This Month in Mormon Literature, June 2016

So much Mormon literature, I hardly know where to start. Notice that AML folk are doing a lot of work to perk up this blog, brining in a lot of new content.  The Mormon Lit Blitz winners were announced. Three novelists had their work reviewed positively in the New York Times, and were nominated for youth fiction awards. There is a new Mormon literary novel by Julie Nichols, and a new collection of essays on literature and Mormonism by Jack Harrell. There are four new national novels  of note, by Brodi Ashton, Dave Butler, Charlie Holmberg, and Kiersten White. A new opera by Jamie Erekson. Also a memoir by ex-Mormon novelist Judith Freeman. To tell me news or make corrections, please mail me at mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.

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Awards, announcements, and articles

The 2016 Mormon Lit Blitz was a great success, with many great short-short fiction and non-fiction pieces. The readers picked: Grand Prize ($100 prize): “The Back Row” by Kelli Swofford Nielsen. Second Place: “Fresh Courage Take” by Bradeigh Godfrey. Third Place: “Rumors of Wars” by Zachary Lunn. Fourth Place: “Foolish and Wise” by Lisa Barker. Wm Morris gave his take on the finalists at A Motley Vision.

There have been positive New York Times reviews of three juvenile novels by Mormon authors this month: “Summerlost” by Ally Condie,The Passion of Dolssa” by Julie Berry, and “The Serpent King” by Jeff Zentner.

All three are also recent library association award nominees: The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) Notable Children’s Books Nominee. Fiction: Summerlost by Ally Condie. YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) Best Fiction for Young Adults nominees: The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry, and The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner.

There was a benefit production of the musical “Xanadu”, June 23-25. Hale Center Theater, Orem, Utah. The benefit is for Chris Clark, the Chair of the Theater Department at UVU, who has recently been diagnosed with ALS.

There will be a panel event at Provo’s Writ & Vision on Tuesday, June 28 at 7:00 p.m. with Jack Harrell, Boyd Petersen, Darlene Young, and Eric Samuelsen discussing creativity, expression, and a “Mormon literary theory.” The event is free and light refreshments will be served.

2016 Eugene England Memorial Personal Essay Contest Winners are: 1st Place: “Invisible but Real” by John Gustav-Wrathall. 2nd Place: “What Remains When Disbelief Has Gone?” by Derrick Clements. 3rd Place: “The Madness of Faith,” By Emily Belanger. 3rd Place: “An Open Palm and a Consecrated Life: Three Meditations on Being-With Others,” by Tyler Chadwick.

BYU Studies 55:2 (2016) is now available. Its literary selections include: “To Live”, by Wendy M. Payne (Essay, first-place in the 2016 Richard H. Cracroft Personal Essay Contest). Poems by Benjamin Blackhurst and Elizabeth Garcia. Reviews of Steven L. Peck’s Wandering Realities: The Mormonish Short Fiction of Steven L. Peck (by Scott R. Parkin), and Salt, by Susan Elizabeth Howe, and Genius Loci, by Lance Larsen (by Tyler Chadwick).

The 2016 Whitney Awards committee has been announced: Stephanie Black, Josi Kilpack, Braden Bell, Peggy Eddleman, Sian Bessey, Monique Luetkemeyer, and Kimberly VanderHorst.

Becky Wallace “The Skylighter” feature, Deseret News.

State of Brony”, Salt Lake City Weekly. An article about the popularity of “My Little Pony” in Utah, including among Mormons. It ends with some interesting and surprising perspectives from Stephen Carter, including a comparison of the doctrinal messages of My Little Pony vrs. He-Man, and how they have similarities with Christ’s message.

Short fiction and non-fiction

Jana Reiss. “Baptizing Mom”. Essay.

Ryan Shoemaker. “Unburdened”. Gravel. Non-fiction piece about an experience with an English student as a Mormon missionary in Italy.

