The Whitney Awards and Mormon Lit Blitz winners were announced, there is a new poetry collection by Alex Caldiero, and national novels by Amy Harmon, Charlie N. Holmberg, James A. Owen, Dan Wells, and Jen White. The Princess Academy finishes up its run at BYU today,
and The Cokeville Miracle opened up to strong reviews. Please send news and corrections to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.
Awards, news, and blog posts
The LDStorymakers Writers Conference and Whitney Awards Gala were held May 15-16 at the Utah Valley Conference Center in Provo.
The Whitney Award Winners were:
Best adult novel: Hope Springs by Sarah M. Eden
Best youth novel: The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry
Best novel by new author: Becoming Lady Lockwood by Jennifer Lunt Moore
Middle Grade: Almost Super by Marion Jensen
YA General: Death Coming up the Hill by Chris Crowe
YA speculative: Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White
General: The Law of Moses by Amy Harmon
Mystery: Wedding Cake by Josi Kilpack
Speculative: Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson
Historical: Softly Falling by Carla Kelly
Romance: Hope Springs by Sarah Miller Eden
Outstanding Achievement Award: Andrew Hall
Lifetime Achievement Award: Margaret Blair Young
Be sure and read Annette Lyon‘s LDStorymakers Presidential Address and Martine Leavitt’s Keynote Address. Also see Stanley’s Writing Secrets series, a comic LDStorymakers video. The LDStorymakers Midwest regional conference will be held in Kansas City, Oct. 9-10.
1st place: “Faded Garden” by Emily Harris Adams
2nd place: “Best Wedding Advice Ever,” by Heather Young
3rd place: “Should Have Prayed for a Canoe,” by Julia Jeffery
4th place (tie): “Echo of Boy” by Darlene L. Young and “Angry Sunbeam” by Eric W Jepson
The next contest, the Fifth Annual Mormon Lit Blitz, will happen this fall. “This theme is ‘Classic Forms, Contemporary Poems”–we’ll be accepting poems that relate to modern Mormon life in poetic forms that existed before 1830.”
The Mormon Historical Association Best Personal History/Memoir was awarded to Craig Harline, Way Below the Angels (Grand Rapids, MIL Wm. B. Erdmans Press, 2014). Way Below the Angels was a finalist for the AML Creative Non-Fiction Award.
15 Bytes and its publisher Artists of Utah congratulate Natasha Sajé for her poetry collection Vivarium (Tupelo Press) and Braden Hepner for his debut novel Pale Harvest (Torrey House Press), winners of this year’s 15 Bytes Book Awards.
A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray was one of three books announced as the shortlist for THE DESMOND ELLIOTT PRIZE . The Desmond Elliott Prize is the “most prestigious award for first-time British and Irish novelists”.
First Place: “Death of a Dog,” By Patricia Karamesines
Second Place: “Shredded Life,” By Lia Hadley
Third Place: “Catch and Recovery,” By Leah Shamlian
Third Place: “Act One,” By Tracy McKay-Lamb
Third Place: “Patches of Yellow,” By Deja Earley
Lynne Gorton Cropper. “Laughs Precede the Miracle: How Calvin Grondahl and Pat Bagley Changed Mormonism.” Sunstone Magazine. A condensed and illustrated version of Cropper’s May 2014 University of Iowa Masters Thesis (Religious Studies), “From violent opposition to creative opportunism: humor-driven positive affect and the Mormon cartoons of Calvin Grondahl and Pat Bagley”
The 2015 Sunstone Symposium will be held July 29-Aug. 1 at the University of Utah. Among the literary events will be talks and presentations by Tyler Chadwick, Alex Caldeiro. and other poets, and a screening of the movie Freetown.
*”Sunday School Psychotherapy”: Mormon Poets on Vulnerability and Madness, Healing and Hope. Featuring Tyler Chadwick, Jessica Dixon, Marianne Hales Harding, Bob Rees, Bonnie Shiffler, Alex Caldiero
*“I Took This to Mean”: Poetry’s Communal Moment and the Virtues of Textual Intimacy. Tyler Chadwick. “This presentation is a reflection on my encounters with Latter-day Saint sexual mores through Mormon theology’s expansive view of embodiment, procreation, and desire. I weigh these encounters against my readerly desires, my family relationships, and my experience with specific poems by American poets Lucille Clifton, Sharon Olds, Walt Whitman, Allen Ginsberg, and Javen Tanner. The result is a mosaic showing how these influences have shaped my understanding of Mormonism, eroticism, and literature.”
*”Some Love”: A Plunge Deep into the Scramble of Human Emotions with a Poet-sonosopher. Alex Caldiero
The Spring 2015 (48:1) Issue of Dialogue: a journal of Mormon thought includes Mormon Lit Blitz stories by Stephen Carter (“Slippery”), Luisa Perkins (“Spring Hill”), and Scott Hales (“Living Scripture”), Michael Austin‘s review essay “The Mormon Murder Mystery Grows Up: Mette Harrison‘s The Bishop’s Wife and Tim Wirkus‘ City of Brick and Shadow” Also Scott Abbott reviews The Bishop’s Wife, Polly Aird reviews Paula Kelly Harline‘s Polygamous Wives Writing Club, and John Crawford reviews Michael Austin’s Re-reading Job. Poetry by Clifton Jolley and Bonnie Shiffler-Olsen.
William Morris. “The Intriguing Impossibility of Mormon-themed Near Future Science Fiction” (By Common Consent). Also, see Doug Gibson, Standard-Examiner‘s review of William Morris. Dark Watch and Other Mormon-American Stories. “These are stories with often spare, matter-of-fact prose that can produce empathy. The contemporary tales usually have sentiments or situations that Mormons can identify with, with endings that ask us to interpret honestly the routine, yet complex, tasks within our church.”
