer. Broadway director Jeff Whiting will be the director of this production. NYMF is the largest annual musical theatre festival in America and serves as an equivalent to the Sundance Film Festival for the musical theatre world. Single Wide was selected from hundreds of submissions from all over the world. On March 21, at the BYU Nelke Theatre, a reading of the play will be held, led by Whiting, before the show goes to NYC. The reading will feature the original BYU cast and 4 new songs. The event is free and open to the public.
Melissa Leilani Larson. Standing Still Standing. Salem Hills High School, February 19-23 and the Highland City Arts Council (both in Utah), February 23-28.
Russell Warne, UTBA: “In her script, Larson is fond of mixing. She mixes dreams and reality, comedy and domestic drama, love and anger—and she always does it with a careful adroitness. The result is a delightful story that isn’t about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome at all, but rather the excuses that many people make for a lack of growth in their lives. I found it difficult to watch Standing, Still Standing without thinking about people in my life who could stand in for Grace or Ben because Larson wrote the two main characters in such an accessible manner. Despite all the good in the show, it does have its rough edges. There is no hiding that it is an arts council production, and the limitations of the budget show in some of the technical elements, especially the lights (uncredited) and set (designed by Adam Cannon). On opening night the cast was also a little slow saying some of their lines in the opening scenes, but this was less problematic as the evening progressed. Overall, though Standing, Still Standing is still worth seeing. It’s hard to find thought-provoking, genuinely enjoyable live entertainment this time of year in Utah County. Highland City Arts Council has filled that void, but only for this week.”
Jamie Erekson. The Lost Children of Hamblin. BYU Madsen Recital Hall, Feb. 18-21. The first scene of a new opera.
Miranda Giles. The Mother Stories. Arizona State University, Nov. 14, 2014. An audience interactive theatrical performance based around storytelling and personal history.
Mahonri Stewart reports, “I am now Utah Valley University‘s “playwright specialist” for their Noorda Theatre. I’ll be writing a play for their Theatre for Youth program they do in the summer, be judging plays for a contest they’re hosting, helping out in some dramaturgical areas, and be of general help to the Youth Program.”
BYU theater faculty member Megan Sanborn Jones was appointed as the Theatre Topics Book Review Editor. Theatre Topics, published by the John Hopkins University Press, is an official publication of the Association of Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE), and focuses on performance studies, dramaturgy, and theatre pedagogy. Jones will serve a two-year term beginning in Aug. 2015 and ending in Aug. 2017.
The 14th LDS Film Festival was held March 4-7 at the SCERA Center in Orem. Freetown, a new film by Garrett Batty, director of the box office success The Saratov Approach, kicked off the festival, and The Cokeville Miracle, the newest film by T.C. Christensen, director of 17 Miracles, closed it. Other highlights of the LDS Film Festival include a series of presentations titled From Book to Screen with presentations by Orson Scott Card and Jerusha Hess, and a session with the cast of BYUtv’s comedy show Studio C.
Freetown, directed by Garrett Batty. Written by Melissa Leilani Larson. April 8 release.
Mahonri Stewart review. “As much as I loved Saratov Approach, it was seeing Freetown last night that truly rekindled my hope in Mormon Cinema. Far from being the wheezing gasps of a dying genre, Freetown is now representative of the height of LDS Film. We’ll see if it is able to capture a robust Mormon audience once it is released on April 8, but in terms of quality, it is by far the best Mormon film I have seen … Larson’s writing is one of the many strengths of the film. There is nuance, subtlety, yet power in her writing. The film never seems overwrought. Larson never gives into the temptation to be overdramatic, despite the fact that the subject matter could have easily veered her in that direction. Instead we get these beautifully intimate moments, even in the most severe of situations, that focus on her characters’ inner lives, their doubts, their faith, their flaws, their vivid triumphs. The dialogue is often deceptively simple, revealing so much with so little, that you feel your breath quiet a bit to get the full effect. In choosing Larson, Batty solidified a voice in the film that is soulful and wise; tragic, yet hopeful; and achingly lovely … Freetown shines on the hill as a bright hope, not only for Mormon cinema, but for us a global family of faith. That pure message of faith and progress that the film conveys has come at a timely moment. Batty, Larson, Abel, and all those involved in the film should be warmly thanked and congratulated.”
Kevin Burtt, LDS Cinema Online. Initial Grade: B+. “The film has a lot to say about tribalism — how humans in all eras divide people into Us and Them through whatever excuse is most convenient: religion, skin color, or simply coming from the “wrong” part of the country. In contrast, the gospel of Jesus Christ says there is no Them, only Us. (Avoiding any unintentional irony, Batty/Larson are also brave enough to broach the subject of the LDS black priesthood ban in the film, which include the phrases “cognitive dissonance” and “racist policy”.)” Also a review by Aleah Ingram, DailyLDS.
John (or: How to Win a Girl’s Heart). Directed by Marco Lui.
Kevin Burtt: Initial Grade: C. After the disaster that was Cripta last year, John plays more to Lui’s strengths as an actor and director: humor and physical comedy with his usual bag of visual tricks. Still, the story is lacking …Marco Lui’s talent is undeniable, but four films in, he’s seems to be floundering for an appropriate project to match. I think what Lui needs most is a good collaborator — ideally, a writer who can come up with an effective framework of story and characters, something to free Lui to use his visual directorial talents to bring it to life. As it is, John is nothing more than cinematic junk food — visually stimulating but ultimately empty and shallow. A disappointment from a genuinely talented filmmaker.”
Melted Hearts 2 (Hablando de Suenos — “Catching Up”). Directed by Jorge Ramirez Rivera.
Kevin Burtt: Initial Grade: B. “This is a sneakily good film about relationships (with some subtle culture and immigration subtexts as well) that really grew on me as it progressed. As someone who once chased after a girl who admitted she felt something but wasn’t willing to go to the same place I did, I found myself drawn into David’s plight more than I expected walking in. Watching it may dredge up some bad memories of your own romantic tribulations as it did for me, but don’t let that stop you from checking this film out.”
Romance in the Outfield. Directed by Randy & Rebecca Sternberg.
Kevin Burtt: Initial grade: C+. “In line with its unsophisticated title, Romance in the Outfield hits the standard notes of a romantic comedy competently enough but doesn’t bring anything new or original to the table. The two leads are attractive and have decent enough chemistry, although their personalities switch on a dime from arrogant to insecure from scene to scene and it’s hard to get a handle on their true characters. The Sternberg team has basically dumped out the entire box of romantic comedy clichés into the standard template … There are some religious elements in Romance in the Outfield, although they appear to be thrown in without a lot of contemplation … There’s always an audience for romantic comedies with young, attractive people, and Romance in the Outfield will be pleasant and entertaining to that audience despite being pretty boilerplate. More likely, it will serve as an appropriate ‘practice project’ for the Sternbergs to start off their film careers, who will then hopefully go onto meatier material later.
The Cokeville Miracle. Directed by T. C. Christensen. June 5 release.
Kevin Burtt: Initial Grade: B+ for filmmaking / D- for thesis. “The Cokeville Miracle is very well-made to be sure. It’s well-produced and well-paced with both tense and lighter moments that work well together. The story of deranged ‘genius’ David Young and his mad plan is actually pretty compelling, especially with Nathan Stevens’ effectively unhinged performance at its center. Jasen Wade from 17 Miracles is also effective as the local cop (and parent) who’s having his own faith crisis even before Young walks into his kids’ school. But what message is The Cokeville Miracle actually sending? … What message does this film send to parents (whether LDS or not, whether in those aforementioned incidents or others) whose kids were not spared or protected from the designs of evil people? … The Cokeville Miracle isn’t literally subtitled “A Story of How God Loves Some Children More Than Others” but could have been. I can’t think of another film that I’ve liked from a film-making and story perspective, but fundamentally despised on a foundational level such as this. The Cokeville Miracle is effectively standing in front of a group of parents whose kids died in a tragic school bus accident and saying, “Well, MY kid miraculously survived. Isn’t God great? We are SO blessed! Maybe you guys should try praying more next time…” I believe T.C.Christensen and company are sincere in wanting to promote faith and prayer, but this film deserves any and all of the pushback it’s going to get.”
Other non-LDFFF film news:
Thorns. Michael Flynn, director/producer. Shelley Bingham Husk, writer/producer. 22 minutes. Bridgestone Multimedia. March 30 DVD release. “Devastated by the loss of her only child, Catherine enters The Little Flower Shop hoping to find something that will help fill the void. What she finds instead is something much more beautiful than flowers. During her short interaction with shop owner Marie-Claire and the customers who visit shop, Catherine learns lessons about unconditional love and faith. “Thorns” is a heart-warming, inspirational story about what happens when ordinary people overcome grief by learning to trust in God’s healing power. As Marie-Claire puts into words so beautifully, “Rather than complaining that roses have thorns, let us be grateful that thorns have roses.””