Brad R. Torgerson. “Purytans” Analog: Science Fact and Fiction, July/Aug 2016. SF short story. Anth was traveling on a starliner that was lost. Poat and Serl have mourned the loss of their triomate for two years. They now hear that Anth was recovered and is on Plymouth, a restricted world near the edge of Treaty space. When they arrive they find Anth is now Sister Melissa. She no longer has the nanoskein that all citizens have, and which allows them to live indefinitely. Poat and Serl have to come to grips with the choice their former triomate has made. They feel a sense of abandonment and betrayal, and revulsion at what she has become.

David Farland “Players” and Brad R. Torgerson “Spirits with Visions” are short stories that appear in the anthology 2113: Stories Inspired By the Music of Rush. Edited by Kevin J. Anderson and John McFetridge. ECW, April 12. Publishers Weekly: “Befitting the muse, most of the tales amassed by editors/authors Anderson and McFetridge fall within the realm of speculative fiction; David Farland’s “Players” and Tim Lasiuta’s “Hollywood Dreams of Death” eschew the fantastical, but are (perhaps ironically) the weakest pieces . . . Michael Z. Williamson’s “The Digital Kid” and Brad R. Torgerson’s “Spirits with Visions” are loving tributes to scientific passion and curiosity.”

Galactic Games is a science fiction sports anthology, edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt. Baen, June 7. Includes: “Shooter Ready” by Larry Correia – competitive shooting. “Green Moss River” by David Farland – hunting. “Mars Court Rules” by Brad Torgersen – basketball.

MySF Reviews. “Some of my favorites in Galactic Games include “Mars Court Rules” by Brad R. Torgersen, “Petra and the Blue Goo” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, “Green Moss River” by David Farland, and “For the Sake of the Game” by Gray Rinehart. Torgersen spins a tale about a teenage newcomer in “Mars Court Rules”. JayDee is a delinquent who gets a second chance when he goes to live with his aunt on Mars. I found JayDee to be very compelling, and I love how he learned the ropes from a friendly girl. This story tied for my favorite in the anthology . . . Farland weaves a tale of a hardened soldier augmented with cybernetic implants pitted against strange antelope-like aliens in “Green Moss River”. As the story unfolds, Kember learns he hasn’t been given the whole story, and he has to make a hard decision that affects the lives of those aliens. I would love to have more stories about these characters. The story was touching and satisfying on multiple levels.

Jaren Watson. “The Fall of All Things Made.” Juxtaprose Literary Magazine, #8. A searing and sobering personal essay, in which Watson examines the mistakes of his youth.

New Books and their Reviews

Various, Summer House Party. Mirror, June 8. Timeless Regency Collection, #4. Donna Hatch, Sarah Eden, Regina Scott.

Brodi Ashton, Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows. My Lady Jane. Harper Teen, June 7. YA historical fantasy. Reworking of the story of Lady Jane Grey and King Edward VI. Of the three authors, only Ashton is Mormon. Salt Lake Tribune feature story.

Publishers Weekly (Starred review). “Hand, Ashton, and Meadows clearly had a ball working on this joyous rewrite of the story of Lady Jane Grey and King Edward VI, and readers will have just as much fun with it. The authors follow history to the point of tragedy, then toss it aside to allow love and good to triumph. One significant tweak is the creation of a shape-shifting people called E∂ians, such as Jane’s new husband, Lord Gifford Dudley, who spends his days as a horse and his nights as a man. This version of England is full of E∂ians, and Edward’s power-hungry sister Mary (aka Bloody Mary) is one of the Verities who want to purge the country of them. Alternating third-person narration scrolls smoothly among Edward, Jane, and Gifford in chapters packed with hilarious banter, authorial asides, and polite avoidance of nudity as characters shift into and out of animal forms at inopportune moments. It’s an uproarious historical fantasy that’s not to be missed.”

Wall Street Journal. “Some writers of historical fiction aim for verisimilitude and achieve it. Some try to re-create the past and fail. And some make such entertainment of history as to reconfigure it entirely. It’s this last course that Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows take in “My Lady Jane”, a cheeky mash-up of Tudor history, animal magic and teen romance . . . Plots boil and conspirators connive and civilized people sometimes behave like animals, but otherwise this is decidedly not the England of the history books—yet what an adventuresome place it is in this witty royal drama.”

