This Month in Mormon Literature, April 2015

Summary: The AML Conference was a success, and now authors are gearing up for the Whitney Awards Gala. Emeritus BYU Theater Professor Ivan Crosland passed away on March 26. Children’s book author 23453182Rick Walton is seriously ailing. Cedar Fort has been recognized as one of the fastest growing independent publishers. The Best in State and Filmed in Utah announced their award winners. The “Sad Puppies” controversy is rocking the Hugo Awards and the SF community. Josi Kilpack’s Regency romance A Heart Revealed has received strong national reviews. The movie Freetown opened to over 100 theaters nationwide, and has received glowing reviews from Mormons, and good reviews from outside as well. Plan-B’s Pilot Program is a new play imagining if the Church re-introduced polygamy. Melissa Leilani Larson, the writer of both works, is nearly having a heart attack. Scott Christopherson and Brad Barber’s Peace Officer won the Documentary Grand Jury Award and the Audience Choice Award at SXSW, and Tim Skousen’s feature film Thunder Broke the Heavens is receiving excellent reviews. Please send updates to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.

News and blogs

To keep up with Mormon Literature news, please “like” the AML Facebook page. I am only getting around to doing these reviews once a month, but I and the other administrators have been putting up news items on the Facebook page at a pace of slightly more than one a day. Most of the comments on MoLit news these days are happening on the Facebook page rather than the blog, so don’t miss out. We have put the Facebook feed on the side of this blog. Also, note that Elizabeth has been putting up the back issues of Irreantum, our currently defunct literary journal, on the blog.

The 2015 AML Conference was held at the UVU Library on March 28. Good quality audio recordings of the sessions can be heard at Mormon Artist, as well as Katherine Morris’ conference wrap-up interview with organizer James Goldberg. For the first time finalists for the AML awards were announced ahead of time. 15 AML awards were presented, as well as the Smith-Pettit Foundation Award for Outstanding Contribution to Mormon Letters to Margaret Blair Young, and Honorary Lifetime Membership awards to Lance Larsen and Karen Rosenbaum. AML President Joe Plicka asked for comments, and Michael Andrew Ellis’ gave his take on what happened.

The Whitney Awards will be presented on May 16. Ballots are due April 30. Last week the Whitney Awards announced its two Special Achievement winners, Margaret Blair Young for the Lifetime Achievement Award, and Andrew Hall for the Outstanding Achievement Award. Margaret remarkably won two significant honors, from the AML and the Whitney Awards, within a month of each other.

Ivan-Crosland-1427730946Emeritus BYU Theater professor Ivan Crosland passed away on March 26, 2015, at the age of 78. Here is a page filled with tributes to a wonderful teacher, mentor, and friend.

 

50bfd9d1b3803.preview-620Children’s book author Rick Walton recently had emergency brain surgery to remove a malignant cancer of the brain.
 Rick is currently in the inpatient rehabilitation center in the University of Utah Hospital. He is paralyzed on the left side of his body and is unable to speak above a whisper. A fundraising effort to cover his insurance deductible quickly met its goal. He can receive notes through Facebook, email (rick@rickwalton.com), and text messages.

CF_Logo_ColorCedar Fort Inc. was featured in a Publishers Weekly article on the fastest growing independent publishers for 2014. Cedar Fort was the 5th fastest growing company on the list, with a 41% growth in sales from 2012 to 2014. Its number of employees grew from 42 to 62 during that period, and the number of book titles published grew from 138 to 165. “The 12 independent publishers that made PW’s fast-growing list for 2014 took a variety of routes to keep sales growing over the last three years. Some embraced new business models, such as direct-to-consumer sales and subscription services, while others used more tried-and-true methods, such as acquisitions and widening their distribution network to spur growth . . . Utah-based publisher Cedar Fort Inc., founded in 1986 by Lyle Mortimer and Lee Nelson, specializes in LDS fiction and nonfiction, as well as general trade titles in the cookbook, clean romance, and YA categories. The publisher attributes its 41% growth to a “total restructuring” of its in-house production teams, according to production manager Heidi Doxey. Rather than dividing itself into traditional departments such as editorial and design, Cedar Fort has genre teams that work together, each focusing on its own titles. “[The restructuring] allows us to respond quickly to trends in the marketplace, both in acquiring new titles and packaging our books to help them stand out from everything else on the shelf in that genre,” says Doxey. The publisher reports it has also increased its sales by “branching out into new areas, such as film distribution, e-books, and audiobooks.” Diana Keuilian’s The Recipe Hacker, a cookbook that offers healthy versions of classic comfort foods, was one of the publisher’s top-selling titles in 2014. Released in 2012, Visions of Glory, by John Pontius, remains one of Cedar Fort’s bestselling titles.”

ULB best of state on blackThe Best of State Awards is a private award organization created to recognize outstanding individuals, organizations and businesses in Utah. It has several arts and entertainment categories. The 2015 winners were announced in March, and will be awarded on May 9. Among the winners are: H. B. Moore for Novel (Eve: In The Beginning), Annette Lyon for Short Story, the late Lu Ann Staheli for Non-fiction, and Tom Laughlin for Documentary (The Path to Heaven, a short film about Tyler Robinson, a young man fighting with cancer, and featuring the band Imagine Dragons).

maxresdefaultThe Filmed in Utah awards were announced at a March 21 ceremony at the Covey Center in Provo. Among the winners were: Inspired Guns for Best Feature, Scott Swofford for Director (Granite Flats), and Arrowstorm Entertainment for Impact Award.

sad_puppies_3_patchScience Fiction’s Hugo Awards Finalists were announced, and controversy is swirling. I feel out of my depth in trying to understand what is going on. The gist is that a group called “Sad Puppies” led by Mormon author Brad Torgersen created a slate of stories and names, and encouraged other people to vote for them, which is not against the rules, but which has upset some. This was the third year the group has created a slate, and it was their most successful. Larry Correia led the effort the first two years. Brad talks about his efforts in lots of blog posts. Here is the announcement of the slate. 
Brad, a political conservative, talks about wanting to celebrate relatable exciting stories, that he felt had been shunned, rather than (leftist) politically-minded literary tales. The slate was very successful in placing books in the finalists. Although some have opined that Vox Day’s efforts (called Rabid Puppies), a similar but more politically ideological slate of nominees, had at least as much effort. [Vox Day apparently rubs many people very badly, while having a loyal fan base.] Another recent Torgersen post: “Stealing the Enterprise.” Brad Torgersen recused himself from having his work considered from the start. Larry Correia received enough votes to be a finalist, but says he declined the spot so that it did not look like they were out for their own glory.

(Correction, thanks Eric James Stone). Mormons nominated for the award include: Carter Reid, The Zombie Nation Book #2: Reduce Reuse Reanimate. Was nominated for Best Graphic Story as part of the Sad Puppies 3 slate. He was also nominated for Best Professional Artist. After one of the nominees for short story was withdrawn, it was replaced by “A Single Samurai” by Steven Diamond. Elitist Book Reviews, edited by Diamond, was also nominated for Best Fanzine. Anne Sowards of Ace/Roc Books was nominated for Best Professional Editor, Long Form. Probably some of the people involved with Dungeon Crawlers Radio, nominated for Best Fancast, are LDS.