Dove Foundation: 5 doves. ““Thorns” is a gripping and powerful short film about triumphing over the painful moments of life. It is a compelling movie, and “Thorns” shows that a film can be short yet effective … This faith-friendly film makes it clear that God is with us during our most painful times in life. And the song played during the credits about the crown of thorns is stirring and impactful. We are happy to award “Thorns” our “Faith-Friendly” Seal for all ages. As this film makes clear, roses are always part of the thorns and their loveliness will eventually bloom. This inspirational short movie has earned five Doves, our best rating.”
He Knows My Name. John Lyde, director/producer. Sally Meyer, writer. Ron Brough, writer/producer. 34 minutes. Bridgestone Media Group/Covenant. March 17 DVD release.
Dove Foundation, 5 doves. “The inspiring hope the film offers—that of seeing loved ones again and renewing hope—are wonderful themes. Sarah tells Rebekah they will not see her father again, but Jesus tells her that whoever believes in him shall yet live. We are very happy to award the movie our “Faith-Friendly” Seal for all ages. “He Knows My Name” is a film you don’t want to miss!”
I am Not a Serial Killer. The novel by Dan Wells is currently being made into a movie. Director: Billy O’Brien (The Hybrid). Cast: Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future), Max Records (Where the Wild Things Are) and Laura Fraser (Breaking Bad). Dan Wells interview with SF Signal.
4th Annual Filmed in Utah Nominee Announcement was made on Feb. 14. 2015 The Filmed in Utah Awards will be held March 21, 2015 at the Covey Center for the Arts located at 425 West Center Street in Provo, Utah.
Feature Film：Inspired Guns, Mythica: A Quest for Heroes, Point B, RoboRex, The Christmas Dragon, The Last Straw.
Director of a Feature Film:
|Mythica: A Quest for Heroes||Anne Black|
|The Christmas Dragon||John Lyde|
|Wayward:The Prodigal Son||Rob Diamond|
|Inspired Guns||Adam White|
Utah filmmaker Richard Dutcher sues, says ‘Nightcrawler’ copies his movie ‘Falling’. Eric Samuelsen was hired as a witness reviewing the similarities (Salt Lake Tribune).
Two documentary films by BYU alumni have been selected to premiere at the 2015 South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas. SxSW is widely regarded as one of the top venues for independent film in the United States. One was Brad Barber and Scott Christopherson‘s documentary film Peace Officer. It is a documentary about one of the founders of the SWAT program in Utah, who is now campaigning against the increasingly militarized state of American police. It was also chosen as the Indie Project of the Day on Indiewire. The second is Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made, by Tim Skousen and Jeremy Coon. The South by South Film Conference & Festival (SXSW) will take place March 13-17 in Austin, Texas.
Christian Jensen’s “White Earth” was nominated for an Oscar for Documentary Short Subject. It did not win the Oscar. It is available for streaming here. Synopsis: Three children and an immigrant mother face a long and difficult winter in North Dakota, which has attracted many people seeking work during an oil boom.
New Books and Their Reviews
Courtney Alameda. Shutter. Feiwel and Friends/Macmillian, Feb. 3. YA Urban fantasy/horror. Debut novel. Modern monster hunters, use a kind of camera to find and destroy ghosts. The team is infected, and need to solve the mystery before they are killed. Alameda is a librarian at the Provo City Library. Shutter was one of Kirkus Top Teen Tittles For February
Kirkus: “Alameda keeps the fear dripping from the walls as she plunges headlong into this full-scale thriller. She invents threatening and gruesome monsters, packs her heroes into seemingly inescapable plights, and adds mystery with the introduction of Luca and the identity of the terrifying ghost. There’s even a bit of forbidden romance. A page-turner for thriller fans.”
PW: Alameda makes a strong debut with this fast-paced urban fantasy/horror novel, which sees the last remnants of the Van Helsing and Stoker bloodlines running an organization dedicated to fighting the restless undead … Alameda’s worldbuilding is strong—this alternate version of San Francisco is dangerous and unpredictable—and her characters evoke shows like Buffy and Supernatural. The story has plenty of room to grow, and readers will be left eager to see what Alameda has in store next.”
YOYA: “This debut novel features a dark, compelling story and more than enough gore to please the most demanding horror reader. Micheline is a strong female character with complex family relationships and mountains of regret to complement her unique and troubled family lineage. The supernaturally based action never lets up, moving at an urgent speed as the young ghost hunter seeks to save the lives of her friends and herself while battling a malevolent being that seems to know far too much about her. This book is recommended for older teen readers; the striking cover alone is likely to generate interest among horror fans.”
SLJ: “A paranormal ghost-hunting story that is a standout in the genre …Micheline is a strong character with sharp reflexes that allow her to trap the soul of an entity on film using her camera. Through detailed scientific processes that are richly explained, Alameda has created a unique world of ghosts, reapers, and exorcisms. The setting is vividly portrayed through detailed descriptions of the shadowy ghost world superimposed on the San Francisco cityscape. Though the plot is leisurely paced, allowing space for a forbidden love story, there is plenty of action. Frightening from the first page, this novel is sure to please horror fans, particularly those familiar with ghost and vampire legends.”
Mette Ivie Harrison review: “When I read books these days, I always read as a fellow author. That means I am looking at the craft and the story-telling. And I’m always trying to learn something from other authors. Well, to be honest, that means I’m trying to steal things for use in my own stories. What will I be stealing from Courtney? I felt like her use of language was just superb. For example: “I followed Damian out into an anemic, waning night. Spindly trees lined the wide avenue, shedding the gangrenous leaves of fall. The world smelled terminal, waiting for winter and rot. October in San Francisco was usually warm, but this year, fog frothed over the peninsula, carried by a chilly wind. I crossed my arms over my chest, hugging my camera and belt.” I felt like I was getting all my senses pinged here. She mixed description with emotion and vivid texture. I loved how every word throbs with meaning. And this is just one paragraph. The whole book is filled with quotable bits and pieces, in addition to a great plot and interesting characters. I, for one, did not see the big plot twist near the end and I was glad I hadn’t, because it made me care that much more about Micheline. I’m not usually much of a horror fan and I don’t really care for vampire lore per se, so I don’t feel like I was primed to love this book, but love it I did. Hopefully you’ll see some of Courtney’s influence in my later books!
Phyllis Barber. To the Mountain: One Mormon Woman’s Search for Spirit. Quest Books, June 2014. Memoir about Barber’s spiritual journey back to Mormonism.
PW: “Barber, a lyrical writer who taught for many years in the Vermont College of Fine Arts M.F.A. program, followed the rules of her Latter-day Saint childhood: attended Sunday School, matriculated at Brigham Young, married a nice boy there, and raised four sons with him. But the marriage ends when the kids are grown, largely because of differing opinions about religion. Thus Barber, in middle age, is launched on a quest to discover what it means “to be spiritual, to be connected.” She visits a mosque, hangs out with a Peruvian shaman, and investigates Buddhism, but after a decade away from the LDS church, she discovers that she is held to Mormonism by memory, by faith, by childhood formation, and concludes that she can live with Mormonism’s “flaws” and “prejudices.” Along the way she has a disastrous love affair, remarries, divorces again, and then reconciles with her second husband, a Jewish man who tells her she is happier when attending Mormon services. Throughout, the prose is lovely; Barber speaks of falling off the “precipice of knowing” and of her faith changing shape like a moon. Spiritual pilgrims of many stripes will find this book good company.”
Blurbs: Joanna Brooks: “If you keep the Sabbath going to church, smuggle this book into the pew with you. If you keep it staying home, let Phyllis Barber be your guide. These plaintive essays stride and soar, spanning continents and realms of consciousness with honesty, humility, and humor. Barber reminds us that an aching spiritual curiosity drew seekers to Mormonism in the first place, and that the same aching curiosity may drive each of us onward still. I am grateful for this wise fellow traveler and the gift of her luminous prose.” Jana Reiss: “Phyllis Barber’s sensitive, lyrical recounting of her spiritual journey within and beyond Mormonism will resonate with anyone who has ever suspected the Divine of being greater than we can imagine.”
Shelah: 5 stars. “This collection of essays is all the good things– honest, literary, real. It may be uncomfortable for some rank-and-file Mormons in some places, but I loved seeing the variety of experiences that enriched Barber’s spirit, and appreciated that those things could be seen in a holistic way that enlightened her life as a Mormon, too. I see this book not just as a collection of essays, but as a journeying piece, in which Barber seems to come to a sense of peace.”
Richard L. Black. Maximus. Ensign Peak/Deseret Book, March 3. Historical fiction/inspirational. A bloodied Roman legion officer is sent to Palestine to investigate Jesus, and is converted. Debut novel.
Jennie Hansen, Meridian. 5 stars. “This is a powerful novel on a grand scale with some of the great Biblical epics of the past. Sweeping motivations and grueling battles, both emotional and physical, fill its pages. It brings into focus the political background surrounding the life of Jesus Christ and introduces the moral dilemma facing those who choose to follow Him. Though nothing in this story identifies it as specifically LDS, it follows in well-researched detail the significant events of the last few months before the crucifixion as viewed by humble peasants and powerful leaders. Those studying the New Testament as the Sunday School course of study this year will benefit greatly from reading Maximus. Not only is it a marvelous glimpse of history’s most significant event, but it is a rich and satisfying adventure filled with intrigue and a touch of romance.”