SLJ: “Wisecracks are prevalent, which would be grating after a while if the characters did not fairly sparkle with the complete array of honest human qualities. Readers will need to know the basic backstory of Lady Jane Grey and Edward VI. VERDICT A great choice for those who enjoy lighthearted, alternative history adventures and romance.”

Kirkus: “Lady Jane Grey’s nine days as queen are reimagined as a tongue-in-cheek shape-shifter romance . . . Fourth-wall-breaking and pop-culture references that span from Shakespeare to Game of Thrones show signs of strain, especially the many references to The Princess Bride. The latter, sometimes layered one atop the other without a break, merely highlight this book’s contrast with the classic’s stellar comic timing; perhaps it’s for the best that few teen readers will be familiar with either the decades-old film or even older book. Joan Aiken or Terry Pratchett this ain’t, but the lightweight, gleefully anachronistic comedy will entertain with its cast of likable heroes and buffoonish villains.”

Rosalyn Eves. 5 stars. “This is not a short book (three fully fleshed out POVs will do that), but it read like one. And the three main characters are each distinct and adorable (though I related to Jane the most) . . . The story has a light-hearted historical touch–enough to know the authors have done their research, but the novel mixes historical settings and customs with occasional contemporary lingo in a way that shouldn’t work, but totally does. Fun, funny, adventurous and romantic, this story has something in it for nearly everyone.”

Melanie Bateman. The Time Key. Sweetwater/Cedar Fort, June 14. Speculative/time travel. First novel. An 1890s man is in despair over the loss of his family. He finds a time key, and travels into the future.

Sarah Beard. Beyond the Rising Tide. Sweetwater/Cedar Fort, June 14. YA paranormal. The spirit of a deceased young man tries to help the woman he saved before he died.

Andrea (Goodreads) 4.5 stars. “Wow, this story pulled me in right from the beginning! . . . It was a very creative story with touching moments (yes, tears were shed). I have read both of Sarah Beard’s published books, and they are full of emotion. You can’t help but become invested in the story and the characters. She is such a talented author, and I hope she continues writing.”

Dave Butler. The Kidnap Plot. Knopf Books for Young Readers, June 14. Early reader/middle grade steampunk adventure. The Extraordinary Journeys of Clockwork Charlie #1.

PW: “Charlie Pondicherry lives in his bap’s (father’s) clock shop in an alternate Victorian London shared by humans and fairy tale creatures (snippets from the Almanack of the Elder Folk and Arcana of Britain and North Ireland appear between chapters, describing these beings and their customs). Mr. Pondicherry forbids Charlie from leaving the alley where they live, but when his bap is kidnapped, Charlie vows to find him, aided by a ragtag group that includes a troll who practices law, a pixie on her tithe (akin to a walkabout), and two aeronauts who aren’t what they seem. The characters’ backstories are revealed as they try to track down the “Sinister Man” who took Bap as part of a larger conspiracy. The fast-paced plot is action-packed but leaves room for Charlie’s coming-of-age journey as he discovers his own strengths and comes to terms with his true identity. Debut author Butler’s meticulously crafted world springs to vivid life in this first book in the Extraordinary Journeys of Clockwork Charlie trilogy, which should satisfy fans of fantasy and adventure.”

SLJ: “The story is action packed and throws readers right in, but the world-building can feel overly busy, particularly since this version of steampunk London is populated not just by humans but also pixies, trolls, hulders, kobolds, and more, each with their own particular habits, dialect, and political subplots. An open ending promises more to come. VERDICT A page-turning adventure for ambitious readers who don’t mind a bit of a learning curve.”

Kirkus: “Butler crafts a multilayered network of societies within and beneath London and a racially diverse cast of characters, none of whom are entirely what they seem. Through the group’s exploits in the city, the author makes astute social commentary about the xenophobic attitudes of both 19th-century English society and, by extension, our own. Though the fast-paced action is dizzying at times, the novel’s central lesson that kindness is integral to the definition of humanity is solid. Reminiscent of both Pinocchio and The Great Mouse Detective, this novel is tailor-made for young readers who love adventure narratives and steampunk fiction.”