Scott Hales, Five Questions for William Morris Modern Mormon Men. Scott also wrote the essay “Peculiarity, Assimilation, and the Purposes of Mormon Literature” about Morris’ stories.
At A Motley Vision, read an interview with poet and essayist Emily Harris Adams on her new book For Those with Empty Arms: A Compassionate Voice For Those Experiencing Infertility and prepare for Mormon Arts Sunday on June 14.
Check Out the New Look For Brandon Sanderson’s Alcatraz Books. Sanderson says: “My middle grade humor series that starts with Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians will be republished next year by Tor, leading up to the release of the fifth and final book that Alcatraz will write. Well, there will also be a ton of new illustrations in the book, and Isaac Stewart has written up a post for Tor.com that introduces the illustrations to you.”
Joanna Brooks interviews artist Matt Page.
Mormon Matters 281: LDS Film: Present, Future, Roles, Tensions. Dan Wotherspoon speaks with panelists Arthur Van Wagenen, head of Excel Entertainment (Deseret Book’s film arm), Sterling Van Wagenen, co-founder of the Sundance Film Festival and the Sundance Institute, filmmaker, teacher, and former administrator in several LDS film and television organizations, and Stephen Carter, writer, editor of Sunstone, filmmaker, and insightful commentator on the role of storytelling in our lives. This episode features a fantastic conversation on film and the many roles it plays in human lives and communities, especially religious ones. Along the way it wrestles with the tensions that are always present in films for niche audiences, especially when filmmakers try to tell compelling stories while at the same time hoping to make money, which often means making many decisions based upon their sense of what their target audience expects (and, in so doing, sometimes lessening a story’s potential impact). How does this environment of tension between art and commerce hinder (or help) foster great storytelling and a film’s ability to rise to a high artistic level? Are there lenses (other than “Is it ‘great art’?”) that we should use in judging a film’s merits? [This is my favorite Mormon arts podcast episode in a long time.]
Mormon Artist: Filmmaker T. C. Christensen interview.
Steven L. Peck. “Tales from Pleasant Grove”. Everyday Fiction. About a store where you can leave your fears behind.
Emily Mah. “A Missed Connection.” In The Change: Tales of Downfall and Rebirth. edited by S.M. Stirling (the creator of the Emberverse, where all these stories take place) features me and a lot of friends of mine, including M.T. Reiten, Jane Lindskold, Lauren Teffeau, John Jos. Miller, Walter Jon Williams, Victor Milan, and Terry England. A Missed Connection, takes place on the campus of the University of Utah at the moment The Change occurs. Marc Branson is a recently returned Mormon missionary who thinks his biggest problem is avoiding his clingy ex-girlfriend, Chrissy. Fortunately, his online flirtation with Angela looks like it’s about to bear fruit. The only problem? She lives in Chile, and the Internet just went down.
New books and their reviews
Alex Caldiero. Some Love. Signature, June 15. Poetry. ” From his childhood in Sicily as a Catholic altar boy through his latter days as a Mormon “saint,” Caldiero recalls in verse his emerging passion for performance and for the sensual liturgical marriage of physical space—the church or temple proper—with bodily space. This ritualized confluence of architectural structure, human bodies, images, movements, smells, and sounds affects him as much today as it did in the past. It is this memory of the religious ritual that keeps him striving for a poetic creation and richness that achieves a depth of symbolic meaning.”
Ranee S. Clark. Playing for Keeps. Covenant, June 1. Romance. A football-loving BU girl has a plan for winning the heart of the BYU quarterback.
Mindy, LDSWBR. 5 stars. ” Playing for Keeps is highly enjoyable. Ty is an amazing girl who I liked from the first page. I loved how she was herself from the start, and even though she took friendly advice from her friend, she still kept her head. Ty is the type of girl that shines kindness and radiance, and I loved her relationship with her brothers . . . There were so many fun moments in this book. It is full of amazing kisses, humor, and kindness.”
Joyce DiPastena. The Lady and the Minstrel. Self, Jan. 29. Medival romance. 13th century England.
Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine. 4 stars. ” This Medieval romance goes far beyond the romantic relationship between two people to include lessons in English history, politics, and a generous amount of adventure . . . The characters in this book are well developed, show growth, and are appealing. The background is powerful as DiPastena weaves in the laws, customs, animosity between Church and State, clothing, food, and the day to day procedures of the early thirteenth century. She provides a glossary as well to define characters and medieval terminology. Though the story is long, it doesn’t weaken or lose the basic plot sequence. Joyce DiPastena is a seasoned writer with a great deal of skill and talent. This novel highlights her research skills, amazing vocabulary, and her ability to tell a story. The daunting length of this book, nearly six hundred pages, may discourage some readers from picking it up, though it is well worth the time spent on it.”
Julie N. Ford. With No Regrets. White Star Press, June 1. Contemporary romantic comedy. A divorced woman, free from the shackles of a loveless marriage, and with her children off to college, is finally able to go searching for the missing pieces of her heart. Finds herself with two men.
Amy Harmon. The Song of David. Self, June 13. General/romance. A spin-off from The Law of Moses, featuring Tag Taggert, a supporting character in the earlier book. A romance between a mixed martial arts fighter and a pole dancer.
Charlie N. Holmberg. The Master Magician. 47 North, June 2. YA Fantasy. Paper Magician #3. Girl tries to pass her final magician’s exam, is beset by an unfriendly tester and an escaped convict. Harry Potter-type magical world.