Teyla Branton (Rachel Ann Nunes). Mortal Brother. White Star Press, Jan 31. Paranormal novella. Part of the “Unbound” series.
Stephen Kerry Brown. Redeeming the Dead. Self, Dec. 2014. Mystery. “The story of Winchester Young, a Mormon PI, and his Seminole Indian sidekick. It is full of rare insights into Mormon theology as well as telling insider details into the private investigative business … Between the lines of the ratcheting plot, Redeeming examines the Mormon belief of where spirits of the deceased reside and if they have the ability to communicate with the living. The book also explores the Mormon doctrine of a marriage union suspended by death but sealed for eternity. Redeeming the Dead is not a Mormon book. It’s a PI mystery. It does weave in at appropriate times, Winchester’s beliefs about his religion, both pro and con.” Debut novel, Brown is a private investigator based in Florida.
Andrew Hamilton, AML. ““Redeeming the Dead” starts with the murder of police detective Dick Sharp in St. Augustine, Florida in 1987. The action then jumps twenty-five years to “the present.” Winchester “Winch” Young is a small time private detective (one character calls him a “nickel and dime private detective”) who spends most of his time following cheating spouses. He is also an active Mormon in a “non-Mormon” area who is twice divorced from the same woman. Winch and his ex-wife Tracy divorced in part because she is something of a “free spirit” while he is deeply committed to living his LDS values and covenants. Winch is assisted in his work by two friends: Woody, a mall security guard by day and a Native American activist by night, and a young barmaid named Brandy. Despite the fact that Winch is not well known and normally only handles “nickle and dime” cases, he is hired by Carla Fox, a nationally known romance novelist, to solve the twenty-five year old murder of her older sister Sarah who was killed in St. Augustine on spring break when she was seventeen. Before long Winch finds that his life has become very complicated. His ex-wife and a police dispatcher acquaintance try to seduce him and his client comes on to him. His client is being extorted. Someone tries to kill him. He becomes wanted for murder. And to top it all off his home teacher shows up unexpectedly. Can Winch save his life, his reputation, and his friends, solve the mystery, and keep his covenants intact? I promise you that you will enjoy reading every page of this book to find out … Just about everybody in “Redeeming the Dead” needs some redeeming in their lives. I cannot say what the individual reasons are without spoiling the plot, but nearly all of them do. Besides the “redeeming the dead” that is directly connected to the deceased Sarah and Detective Sharp, Winch, his ex-wife Tracy, his client Carla, his friend Woody, his nemesis Sheriff Deputy Renfro and several other characters need some “redeeming” in their lives. Brown is an excellent story teller who did a superb job of carving into every facet of this book its theme and title. My favorite thing about “Redeeming the Dead” is that its plot and characters are far more real and believable than what I have been used to in most “Mormon” novels … I feel that in “Redeeming the Dead” Steven K. Brown has succeeded where so many other LDS writers have not. In “Redeeming the Dead” I feel that he has told a story and created characters that for me begin to fulfill the ideals laid out by President Kimball and Orson Scott Card. In Winchester Young Brown has created a great Mormon character who strives to be faithful to his covenants, even fretting about them to the point of becoming divorced from his wife, yet who is also a very complicated character … For me that is what made “Redeeming” a great “Mormon” story; that is where Brown’s best succeeds in this book. He has created a real, vibrant character that readers can get behind and relate to.”
Lisa Valentine Clark. Real Moms: Making It Up As We Go. Deseret Book, March 2. Non-fiction humor/advice.
Eric D. Snider review. “Lisa Valentine Clark is one of my best friends, one of the funniest people I’ve ever met, and now a published author! Her book combines two of the things she is best at: improv comedy and parenting. You should buy this book. Like Lisa herself, the book is thinner than you’d expect. (It’s a healthy 182 pages, they just used thin paper.) She talks about her experiences as a mother of five children, as a typically atypical “Mormon mom,” and as a creative person trying to balance family, work, art, and church. Her voice is that of a dynamic woman who sometimes seems to have it all figured out, and sometimes is a barely functioning trainwreck. I say in all sincerity that I can’t think of a mom, Mormon or otherwise, who wouldn’t enjoy this book. (Lisa doesn’t write a lot about religion, but the book is clearly from the POV of someone for whom church-going is part of the parenthood experience. What she says would apply to any denomination.) It’s funny, warm, self-deprecating, and relatable. It’s NOT full of advice and lectures and checklists to make you feel guilty. Lisa is anti- all those things.”
Shannon Hale.The Forgotten Sisters. Bloomsbury USA, Feb. 24.Princess Academy #3. Middle Grade Fantay. Miri is sent to a distant swamp to start a princess academy for three sisters, cousins of the royal family, and discovers a long-buried secret. Publishers Weekly interview with Shannon Hale.Deseret News feature article.
Booklist (Starred): “Action packed and well-paced, the story’s depth incorporates artful negotiation, the importance of education, and citizens’ equality and rights. This final installment of The Princess Academy trilogy certainly leaves room for more books if Hale were so inclined.”
Children’s Literature: “Although ten years have passed since Shannon Hale’s first book in this “Princess Academy” series, Princess Academy, was recognized as a Newbery Honor book, the characters remain fresh and appealing. Readers will welcome this book as they have earlier books in the popular series.”
Kirkus: “Miri, as spunky and smart as ever, returns in the final book of the award-winning Princess Academy trilogy … In a nice, feminist, concluding twist, a prince academy is established to groom a spouse for the new crown princess. Although not a traditional fairy tale, the ending is a happily-ever-after one. Strong female characters and themes of education, negotiation, family and equality are repeated in this conclusion. Hale maintains her high quality of storytelling, with lots of action, plot twists and lyrical writing. The cover is younger in style than and lacks the gravitas of the previous books’ covers. A laudable conclusion to a popular series.”
Utah Reflections: Stories from the Wasatch Frontedited by Sherri H. Hoffman, Kase Johnstun & Mary Johnstun, collects 15 short essays and a poem. The History Press, June 2014. Contributors include Lance Larson, Katharine Coles, Phyllis Barber, Sylvia Torti, Chadd VanZanten, Pam Houston and Terry Tempest Williams
Michelle Paige Holmes. Loving Helen. Mirror Press, Feb. 14. Regency romance. Hearthfire Romance #2.
Marilee Jackson. Midnight Runner. Cedar Fort/Sweetwater, Feb. 10. YA medieval romance. Debut novel. Two stories, first Moira, a mistreated and abused maiden who dreams of a better life and later, her daughter, Isobail, who almost misses out on her chance at true love. Mindy, LDSWBR. 4 stars. “I love being surprised by books, and this book had something new at every turn. I didn’t connect with Moira very much, every move she made worried me. But, that was her life. She was mistreated her whole life and hadn’t learned how to trust anyone. Her choice is always to run away. Don’t get me wrong, I felt sorry for her with all she had to endure, but she wasn’t necessary likable. But, that is what I liked most about this book. Even though Moira’s choices weren’t the best, I still cared about her and those she meets along the way, especially Brian. What a great guy. I LOVED how time passed in this book, and I especially loved Isobail. I would have loved a whole book on her. The book has twists on every page that were very unexpected, but very cool!”
Terron James. True Sight. Jolly Fish Press, Feb. 24. Beholders #2. YA epic fantasy. Set in a fantasy world, the sequel features a new female protagonist.
Mindy. 4 stars. “Enjoyable story, great characters. The writing was consistent and well done.”
Theric Jepsen. Perky Erect Nipples. Self, Feb. 4. Novella. Blurb: “A story of lost love and young cats and high school and regret and rental cars and, well, um. You know…. “I should clear up right now that Perky Erect Nipples is the name of my cat.” Or so claims Isaac in the first sentence of this novella from Theric Jepson, author of Byuck. But regardless of his cat’s name, Isaac has other things on his mind. Including the girl from high school, who got away but has never left his mind.” Note, this is not a novel with erotic content.
Gregg Luke. The Healer. Covenant, Feb. 3. Suspense/fantasy. A Welsh folklore scholar goes on a vacation to Wales, and embarks on a journey of self-discovery and adventure. He gets the power to heal broken bones. Luke says: “Author Daren Fraley brainstormed a brilliant proposal. A while back he came up with the idea to novelize the Jewish legend of the Lamed Vovniks. (The premise of the legend is that there are at least thirty-six righteous men at any given time with enough compassion to stay the Lord from destroying the Earth.) Daren began the series by recruiting fellow authors to write stories that linked a relic from the Old Testament with one of the gifts of the Spirit. His pilot book, Thirty-Six, was released in 2012. He asked me to tackle the gift of healing (go figure) and the story quickly came to life from there. To find out more about the series, go to www.lamed-vav.com.”