Bulletin for the Center for Children’s Books. “It’s a strong start to a new series—the characters are diverse, and Butler creates a smoky, grimy, harsh England that is almost a living character in itself. Readers will happily keep an eye out for the next volume.”

Stephen Carter. Mormonism for Beginners. Illustrated by Jett Attwood, foreword by Jana Riess. For Beginners, June 19. Illustrated explanation of Mormonism.

Michaelbrent Collings. The Sword Chronicles: Child of Sorrows. Self, June 22. Fantasy. Sword Chronicles #2.

Julie Daines. Willowkeep. Covenant, June 1. Regency romance. “Charlotte Darby’s ship is sinking. Penniless and alone, she is struggling to care for herself and her young sister in the harsh seaport town of Hull. But when a solicitor from London brings news that she is the heir to a vast estate in Kent, it seems her days of rough seas are over.”

Mindy, LDSWBR, 5 stars. “I was instantly drawn into this book. The characters were fascinating and well written. Of course, I would read anything from this author, I truly love her books. Charlotte’s character was intriguing and I loved her back story. I appreciated how her “secrets” were revealed later on and loved the letters to Anne Boleyn, that was really fun. I loved her devotion to her sister and the author notes at the end were very touching. I did suspect a certain character’s “intentions” early on, but I really liked how the plot all came together. I loved Henry, another wonderful character full of selflessness and kindness. I loved the author descriptions throughout and especially the detail of the Willowkeep estate. I loved the story and the ending was wonderfully satisfying.”

Andrea, Goodreads. 4.5 stars. “An excellent novel. It was sort of My Fair Lady meets a Jane Austin novel (but with deeper issues), and it was a great combination. I read it very quickly and would definitely read it again . . . a sweet and touching romance.”

Judith Freeman. The Latter Days: A Memoir. Pantheon, June 7. Memoir. The author, a novelist, tells her story, including leaving Mormonism.

PW: “Novelist Freeman recounts her upbringing in a Utah Mormon family where she never quite belonged in this poignant, if at times meandering, memoir of a life lived chafing against restrictions. Freeman was one of eight children, and only one of two girls, in a family run by a pragmatic, resourceful mother and an unpredictable father prone to violence. She grew up in the predominantly Mormon city of Ogden with her early life governed by the church. Freeman soon found the strictures of Mormonism oppressive, preferring to be outside riding horses or exploring nature. At age 17 in 1964, well on her way to becoming the Mormon version of a “wild child”—she smoked, she drank, she fooled around with boys—Freeman married her older sister’s ex-boyfriend, John Thorn, a BYU graduate six years her senior. This first foray into adulthood was soon made terrifying when Freeman’s newborn son, Todd, was diagnosed with a life-threatening heart defect, one that would require a series of risky surgeries. Moving to St. Paul, Minn., so Todd could see a top-ranked heart surgeon proved an awakening for Freeman on myriad levels as she strayed from her husband and came into her own academically. While some of the minutiae on Mormon life slow down the book’s middle sections, Freeman writes with the clear voice of a person who’s (mostly) shed the trappings of the past.”

Kirkus: “The author’s story is highly readable, but its true power derives from the realizations she had later in life when she asked John to help her answer two questions: why she had married so young and chosen him as her husband. John’s answers revealed that while she may have succeeded in suppressing memories—which John brought forward—of her father’s cruelty, Freeman could never entirely free herself of the Mormon faith she had always questioned. A poignant, searching memoir of self-discovery.

Amy Brunvand. 15 Bytes. “Freeman’s story of self-discovery and falling away from the Mormon Church will resonate strongly with many readers, particularly since in some ways not all that much has changed . . . Nonetheless, her memoir is not stridently anti-Mormon and in parts she recounts spiritual experiences connected to her childhood faith and pride in her family history.

Julia Klein, Chicago Tribune. “A tender, unspectacular coming-of-age memoir . . . It takes a while for “The Latter Days” to build up emotional steam. Mostly it flows slowly, a gentle stream of recollections, sometimes coalescing into eloquence. Its most beautiful passage is its final one. Here, Freeman, now decades older and happily re-married, describes herself as an inhabitant of “a transient camp of memory, a mutable, sheltering landscape, where often nothing seems missing, and the coherence of the past lives on in the bounty of the present.”