Krista Lynne Jensen. Kisses in the Rain. Covenant, June 3. Contemporary romance. Georgia has survived an abusive relationship and a car crash. She goes to an island outside of Seattle, and works at a seafood restaurant, where she meets a man hardened by heartbreak.
Martine Leavitt. Blue Mountain. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Oct. 28, 2014. Early reader/middle grade animal story.
Kirkus (starred): “A middle-grade story rich in natural setting and life lessons. Tuk is the largest bighorn sheep lamb to be born in many seasons, and matriarch Kenir feels this may be an omen. For years, the winter valley Tuk’s herd depends on for survival has become more and more constricted by humans. The once-plentiful grass has been overgrazed by domesticated sheep, which also bring disease. But Tuk, a visionary, sees a blue mountain in the far distance, and when he becomes a yearling, he leads a small group of fellow yearlings on a quest to find it. Braving wolves, pumas, wolverines and bears, the fledgling band finds the mythical mountain, and in true hero’s-journey fashion, Tuk returns to his old herd to lead them there, thus ensuring everyone’s survival. With its lyrical language (“The loon called, and Tuk wondered if his life was not only one thing, and not only his”), this story of a bighorn sheep who dares to see beyond the well-worn path is not only archetypal in content, but rewarding in narrative. Leavitt tells the story from the animals’ point of view, giving each of them a sturdy character—whether it be brave or wise or, in the case of the ingenuous Mouf, a hilarious cluelessness. A timeless yet fresh story that beautifully connects readers to the natural world.”
Publishers Weekly (Starred): “Tuk is a bighorn sheep, born to lead his herd at a time when they are threatened by predators and a decreased food supply. He is one of the few sheep to have glimpsed the fabled Blue Mountain—“The stories say that there the meadows are knee-deep in grass, the streams are never dry, and that man never goes there”—and he believes that moving there is the key to saving the bighorn. Others in the herd disagree, but Tuk is guided by the stories of his ancestors, legends Leavitt intersperses throughout the text, and he sets off with a band of followers to find Blue Mountain. Challenges and obstacles arise, but Tuk meets them all, growing into a true leader. The lyrical prose and gravity of Tuk’s quest lend a mythic feel to this memorable and graceful story, which also examines violence and environmental concerns. Readers will see parts of themselves in Tuk as he struggles to form his identity and accept his limitations.”
SLJ: “While some of the animal characters lack depth, kids will nevertheless be caught up in the thrilling adventure. An author’s note explains how Leavitt was inspired to write this story based on her father’s studies of the breed and her own research. This uncomplicated story would pair well with a factual book on bighorn sheep and the alpine biome.”
Sheila Staley. 5 stars. “It always amazes me how Heather can take a story of a character that has been written previously, in this case a biblical character, and makes the story seem brand new. Bondage is the story of not only Moses, but his sister Miriam and his Egyptian mother Bithiah. I was thrilled to see this book written by the Point of View of Moses and two very incredibly strong women. Bondage has the perfect combination of action and romance. Each character from Moses, to Miriam, and even Ramses, are so well developed that you emotionally attach to them and become so vested in their stories.”
Mindy: 5 stars. ” As with any of Heather’s books, the characters in The Moses Chronicles: Bondage are brought to live with her amazing storytelling and writing. I loved this fictional account of Moses and Miriam. I appreciated the point of view changes between Moses, Miriam, and Bithiah. Miriam was an especially enjoyable character. She was a very strong, and courageous woman in hard times.”
Jennifer Moore. The Sheik’s Ruby. The Wild Rose Press, May 8. Contemporary romance. Shelby wants to break away from the mold of her small town and make a name for herself in the big-city journalism world. While skiing, she meets mysterious stranger Hakim who is actually the prince of the Middle Eastern kingdom of Khali-dar. She falls in love with him and his country, but must withstand terrorist attacks and prejudice. Moore’s third novel, after two successful Regency romances.
Mindy: 4 stars. ” Oh my goodness, this book is so much fun. This was the first book that Jennifer wrote, and it is up there as one of my favorites of hers. She is such a talented author and has such a wonderful variety of style in her writing. I loved Shelby instantly. She is a remarkable character.”
James A. Owen. Dawn of the Dragons. Simon & Schuster/Saga, June 3. YA epic fantasy. Book #1 of The Age of Dragons. The second series in the Imaginarium Geographica series. In The Search for the Red Dragon, it has been nine years since John (J.R.R. Tolkein), Jack (C.S. Lewis), and Charles had their great adventure in the Archipelago of Dreams and became the Caretakers of the Imaginarium Geographica. Now they have been brought together again to solve a mystery: Someone is kidnapping the children of the Archipelago. Their to save the world from a centuries-old plot is to seek out the last of the Dragonships–the Red Dragon–in a spectacular journey that takes them from Sir James Barrie’s Kensington Gardens to the Underneath of the Greek Titans of myth.
Joan Sowards. Bridges of the Heart. Walnut Springs, May 17. General/speculative. After a family death, Rachel splits up with the man who wants to marry her. A visitor takes her back to 1820 to learn about family ties.
Karen Tuft. Trouble in Paradise. Covenant, May 4. Contemporary romance. A timid woman follows a man to Hawaii, and circumstances throw them together.
Dan Wells. The Devil’s Only Friend. Tor, June 16. Speculative/horror/thriller. John Cleaver Series, #4. The second trilogy about the demon-hunting sociopath.