Deseret News: “Christian’s intriguing journey of self-discovery is filled with unpredictable twists and turns that leave the question if he will accept his new calling as a healer. However, Christian is forced to find the faith to heal numerous times as he is thrust into situations of violence, illness and acceptance. Luke has developed a well-developed and interesting character in Christian. “The Healer” is ultimately a story of faith, history, medicine and legends.”
Mindy, LDSWBR. 5 stars. “The Healer grips you from the first page and doesn’t stop until the end! I really enjoyed this book and Chris’s journey to find the answers he is seeking and also how to find himself in his new role. I was fascinated by the Welsh history and loved the details of Chris’s travels. I thought there were some very clever twists and turns.”
Melanie Mason. The Line That Divides. Walnut Springs, Nov. 2014. World War II historical. Set in Austria, a US B-17 crashes nearby, and a young woman tries to hide them from the Nazis, and joins the resistance. Debut novel.
Lisa McKendrick. Letters to My Future Husband. Cedar Fort/Bonneville, Feb. 10. Contemporary Romance. College girl has been writing letters to her future husband since she was very young.
Mindy, LDWBR. 4 stars. “This book is very funny. Oh, the things that Sophie thinks. I really enjoyed where this story goes. Even though I was very happy with the ending, I thought a couple things weren’t resolved, and I wanted more letters, but all in all, Letters to My Future Husband is full of laughs, humor, and fun.”
Janiel Miller. Mormons Say and Do the Darndest Things. Lynndyl Sigurd Publishing, Nov. 2014.
Eric Samuelsen: “What I enjoyed most about her book is how perfectly it captures her voice. She approaches every subject sideways, a little off-center. She goofs around with language, and culture. It’s smart without being smart-ass. It’s a book about tone. Genial, always positive, endlessly enchanted by everything absurd about our culture, the book feels like a lunch with my old friend and her wonderful husband Bruce and my amazing wife, sitting in Cravings Bistro, eating their mac and cheese grilled cheese sandwich (can cuisine get more Mormon than that?) conversationally goofing around. Without ever being angry, or vicious, or disrespectful, never for a second remotely mean-spirited, Janiel takes our culture on with affection and insight. I got the book, dipped my toe in, then set it aside for a few days. It took me awhile to get into it, and then I imagined Janiel reading it aloud, and it came to life for me, and once I figure that out, I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed a read more. My daughter caught me reading it, and asked why my lips were moving. I hadn’t realized they were. But it’s that kind of book, a read-aloud. Even if you’re alone.”
Adrienne Monson. Defiance. Jolly Fish Press, Feb. 24. Blood Inheritance #2. Paranormal romance. An explosive battle between the vampires and immortals seems imminent, and Leisha seems to have lost her powers.
DN: “It gives paranormal romance lovers just the right balance of romantic intrigue and action-packed fighting scenes and seems to have been Monson’s vehicle for a somewhat weak plot. For fans of the Blood Inheritance series, “Defiance” does continue the story and develop the characters in a fairly interesting way, including several suprising plot twists that help set up the third and final installment. “Defiance” has the potential to get the blood pumping, especially for fans of paranormal romance novels. But just like with many second books in trilogies, don’t expect a satisfying ending just yet. Monson expects readers to be familiar with the first book, and those who begin with the second book may be a little lost at times.”
Chad Morris. The Impossible Race. Shadow Mountain, March 3. Cragbridge Hall #3. Middle grade fantasy. The futuristic school Cragbridge Hall holds its most popular tournament-the Race: a series of challenges that require the use of the school’s amazing inventions like its holographic time machine. Conclusion of the series.
H. Linn Murphy. Sunrise over Scipio. Walnut Springs, Jan. 5. YA romance. “When barrel-racing champion Tamsin Tucker is seriously injured in an accident, her whole world crashes down around her. She is abandoned in a tiny Utah town, where her leg is amputated to save her life. She feels God has forsaken her.” But then she falls for and teaches the gospel to a non-LDS doctor.
Jennifer A. Nielsen. Mark of the Thief. Scholastic, Feb. 24. Praetor War #1. Middle Grade/YA Alternative history/fantasy. Set in Rome, 3rd Century AD, with the Roman gods real and active participants. “When Nic, a slave in the mines outside of Rome, is forced to enter a sealed cavern containing the lost treasures of Julius Caesar, he finds much more than gold and gemstones: He discovers an ancient bulla, an amulet that belonged to the great Caesar and is filled with a magic once reserved for the Gods — magic some Romans would kill for. Now, with the deadly power of the bulla pulsing through his veins, Nic is determined to become free. But instead, he finds himself at the center of a ruthless conspiracy to overthrow the emperor and spark the Praetor War, a battle to destroy Rome from within.”
PW: “In vivid first-person narrative, Nielsen sketches a slave’s-eye view of the Roman Empire … Set during the reign of Tacitus, the story is true to the political and social culture of the time without committing too closely to its political history. This maximizes Nielsen’s scope for creating page-turning twists while evoking a milieu that retains its appeal for history buffs.”
Kirkus (Starred review): “There’s more to Nic than meets the eye—effervescent, hot-tempered, irreverent and funny, he’s a bracing antidote to jaded teen heroes commenting ironically from the sidelines. Getting out of, then right back into, tight situations without losing sight of his goal—reuniting with his enslaved sister—Nic seizes each day with gusto, knowing his future will be short unless he can evade the power brokers—senators, Praetors, general, emperor—determined to make him their pawn. The fast-paced, ingenious plot, charismatic hero and highly diverse cast of characters—including the ancient, eternal city itself—make this series opener a captivating joy ride.”
SLJ: “A fantastical alternate history set in ancient Rome … Fans of Nielsen’s “Ascendance” trilogy will be clamoring for this new series. This genre mash-up of history, fantasy, and action/adventure is fast-paced and explores themes such as class struggles, familial ties, and the immorality of slavery. Readers will have lots to digest as they quickly flip through the pages to see how Nic will escape his enemies to become a free man.”
Robbin J. Peterson. Going Home. Covenant, Feb. 3. Romance/general. “For eighteen months, Elder John Miller has served faithfully as a missionary in the jungles of Peru. Everything seems to be clicking, including his easy camaraderie with his companion, Elder Kaai, and his girl waiting for him back home. But when Kaai passes away unexpectedly, John is overwhelmed with grief, and his faith is shaken to the core. Why did God let this happen? John returns home to heal from the devastating loss. Determined to leave the past behind him, he struggles to move forward with life to pretend Peru never happened. But Peru did happen, and the memories continue to haunt him, not to mention the confusion he feels over his relationship with his girlfriend.”
Clair M. Poulson. Murder at Tophouse. Covenant, March 5. Mystery/suspense. Gun running and New Zealand.
Obert Skye. Witherwood Reform School.Henry Holt and Co. March 3. Middle Grade Fantasy/Dark Comedy. “After a slight misunderstanding involving a horrible governess, oatmeal, and a jar of tadpoles, siblings Tobias and Charlotte Eggars find themselves abandoned by their father at the gates of a creepy reform school. Evil mysteries are afoot at Witherwood, where the grounds are patrolled by vicious creatures after dark and kids are locked in their rooms. Charlotte and Tobias soon realize that they are in terrible danger—especially because the head of Witherwood has perfected the art of mind control.”
PW: “In this Snicketesque series opener, Skye crafts an imaginative, absorbing tale in which nothing is as it seems. As the story opens, Ralph Eggers drops off his “highly mischievous” children—Tobias, 12, and Charlotte, 11—in front of a deserted building in hopes of scaring them into better behavior. When the children’s father does not return, they seek refuge inside the forbidding structure, only to learn that this safe haven is anything but. The Witherwood Reform School, where they discover they’ve landed, is run by strange adults, haunted by terrifying creatures, populated with puppetlike children, and emblazoned with odd, depressing mottos like “Some things aren’t worth trying” and “Time is a trick of the mind.” Thompson’s illustrations, mostly character portraits, are appropriately grim, and there’s never a dull moment as the siblings grapple with abandonment, loss, fear, and the incredible power of the mind. Skye’s portrayal of their bravery and hope brings a ray of hope to the delightfully creepy story line.”
SLJ: “The fast-moving plot filled with clues will keep readers wondering and surprised at what comes next. An anonymous narrator adds dark humor while providing background information and hints. Skye’s witty descriptions and elevated vocabulary add to the novel’s peculiarity yet may be challenging for some readers. Expect kids to demand future installments. Highly recommended as a fresh addition to middle grade fantasy collections.”
Kirkus: “Skye writes in very much the same vein as Lemony Snicket, with menacing dark humor and outlandish characters. The volume opens a new series, so after plenty of suspense and revelations about the truly awful school, readers can be assured that the siblings will still face precarious circumstances in the next installment. One can almost hear the Tim Curry narration.”