Joanna Brooks interviews Judith Freeman about The Latter Days.

Brandon Gray (pen name for Braden Bell). Orison. Kindle Press, May 3. YA paranormal. Romance between an Dryad and a Human.

Nicole White. “The pacing is pretty fast, which works with the urgency of the situation. Another delight, for me, was how the story shows a respect and care for the environment . . . Another terrific character is the woods and wild spaces that are meshed in almost every scene. There is nothing like a southern woodland, with its lush, green, dense growth, the scent of rich damp earth permeating everything, and fireflies dancing at dusk.” 

Jack Harrell. Writing Ourselves: Essays on Creativity, Craft, and Mormonism. Gregg Kofford, June 14. Essays and literary criticism. “Continuing a conversation as old as Mormonism itself, Jack Harrell explores the relationship between Mormonism and the writer. Mormons see the universe in mythic proportions. Their God is a creator, their devil a destroyer. This makes meaningful conflict fundamental to their worldview, and begs the terms for religious redemption, as well as the redemptive power of art. Harrell urges writers to be authentic as they embrace the difficulties inherent in the creative process. His essays blend faithful intellectual inquiry, personal narrative, research, and application to offer insights for anyone who cares about writing, creativity, and the human condition.” Q&A with the author.  Greg Kofford Books Authorcast podcast interview with Harrell.

Charlie Holmberg. Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet. 47 North (Amazon), June 26. Fantasy.Maire is a baker with an extraordinary gift: she can infuse her treats with emotions and abilities, which are then passed on to those who eat them. She doesn’t know why she can do this and remembers nothing of who she is or where she came from. When marauders raid her town, Maire is captured and sold to the eccentric Allemas, who enslaves her and demands that she produce sinister confections, including a witch’s gingerbread cottage, a living cookie boy, and size-altering cakes. During her captivity, Maire is visited by Fyel, a ghostly being who is reluctant to reveal his connection to her.”

Kimberly VanderHorst. 5 stars. “What caught me off guard was the level of emotion I felt as I read. This book rubbed me raw in beautiful ways. I’ve read all of Holmberg’s other books and despite already being at a high level, she leveled up with this one. I CRIED, people. I actually cried. And this is NOT a normal thing for me. Not only is the story beautifully crafted and the world-building exquisite, the emotional authenticity was so powerful that while I immediately wanted to read the book again once I finished, I needed to recuperate for a few days before I could tackle it again. THAT is how you earn five stars. Wow. Highly recommend this read to anyone who loves magic, moving stories, and surprise endings that take your breath away (literally–I gasped, and I’m the person who ALWAYS guesses the ending).”

Rachel Reviews. 3.5 stars. “Very slow-paced, which I enjoyed because there were so many wonderful details about Maire baking hope, peace, strength, and love into her confections. Days didn’t pass in a mere paragraph, which I dislike in most books. It did get frustrating at times, between the slow plot and Maire’s memory loss, but I did enjoy this book.”

Jenni James. Lord Romney’s Exquisite Widow. Trifeta Books, May 25. Regency romance.

Caitlyn McFarland. Soul of Smoke. Shadow of Flame. Truth of Embers. Dragonsworn Trilogy. Carina Press, 2015. Fantasy. A young woman hiking in the Rockies meets a dragon/man, and is drawn into his world. Carina Press is a digital-first, adult single-title imprint of Harlequin Books.

Julie Nichols. Pigs When they Straddle the Air. Zarahemla, June 2. Literary novel, in seven stories. “These stories trace the arc of a family narrative in which mothers abandon their children for the best of reasons, fierce daughters reclaim their heritage, and the gap between spiritual health and the expectations of LDS culture affects the outcome of every episode. Poet Annie MacDougal, feminist Riva Maynard, and Riva’s daughter Katie spiral in and out of these seven “incidents” spanning more than three decades, along with the men and women they learn from and love.” The stories began as her 1994 University of Utah dissertation. Several of these were published in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Catalyst, Sunstone, and elsewhere. Nichols is a professor of creative writing at Utah Valley University. She talks about the background of the book here.