Dan Wells, another Mormon speculative author, linked to a a post by Matthew Surridge, writer who was listed on the SP slate, and received enough votes to be a finalist, but then declined the honor. He talks about his disagreements with the SP positions. Google “Sad Puppies”, and you will find lots of blog posts with lots of opinions.

secretservice-bradysamongmormons-issue239-1903aug21-cover-shows-hooded-mormonsMichael Austen has doing a series of blogs at By Common Consent. “Mormonism in the American Mind: Eight Forgotten Classics that You Should Read before they Disappear”. A detailed look at eight ”nuanced, and even sympathetic portrayals of the Latter-day Saints written between 1853 and 1940, which, in my opinion, constitute something like a first tier of good novels about Mormons that nobody has ever heard of.” Michael also hints about an upcoming republication of one of them, The Mormoness; or, the Trials of Mary Maverick, by John Russell (1853).

Anti-Mormon Cards,” on 19th century anti-Mormon literature like A Study in Scarlet and Riders of the Purple Sage, and our current tendancy to “play the anti-Mormon card”, and lump everything into strict pro- and anti- camps.

b871b51e2c0bee9e623c1010fac4b6c2“Eight Hideously Bad Mormon Novels You Should Read Because Perfect Awfulness Is Its Own Kind of Good.” Summaries of eight of the “worst novels in the English language ever to deal with Mormonism”, from 1855 to 1939. “What emerges from this list is a kind of wonderfulness all its own: pure badness that can be appreciated like a fine vinegar. One need not look for literary merit or wonder what the authors must have been thinking. In none of these works is there any evidence that the author was thinking anything at all, resulting in the sort of spectacular awfulness that is much more fun than mere good literature could ever be.”

The Terror and Wonder of Watching Your Book Get Made Into a Movie” (Dan Wells, Tor.com). Dan Wells talks about the process of turning his novel I Am Not A Serial Killer into a movie. “The story of this film starts around six years ago, when the book was first out and I got an email from Billy O’Brien, a director who wanted to make a movie of it. He was an indie director, without a huge studio backing him up, and I harbored not-so secret fantasies of a mega blockbuster, but his letter was just so good—I could tell that not only did he love the story as much as I did, he loved it for the same reasons. We signed the contract and started the long, arduous Phase 2 of any indie production: raising the money. Phase 2 took five years. Finally in January of 2014 an investor stepped in, and we went into high gear on the technical side, putting together a cast and designing the monster effects, and so on. Billy and his team were not obligated to include me in any of this—I have no contractually obligated creative control over the movie—but we’d become pretty good friends, and we had long talks about who the characters were and how the monster worked, and how it all fit together.”

I *Heart* Jack Weyland”. By Living in Zion. Mormon Mentality. “Like first true loves that you never fully shake off, my favorite LDS book author is the first one I read as a teenager. I read his short stories in the New Era, the monthly magazine for LDS teenagers, then at the end of my first and second years of perfect attendance in seminary classes, Brother Davis gave me collections of Jack Weyland’s short stories in book form. Before Brother Davis presented me with those books, the only thing I knew about Jack Weyland was that he made me laugh and feel better about being a Mormon kid. His writing was easy to understand and always empathized with the travails of being a good person in a wicked world full of temptations . . . As I got older, Weyland’s prolific (the man must have had no personal life because he churned out at least one full-length book a year, for YEARS) writing changed from fun and easy to darker themes. His book Sara – Whenever I Hear Your Name dealt with foster care and sexual child abuse, topics I was well-schooled in from personal experience. It was shocking an LDS author was writing about real life problems, from the real world, instead of the sanitized Happily-Ever-After stories that I was used to from Deseret Books and church . . . Like all red-blooded American girls, I loved Charly because it struck all the right notes of romance and tragedy. It was interesting when Charly’s sequel came out, Sam, how many of my friends hated it . Something about the messiness of Charly’s husband remarrying just ruined the perfectness of the first book. It was surprising to realize how many nice women at church couldn’t handle anything remotely messy in a book. They preferred the clean lines of love, marriage, children, death and eternal life with one spouse, in that order with no deviations. Heaven forbid things get sticky. What I find interesting in LDS literature now is that there is no Jack Weyland for today. If there is, I haven’t heard of them.”

Brandon Sanderson Reddit Q&A

susan ertz Mccrindle_zpsueo1bwnoThe Proselyte: General Authorities Read a Mormon-Themed Novel”. Ardis E. Parshall, Keepapitchinin. “Susan Ertz (McCrindle), 1894-1985, was an American-born English novelist already popular and familiar to American as well as British audiences through half a dozen prior novels, when she published The Proselyte in 1933. he Proselyte follows English convert Zillah Purdy and her husband Joseph Hewett through Zillah’s conversion, their emigration to Zion by ship and handcart, and their early years as a happy and determinedly monogamous couple. But they cannot hold out against “compulsory polygamy,” doncha know, and the Danites make a bloody appearance, and … well, you’ve read all that before. The Proselyte is far better written than most, and the interior lives of Zillah and Joseph are as important to the novel as the plot. The author clearly has great affection and respect for the Mormon people, at least to her imagined version of the Mormon people. For all its inaccuracies, the book is not mean-spirited. It is not “anti-Mormon” in the sense that Michael Austin outlines here.” General Authorities John Widstoe, Levi Edgar Young, and Heber J. Grant record their criticisms of the book.

stripling_warrior_xl_001The Stripling Warrior. Comic book creator Brian Andersen has started a Kickstarter Page for Stripling Warrior, the world’s first Gay Mormon Superhero. Here’s the synopsis: “Stripling Warrior stars Sam Shepard, a happily out and newly married gay man who is visited by an Angel from Heaven on his wedding night. The Angel Abish – a rare female named character from the Book of Mormon – calls Sam to become the Hand of God on Earth, tasked with smiting those in need of smiting. Why was he chosen? How does his homosexuality impact his role as a servant of the divine? And how does the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints react when they hear of a homosexual man on a mission from the heavens? Stripling Warrior will explore all of this . . . This book isn’t just about a gay superhero who’s gay in name only. Sam’s romantic life will be prominently featured along with plenty of fisticuffs, humor, an exploration into the mythology of the LDS Church, and of course, heroic banter and super villains.”

The High Valley Arts Solstice Writer’s Retreat in Midway, UT will be held April 23-25. Among the speakers will be Ann Edwards Cannon, Chris Crowe, Dean Hughes, Louise Plummer, and Obert Skye.

Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers, in Sandy, UT, will be held June 15-19. Including presentations by Dean Hughes, Carol lynch Williams, David Farland, Jennifer Adams, Kathi Appelt, A. E. Cannon, Lisa Mangum, Julie Berry, and Natalie Whipple.

Emily Bates interview on The Good Word Podcast. The author of Deamon Heart.

At A Motley Vision, don’t miss William’s series on “Artists of the Restoration”. PART I: THE LDS CHURCH –RESTORATION/SEPARATION&ACCOMMODATION/ASSIMILATION. PART II: WESTERN CULTURE — STUCK IN ROMANTICISMPART III: WESTERN CULTURE — MODERNISM/POSTMODERNISM, and Part IV: Restorationist Manifesto.