A. L. Sowards. The Rules in Rome. Covenant, Feb. 3. WWII historical/romantic suspense. A spy working for the OSS in Italy gets the chance to pose as a Nazi officer. He is forced into a partnership with an inexperienced radio operator. Deseret News.
Mindy, LDSWBR. 5 stars. “his book was amazing. I absolutely loved it! Every page was a mystery and lead to more suspenseful situations. Bastien and Gracie are fabulous characters. I loved how we were able to see them from the other’s point of view … So many thrilling events take place, I was turning pages eagerly to find out what was going to happen, but honestly, I was almost afraid to know what was going to happen next! I know I can count on Amanda for an exciting book that is well-written and a clean read.”
J.L. Thompson. The Coming FloodVolume One: Enoch in the City of Adam. Leicester Bay Books, March 15. Old Testament historical. The early years of Enoch, with elderly Adam and Cain still around.
Sharon Haddock, Deseret News. “Sobering, challenging and inventive — depending on how the reader interprets his or her own scriptures — this story considers how the first people on the planet might have thought and reacted to their challenges … It’s a creative story written so it doesn’t come off as stilted even though it addresses the long lives of those in this society and their steady but slow progress developing water systems and weapons while Cainites and giants threaten their peace. Thompson is pretty good at this, making what could easily be a clunky story into something readable. For the strong-hearted and open-minded, this could be an illuminating series.”
Stephen J. Valentine.The Lazarus Game. Sweetwater Books/Cedar Fort. February 10. YA Sci-fi. A new technology promises the ability to resurrect great people of the past, but a teenage genius has found the truth behind the deception. Debut novel.
SLJ: “Readers will be hooked by the unique premise of the story, the humor, and the action—especially once Carter, his friends, and the blade-wielding “Hobo Warrior” work together to sabotage the game. Teens will especially appreciate references to popular technology and Carter’s sarcastic narration. A stand-out sci-fi adventure that will appeal to reluctant readers and techies alike.”
Reading For Sanity: 2.5 stars. “Stephen Valentine has crafted a story in the same thread of Inception meets Spy Kids, with a little Hocus Pocus thrown in. Worlds within worlds, lives being drained to sustain the lives of geniuses that should have long passed away, and the intrigue that surrounds it all – honestly, while it was a fast-paced ride, it felt a little jumbled and a little too forced into the mold. Carter is a jerk to everyone around him, and I understand that that was part of the character development, but he is so arrogant, so demeaning to those around him that when the clues of why he behaves like that and the expected character growth emerge, it doesn’t feel real. It certainly isn’t an organic change, and it made me unsure whether I wanted to root for him. Aside from the flaws of our hero, this book was a difficult one for me to love. A big part of that was truly my disdain for Carter — at one point, I was cheering for the Russian mobster — but I didn’t feel like the impetus of the book was as well-explained as it could have been. I felt like the only reason anything was moving forward was because the book said so, and that just makes for a clunky read.”
G. G. Vandagriff. Exile. Self, Jan. 2. (Pre-)WWII Historical/romance. Sequel to The Last Waltz. 1938, Austrians conspire against the Nazis.
Hikari Loftus, DN: “Vandagriff brings readers what is possibly her best work yet. She masterfully weaves a tale of conflicted romance into the pre-WWII era, bringing the terror, sadness and anger of Hitler’s reign out of history and into the hands of readers. Vandagriff does an excellent job balancing fact and fiction.”Exile” is pumped full of tension, action and sweet romance that transport readers back in time. The story is told from the point of view of several different characters, allowing readers a deeper look into each situation.”
Jack Weyland. Be The Lion. Self, Nov. 3. YA. “Abby Rose, a technical assistant for a Broadway play, and Gabe Anderson, born and raised on a farm in Minnesota, uncover a plot to destroy the U.S. electric grid. An attempt on their lives forces them to go on the run, but can they stay alive long enough to stop this disaster?”
Natalie Whipple. Fish Out of Water. Hot Key (UK)/Self (US), Feb. 10. YA romance. Mika is about to fulfill her dream of working at the world famous Monterey Bay Aquarium when her plans are derailed by an unexpected arrival—her estranged grandmother Betty. Betty has dementia, and is no longer able to take care of herself. Betty is in need of her family’s help—and she’s not going to be particularly nice about it. Meanwhile, a potential romance is budding. Mika is half-Japanese, and race plays a role in the novel.
Rosalyn: 3.5 stars. “There were a lot of things I enjoyed. Like her other books, this is clever and clearly written … I thought Whipple did a nice job with Mika: she’s smart (I loved how much she knew about fish) and she’s loyal. I thought the prickly interplay with her grandmother was spot on–I also had a grandmother who was hard for lots of people to deal with, so I know what it’s like to love someone you’re not entirely sure you like. And I liked that Mika’s friendships felt real: complicated and warm and sometimes unpredictable. I loved, too, the theme of second chances: that people could do hard, terrible things, but that wasn’t the end of hope for them. The book seems to suggest that people can change–but more importantly, we can change how we approach people we struggle with. There were some things I struggled with though: I never quite bought Dylan’s change of heart–he did something fairly horrific before coming into Mika’s life, and Mika is rightly horrified when she finds out. But then she finds herself falling for him without really making him account for what happened. There’s also a subplot involving one of her friends getting kicked out by her parents–and while the subplot underscores the theme of dealing with racism/prejudice in our families, it also felt a little unnecessary. The book had plenty of complexity without introducing the subplot, I thought. Finally, Whipple did a little bit too good a job making Mika’s grandmother hateful. I felt sorry for her and her Alzheimer’s and the way she’d let prejudice destroy her life, but I never actually liked her, so it was hard for some of the scenes to have the same emotional resonance for me. That said, I think it’s worth reading: I think it’s a thoughtful, clear-eyed look at the complexity of our relationships when we love (as we always do) imperfect people.”
That’s Normal: “I was surprised to find that of her books I’ve read, I think this is by far her best. Mika’s relationship with her grandmother was so conflicted and nuanced. You got a great look at how horrible Alzheimer’s is, as well as how someone can be much more horrible than the disease could ever make them. What I loved best about it was how her grandmother was a nasty person, but she was not simply painted as a villain. Whipple created a sick, racist woman, but she gave the character reasonable motivations and moments where Mika glimpsed who this woman could have become in different circumstances. I wouldn’t have ever guessed that my favorite part of a YA book would have been the relationship between the main character and her grandmother … Then there was the romance. I’m not going to lie—it was the only part of the book that fell a little flat for me … there was some very clichéd misunderstandings to give some (fake) dramatic tension toward the end of the book. If you read solely for romance, and the contrived misunderstanding would drive you crazy, this one might not be for you. If, like me, you’re much more interested in reading about a diverse set of characters with very complicated, realistic relationships, I’d advise you to pick this one up.”
Catherine Doxey White. Cupcake Girl. Walnut Springs, Aug. 20.
Sharron Haddock, DN: “Cupcake Girl” starts out as a light, young adult romance novel, before shifting into a book about teenage angst and miscommunication, and ultimately becoming a book about conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It’s a little thin for a book dealing with deep topics … (A baptism) is a positive thing, but it’s also very quick, and since Lexie is seriously ill, it’s doubtful she could be baptized by immersion on the heels of a hospital stay … There’s potential here in Brigham Young University graduate Catherine Doxey White’s first book.”
Rachel K. Wilcox. The Eleventh Brother: Joseph in Egypt. Deseret Book, Feb. 5. Old Testament historical. Joseph in Egypt.
Elizabeth Reid, Deseret News. “It’s obvious the author, Rachel K. Wilcox, has done her research. But the wealth of information about ancient Egyptian rituals and beliefs she brings into her novel, while interesting at times, can also cause the book’s pace to lag. Although most readers are familiar with the ending, reading this novel can nevertheless be an enjoyable experience.”
Pamela Stott Williams. What Took You So Long. Walnut Springs, Feb. 2. Romance. “John Marchbanks and Lainie McGuire are two never-marrieds in their late thirties, both active in the LDS Church. He’s the attorney who incorporates her new reception-center business. A convert, talented artist, pianist, actor in community theater, and Primary teacher, John lives on the East Bench of Provo. Lainie, a life-long Church member and dedicated people person, volunteers for good causes ans serves the elderly Single Adults in her west Provo ward. She’s a breast-cancer survivor who appreciates every day, even a bad one.”
Reviews of older books
Nephi Anderson. Dorian (Michael Andrew Ellis). “With Dorian, though, Anderson foreshadows the Faithful Realism of Doug Thayer and others. Mormonism is in the background more than in his earlier works, and certainly more than in Added Upon. Passages that you might call didactic or proselytizing are craftily placed in conversations between Dorian and Uncle Zed. Otherwise, Anderson is tracing the lives of characters who just happen to be Mormon. Dorian is structured well, too … There is much to like in Dorian, but I gave it four stars because Anderson’s writing style just doesn’t reach the heights of other literary authors who were his contemporaries. It just doesn’t compare. His prose is simple and straightforward, having few rhetorical flourishes. It has nothing on that of Henry James, say, or even Mark Twain. But no matter, for Mormon Literature, if he’s not our touchstone, he’s our cornerstone, and Mormon letters have only gotten better since.”