Scott Abbott, A Tight-Sphinctered Response to A Novel in Seven Stories. “My colleague Julie Nichols’ new book kept disturbing my sleep last night. The interlocking stories have great characters, many of whom are Mormons: lesbian Mormons, straight Mormons, polygamous Mormons, energy directing Mormons, criminal Mormons, herbalist Mormons, business Mormons, lapsed Mormons, priesthood wielding Mormons, feminist Mormons, and so on. Nichols likes these characters one and almost all. She weaves their stories into an intimate textile, a text whose sentences are the work of a careful and brilliant writer; she loves language as much as she loves the people of her stories. The warm-hearted and cantankerous communities of her characters are mirrored by her rich and well crafted paragraphs.” (The focus of the rest of the review is Abbott’s discomfort with the supernatural aspects of the stories).

Thomas F. Rogers. Let Your Hearts and Minds Expand: Reflections on Faith, Reason, Charity, and Beauty. Neal A. Maxwell Institute, June. Essays. Part of the Maxwell Institute’s “Living Faith” series.

Stephen Smoot, Ploni Almoni. “It is an interesting mix of apologetics, personal memoir, and meditations on gospel and other philosophical themes. While I admittedly found some parts much more interesting than others, overall I feel it is a solid addition to the Living Faith series. The book is structured into four parts that reflect the four things named in the book’s subtitle: faith, reason, charity, and beauty. Part 1 (“The Just Shall Live by Faith”) reads very much like Adam Miller’s Letters to a Young Mormon. Along personal reflections on his service in the Church, it is comprised of a number of correspondences between Rogers and his family members and friends. Rogers is commendably honest in tackling the contradictions that often attend those who live a life of faithfulness . . . The second part was my favorite, and included outstanding contributions to the discourse surrounding how Latter-day Saints can balance testimony with scholarship or rationality . . . Given its somewhat eclectic nature, Let Your Hearts and Minds Expand probably has something to offer for everyone. Those interested in more traditional apologetics will especially appreciate part 2. Those who are seeking a sympathetic voice when it comes to grappling with a faith crisis will probably find much agreeable material in part 1. And those interested in literature and the dramatic arts will enjoy the reflections in part 4.“

Joan Sowards. Clairvoyance. Walnut Springs, May 9. Romance. “After college graduation, Jennifer takes a summer job with a small seaside village newspaper in Oregon.”

Jennie Hansen (Meridian Magazine) 3 stars. “The setting for this story is the beautiful Oregon coast which Sowards works into the story very well, adding a romantic setting to the story. The plot doesn’t contain a lot of action, but it holds the reader’s attention, follows a nice arc, and leads to a satisfying conclusion. Clairvoyance is a strange choice for the title of this book since it has nothing to do with supernatural powers or being able to see into the past or future. A secondary definition of clairvoyance is quick, intuitive knowledge of things and people and doesn’t have anything to do with this story either, since the main character, Jennifer, is actually kind of slow catching on to the people and events around her. Even though the title may not suggest the merits of this book, it is a an enjoyable story and perfect for relaxing on a warm summer day.”

Kiersten White. And I Darken. Delacorete Press, June 28. YA alternative history. First in a trilogy.

PW: “What if Vlad Tepes, the historical inspiration for Dracula, had actually been a fearsome and brilliant teenage girl? That’s the question raised in this alternate history, first in a trilogy. Set in the mid-15th century, first in Wallachia and then in the Ottoman Empire, the narrative focuses on Ladislav “Lada” Dragwyla and her younger brother, Radu (later known as the Handsome), who are sent by their father to act as royal hostages in the Ottoman Court of Sultan Murad. There, the ambitious Lada chafes at the limited options available to women, Radu converts to Islam, and both fall for the charismatic prince Mehmed, resulting in an awkward love triangle. White draws heavily on historical figures and events to craft this slow-burning tale, which focuses more on characterization and drama than on setting and detail; subtle commentary on gender, religious conflict, and geopolitical strife winds up overshadowed by churning romantic emotions. Given the historical bloodshed in which the novel is based, it comes across as somewhat sanitized, though grisly days seem likely in future installments.”