PW: ” Wells returns to his supernatural-tinged exploration of serial-killer psychology via 17-year-old sociopath John Wayne Cleaver in this thrilling sequel to 2011’s I Don’t Want to Kill You. John works with a group of demon-hunting FBI agents and their advisors, all of whom have relocated to the Midwestern town of Fort Bruce in pursuit of evil metahumans called Withered. John’s Withered-possessed friend and possible love interest, Brooke Watson, has been deposited in an assisted living center in Fort Bruce for safekeeping; when she reports another Withered in town, events escalate, with the hunters soon becoming the hunted. Top-notch writing and well-structured suspense elements keep the story moving briskly as John tries to manage his baser instincts, his emotions (or lack thereof) for Brooke, and the comic relief of unexpectedly becoming a dog owner.”
Salt Lake Magazine (Katherine Torres): ” If you’re looking for a fast-paced summer thriller, look no further than The Devil’s Only Friend. This novel, the latest by Utah native and New York Times bestselling author Dan Wells, mixes mystery, science fiction, and crime drama in an easy-to-digest package that is sure to keep readers riveted . . . Wells’ fast-paced writing style works well with the plot, which doesn’t lag at any point in the novel. Even with the quick pace, Wells manages to develop well-formed characters and even includes bits of Mediterranean history so as to better explain the world the Withered come from. All in all, The Devil’s Only Friend is great for a reader who is looking for a quick read that doesn’t adhere to one specific genre.”
Jen White. Survival Strategies of the Almost Brave. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, June 9. Higher elementary/Middle grade. “After their mother’s recent death, twelve-year-old Liberty and her eight-year-old sister, Billie, are sent to live with their father, who they haven’t seen since they were very young. Things are great at first; the girls are so excited to get to know their father – a traveling photographer who rides around in an RV. But soon, the pressure becomes too much for him, and he abandons them at the Jiffy Company Gas Station.” Liberty takes the lead in finding their way home. Debut novel. White holds an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.
PW: ” White’s gripping debut weaves the events that led them there with what happens over the following three days. Liberty studies animals and records their behavior in her treasured notebook, along with the “survival strategies” she collects along the way (with titles that include “Sometimes You Should Feel Sorry for the Cobra” and “Be Patient, Like a Snapping Turtle,” the book’s chapters correspond to the tips Liberty catalogues). Left to care for Billie, Liberty uses these techniques to escape a “creepy” gas station attendant, find food and transportation, and try to get home to San Diego. Colorful characters both help and hinder the sisters on a journey that leads Liberty closer to a true home as well as a truer understanding of herself, human vulnerability, and love. While Liberty’s animal facts sometimes feel wedged into the narrative, White’s story will stay with readers.”
Kirkus: “An obsessive watcher of National Geographic’s Hunter and Hunted, Liberty sees her world in terms of predators and prey. She and her 8-year-old sister are the prey. After her mother was hit by a car and died, the photographer father they barely knew took them with him. The plan was for a work-and-camping trip, but he turned out not to be up to the stress of caring for children. Stranded in the desert and knowing what every 21st-century American child knows about stranger danger, they can’t ask for help, and Liberty’s view of the people they encounter will encourage readers to share her fears. The desert with its searing heat, stony sand, and venomous inhabitants provides an appropriate setting. Using imagery from the natural world, Liberty describes their journey, fueled by junk food and her fears. It’s not until the end that she realizes that some of these scary people were wishing her well. Readers familiar with Cynthia Voigt’s Homecoming (1981) will recognize the gripping story arc, but for today’s middle graders, the world has sadly changed.”
SLJ: ” Some adventures are scary, some funny, some slapstick, until hunger, injury, and dehydration make adult intervention necessary and inevitable. Liberty’s voice is authentic throughout, although Billie sometimes acts younger than her eight years. Debut author White uses a number of devices to unify the sometimes-hectic action scenes. For example, Liberty takes comfort from her notebook, her lists, and her knowledge of other animal species. These motifs help readers to understand Liberty, and they smooth transitions between encounters. However, these literary devices are not woven as smoothly into the plot as they might be in the hands of a more experienced writer. Taken as a whole, this is a satisfying picaresque escapade, assuming one can accept the premise that an abandoned 12-year-old would think it wiser to be on her own in the desert with a sister who has only one shoe than to ask for help from a sheriff. The ending, fortunately, is happy yet realistic. VERDICT An additional purchase, recommended for larger middle grade collections.”
Heather Young. Ezra and Hadassah: A Portrait of American Royalty. Self, Jan. 15, 2014. A memoir about two siblings’ upbringing, from mentally challenged parents to the Oregon foster-care system, and abusive adoptive parents.
Kirkus Review: ” The children of a paranoid schizophrenic mother and a developmentally challenged father, Hadassah and Ezra split their early years between foster homes and their parents’ unstable household. When their already tenuous living situation was swept up in 1970s-era adoption reform, they were taken from their biological parents and adopted by the Spencer family, who changed their names from Hadassah and Ezra to Heather and Rex. The Spencers were cruel taskmasters, using adoption to gather young laborers for their home, incapable and uninterested in helping with Rex’s developmental disabilities or Heather’s emotional withdrawal after being molested in foster care. This was compounded by the severe beatings and draconian punishments inflicted on the Spencer children, so pitiless that Heather was barely able to protect herself, let alone help her older brother, whose inability to fly under the family’s radar left him locked away in his room, unfed, and living in filth. Heather escaped at 18, finding a measure of stability with an understanding and loving husband. With this support, she reunited with Rex, who rediscovered his faith and professed a personal, literal friendship with Jesus, turning him into an odd but enthusiastic figure of forgiveness in her life. Young’s debut avoids many of the typical pitfalls of an abuse narrative, approaching its often tragic subject matter in a forthright manner, never sensationalizing her own or others’ suffering. Though Mormonism figures prominently here, the Mormon church’s assistance and shortcomings are treated with honesty, and those outside the faith won’t find themselves feeling recruited or ostracized. The book’s heartbreaking power emanates from the author’s candid account of her struggles, from her fear of inheriting her mother’s mental illness or the abusive tendencies of her adoptive parents to dealing with the guilt that comes with sometimes prioritizing one’s own health and survival. An unsentimental, affecting look at foster care, abuse, and mental illness.”