New Books and their reviews

failsafe_COVERTraci Hunter Abramson. Failsafe. Covenant, April 1. Romantic suspense. Undercover father/daughter NSA operatives are discovered, and the father is killed. The daughter creates a new identity, becomes a caregiver, and a finds a connection with the son of the woman she cares for. Set in rural Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine. 5 stars.

Denver Acey. The Quantum Deception. Cedar Fort/Bonneville, March 10. LDS suspense thriller. Tanner Zane #2. “Reformed cyber hacker Tanner Stone has been living a peaceful life in Utah. But all that changes when a plane mysteriously crashes into the mountains and Tanner links the “accident” to an ingenious Chinese computer virus.” Previously published as “The Utah Code Breaker.”

Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine. 5 stars. “Filled with twists and turns, this cyber suspense tale holds the reader from the first page. The characters are intriguing and diverse. It may not be as politically correct as some might like, but the author has a firm grip on both the political and cyber worlds of today. Acey has spent his entire professional career in the information technology industry and is responsible for thwarting real cybercrime. Though the story is laced with a great deal of technical material, Acey manages to neither talk down to his readers nor lose them with incomprehensible technical jargon.

Julie Coulter Bellon. Falling Slowly. Self, March 6. Romantic suspense novella. Hostage Negotiation Team #1.5. “When they get back from a mission in Afghanistan, Claire goes back to the Hostage Negotiation Team and Rafe is left to deal with the huge hole in his life after leaving the SEALs. Trying to balance an uncertain future with a new relationship is made even more complicated when a family crisis strikes.”

Rebecca Blevins. Captain Schnozzlebeard and the Singing Clan of Minnie Skewel Island. Trifecta, March 30. Middle Grade Fantasy Adventure.

Michaelbrent Collings. Buried. Self, March 7. Horror. The Colony #6.

Penny Freeman and MeriLyn Oblad, ed. Mechanized Masterpieces 2: An American Anthology. Mechanized Masterpieces #2. Xchyler Publishing. Feb 28.

Stacy Henrie. A Hope Remembered. Forever, March 31. Historical romance. Of Love and War #3. After WWI, an American woman moves to England to take an inheritance, and a pilot returns home to try to save his family’s estate. They become neighbors.

James Harrison. The Cross Bearer. Covenant, March 3. New Testament historical. The back story of Simon of Cyrene, who carried Jesus’ cross.

L. K. Hill. The Botanist. Jolly Fish, March 31. Detective mystery. “In the heat of the desert, Detective Cody Oliver inadvertently stumbles upon a strange garden adorned with exotic flowers. Upon closer inspection, he finds the garden is but a cover for the scores of bodies buried below. Soon, the small town of Mt. Dessicate plunges into chaos as journalists, reporters, and cameramen from across the nation descend upon the tiny, desert town to get a piece of the action. Along with the media, a mysterious woman appears. She may be the only person who has come face to face with the killer, dubbed the Botanist, and lived to tell the tale. If Cody can’t piece together a timeline of the land the crime scene is located on, decipher how the woman’s mysterious past is connected to the killer, and bring the Botanist to justice, he may lose the people he values most.”

Pendragon Inman. Fire Gate. Trifecta, March 31. YA fantasy. Originally published in 2012.

Josi Kilpack. A Heart Revealed. Shadow Mountain, April 7. Regency Romance. Part of the “Proper Romance” series. The belle of Regency-era London is humbled when a rare disorder causes the loss of her hair. Publicly humiliated and estranged from her shamed family, she is exiled to Yorkshire, facing a future she never expected in a circumstance far below what she has known all her life. Humbled and lonely, Amber wonders if isolation is for the best and questions what real love means until she finds a romantic path to a man who offers unconditional love. Lots of positive buzz for this book.

Publishers Weekly (Starred Review). “In this haunting and mesmerizing novel, Kilpack weaves an emotional tale of fleeting fame in Regency-era London . . . Amber’s struggle with her new life, her despair, and her hope for a happy future are stirring and real. Kilpack paints an extremely vivid picture of Amber’s suffering and reawakening, as well as her initial frivolity and callousness. Exceptionally moving and full of rich period details, this delicate romance is a real winner.”

Kirkus (Starred Review): “In spite of the heroine and the hero both being totally unlikable at the beginning of the book, the unusually well-crafted prose draws the reader along, and Amber’s personal evolution makes the book more literary than other romances. Readers of this gentle story won’t miss the steamy scenes it lacks. A very compelling read.”

Bloggin’ ‘bout books. A. “I often dismiss Regency/Proper romances as trite, silly affairs appealing only as entertaining fluff between “real” books.  Maybe that’s true (at least for me) in many—even most—cases, but not when it comes to A Heart Revealed by Josi S. Kilpack.  Although the novel’s premise sounds as frivolous as any other Regency romance, it’s got more going on beneath the surface than you’d think.  True, the topics it explores—the fickleness of the gentry, prejudice between social classes, gender inequality, physical attractiveness vs. inner beauty, etc.—are common to its genre.  That’s not what makes A Heart Revealed stand out.  No, it’s Kilpack’s careful attention to character development and her skill at building realistically imperfect relationships that makes her story special.  Because of this, Amber’s evolution from a selfish, spoiled brat to a concerned, capable woman is not just believable, but also touching.  Same goes for her interactions with the people around her.  It’s all so authentic that I felt Amber’s pains, ached for her sorrows, and longed for her happiness.  Her story kept me thoroughly engrossed, surprising me with its depth.  Honestly, I didn’t expect to enjoy A Heart Revealed as much as I did, but I loved it.  It’s a clean, complex, tearjerker of a romance—one that spoke straight to my heart.”

Mindy, LDSWBR: 5 stars. “This book was beautiful.  The writing was flawless and the characters were strong and developed well.  I loved how the author took her time in helping the reader learn to like Amber, because I admit, I didn’t like her at first . . . I loved how she learned to take care of herself and appreciated her friendship and need for Suzanne.  I honestly could go on and on, but you will need to read it for yourself, and love it as much as I did.”

Jeanette Miller. Heart of Gold. Covenant, March 3. LDS contemporary romance. “A year after the tragic death of her husband, a young widow discovers a horrifying secret. Heartbroken and humiliated, she resolved that no one could ever know. Now, back in her hometown with her three-year-old daughter, she’s ready for a fresh start. But she is unprepared to find that an embarrassing memory, buried deep in her past, is about to resurface.”

Jennifer Moore. Miss Burton Unmasks a Prince. Covenant, April 1. Regency romance. A girl from 1812 Charleston, South Carolina is sent by her family to London in hopes of finding a wealthy husband to save the family from financial ruin. She meets a Spanish stable hand, who turns out to be prince in disguise.