Julie Berry. The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place (Shelah). 4 stars. “While the book takes place in the Victorian Era, these girls (Pocked Louisa, Stout Alice, Dull Martha, Smooth Kitty, Dear Roberta, Disgraceful Mary Jane and Dour Elinor) have spirit to spare. They recognize that the death of Mrs. Plackett might lead to the most freedom they would have in their lives. This is a darkly tongue-in-cheek book that gets all of the details right, and also has a lot more heart than I expected it would when I started reading. I enjoyed it more and more as the story wore on, and was happy to see a satisfying conclusion, with lots of girl power.”
Marilyn Brown. The Rosefields of Zion (Jessie). “This book is in desperate need of a good editor and a major rewrite. There is a dog that changes breeds from chapter to chapter, characters that change ages between chapters, historical details that felt inaccurate, and a very confusing chronology that really distracted me from enjoying the book at all. Not only that, but the plot of the book is based on an antagonist that is cartoonishly evil and a protagonist that is unrealistically naive. The only thing I enjoyed about the book were the beautiful descriptions of southern Utah and Zion National Park that made me want to go back for a visit.”
Tyler Chadwick. Fire in the Pasture: 21st Century Mormon Poets (Shelah) 5 stars. “This collection is full of great poems that my students found relatable and funny and meaningful, and I can’t wait to spend more time with it.”
Tyler Chadwick. Field Notes on Language and Kinship (Shelah) 4 stars. “In the book, Chadwick responds to, or is inspired by, many of the poems in Fire in the Pasture, the poetry anthology he edited. This is a really creative book, with essays, poems, literary criticism, and thoughts on life thrown in the mix. And by “thrown in,” I think I mean, “carefully considered.” This book is such a delightful mix of things, and it shows how one work of art can work to inspire readers to create others.”
Ally Condie. Atlantia (Rosalyn) 4 stars. “I think what I liked most about this book is that, in it’s heart, it’s not about the romance, but about the relationship between sisters: between Rio and Bay and between her aunt and her mother. And I liked that the slower pace allowed it to be more character driven–the readers see Rio coming into her true voice in more ways than one. There were some things about the world-building I would have liked to understand better, but ultimately, I thought it was lovely.”
Chris Crowe. Death Coming Up The Hill (Shelah). 4 stars. “There are 16,592 syllables in Death Coming Up the Hill, one for each American killed in Vietnam in 1968. That might scare some readers, and if I’d known that was how the book was written before I got home with it, it might have scared me off. But these are not your average haiku. The book reads like a novel, and also like a beautiful poem. At one point, Crowe says that it’s what’s in the gaps that are important in Death Coming Up the Hill, and he does a great job telling the story while leaving gaps for us to fill in. I love literary fiction that experiments with form when it doesn’t detract with from the narrative, and this form works to enhance the narrative. The book is a remarkable achievement, one that captures what it feels to be seventeen in 1968 (as my mother was), what it feels like to face a war, and what it feels like to be in a family that’s falling apart. All in all, this is a beautiful, startling, sad, and immensely readable book.“
Eric Freeze. Hemingway on a Bike (The Rumpus). “The 15 essays in Eric Freeze’s Hemingway On A Bike offer a new perspective on what it means to be a literary man. Freeze’s topics range from bike riding to foosball to superheroes to Angry Birds, while he searches for understanding, slogging through the boggy waters of the mundane in an attempt to uncover truths about the human condition.”
Eric Freeze. Hemingway on a Bike (Shelah). 5 stars. “This is a fantastic collection of essays– one that seems to work as a cohesive whole (I read the book in one sitting) since it feels vaguely chronological (even if it’s not), but I would imagine that a more leisurely reading would be even more fruitful. The collection as a whole is sweet, quick-paced, and a little daring. I think Hemingway would approve.”
Eric Freeze. Hemingway on a Bike (David MacWilliams). “The shift among possibilities in the essays makes this a lovely collection. Like a ship that’s beating into the wind, Freeze’s essays, most of which are segmented, zig-zag from topic to topic. The odd title of the collection (and of the first essay), which Freeze notes in his introduction, derives from a mistake a former writing mentor of his makes in recounting an anecdote. The upshot is that the anecdote touches upon themes shared among Freeze’s essays. These include language, memory, masculinity, one’s search for and creation of identity, odd sports, an interest in Hemingway, bicycling, his love of France, some of the characters he meets while on his Mormon mission there, and environmentalism … While reading this collection, I had the sense that I was in the company of an honest, thoughtful, and sympathetic conversationalist, a writer who loves language, family, place, and irony.”
Eric Freeze. Hemingway on a Bike (Brevity Magazine). “The collection starts with the absurd image of Hemingway on a French racing bike, something that makes Freeze laugh: “The thought of Hemingway, this inadequate Hemingway, trying to fit French bike racing to his own brawny code of masculinity I found hilarious.” Freeze covers a broad range of strange topics, from foosball to beards, pro wrestling to Vulcans, Angry Birds to barracudas. Freeze artfully captures not only his meditations on these varied subjects, but his enticing imagination as well. And his playfulness is contagious. With each essay, I found myself transported. I followed him from Canada to France to Midwestern America and back again. I felt invited to step away from the everyday familiarity of my own world for a few pages and examine the everyday familiarity of his world with him, simply because, as he says, “I couldn’t look away.” And he treats his subjects with delight. When pining for a particular foosball table, he writes: “A Bonzini. Just the uniqueness of the word, the unstressed, stressed, unstressed syllables, an amphibrach like in a limerick or a Dr. Seuss book, made me want to say it out loud … It was all I could do to keep the word out of my head: BON-ZI-NI. I felt like chanting it at a football game or naming a pasta dish after it.””
Craig Harline. Way Below the Angels: The Pretty Clearly Troubled But Not Even Close to Tragic Confessions of a Real Live Mormon Missionary (Shelah). 4 stars. “What I appreciate about Way Below the Angels is the fact that Harline is so normal– most other missionary narratives I’ve read have the characters/protagonists converting zillions, or else they end up falling in love with someone or escaping from the mob (or all three). This is a guy whose mission experience was mixed and probably pretty similar to most missionaries’ experiences, and I appreciate the honesty with which he tells his story. Also, it’s funny, which is always a plus.”
Mette Ivie Harrison. The Bishop’s Wife (LA Review of Books). “It isn’t clear whether this level of exposition is a byproduct of Harrison’s background as a young adult novelist or not — although surely even the youngest reader can pick up on some level of nuance. Regardless, any author who decides to transition from penning young adult fantasy novels to adult detective fiction is audacious, and the attempt should be lauded even if the execution isn’t a total success; it is the rare writer who can complete this transition without any sign of struggle. Unfortunately, in this case Harrison’s greenness shows through too often, and the novel’s potential is never realized… . In the end, this whodunit fails because, like her heroine, the author seems ambivalent about her transition. Where the average young adult novel might benefit from full explanation, a mystery, like the one attempted here, will certainly suffer in underdeveloped pacing and loose structure. Perhaps in trying to tell the tale of a middle-aged woman undergoing a profound personal change, while laying out two discrete mysteries, Harrison piled on too much for one novel. A single mystery might have been story enough. In the next volume, let’s hope the bishop’s wife takes a break from hand-wringing and constant explanation and is transformed into the pushy, unapologetic snoop her ward members need.”
Mette Ivie Harrison. The Bishop’s Wife (Salt Lake Magazine). “The Bishop’s Wife takes readers behind the glossy exterior of the Mormon Church and directly into the Bishop’s private—and not-so-private—home and office. While it might take non-LDS readers a minute to catch up on cultural and doctrinal differences, Harrison spells it all out, and Linda Wallhiem is an intriguing tour guide—exhibiting a healthy doubt of the faith. She is a predominantly gentle character, which makes some of her bold actions seem a bit unlikely, but I still found myself deeply moved by her sorrows and galvanized by her anger. Her concerns about womanhood in the Mormon Church will certainly resonate with those following Women’s Rights news around the country right now, though I did find myself cringing a little on behalf of my more devout LDS friends. Whereas I often see those concerns as reasons to stay away, I love that Linda remains in the thick of it and serves as a reminder that women everywhere and in every faith are fighting for the beliefs they hold dear.”
Mette Ivie Harrison. The Bishop’s Wife (Wm Morris). 4 stars. “I ended up liking it a lot more than I thought I would after reading the first part of it, which took too long to set things up and over-explained. I have some quibbles in relation to the portrayal of the Mormon elements — some justified, some simply differences in experience.”