Literary Inklings. “Through her deeply moving account of loss, struggle, and the search for love, Young opens herself to her readers with all the faith her brother instilled inside her and all the heartfelt honesty born into her from her parents; Ezra and Hadassah is a memoir about endurance in tragic circumstances and, above all, about the roles other people play in our lives, from the villains to the unexpected and beloved heroes.”
Reviews of older books
Denver Acey. The Quantum Deception (Rick Feldschau, Deseret News). “[The first book} proved that a good hacking story doesn’t need a bespectacled 20-something pounding away at a keyboard while the source code of the latest Linux kernel flies by in green, glowing text. In fact, “The Quantum Breach” managed to portray something far more deep and involving, as hackers emotionally manipulated and devastated their victims and showed real meatspace consequences of today’s cybercrime . . . Acey paints his canvas with fascinating colors, but the strokes are broad. The individual scenes beg to be treated with more depth. Tanner is employed at the NSA, programs and operates a fictional quantum computer powerful enough to break any digital encryption on the planet. His team surveils and eavesdrops digital communication, and although highly topical in the age of near-ubiquitous government surveillance and whistle-blowers and the questionable legality of both, Acey handwaves away the entire issue with a single paragraph of dismissal. That’s not to say that the novel is devoid of depth. While the prose is dry and analytic befitting the technological tone of the story, Acey still provides a few truly brilliant and quotable lines worthy of admiration, and even pens a poignant scene where a character’s wayward and criminal past melds with and is overcome by his beautiful future. Acey weaves together meaningful characters and complex, impressive situations with a fluid grace typical of more experienced authors. In fact, that feeling of wanting more from the setting is a credit to Acey’s natural talent to create interesting tapestries to paint his vivid characters on.”
Nephi Anderson. Dorian: A Peculiar Edition with Annotated Text & Scholarhsip. Eric Jepson, editor. (Julie J. Nichols, AML). ” Peculiar Pages, taking its name from the injunction (or the jibe) that Mormons be “peculiar people,” announces on its website that this press “focuses on two types of book: multiauthor anthologies, and critical editions of class Mormon literature.” And here’s where we come in: the abovementioned edition of Nephi Anderson’s Dorian, the first of these critical volumes three years later than Jepson’s ambitious post aspired to, has finally arrived. And it’s terrific. My classy, well-educated grandmother Eva Cragun Heiner (1894-1987) gave me a copy of Nephi Anderson’s Added Upon when I was a book-hungry kid looking for something to read on vacation in Utah many decades ago. I didn’t love it, but I think I knew even then that it had value for me, a reading Mormon girl growing up in heathenish California where, in my circle, e.e. cummings and Richard Brautigan were a lot more cool than anything Mormon. I thought: so this is how Mormons write novels? Hmmm. Later I took classes from Gene England and Richard Cracroft at BYU . . . In those classes I discovered other Mormon novelists, whose work I sort of tolerated but which I valued mostly because it showed me something important about the history of writing among “my people,” the Mormons who were my grandparents’ peers. I wanted to write. It was valuable (I keep using that word “value”—I’ll come back to that) to see how my heritage was handled in these novels . . . Dorian (1921), as several of the outstanding essays in Peculiar Pages’s volume point out, is a finely-crafted literary exploration of a people in transition. Anderson was at the height of his powers. The story in brief: Dorian Trent is a bookish kid, a “golden boy” whose widowed mother dotes on him as they work their farm together. Early on, Mildred Brown, a young city woman who has been well-educated and who dabbles in art, comes to stay at their homestead in hopes that the fresh air will do her health good. We are introduced, too, to Carlia Duke, whose rough-and-tumble family lives in Dorian’s town; they are rather careless, her father oblivious to the stress he’s causing her by having her do most of the work. Dorian falls in a kind of idyllic puppy love with Mildred, though he believes her to be miles above him. At the same time he develops a relationship with “Uncle Zed,” a nineteenth-century Utah type, I imagine, a self-educated thinker whose pronouncements about church and philosophy win him respect and love from the whole town. Mildred and Zed are Dorian’s ideals—until she dies of her mysterious illness. Shortly thereafter Zed also dies, of old age, leaving his library and his “mantle” to Dorian. Dorian feels the weight of Zed’s teaching, and determines to follow in his footsteps and complete his mission to reconcile, or harmonize, scientific learning with gospel truth. Meanwhile Carlia has fallen in with the wrong crowd. After a strange period in which she vacillates between Dorian and the roguish Mr. Valmont, chastising Dorian for not paying her more attention while he’s increasing both his farm and his book-learning, Carlia disappears altogether. Eventually Dorian realizes it’s up to him to find her. He discovers her hidden away in the mountains, having had a stillborn child, the result of Valmont’s rape. They negotiate a new relationship, one of forgiveness and hope, and she comes home with him to help him in his project. Seen through a contemporary lens, I don’t agree with “Theric”’s assessment that Dorian is a great novel we should have been reading continuously since its publication. I don’t think I’d recommend that it belong in every Mormon household. I just didn’t find it that gripping. However, I do think it’s an important work, consciously-written and genuinely literary, that deserves our attention now as an example of a significant stage in the history of Mormon literature. In my opinion, the truly spectacular contribution of this edition is to be found in the notes and scholarly essays that follow the novel. The notes, compiled by Eric Jepson with input from a number of other scholars, explain the historical and social context and literary allusions of the novel with gratifying thoroughness. The essays, which