Bloggin’ ‘bout Books: B-. “I don’t read a lot of Regency romances because while they’re fun, I also find them cliché and predictable.  You pretty much know what’s going to happen just from reading the back cover copy.  Miss Burton Unmasks a Prince is no exception. Its basic plot points (mistaken identity, marrying to save the family name, an outsider fumbling through a London Season, etc.) have been done—again and again and again. Originality, thus, is not the novel’s strong point.  And yet, it’s a well-written romance with a fun (if not particularly well-developed) cast, amusing banter, and a light, upbeat tone.  Its strong (but not overbearing) message is an important one—to thine own self be true . . . Also significant is the fact that Miss Burton Unmasks a Prince is a clean romance, one you could hand to your 13-year-old daughter or your 103-year-old grandmother with equal confidence.  So, while the novel contains few surprises (I wanted some family secrets, too, dang it!), it still provides a sweet, swoon-worthy read that’s both clean and enjoyable.  If you’re a fan of this genre, you can’t go wrong with this as well as the other books in Covenant’s line of proper romances.”

Brandon Mull. Crystal Keepers. Aladdin, March 17. MG fantasy adventure. Five Kingdoms #3.

Common Sense Media. Age 9 appropriate. Quality: 3 stars. “If kids have already read some of Mull’s books, they’ll find this series less violent and just a little less complex than Beyonders. If you’re three books into the series, you know what to expect from Brandon Mull. His fantastic and complex worlds, not the storytelling, are the stars of the show. He’s prone to really taking his time to getting the reader to the climax of the story, weaving in too much detail. In CRYSTAL KEEPERS, for example, there are so many levels of bad guy — High King, High Shaper, a supercomputer, Owandell, Nazeem — that we’re carried off in too many directions. It’s fun to see Mull go from his sword-and-sandal epics to full-tilt sci-fi. Zeropolis, with its crystal energy, sophisticated AI, and fun tar guns and battle suits will make readers long for Mull to keep the rest of the series high-tech. Cole seems to be having a lot of fun with his battle suit, and Sidekick the robot will be hard to leave behind when he heads off to another world in Book 4.”

Kelly Nelson. Love’s Deception. Walnut Springs, April 1. LDS romance. LDS war widow falls for a man living a double life.

Brandon Sanderson. Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell. Dragonsteel Entertainment, March 3. Dark fantasy novella. Originally appearing in the Dangerous Women anthology and now available as a solo ebook, Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell is a chilling novella of the Cosmere, the universe shared by Brandon Sanderson’s various series.

Nathan Shumate. Levels. Cold Fusion Media, March 16. Speculative short story collection. Seventeen stories. “From post-apocalyptic communities to existential wastelands, from black comedy to dark absurdism, from visceral shock to Lovecraftian dread, the seventeen unsettling stories in this collection are guaranteed to ensnare your imagination.”

Lauren Skidmore. What is Lost. Cedar Fort/Sweetwater, March 10. YA romantic fantasy. What is Hidden, #2. A Red Riding Hood tale of betrayal and longing. POV switches to the bad guy for this sequel.

Mindy, LDSWBR. 4 stars. “Very intriguing story and a real page turner! I was immediately drawn into this world. Although I have not read What is Hidden, the author did a great job of explaining the importance of masks in the Venesia region, and what happened with Joch and the prince in the first book. I thought it was very cool to have the bad guy be the focus of the story. I know he was villainous, but I felt sorry for him at times, and I could see a change in him developing. Kit was instantly likable. She had a presence that commanded attention and I loved her spunk and smarts. The ending I saw coming, but the very last pages were a surprise and I am excited for what happens next.”

Christina Stoddard. Hive. University of Wisconsin Press, March. Poetry. Won The Brittingham Prize in Poetry. Blurb: “Hive is a remarkable debut collection of poems about brutality, exaltation, rebellion, and allegiance. Written in the voice of a teenage Mormon girl, these poems chronicle an inheritance of daily violence and closely guarded secrets. A conflicting cast of recurring characters—best friends, sisters, serial killers, and the ominous Elders—move through these poems as the speaker begins to struggle with the widening gulf between her impulse toward faith and her growing doubts about the people who claim to know God’s will. Ultimately she must confront what it means to believe and what it costs to save ourselves.” The author grew up in Tacoma as a Mormon, is no longer a member. She is currently the managing editor of an economics journal at Vanderbilt University and lives in Nashville, Tennessee. See the poems: I Am Thinking Of Salmon and Hive.

Jenniffer Wardell. Beast Charming. Jolly Fish, March 24. Fantasy romance. “Beauty has sworn off fairy tales. Her father had spent her entire life trying to throw her and her sister at every enchanted prince he could find, hoping to use her as a tool to get his own happily-ever-after. Now that they’re free of him—mostly—she’s happy working as a temp, helping other people solve their own fairy tale problems. Whether it’s a dragon who’s afraid he’s fallen off the knight wagon or an agoraphobe in the tower who just wants some company, helping other people fix their fairy tale messes is a lot easier than failing at her own. Until she meets Beast. A modern take on the Beauty and the Best fairy tale romance.”

Deseret News. “A funny and clever retelling of the beloved “Beauty and the Beast” fairy tale, is a surprisingly modern story with just enough fairy-tale elements to keep it whimsical. With plenty of banter, romance and just enough deviations from the original tale to keep things fresh, “Beast Charming” can easily fulfill all of a reader’s fairy-tale escape needs while sharing some lovely themes as well.”

Michael D. Young. Nemesis: Knight. Trifecta, March 30. Middle grade fantasy. Book #2 of the Chess Quest Series.

Reviews of older books

Julie Berry. The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books). B+. “I like an author who keeps me guessing.  Julie Berry fits the bill.  I’ve read two of her books and they’re very different from each other.  Her first YA novel, All the Truth That’s In Me, is a spare, but lyrical story about a young woman’s quest to find her voice.  The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place, her newest, is a middle grade Victorian murder mystery.  It’s a wild, zany caper that’s clever, funny, and enjoyable.  The girls’ somewhat blase attitudes about the deaths of their supervisors is a touch disturbing.  Overall, though, the novel is a delightful madcap adventure.  Far-fetched, of course, but that’s half the fun.  If you’re looking for a light, engaging read that’s both clean and amusing, look no further than this AML Award winner and Whitney Award nominee.”

Ally Condie. Atlantia (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books). C. “Ever since I read the premise, I’ve been intrigued by it.  Especially once I figured out it’s not a mermaid story, but an underwater dystopian adventure.  I expected a magical, atmospheric tale that would spellbind me with its beauty.  Did I get it?  Not exactly.  The world of Atlantia is unique, but its rules are dumped in such a rush that the setting never feels real.  The relationship between Rio and Bay unfolds in much the same way.  Their interactions are so quick and flat that, for the rest of the novel, I didn’t feel any urgency for the twins to be reunited.  In fact, flat is a good adjective for my experience with this whole book—the setting lacks dimension, the characters remain mostly undeveloped, and the plot gets pretty blah in places.  All in all, I just didn’t love Atlantia.  Too many leaks, if you’ll pardon the pun.  While I did appreciate the risks Condie took with the story, as well as the fact that she kept it PG, overall, this one left me feeling very disappointed.  Ah, well.”