SLJ (Starred Review): “Full of sword fights, assassination plots, and palace intrigues, this novel is ambitious in scope and concept and reveals a fascinating, important, and somewhat obscure slice of history. Compared to White’s painstaking development of her characters and the fantastic world they inhabit early in the novel, the ending sequence that sets up the next book in the series seems rather abrupt and haphazard. However, as a whole, the novel is breathtakingly good. The brutality and carnality of this time and place in history are faithfully rendered here, making the volume more appropriate for older teen readers. Highly recommended for all high school collections.”

Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books. “White follows the timeline of historic events with clear accuracy, and she gives vivid detail about the atrocities committed by the Ottoman Empire . . . The heart of this story lies with the contrary relationship between the siblings—Lada hates Radu for his sensitive nature but holds a fierce sense of love and protection for him, while Radu sees his sister as both his tormentor and idol. The ending leaves Lada well before her historical model’s infamous twenty thousand heads on sticks incident, so readers may find sympathy for Lada in her broken heart—though such sentiment will be unlikely if they dive into the internet hole this book will likely lead them to.”

Kirkus: “The political mechanisms are endlessly twisty, and the characters, though they sometimes don’t read as their given ages, benefit from complex motivations and an unconventional love triangle. Addictive intrigue that will send readers to history books as a balm while waiting for the sequel.”

Reviews of older books

Julie Berry. The Passion of Dolssa. (Majorie Ingall, New York Times). “The language is gorgeous and evocative without seeming to try too hard. You practically smell the sea and taste the foamy ale . . . I cried partly because of the matter-of-fact kindness of the sisters — they care for others because it’s the moral thing to do — and partly because of the parallels to our country now. There’s a difference between being Christ-like and using Christ’s name to oppress others, to silence women and persecute immigrants. I’m not sure how big an audience there is for a book like this. But I found it magnificent.”

Ally Condie. Summerlost. (Natalie Standiford, New York Times). “This is the first middle-grade novel by Ally Condie, the author of the best-selling Matched series for teenagers, and she has a gift for expressing complex feelings in clear and lovely images that younger readers can grasp. “Sometimes I thought of the three of us as pencils with the erasers scrubbed down to the end,” Cedar says of herself, her mother and Miles, “and the next swipe across the paper would tear through the page and make a scree sound across the desk.” . . . Some revelations near the end of the book are perhaps too surprising. Cedar uncharacteristically steals something valuable for reasons that never quite add up. She also admits to having resented the extra attention Ben got when he was alive, but this confession comes late in the novel and doesn’t have the impact it seems to demand. It might have added extra depth to Cedar’s character to see her struggle more with her mixed feelings and her guilt, along with her grief. Even so, “Summerlost” is swift and ­entertaining. It reverberates with feeling. After a summer spent grappling with the mysteries of death, Cedar comes to accept that some questions can never really be answered. All we can do is live with the people we love, and love them back while they’re here.”

Joyce DiPastena. Courting Cassandry (Jennie Hansen, Meridian) 5 stars. “This story is populated with interesting characters. Several share the same faults; misplacing blame, failure to communicate, and naivety . . . The background and setting are realistic, revealing the lack of amenities, the almost non-existent rights of women and the average person, the feudal government, and the power of the church. The plot is fairly predictable as is the case in most romance novels, but the journey is fascinating.”