include most of those mentioned in the blog post above (under slightly different titles) plus two others by Sarah Reed and Blair Dee Hodges, shed a twenty-first century scholarly awareness on the novel’s Mormon-literary excellence (if I may coin a phrase). For me, it took Scott Hales’s incisive analysis of Uncle Zed’s position as a touter of beliefs born in the “Mormon Reformation” of 1856-57 (220) to help me appreciate how Anderson integrates multiple Mormon viewpoints in this novel of Dorian’s (and perhaps the Church’s) coming-of-age in the early twentieth century. Mason Allred’s perceptive discussion of intertextuality in the novel corroborated my own observations: Zed, and Dorian, in trying to “harmonize” science and religion, quote from a great many Mormon and non-Mormon tracts of the times. Far from being tedious, these quotes, and the conversations they engender, help ground the novel in particular ways of thinking specific to the times and revelatory of the characters’ personalities and motivations. A. Arwen Taylor presents a feminist take on the presentation of women (Dorian’s mother, Mildred, and Carlia) to very fine effect. Other essays are equally enlightening; as a long-time student and professor of literature, I found these to be as rewarding as the novel itself, or more so . . . Other features include deleted scenes (sounds like a DVD) and contemporary responses to the novel, as well as two short essays by Anderson himself, “A Plea for Fiction” and “Purpose in Fiction,” published in The Improvement Era in, respectively, January and February 1898 . . . There are all kinds of reasons we should acquire and read books: for entertainment and pleasure, certainly; for reference and learning; sometimes for their historical value. In this case, add to all three of these the insight this edition provides into our heritage as Mormon readers and writers. Much can be learned, both from the novel and from the annotations and critical essays, about the Church as an institution, its people as human beings striving toward perfection, and the ambitions, hopes, and objectives of its writers as it was developing then and continues to develop. *Dorian* is an artifact of our heritage. Peculiar Pages has done students of Mormon literature a tremendous service by bringing out this edition.”
Michelle Ashman Bell. Extreme Measures (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine). “The characters in this novel are convincing and realistic. Emma is a little too nice, but she grows with the story. Margaret, the mother-in-law is a superbly drawn character. The unfolding of a carefully plotted story holds the reader spellbound. The subtle twists and turns display the devious workings of a narcissistic, psychotic mind. The minor characters are not as detailed, but are distinct individuals. There are a few questions left unanswered in the end, though none are essential to the main story. Overall, in my opinion, this is one of the top LDS fiction novels to come out so far this year.”
Nathan Huffaker. Stranded (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine) 4 stars. ” It’s a well-plotted suspense novel most suspense or adventure readers will enjoy. There are a few Russian words and phrases used, but they don’t overwhelm or slow down the story. The characters are multi-dimensional and we see the missionaries as both representatives of the Church and as twenty-year-old Americans in a foreign country. It’s sometimes hard to be sure whether to admire Elder Johnson for his positive gung ho attitude or be a little annoyed with his over-the-top missionary zeal. We also see the other characters both in terms of their positions, their nationality, and as warm, real people. The background information is worked in well and enriches the reality of the story.”
Josi Kilpack, A Heart Revealed (Rosalyn) 4 stars. “I’ve read several of Kilpack’s culinary mysteries and liked them but didn’t love them, so I was intrigued when I saw she’d written a Regency, even more so when I heard it had starred reviews from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly. And while the story was more of a slow burn than a fast-action piece, there was a lot I liked about it: especially the extreme humbling of the heroine after she discovers her hair is falling out. I can imagine few things more horrifying to a woman who puts all her value in her personal experience. Amber’s humbling and transformation give this Regency a lot more depth than most, and the romance (while I wanted *more*!) was sweet.”
Kathi Oram Peterson. Wanted (Kathy H). 3 stars. “So, this one started out with a lot of promise, but kind of fizzled out for me. Faulkner has spent the last seven years in prison, for a crime he didn’t commit. When he learns his ex-wife is about to marry a man he thinks helped lock him up, he decides to break out of prison and try and stop her. I thought the premise was really good, but the execution could have used some work. There were a lot of plot holes and characters could have been developed better. The initial investigation was poorly done, to put it mildly. Everything was circumstantial and there was never any motive given . . . Overall, it was just an okay read for me. It did keep me reading, I wanted to know what happened and see how things would play out. I liked the idea for the story a lot.”
Janette Rallison. My Fairly Dangerous Godmother (Mindy, LDSWBR) 4 stars. ” I absolutely love how clever Janette’s writing is. She is a master. Each line is expertly written, and funny . . . Like any book of Janette’s, there is lots of humor, fun, and romance. With how the book ends, it seems there will be another, which makes me happy!”
Karey White. The Wife Maker (Shelah Books It) 3 stars. ” In The Wife Maker, we finally hear Angus in his own voice (Angus and Charlotte take turns as the POV character). The two prior novels have been narrated entirely by Charlotte, and we as an audience could see her blindness to the fact that Angus was in love with her, even when she couldn’t. Sometimes Charlotte was annoying in those first two books, and this time Angus has the opportunity to be annoying . . . All of that said, I was very, very happy to see Angus eventually come to his senses. I would have rather seen a wedding as the way to end the book than the fast-forwarded career move that White gives us in her epilogue, but I would call The Wife Maker a successful, strong conclusion to the series.”