Larry Correia. Monster Hunter Nemesis (Steve Diamond, Elitist Book Reviews). “This novel is pretty deep in terms of character development almost right from the beginning. It is also extremely detailed in terms of world and mythos building. I often see criticism of Correia stating he lacks nuance, and that he has flat characters and shallow world-building. That is just flat out false. Nemesis proves Correia is actually a tremendously skilled author, and that he has put tons of thought into his world. Numerous times while reading, I would realize that this was the payoff for set up THREE BOOKS AGO. I want—soooo badly—to talk about Frank’s origins, but that would ruin the books for you. It’s so much more complex than you can imagine. One thing Correia has never been accused of is writing action poorly. He’s one of the best in the industry. There is no debating this. Nemesis may be Correia’s most action-packed novel, if you can believe it. And most violent. Geez. What I liked most about the novel, though, was the character development. To me, any book is pointless without good characters who grow. Franks is handled impressively well, and I love that most of his dialogue consists of one-liners. The side characters really make Nemesis a homerun, though . . . Monster Hunter Nemesis is Larry Correia’s best Monster Hunter novel by a long-shot—and that isn’t meant to be insulting to his other novels in the series. Nemesis is simply a superior novel in every respect, truly a representation of how much Correia has grown and evolved as an author. But most importantly, Monster Hunter Nemesis is the most fun and entertaining novel I’ve read in years.”

Amy Finnegan. Not In the Script (Rosalyn) 4 stars. “Not in the Script, is adorable–exactly the kind of YA contemporary romance that I like reading . . . I thought the book was a fun insider look at a Hollywood set (Finnegan’s brother has worked on several such sets, and Finnegan visited several while writing the book). But really, what Finnegan excels at is the slow-burning romance between Emma and Jake. The two are both so likeable–and human–that it’s hard not to root for them, despite all the obstacles to their relationship. More than that, the book is clean–I wouldn’t hesitate to hand it to any teen (or even pre-teen) that I know.”

Michele Paige Holmes. Loving Helen (Deseret News). “Holmes explores human nature and hearts through clever dialogue. Her characters delight with their strengths and charms but frustrate with their inability to see and communicate the truth.”

Janet Kay Jensen. Gabriel’s Daughters (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine). 5 stars. “Trust and security issues play a major role in this novel. As do several modern hot button issues including race, homosexuality, polygamy, sexual predators, and homeopathic medicine. Jenson has a light touch and takes a more academic and philosophic approach than a dogmatic or moral one to these issues. With strong characterization, the author gives a picture of many pieces of America from a rural western community locked in the past with its joys, sorrows, and abuses, then a low to middle class, big city, black neighborhood, a sophisticated pent house and artistic life style offered in Minneapolis, a backwoods southern community straddling the line between the old and the new, to bits and pieces of Salt Lake City with its recognition of its changing demographics”

Treg Julander. Until Murder Do Us Part (Doug Gibson, Ogden Standard Examiner). “It seems like two novellas fitted into a novel. The first is a better-than-average legal thriller mystery set in Washington D.C. in which rising blue-chip attorney Mike Kingston is thrust into chaos when his wife, Helen, dies in bed, smothered to death. Mike, who has a history of sleepwalking and violence, is charged by prosecutors with her murder. Working with his firm, his lawyers prepare a defense while he ponders the possibility he did kill his wife in his sleep and tries to keep life stable for his toddler daughter, Victoria. This part of the novel flows very well and has a strong reader payoff when Mike is exonerated at the preliminary hearing. At that point, Mike worn out and depressed over the past several months of fear and uncertainty, packs his daughter and returns to his hometown of Plain City, Utah, to live with his mother while he decides to sort out his life. This second “novella” is where “Until Murder Do Us Part” suffers badly. With the opening 100 or so pages, Julander has created an entertaining, in a Scott Turow type of way, legal mystery. One strong scene has Mike’s lawyers discussing the various pros and cons of a sleepwalking defense in his murder case. Another strong subplot involves Mike and his firm suing a toy manufacturer. Mike Kingston is a well-developed character. Others are not as well fleshed out and scores of pages could be added to get better acquainted with Mike’s slain wife, Helen, his colleague and best friend Craig Stone, a firm receptionist, Diane Stratton, who Mike seems to be attracted to, as well as a prosecutor, two persistent detectives, and other characters, including Mike’s in laws and mother . . . In decades of reviewing books, I don’t think I have ever encountered a novel that changed tone and pace so abruptly as Julander’s did. It’s a risky gambit, and it didn’t work. Treg Julander shows promise as a legal fiction writer. “Until Murder Do Us Part” needs an extensive rewrite. The Utah scenes should be taken out and 100 to 200 pages added to develop characters, provide more legal scenes for general readers, expand on the sinister character of Mike’s rich, hated father in law, and include the clever ending … but keep it all in Washington D.C.”

Treg Julander. Until Murder Do Us Part (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine). 3 stars. “In spite of some glaring “first book flaws” and its predictability, this is an engrossing, fast paced read. There is an element of horror to the conclusion even though aficionados of suspense novels will see it coming. Perhaps knowing makes it more wrenching.”

Gregg Luke. The Healer (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine). 5 stars. “From biblical times there have been tales of a semi-mortal person who appears to rescue or heal others at critical times. Most cultures have adopted some version of the Apostle John story and adapted it to their own folklore. The Healer by Gregg Luke is this kind of story. There is no pretense that Chris Pendragon is John though there are similarities to the suppositions of many concerning the Apostle who was to tarry until the Savior’s return. Instead he is an ordinary man who on finishing school and his first-year professorship decides to treat himself to a vacation in Wales to rest and find himself. He finds far more than he bargained for . . . This is one of those fantastic stories the reader can’t put down. The characters are an interesting collection of people with widely varying traits and beliefs. It will draw in the skeptical as well as those who dote on the speculative. The author creates a realistic glimpse of modern Wales with lingering hints of its colorful past. It’s a book of choices; good versus evil, belief versus unbelief, tradition versus exploring something new, and choice versus destiny.”

Gerald N. Lund. A Generation Rising (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine) 4 stars. “The book is fascinating and gives a solid picture of European history leading up to the war and a people divided into strict social classes. To a large extent A Generation Rising is more history and backfill than novel. It is well researched and carries a strong message concerning dealing with trials and the strength that is gained from passing through hardship. It exposes how vindictiveness in victory, as was the case with the Versailles Treaty, leads to the festering of wounds. This volume lays a firm foundation for the remainder of the series which will eventually link with Lund’s previous series about the San Juan pioneers.”

Deborah Lytton. Silence (Mindy, LDSWBR). 4 stars. “Silence is a beautiful story.  I was intrigued with the way it was told, present tense first person.  I thought it was a perfect way to really get to know what the characters were thinking and I was immediately in the situation with them.  I loved Stella’s journey and Hayden’s as well, in finding their way back.  I loved how Hayden took care of Stella, and how he wanted to give her 17 days to teach her how to hear the world around her without sound.  Very sweet.  Hayden’s story was heartbreaking, but it helped me understand him even more.  He had a presence about him that was so kind and protective.  Both Stella and Hayden were hesitant to really admit they cared deeply about each other.  Hayden being hurt by his mother and Stella still upset about her parent’s divorce.  I felt for Stella too after her accident.  I couldn’t imagine losing my hearing, and being faced with that. Silence is a great story that you and your teen will enjoy.  It is a clean book, that will pull at your heartstrings.”