Mette Ivie Harrison. The Bishop’s Wife (Christopher Bigelow). 1 star. “I’m frankly surprised–I don’t think it’s a good book, for several reasons: 1) The writing is OK but not great. Perhaps that’s because it’s written in the first-person POV of a normal woman who wouldn’t be able to write any better. But this also means the prose is only serviceable. I think the novel could have been MUCH stronger and more engaging with multiple points of view. Often the writing is clunky, especially when the author inserts information about Mormonism, sometimes in a forced way that feels like she is just trying to squeeze everything in. The book seems like about 1/4 “Mormonism For Dummies.” There are a few spots where the POV narrator makes some interesting comments or observations or has some interesting emotional responses, but not enough of these to outweigh the book’s many flaws … 2) Several of the Mormon details, both large and small, are inaccurate to an astonishing degree … 3) To me, the novel often comes across as boring, implausible, and/or contrived.”
Brandon Hepner. Pale Harvest (Jessie). “This book had beautiful, dense writing, but I am tired of books about how stultifying life in rural Utah is. Also, while I hate the concept of “likeability” and think that books can be readable without their characters being particularly reader-friendly, I thought that none of the characters in this book was very pleasant and some were rather disturbing. I can see why this book is well-written and deserving of much of the praise it has received, but it was not one that I enjoyed at all.”
Braden Hepner. Pale Harvest. (Mary Sojourner, KNAU’s Southwest Book Review). “With his first book, Pale Harvest, Braden Hepner takes his place as a powerful Western novelist. Hepner is a master of quietly fierce writing. He’s a born-for-it storyteller, his words emerging from “place” as a little high desert spring might. He knows desert. He knows stories. He knows that “place” shapes us inexorably. And in Pale Harvest, he understands the irresistible erotic power of restraint … Few contemporary writers write about work. Hepner fills that gap. His hero, Jack Selvedge, works from waking to sleep, long, grimy, exhausting hours. Hepner writes, “…he worked, the only true salvation he’d ever known. He fed his grief with wrath and labor.” Any reader, any writer who has known the harsh and healing nature of that kind of work will feel seen and known. As powerfully as he writes his characters, as real as their conversations, cruelties and graces, it is Hepner’s passion for the Western desert that drew me most deeply into Pale Harvest. He writes, “Here was a desert not made a garden, a waste place not comforted. Here was a solitary place left alone.” He writes those words not in despair for the desert; he writes them with profound gratitude.”
Charlie N. Holmberg. The Glass Magician (Shelah) 3 stars. “I have just a few quibbles with the storyline of The Glass Magician. First of all, it felt like a series of small skirmishes instead of leading up to a big climax, and that may be because of my second quibble– Ceony wasn’t there for the pivotal action scene that sets up the third novel. As for the romance, I think my expectations were met. I think this book does a nice job with what second books in a trilogy are supposed to do– it rounded out the characters and kept the reader’s interest enough to make them want to read the third book.”
Michelle Paige Holmes. Saving Grace (Shelah) 4 stars. “I’ve been reading books by Michelle Paige Holmes for years, and this was one of my favorites. Grace was an engaging character who understood the confines of her position in society, who wanted to do right by her siblings at all costs, and who had enough spunk and intelligence to try to guard her position. I also liked Nicholas Sutherland’s character, and loved seeing the change he went through at the course of the novel. This book has more plot than the romance, since Holmes spends significant time on the reconciliation between Sutherland and his brother-in-law (and a side romance takes place there). All in all, a fun read, and one I’d recommend to others.”
Dean Hughes. Fresh Courage Take (Jessie). “This was the final book in a trilogy that I have read as they have individually been published, which means that by now I have forgotten some of the details from the first two books. Hughes is a solid writer and his characters are all realistic and engaging. He doesn’t shy away from presenting some of the real conflicts of the early days of the Church, while still treating that past with respect and empathy. My only complaint with this series has been that the historical storyline is much more compelling than the contemporary one and I think that it could have been done as a straight historical trilogy without including the contemporary characters at all.”
Melanie Jacobson. Painting Kisses (Shelah) 4 stars. “As far as I’m concerned, no one writes clean, modern romances better than Melanie Jacobson. She has a knack for witty dialogue, and her heroines always have a depth to them that I often find lacking in romances. Both of these things are true about Painting Kisses. This is the first novel of hers that I’ve read where the characters aren’t Mormon characters, which is interesting because I think it’s also the first novel I’ve read that’s set in Utah. I know that writing romances that aren’t overtly “Mormon Romances” is the trend right now, and after reading romances by LDS authors for most of the last decade, I’m no longer a critic of that (I really do need to write an apology post one of these days about how I dived into reading Mormon lit with almost no understanding of the conventions of genre fiction). but in this case, I think that setting the book in Utah, the issue of whether someone was LDS or not would undoubtedly arise (especially with Aidan, who seems so Mormon). Another quibble– I’m someone who likes to support local artists and my best friend is a visual artists, so we talk a lot about art. In Painting Kisses, Lia seems very judgmental of the tastes and motives of the people who buy her work, who want something as a decoration on their wall and don’t fully understand the motivations behind her art. I wonder if this is an unrealistic expectation of a collector– as a writer I don’t expect the people who read my essays and stories to get everything out of them that I put into them, and while I know that Lia’s life history contributes to her skittishness, I wonder if this view of the role of the artist was something that she might have worked through in the development of her character. But the fact that I’m worried about this shows that Painting Kisses made me think a whole heck of a lot, and a book that makes me do that is always a winner in my book.”
Rebecca H. Jamison. Sense and Sensibility: A Latter-day Tale (Shelah) 3 stars. “I think I’ve made it clear in the past that I am not big on Jane Austen remakes. In my opinion, what makes Austen’s books enduring classics is the cultural commentary they provide, and not simply the romance (I mean, seriously, I’m not sure I’d want to end up with any of Austen’s heroes, even Mr. Darcy). What I love when I read Austen is the way I get a window into the world in which she lived. And if a modern revision of the story doesn’t do that, then the book doesn’t work for me. However, this version of Sense and Sensibility does work. Jamison’s story tackles hard things– she writes about mental illness, women in STEM, mental health issues people can have when they return from war and multicultural marriages, all set against the backdrop of Mormon culture. There were certain plot details I didn’t love (a death late in the novel seemed a little too convenient), and Maren’s character drove me a little crazy (but then again, so does Marianne Dashwood’s character), but overall I enjoyed the story, and think the modern adaptation was a pretty successful one.”
Marion Jensen. Almost Super (Rosalyn) 4 stars. “Jensen’s book has a lot of humor, heart, and action, and if not everything is plausible, well, it’s a super hero story … This really is a fun book: the story rockets along and the characters are funny and likeable. (If some of the adults are a little dense, that just lets the kids shine more). A great book for younger readers.”
Marion Jensen. Almost Super (Shelah) 4 stars. “Almost Super is everything a ten-year-old reader would love. It’s funny, with plenty of action. But as an adult reader, I appreciated the deeper themes of the novel. Rafter, Benny and Juanita come to realize that there’s more in life to being super, and that the way a story has been framed for them their whole lives might only represent a partial truth. They also discover something I think kids might both embrace and fear– the idea that adults don’t have all of the answers. Almost Super was an entertaining read for me, and one that I’m sure my kids will enjoy as well.”
Moriah Jovan. Paso Doble (Shelah) 4 stars. “I’ve read a couple of Moriah Jovan’s romances in the past, and I was both surprised and delighted to have the chance to read this one. These are not your typical “clean” romances favored by Mormon housewives. But maybe they’re the kind of romances Mormon housewives should be reading. Jovan creates larger-than-life characters who encounter everyday kinds of problems. For example, Victoria and her bishop have several discussions over the course of the novel about how, if she wants to marry in Spain, she will likely marry outside the church. This is increasingly true for Mormon women throughout the world, and Jovan’s treatment of the subject is something I haven’t seen in Mormon fiction before, let alone in romantic fiction. Furthermore, Jovan doesn’t shirk from sexy scenes. Holy cow, I feel like I’m getting an education every time I read one of her books, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. These aren’t books that every reader will love, but I certainly do.”
Josi Kilpack Wedding Cake (Jessie). “This was a fun and suspenseful end to this mystery series; I have enjoyed reading Kilpack’s books and think she is a strong writer. She did a great job wrapping everything up in this conclusion–I like the way that each of the books has had its own plot in addition to the ongoing conflicts that have lasted through the series. Sadie is a great character and I loved watching her grow through all the crazy things she went through in each book.”
H. B. Moore. Eve: In the Beginning (Michelle Garrett, Deseret News). “While built on something of an odd premise, the novel does raise interesting ideas to think about. Partway through the novel, Adam and Eve are in their first months outside of the garden and discover cold, pain, desire, and hunger for the first time. They are forced to discover for themselves every aspect of survival.”
Brandon Mull. Sky Raiders (Rosalyn). “Like most of Mull’s books, the most fascinating part here was the world he’s created. The book is the start of a five-book series, one for each of the Five Kingdoms, which practice their own form of magic. My favorite part of the book was his time with the Sky Raiders, but all of it was interesting and quick-paced. If I have any complaint, it’s that sometimes the characters themselves take second seat to the action–aside from being brave, I don’t feel like I know a lot about who Cole is. But the story is such a fun read, I’m not sure that matters.”