Princess Academy. Lisa Hall Hagen, playwright. Based on the Shannon Hale novel. Megan Sanborn Jones, director. Janine Sobeck, dramaturg. BYU, May 29-30 and June 4-6, 12-13. The production was a BYU and UVU collaboration. Jones is on the BYU faculty and Hagen is on the UVU faculty. Actors came from both schools.
Maren Scriven Alitagtag, UTBA review. “Several young girls were there with their mothers, novel in hand, speaking excitedly about their anticipations of the show. I sat next to one young lady who said she had read the novel first at 17, and it was what had encouraged her to choose to major in economics at BYU. I was intrigued and interested to watch how this story would evolve on stage, and if the fans in the audience were to be pleased or disappointed. Lisa Hall Hagen was tasked with the adaption of the novel to the stage. Perhaps the best compliment I can pay Hagen is that I immediately downloaded the novel to my kindle while walking to my car when the show is over. The task of being true to the source material when adapting it to another medium can be tricky. Yet, Hagen had done a fine job of bringing to life what many had already envisioned in their head. Director Megan Sanborn Jones had the difficult task of taking a story from the page and bringing it to life in a way that would please those familiar with the story as well as touch and intrigue novices like myself. One of the things that impressed me most about her direction was the cohesiveness of the cast. There were several moments throughout the play where the members of the village, the girls at the academy, and the cast as a whole needed to move the plot along with a level of harmony that can only be achieved through strong direction. Jones has been able to bring together the cast in such a way that it was not difficult to believe that this was a community and family that had learned to work together for years in order to survive . . . The show built a tale of how important it is to find our own strengths and that it takes all talents working together to do something of worth. This is certainly true of a play. From the script to the stage hands, from the chorus member to the lighting design, every element must work in harmony in order to put together a strong performance. The cast of BYU’s Princess Academy is much like the people of Mount Eskel in Danland in that way, each doing their part to bring about a new and innovative story to the stage.”
As part of the Echo Writer’s Showcase at the Echo Theatre, Provo, Utah, two plays are being produced. Incompleat Works, by Dennis Agle, June 13,16,19,20,22,25, and 27th, and Lawn Ornaments, by Mark Wiesenberg, June 12,15,18, 20, 24 and 26th.
Incompleat Works: “For the past four centuries or so, eight characters have been living in an inn in a secluded forest in England reliving each day the same first act of an unfinished Shakespeare play. (It was his first, written while he was yet a teen, and finding it hopelessly flawed, the Bard-lette abandoned these characters to move onto something else — probably some sonnets for awhile.)
Yet these eight characters remain. Repeating their flawed Act I, over and over again. Over the centuries, one of them, Geoffrey, has gradually grown discontent with their lot, as comfortable as it may have been. There must be more. He yearns to know what lies beyond the forest.” They make their way to modern-day England.
The Echo Theatre’s 2015 Writers Showcase presents a reading of Sweatheart, Come, a new play from Melissa Leilani Larson, on June 13, 7PM. 308 East 300 South, Provo, UT.
The Cokeville Miracle. June 5, 2015. Written, directed, and produced by T.C. Christiansen. About a bombing at a Cokeville, Wyoming elementary school in 1986. Miraculously, only the two perpetrators were killed by the bomb.
Salt Lake Tribune (Sean P. Means): 3 stars. “Faith meets action in “The Cokeville Miracle,” an engrossing Utah-made drama about the power of prayer in crisis . . . Writer-director T.C. Christensen paces the tension of the first half sharply and handles the spiritual message thoughtfully as the lawman wrestles with his faith through his investigation. Only toward the very end does Christensen get unnecessarily preachy, as the compelling story and solid cast have already done the work for him.”
Arizona Republic (Randy Cordova): 2 stars. “Like a lot of inspirational films, the movie could use a little more subtlety and restraint . . . [The first] section of the movie essentially plays like a thriller, as Young tests his explosives and then infiltrates the school. Still, it’s never overly dark or threatening, as writer-director T.C. Christensen can be heavy-handed with both actors and dialogue. “Hey, lady, is this your first time kidnapping helpless little children?” one hostage asks Doris. The movie’s second half looks at the aftermath once the bomb goes off, as the town sheriff (Jasen Wade) interviews hostages and tries to grasp what happened. Perhaps too conveniently, he is in the midst of a crisis of faith, so the town miracle comes along at a perfect time to spark a happy ending. That is probably the movie’s biggest problem. Everything feels pat and oversimplified, with no gray areas. That’s not uncommon in films of this nature, but Christensen is unable to make the movie feel like anything more than propaganda.”
Mica, Feminist Mormon Housewives. “I certainly feel this is a story worth telling, and I think the well-known Mormon filmmaker T.C. Christensen was wise bring it to the screen now. There seems to be a zeal around religious/spiritual film in America right now. With films like Heaven is For Real, God’s Not Dead, and Son of God seeing have success at the Box Office, The Cokeville Miracle is a perfect addition this genre’s community. It certainly is incredible that this fateful day did not end with the loss of innocent life, and that is a story worth telling . . . Inevitably the critical consumer will have these questions [about the fairness of a God that is presented as intervening in specific cases] (and possibly others) and may be left unsatisfied. Can we appreciate and sustain this story and still crave more? I would argue yes. While this film does not advance the understanding of the mystery of God, it does tell a worthy story. The gaps that cannot be filled can and should be contemplated.