Melanie Mason. The Line That Divides (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine) 4 stars. “First time author Mason has produced a noteworthy World War II novel that straddles the line between adult and young adult fiction.”

Clair M. Poulson. Murder at Tophouse (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine). 5 stars. “One of his best”.

A. L. Sowards. The Rules in Rome (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine) 5 stars. “The story is plotted well and ends with a satisfying twist. There is more violence than some readers may be comfortable with. Rome is not the usual setting for a World War II story, but this story stands as a grim reminder that Hitler’s Germany was not the sole aggressor in that conflict. From both a solid historical standpoint and that of a compelling story, The Rules in Rome is novel not to be missed.”

Douglas Thayer. Will Wonders Never Cease (Jessie Christensen) 3 stars. “Thayer’s short stories were among some of the first works of Mormon literature that I ever read, and I loved them. I’ve read almost all of his work during the last decade or so–some I’ve enjoyed and some I really haven’t. I wasn’t sure about this book before I read it; the subtitle and the obvious moralizing agenda put me off a bit. However, it turned out to be better than I thought it would be and I actually enjoyed reading it. Some of his books about teenage boys have not felt very realistic too me, but I felt like he got the voice of his protagonist right this time. That was important since this book has a somewhat thin plot and is mostly a character study. I think it would be interesting to hear the same story from the point of view of his mother since she plays such a large role in this book.”

G. G. Vandagriff. Exile (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine) 5 stars. “Exile is a strong and touching story which details not only many little known details of World War II, but shares an intimate knowledge of European politics and social customs. I didn’t feel as strongly attached to the characters as I did in The Last Waltz, but still found them interesting and well developed. The author did a superb job of melding together the various plot lines and intrigues leading to Austria’s takeover and the attempt by the Nazis to rule of all Europe.”

Theatre

Pilot-ProgramMelissa Leilani Larson. Pilot Program. April 9-19, with shows Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 4 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. in the Studio Theatre at Rose Wagner Center for Performing Arts in downtown Salt Lake City. What if you were called to serve in the restoration of polygamy? You could blog about it. An intimate look at first love, second wives and last chances. Featuring April Fossen, Mark Fossen and Susanna Florence Risser.  Directed by Jerry Rapier.

Plan-B blog posts by Melissa and the actors. The Cultural Hall interview with MelissaUTBA interview with Melissa. The Utah Review preview by Les Roka. Salt Lake Tribune preview by ‪Ellen Fagg Weist.

Exploring Polygamy through the Living Room Drama”, by Melissa Leilani Larson. Dawning of a Brighter Day.

dt.common.streams.StreamServer.clsReview by Ann Poore at 15 Bytes. “A husband, his wife – and a sister wife: not such a peculiar scenario in Utah. But LDS Church mandated? Again? That’s the intriguing premise of Plan-B Theatre’s excellent world-premiere play, “Pilot Program.” Set in 2019, the plot centers around a hopelessly childless middle-aged LDS couple who are called upon by their church to participate in a new program to restore polygamy . . . There is nothing “Big Love” about this work by Utah playwright Melissa Leilani Larson. It is a considered, thoughtful look at what polygamy might do to a mostly fulfilled contemporary marriage between equal partners. The cast of three is superbly directed by Jerry Rapier; Phillip Lowe’s costume designs are wonderful and Jesse Portillo’s lighting perfect. Randy Rasmussen’s cozy, comfortable living-room set, with its multilevel hanging lights makes a major impression. April Fossen is excellent as the academic and author of several books who ultimately loses her perfect (or is it?) marriage to a sister wife. She sheds tears at appropriate moments and makes us really feel her pain as her life crumbles around her. Mark Fossen, April’s real-life husband, is ideally cast as the puzzled but ultimately willing Mormon male in this situation. His genuine support of his first wife is palpable; his attraction to his second clearly manifest as the relationship grows. This part is extremely well acted.”

Review by Sara Katherine Staheli Hanks, ‪Feminist Mormon Housewives. “The play isn’t a debate, and it doesn’t come across as a political or religious commentary, either, at least not to me. As Larson made clear in a post-show Q&A, she wanted the entire play to be driven by the characters as she understood them, not by a certain message or agenda she wanted to get across. I think she was successful in this. When the play ended, the only thing I knew for sure about what I’d just seen is that it was complex. It was rich. There’s room for any interpretation the viewer wants to bring to the show, as well as room to have those interpretations questioned. This is one of the best things that literature can do, and I am so impressed with Larson’s ability to communicate so many messages that all felt authentic and believable. Final verdict: go see this play if you are at all able to do so! The audience was informed at the beginning of the show that the run time was 80 minutes with no intermission, and by the time the lights fell completely, I was so confused — I thought they weren’t doing an intermission – only to find out that the entire 80 minutes had passed; I was so absorbed in the story and the acting (such great acting!) that I hadn’t even realized how much time had elapsed. This would be an evening well-spent for any theater-going Mormon folk in the Salt Lake area.”

Barbara M. Bannon, Salt Lake Tribune. “Why they ultimately accept Abby’s plan is one of the conundrums of Larson’s play. Abby is the narrator, so we can get into her head, but Jacob and Heather never reveal why they are suddenly willing to radically remake their lives. The audience is asked to take a great deal on faith, especially because these are three very bright, articulate people; they should grapple with the consequences longer before making their choices. How Larson feels about these choices is also left unresolved. There are both positive and negative results. Yet “Pilot Program” is definitely thought-provoking, the kind of play you keep revisiting after you leave the theater. Certainly a lot of the reason is the strength of this production. The intelligent, empathetic performances of the three actors and Jerry Rapier’s intuitive direction more than compensate for the limitations in Larson’s script. April and Mark Fossen translate their overt and nuanced actions and reactions as a married couple into compassionately complete portraits of Abby and Jacob. . . . Larson’s play poses intriguing questions about faith and choice. Its “triptych of plural love and uncertainty” is imperfect but haunting.”

Dave Mortensen, UTBA. “The play is good. You should attend. Not a lot of tickets left . . . The script succeeds . . . Playwright Melissa Leilani Larson is no stranger to the awkward task of exploring faith in her plays through uncomfortable premises. Audiences may remember Little Happy Secrets, which introduced us to Claire, a faithful Mormon girl falling in love with her best friend Brennan. It was a difficult sell to both the Mormon and gay community; but once they got into the theatre, things changed. Larson accomplishes the same in Pilot Program, too. Regardless of your feelings on polygamy or Mormons, you’re going to like this show . . . You’re going to like Abby. And Jacob. And Heather. That’s the key. Each of the actors is a pillar in this production. April Fossen as Abby brings a depth of thought in each crafted monologue that has me aching when she’s in pain, and smiling softly when she isn’t. Mark Fossen’s Jacob is a bit peculiar at first—void of any real struggle before the wedding night (though his silent monologue in the first three minutes says volumes)—as he accepts the call with a scoop of responsibility and teaspoon of curiosity for what this new calling might mean. Risser’s performance as Heather is natural and purposed. Her spiritual confession pulled my heart to my sleeve, and her scolding words in the end left it torn. I can almost imagine Larson sitting on her couch interviewing each of these characters. Learning their quirks, likes, tastes, pet peeves, and mannerisms. She helps us scoot past the idea that we’re watching a play about Mormons. Instead we’re watching a play about people who happen to be Mormon. Same thing with polygamy. We’re not watching a play about polygamists; it’s a play about people who happen to be practicing polygamy . . . Even with all these production elements coming together, in the end the characters—the people—are the focus of the story. That’s actually what attracts me to a lot of Plan-B’s work. They focus on telling good stories and helping us see things from a new perspective. Melissa Leilani Larson is a good fit for them. She’s got a lot of it. Perspective, that is.”