Jennifer A. Nielsen. The Shadow Throne (Shelah) 4 stars. “I find myself looking at The Shadow Throne from two perspectives. I’m the mom of ten- and fourteen-year-old boys, both of whom are reluctant readers of fiction. If they’re going to keep reading a book, there needs to be lots of action and fighting. They’re not really interested in the development Jaron’s character over the three stories, and they’re only marginally interested in love. If Nielsen is writing to that audience (and I think she is), then she nails it– this book is nonstop fighting and action, with epic battles. But, I’m more interested in how a character changes over time, and with so much happening in every page of this novel, there’s not a lot of room for character development. So is the book written for preteens or for their mother? If for them, it’s definitely a winner. If it’s for me, the reaction is a bit more mixed.”
Steven L. Peck. The Rifts of Rime (Dave Butler). “Warrior squirrels. Uncertain borders. Scholars studying the language of ants. Officialdom rewriting ancient scripture to conform to new doctrine. Blasphemous wolves. Squirrel poetics versus marmot rhetoric, and the value of structure. A murdered prophet. An insecure poet. An ambitious leader, anxious to rise and rule. A loyal warrior, exiled for honesty. Useless extra body parts. Interspecies enmity … an intricate and noble story, solidly rooted both in the tradition of epic-poetic fantasy (The Lord of the Rings) and in animal fable (Watership Down). My children loved it, and so did I.”
Anne Perry. Blood on the Water (William Monk #20) (Shelah) 3 stars. “Initially, I thought that Blood on the Water did a nice job doing what so few sequels do well– introducing the regular characters in a way that got new readers up to speed without bogging down the story for regular readers. However, as the story wore on, I found that I was so bored. Perry spends a lot of time with Monk and Hester, but not much time at all with the potential villains. The story quickly becomes bigger than just finding a bad guy, because there are many bad guys, but none she makes me care about. And I’m going to be a spoiler here, so don’t read the rest of this if you want to read the book and be surprised, but it turns out that the major villains are people that dedicated William Monk fans already know– they already care about them. But me? Not at all. And if I don’t care much about the villain, and there’s not a lot of character development going on for the heroes, then it’s not a book I care much about.”
Ingrid Ricks. Hippie Boy: A Girl’s Story. (Shelah) 4 stars. “In her memoir Hippie Boy, Ingrid Ricks writes about the years of her life when her mother’s religious zealotry, her stepfather’s abusiveness, and her traveling salesman father’s ability to shirk responsibility all weighed heavily on her. Ricks could turn the story into a heavy-handed “woe is me” kind of tale, but she doesn’t do that. Instead, Ricks works to see the perspectives of both of her parents (not excusing them, but also not condemning them). The book deals a lot with power– religious power, abuse of power, abdication of power, absence of power, and how they play out in the lives of the Ricks family. She tells an engaging, empowering, and ultimately hopeful tale.”
Branson Sanderson. Firefight (Rosalyn) 4 stars. “This one started a little slower than Steelheart for me (after the break-neck first chapter). But it definitely picked up, and there were some fascinating twists at the end of the book. I’m looking forward to see what Sanderson does with the next book–but I do wish he were a little better at writing the romance scenes! (I guess I like my romantic moments tender, rather than funny). All things considered, that’s a pretty minor complaint.”
Branson Sanderson. Firefight (Wm Morris) 4 stars. “Better than Steelheart because it is both more expansive and more assured. I think YA may be Sanderson’s most natural genre.”
Courtney Miller Santo. Three Story House (Jessie). “My reaction to this book was mixed. I think it had a lot of potential but didn’t quite come together in the end. First of all, there is a lot of mystery surrounding the house and why it was built, but none of that ever gets resolved or explained in the book. I was expecting some kind of flashback or explanation at some point that would tie together all the hints and answer the questions, but nothing was really resolved. The end matter of the book included a short story about the house’s origins, which seemed like an odd choice to me. I also felt that the book was simultaneously too long and too short. On the one hand, the inclusion of three different characters with three separate conflicts felt like overkill. Parts of the book dragged and other parts were confusing. On the other hand, this made the book feel like it wasn’t doing enough to give each story a full resolution. I especially felt like the story of Lizzie was confusing–I felt like I missed something at some point, because the end of her story felt rushed and abrupt, and really didn’t resolve the conflict much at all. I just felt like this book was trying to do too much and didn’t quite get there with any of it.”
Linda Sillitoe. The Elephants of Summer (Jessie). “This book was a delightful surprise, and unique enough that it’s hard to describe. I wasn’t sure about whether I would like it or not based on the plot summary. Precocious triplets? An elephant? A kidnapper on the loose? It sounds like it might be zany, but it’s really not. One of the things I thought Sillitoe did best was balancing some fairly heavy topics with a light tone–she doesn’t sensationalize, but she also doesn’t gloss over things either. This family feels real and their conflicts are relatable, even though the story takes place nearly eighty years ago. Some parts of the book feel uneven and a bit choppy, and I thought it could have been a bit longer, but the imperfections can be excused with the knowledge that this is a posthumous publication. I think this is a great contribution to the world of Mormon literature.”
RaeAnn Thayne. Christmas in Snowflake Canyon (Jacob Proffitt). 4 stars. “I enjoyed this a good deal more than I expected. Gen is courageous and sweet and I just fell in love with her immediately and that never abated … I thoroughly enjoyed the book. And yes, it was a little strange coming in on the sixth of an established series. There were lots of couples you could tell had their own earlier books. I wasn’t sure I wanted to wade through all of them so I picked this one as a likely starting point (because I’m really interested in the next series that starts with another of the Caine brothers). I didn’t find this frustrating, actually, and that was very good. I’m actually looking forward to picking up the next.”
Dan Wells. Ruins (Rosalyn) 4 stars. “I’m not a huge fan of dystopian novels, but Dan Wells’ Partials series is pretty amazing. He’s built a detailed, fascinating world that’s complicated and interesting and rich all at once … There were a few slow parts, when various groups were on the run (though I generally didn’t mind them as it was an opportunity to explore more of this post apocalyptic world). There were also a lot of characters–sometimes it was hard for me to keep everyone straight in my head. There as also a secondary plot thread involving the creepy Blood Man that I found incredibly disturbing (and unnecessary?), but it’s very in keeping with the style of Mr. Wells’ earlier books. But for the most part I found it a satisfying ending to the trilogy–one that managed to offer hope without resolving things too neatly.”
More Shelah reviews (I ran out of power to paste them all):
Accidentally Married Author: Victorine Lieske Enjoyment Rating: ***
Spy By Night. Author: Jordan McCollum Enjoyment Rating: ***
Porcelain Keys Author: Sarah Beard Enjoyment Rating: **
Loving Lucianna Author: Joyce diPastena Enjoyment Rating: ***
Lined With Silver: An LDS Novel Author: Roseanne Evans Wilkins Enjoyment Rating: **
Infinity + One Author: Amy Harmon Enjoyment Rating: ****
Miss Armistead Makes Her Choice Author: Heidi Ashworth Enjoyment Rating: ****
Chances Are Author: Traci Hunter Abramson Enjoyment Rating: ***
Becoming Lady Lockwood Author: Jennifer Moore Enjoyment Rating: ****
Longing for Home: Hope Springs Author: Sarah M. Eden Enjoyment Rating: ***
February 15, 22, March 1, 8, 15
Christine Feehan. Viper Game.
USA Today: #5, #27, #62, #127 (4 weeks)
PW Mass Market: #3, #5, #9, x (3 weeks) 20,278, 13,735, 8646 units. 42,659 total.
NYT Mass Market: #1, #3, #5, #10, x (4 weeks)
James Dashner. The Maze Runner
USA Today: #22, #22, #35, #34, #67 (66 weeks)
PW Childrens: x, #20, x (27 weeks) 2783, 2640 units. 20,496 total
NYT Children’s Series: #1, #1, #1, #1, #1 (125 weeks)
James Dashner. The Scorch Trials
USA Today: #32, #33, #40, #37, #58 (51 weeks)
James Dashner. The Death Cure
USA Today: #46, #51, #60, #62, #87 (53 weeks)
James Dashner. The Kill Order
USA Today: #103, #99, #102, #121, x (28 weeks)
Glenn Beck, with Harriet Parke. Agenda 21: Into the Shadows
(Beck did not write the book)
PW Hardcover: #14, #17, #25 (6 weeks). 2949, 2398, 2358 units. 23,666 total.
Brandon Sanderson. Firefight
NYT Young Adult: #6, #8, #12, #11, #14, #13 (8 weeks)
Brian McClellan. The Autumn Republic
USA Today: x, x, #147, x, x
Shannon Hale. The Princess Diaries Series
NYT Series: x, x, x, x, #9 (1 week)
Shannon and Dean Hale. The Princess in Black
NYT Middle Grade: x, #14, x, x, x
Orson Scott Card. Ender’s Game
PW SF: #4, #7