Praiseworthy Cinema: A-. ” This is probably Christensen’s best movie to date. The acting was solid and the story arc was more traditional than his latest films. Audiences should like that . . . I will say, for a movie about a bomb going off in a room full of children, there isn’t much to see in the VFX. The flame and explosion look like they were done in after effects and takes away from what otherwise was a great movie.”
Stephen Carter, Sunstone. “It is a religiously satisfying narrative. The concrete way the angels are described (many being the children’s ancestors), the way they drop in through the ceiling (“like light bulbs”), the way they gather to direct the blast, connects many religious dots: God is not only watching over our children, but enlisting the help of ancestors who dramatically affirm a strong, loving connection with their descendants. The story makes the link between the mortal sphere and the divine feel almost tangible. The fact that the high-production-value Cokeville Miracle is aimed at the family movie audience drives many of the choices this potentially frightening narrative makes . . . [Carter discusses the miracles described in the film.] This makes me think that miracle stories are often a diversion. Yes, they can be emotionally satisfying; yes, they can give us a sense of safety, justice, and divine love; yes, they can motivate us to engage in healthy behavior. But miracle stories almost always involve the physical world: they involve the saving of those things which are precious to us but which will naturally pass away (our crops, our children, our own lives). But the gospel of Jesus Christ is explicitly not about miracles—unless you are talking about the miracle of atonement and spiritual transformation. And this is one place where the movie seems to entirely miss the boat. The officer’s doubts about the influence of God in such an ugly world prevent him from praying with his family and going to church, disappointing his wife and children. As far as the film shows, Hartley’s lack of faith is his single defining feature in their eyes. Not once does his family interact with anything about him but their wish that he would go back to being his old self and adhere to their spiritual practices. Not once is there a scene where his wife simply sits down to listen to him without judgment. He is a problem that needs to be fixed . . . And then there are normal people like you and me with our less-than-world-shaking lives, inevitably finding ourselves struggling with questions that threaten our worldview. We don’t ask for these questions, they find us themselves. We are as frightened about their implications as our loved ones are about us. We suddenly find ourselves outside the community, lonely and scared. The thing we need most is for someone to stay with us as we encounter these questions. Someone who values us—not our beliefs. This is what Jesus did. He sat with the prostitutes, the publicans, and other outcasts. He was rarely seen with the religiously respectable or the politically powerful. Jesus’s question to us is not “Do you have family prayer?” or “Do you go to church?” or “Do you believe in miracles?” His question is simply, “Who are you?” A question whose answer is always changing, always invisible to the rest of the world, always a matter exclusively between us and God. However, at the end of The Cokeville Miracle, the police officer gets spiritually fixed. He returns to the community and adheres to its beliefs and practices. The family comes back together, but misses an important opportunity to understand each other better.”
Kevin Burtt, LDS Cinema Online. B+ for filmmaking, D for thesis. ” From a movie perspective, The Cokeville Miracle is certainly well-made. Like Freetown, Christensen has taken a story where the ending is already known and created a film that is well-paced and thrilling. Both David Young and his wife (portrayed by Nathan Stevens and Kymberly Mellen) are compelling characters, and Jasen Wade from 17 Miracles is also effective as the local cop (and parent) who’s having his own faith crisis even before the Youngs walk into his kids’ school. The script also gives us some surprisingly humorous moments (albeit of the ‘black’ variety) that blend well with the tense moments. Where The Cokeville Miracle oversteps its bounds is by attempting to contextualize the Cokeville incident into a capital-I Important Lesson for people today — crafting a message about “the power of prayer” and “how God loves His children”. Rather than simply report the facts and allow viewers to decide for themselves about any element of divine assistance, Cokeville maintains that the kids and teachers contributed to their deliverance through their faith and prayers, and that we (the viewers) should do the same if we want similar blessings.”
Brad Barber and Scott Christopherson’s documentary Peace Officer has been given a distribution deal, and will appear in theatres this fall and on Independent Lens (PBS) next spring.
iZombie. TV series on The CW. First season, March-June 2015. It has been picked up for a second season. It is based on a comic book series of the same name by Chris Roberson and Michael Allred, published by DC Comics from 2010 to 2012. The protagonist is a functioning zombie who works for a Medical Examiner’s Office, eating parts of brains of murder victims, from which she gains memories which helps the Seattle police solve crimes.
May 24, 31, June 7, 14, 21
Christine Feehan. Cat’s Lair
Publisher’s Weekly Mass Market. #2, #3, #6, #20, #23 (5 weeks). ?, ?, 7807, 5666, 4748 units. 54,466 total.
USA Today. #8, #36, #67, x (3 weeks)
NYT Mass Market: #2, #3, #7, #18, x (4 weeks)
New York Times E-books: #4, x, x, x (1 week)
New York Times Pring & E-books: #6, x, x, x (1 week)
James Dashner. The Maze Runner
USA Today: #139, #116, #107, #101 (79 weeks)
NYT Children’s Series: #2, #5, #3, #2, #2 (139 weeks)
James Dashner. The Scorch Trials
USA Today: #159, #117, #100, #117 (63 weeks)
Shannon Hale and Dean Hale. The Princess in Black
New York Times Middle Grade: x, #15, #12, #15, #15
Orson Scott Card. Ender’s Game
PW: SF #7, #7
NYT Mass-Market: x, x, x, x, #18
Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnson. Earth Awakens
PW: SF x, #8
Charlie N. Holmberg. The Master Magician
Wall Street Journal Fiction E-book, x, x, x, #5