Chelsea Kilpack, SLC Feminist.

Les Roka, Salt Lake Magazine. “A truly groundbreaking treatment of an LDS experiment of polygamy that communicates silence and awkwardness bravely in a most subtly subversive way. Larson’s script has a steady organic feel to it. Pilot Program’s humor, loneliness and quiet, yet hugely important, questions of faith echo the artistic and intellectual depth found in the works of great playwrights such as Ibsen, Strindberg and others. Larson is astute here in representing the ever-shifting underlying emotional responses which alternate between hesitating and agreeing to participate in the program. And, in the intricately handled direction of Jerry Rapier, the cast of Mark and April Fossen and Susanna Florence Risser convey a completely different picture of polygamy than what is seen in the Sister Wives reality TV series or HBO’s Big Love. Indeed, one of the most astute observations comes from another exceptionally gifted Plan-B playwright, Matthew Ivan Bennett, who noted in a Facebook post, that “from its long opening crush of silence, to its whiff of summer-time attraction, to its loneliness and faith, Pilot Program will make you wonder what the limits of your relationships are, and whether human beings are meant for monogamy.”

Plan-B Theatre‪’s latest eBook, NEW PLAYS VI, is available at Smashwords and Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. It includes RADIO HOUR EPISODE 9: GRIMM and A/VERSION OF EVENTS by Matthew Ivan Bennett, CHRISTMAS WITH MISFITS by Julie Jensen, MARRY CHRISTMAS by Elaine Jarvik, MAMA by Carleton Bluford and PILOT PROGRAM by Melissa Leilani Larson.

The BYU Department of Theatre will be honored at the 47th annual national Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival April 13-18 . . . BYU’s “Single Wide” was honored with a Michael Kanin Playwriting Award. The new, original musical was composed by Jordan Kamalu, a BYU student, with the book and additional lyrics written by George Nelson, a BYU professor who teaches playwriting. “It’s safe to say that BYU made the biggest splash at the festival this year,” Henry said. “I know from his students’ work that George is a great playwriting teacher, and it was very gratifying to see him honored for his own work . . . “Single Wide” will have a second life when it is staged July 7-27 at the New York Musical Theatre Festival, where the production will have a substantial budget and will be seen by the New York industry and area theatergoers . . .. The musical will be directed at the prestigious annual event by a BYU graduate, Jeff Whiting, who worked closely with the director/choreographer Susan Stroman on such Broadway hit shows as “The Scottsboro Boys,” “Big Fish” and, recently, “Bullets Over Broadway.” “From the first page of dialogue that I read of ‘Single Wide,’ I recognized immediately a unique point of view and style in the writing of this heartwarming story,” Whiting said. “It’s got all the right combination of elements: really fun music, compelling characters and a heart at the core.” (Deseret News).

The Season of Eric” at Plan-B Theatre: A Milestone in Mormon Drama.” Review Essay by Callie Oppendisano. BYU Studies Quarterly, 54:1, 2015. Free PDF download. A long critical study of the five Eric Samuelsen plays produced by Plan B Theatre for the Season of Eric. “It is rare, even for the most successful contemporary playwrights, to have a full season devoted to their work at a major theatre company. That is one reason why a full season of five Eric Samuelsen plays at Salt Lake City’s Plan-B Theatre is noteworthy. Another reason the so-called “Season of Eric” is noteworthy is because it marks an important mile- stone in contemporary Mormon theatre. Never before has a Mormon playwright so successfully partnered with a professional theatre company to produce so many new works. These works are influencing the Mormon theatre canon and assisting in the evolution of the Mormon theatre aesthetic. Samuelsen is demonstrating that Mormon theatre is becoming more dramaturgically diverse. His work is influenced by other countries, languages, and genres; it takes a hard look at politics and economics and the culture from which they come. His art form is capable of playing to a seasoned critical audience, one that leans toward the belief that theatre can and does lead to social change.  At first glance, Samuelsen and Plan-B Theatre’s decade-old partnership is rather unexpected. Samuelsen is a retired Brigham Young University professor who proclaims a devout belief in and loyalty to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Plan-B Theatre is a secular theatre company in Salt Lake City devoted primarily to nurturing new work by Utah dramatists. Together they join forces in their common desire to expose what they see as social and political ills. “The Season of Eric” demonstrates the width and breadth of what this kind of artistic collaboration can bring to a Utah audience: theatre that is relevant, thought provoking, entertaining, and, at times, igniting.”

Omar Hansen. This Castle Needs a Good Scouring. Echo Theatre, Provo. Feb. 27-March 20. Comic retelling of Cinderella.

Herald feature on Jeffery Blake and the Echo Theatre in Provo.

Film

1493421_487624414706407_1867845941577123512_oFreetown. Garrett Batty, director, producer, co-writer. Adam Able, producer. Melissa Leilani Larson, co-writer. National release on April 8, to Three Coin Productions. About native Liberian missionaries fleeing a civil war in the early 1990s. To be filmed in Africa. Melissa Leilani Larson, screenplay. LDS FF, Feb. 2015. Screenings in March. Release in April 8, 2015, to over one hundred screens nationwide.

Here is a round-up of Freetown movie reviewsFreetown filmmaker interviews: The Good Word, The Cultural Hall, Mormon Artist.

photo-original Peace Officer, a documentary by Scott Christopherson and Brad Barber, won the Grand Jury Award and the Audience Choice Award at the South By Southwest Film Festival (SXSW). Variety also named it as one of the top thirteen breakout films to watch from the festival.   The 22nd annual SXSW Film Festival screened over 150 feature films, including 102 world premieres, 14 North American premieres and 11 U.S. premieres, with 62 first-time directors.

1500399Thunder Broke the Heavens. Tim Skousen, director/writer. Jeremy Coon, producer. Appeared at the Dallas Film Festival. “Tim Skousens’ film, Thunder Broke the Heavens is the type of coming age drama that keeps you on the edge of your seat and ultimately breaks your heart. Brutal and tragic circumstances force 13-year-old Samantha and her 6 year-old brother William Paul to be placed in the foster care system. As their new home becomes increasingly more abusive, they steal some supplies (including a guitar) and decide to run away. They find an abandoned shack in the woods and plan to make a life for themselves there. Things start out pretty well for the pair, but alone in the woods with out medication and adult supervision things start to unravel quickly. The food runs out and William Paul becomes ill. Samantha has some tough decisions to make and little time to make them.”

Truth On Cinema: “Films like this are the reason I love what I do. They capture the essence of life; its hardship, its complexity, and the beauty found by digging through it all. They do more than speak to us; they connect to us. They invite us into something more. Despite heart-rending subject matter, Thunder Broke the Heavens is a triumphant celebration of the human experience, as told through the innocent and afflicted eyes of two children. It reminds us that tragedy, while lingering and bitter, is limited in its power and scope . . . Were it only a grim examination of loss, this would be a notable film. A firm but gentle grip on hope, however, carries Thunder to the pinnacle of narrative experience. Like a child, it is an unpredictably brilliant source of delight guided by determined whim. From its jarring first steps to its breathtaking finale, this film holds nothing back. It is elegant in its simplicity and strong in its declarations: the proverbial “hard place” redefined as home. By capturing and heightening moments of innocent ecstasy, soiling them with reality and overcoming them with love, Thunder drops its audience into a world that is too familiar to be comfortable and too real to be overlooked. In crafting his script, writer/director Tim Skousen is careful to tatter but not tear the psyche, coupling and juxtaposing sounds and images with unnerving skill. Grim dialogue is met with jubilance onscreen, while looming tragedy rests easily on a bed of angelic song. This harmony of contradictions builds over 90 minutes into a conclusion so perfectly gentle that I never dared imagine it possible, a single word with the power to shake the soul. We hang in blissful darkness as that word reverberates within us, a seed buried under ash and waiting for spring. And then Spring comes. Extended through the credits, Thunder is the very thing it promises its heroes: Hope. Renewal. A second chance. With a simple glance toward sun-soaked stone walls and a steely gaze from its heroine, this film reinvents and prolongs itself.”

Boomstick Comics: 4 out of 5 stars. “This is an uplifting film about self-preservation and self-discovery. The acting was strong across the board, but the main actress Alexandra Peters, who plays Samantha, was outstanding . . . Up until the ending of the film, I would have said that Peter’s performance was the primary thing carrying an otherwise formulaic film.  Children run away. At first they revel in their freedom (queue the montage of kids having fun).  Then, certain challenges require them to return to civilization. But the film’s last scene changed my perspective altogether.  Although the progression of the film remains predictable, it is Samantha’s final interpretation that completely redefines those scenes.  Once she shares her perspective about her experiences with the audience, the film changes on a dime.  This is not a movie about survival. It is a movie about life. And in this film, those are two very different things.”

Mythica: A Quest for Heroes, by Kynan Griffin and Jason W Faller (Arrowstorm Entertainment), is currently in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign. It was picked up by CONtv as its first ever original feature film.

The Girl Who Wanted to do Something Big”. A short film about a girl named Beth who wanted to do something big. Written and directed by Dennis Agle Jr. Produced by Ken Agle. Starring Alexandra Agle, Curtis Killpack, Sophie Agle and JP Agle. Winner, family short film category, jury and audience choice, LDSFF2015. Click on the link to see the 6 minute film on YouTube.

Dennis Agle on the LDS Film Festival.

Christian Vuissa talks to Mormon Artist about the LDS Film Festival.

BYU’s Motion Picture Studio (MPS) was opened in 1953 by Judge Whitaker.  Over the years, MPS became more closely aligned with Church AV, and BYU established a new film program in the 1980’s which was housed at the MPS.   Since that time theatre and media students have been producing their class and capstone film projects.  The department often receives requests from former students to get copies of their films.  In addition, current and prospective students have asked to see some samples of films our students have produced.  These have been difficult to copy and at times, hard to find!   In the past year and in celebration of the HFAC 50th anniversary, Kyle Stapley has been working on a website to showcase the best student films from BYU’s media arts program as well as classics from the MPS.  The oldest film on the site is from 1971, Ice Cream and Elevators.  The site also includes Johnny Lingo and The Phone Call, as well as all the award winning animation shorts.  The website will be a place to go to get an idea of the talent of BYU media arts students as all as a place where students can share their work.  A huge shout out to Kyle Stapley who put the site together.  See your favorite student films and MPS classics at studentfilms.byu.edu.

Bestsellers

March 22, 29, April 5, 12, 19

James Dashner. The Maze Runner

USA Today: #58, #59, #50, #54, #38 (71 weeks)

NYT Children’s Series: #1, #1, #2, #2, #2 (130 weeks)

James Dashner. The Scorch Trials

USA Today: #59, #53, #46, #51, #39 (56 weeks)

James Dashner. The Death Cure

USA Today: #89, #75, #71, #78, #77 (58 weeks)

James Dashner. The Kill Order

USA Today: #144, #141, x, x, x (30 weeks)

Brandon Mull. Crystal Keepers

USA Today: x, x, #61, x, x (1 week)

PW Children’s: x, x, #6, x, x (1 week) 6000 units.

NYT Children’s Series: x, x, #5, x, x (1 week)

Anne Perry. The Angel Court Affair

USA Today: x, x, x, x, #105 (1 week)

PW Hardback Fiction: x, x, x, x, #25 (1 week). 2225 units.

Brenda Novak. This Heart of Mine

USA Today: x, x, x, x, #111 (1 week)

Brandon Sanderson. Words of Radiance

NYT Mass-Market Paperback: #18, x, x, x, x

Orson Scott Card. Ender’s Game

PW: SF #7

4 Thoughts on “This Month in Mormon Literature, April 2015

  1. Vox Day apparently rubs many people very badly, while having a loyal fan base.

    I have read his blog. After a while and a little exposure to his men’s rights and alpha-pickup-artist blog (which I will not link), I had to swim in some radical feminist sites to wash off the filth.

  2. It only APPEARS I’m invested in this because I don’t read or write scifi/fantasy (or at least, not on a genre preference basis v “Oooh, that book I tripped over looks awesome”), but it’s heavy in my Tweetstream, even infiltrating my politics the eay Gamergate did, so I can no longer avoid it.

    But I ran across this and thought it was a valuable addendum to Andrew’s remarks. Some Sad Puppy Data Analysis.

  3. Andrew Hall on April 23, 2015 at 12:22 am said:

    Here is a “moderate” take on the controversy, by AML columnist Eric James Stone. http://www.ericjamesstone.com/blog/2015/04/20/ruminations-on-nominations/

  4. > I don’t think any Mormon authors were finalists for the awards this year.

    Actually, I think we do — I believe all of the following people are LDS:

    The Zombie Nation Book #2: Reduce Reuse Reanimate by Carter Reid was nominated for Best Graphic Story as part of the Sad Puppies 3 slate. (He was also nominated for Best Professional Artist.)

    After one of the nominees for short story was withdrawn, it was replaced by “A Single Samurai” by Steven Diamond. (Elitist Book Reviews, edited by Steven, was also nominated for Best Fanzine.)

    And in the non-author categories, we have:

    Anne Sowards of Ace/Roc Books was nominated for Best Professional Editor, Long Form.

    And I believe at least some of the people involved with Dungeon Crawlers Radio, nominated for Best Fancast, are LDS.

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