Joey Franklin. My Wife Wants You To Know I’m Happily Married (Meg McManama, 15 Bytes). “Joey Franklin, Utah author and BYU professor, is an average-Joe-Mormon who contemplates hilarious and poignant moments of boyhood, manhood, and fatherhood. Franklin’s collection of 14 essays brought out the immature teenage humor in me, and at other moments had me meditating on the huge responsibility of life as a parent, as a spouse. His writing is honest, funny, ruminative, and creates a longing for connection. It is full of striking questions, but is not so vague that he loses us. This collection captures young Franklin visiting his father in a halfway house, the history of kissing, a gruesome killing of a cockroach, a teenage Franklin who goes bald and keeps confidence, instructions on being a T-ball parent in Texas, a dance competition in Japan, and an older Franklin teaching his children to pray. Although he writes the traditional personal essay most often, it’s in the fragmented lyric essay where Franklin really shines. The mosaic-like fragments create a fascinating meditation when looked at as a whole . . . The sensitive and passionate author proves to be very versatile. Every few pages, his self-deprecating anecdotes had me laughing . . . Writing about religion in literary nonfiction is often taboo, or at least, not done well, but Franklin (and not many others) has found a way to discuss spirituality within the genre. This essay (“In Their Ears and on Their Tongues”) is unique because he assays (attempts, tries to find meaning in) spiritual topics. The tone is not didactic or off-putting, but honest and intimately pensive. He focuses specifically on prayer, attempts to broaden the meaning, and a redefining of sorts takes place . . . It would seem that Franklin is ultimately exploring connection, whether through a kiss, a prayer, a conversation at Wendy’s drive-thru, or a punch in the gut.”

Elizabeth C. Garcia. Stunt Double (Terresa Wellborn, Segullah). “Garcia’s poetry is both accessible and adventurous, revealing a new world turned on its side and the darker terrain of marriage, heart, mind. With an observant eye and a keen sense of language, she tackles everything from PBS to truck drivers, Wonder Woman to red Jello Rorschachs . . . The last poem, “God as Intern,” (p. 29) shines, as it should, it was nominated for The Pushcart Prize. Garcia shows God’s indelible handiwork as a learning process we, too, understand. As we grasp towards heaven, we see that God has thrust through a learning curve not unlike our own, creating our world complete with drafts, recalculations, and “paper rubbed transparent / from erasures.” The foibles and humanity in us all, including our own creator, invite a renewed sense of possibility and wonder. Whether you are new to poetry or like myself have bookshelves brimming with dogeared favorites, you will want to add this book to your collection. To partake of Elizabeth Garcia’s poetry in Stunt Double is to savor truth-telling in every bite.”

Craig Harline. Way Below the Angels (Rosalynde Frandsen Welch, Dialogue). “What makes the memoir exceptional, in addition to its wit and orientation toward an outside audience, is its willingness to tear down the icons of the Heroic Mission Story . . . Harline is a canny storyteller, however, and realizes that tales of the Heroic Iconoclast are nearly as hackneyed as tales of the Heroic Missionary. He avoids the problem by creating a confessional, conspiratorial narrative voice that is as game to humorously deprecate itself as it is to gently poke at parts of LDS mission culture. He achieves this appealing voice by blending past with present: equal parts “erudite history professor”—after his mission, Harline made the study of Belgium’s religious history his life’s work—and “clueless California teen” mixed with dashes of down-to-earth folksiness, droll humor, and spiritual reflection. The result is a readable hybrid that somehow shuttles us among early modern Europe, 1970s Belgium, and Harline’s present-day writing desk without a hint of jet lag.”

Mette Ivie Harrison. His Right Hand (Robert Reiligh, Goodreads) 3 stars. “I really wanted to like this, but ultimately didn’t find it very satisfying. My dissatisfaction falls into a few general categories: a) As a mystery, it wasn’t particularly satisfying. I’m not a big connoisseur of mysteries, but I’ve read enough to know that there are a few conventions. There need to be a number of plausible suspects. There need to be some significant red herring clues. There needs to be some layered discovery, where one discovery shifts the viewpoint of the reader and makes further discoveries more interesting. Nominally, Harrison touches on some of these, but in pretty rote ways. The other possible suspects were never very convincing. Most of the actual clues never had much importance. b) The prose wasn’t very compelling. It’s workable, but really flat. I want a book of any genre to have some pop, to surprise me at the sentence level. That never happened here.”

Susan Elizabeth Howe, Salt, and Lance Larsen, Genius Loci (Tyler Chadwick, BYU Studies). “Mormon theology demands that in all we do—language-making included—we attend closely to the environments we inhabit. “Consider the lilies of the field,” Christ said in the Sermon on the Mount . . . Howe, it seems, has taken this imperative to heart, using her poiesis as a way to sustain the world and to draw out her presence—as well as her readers’ presence—therein. Poet and professor Lance Larsen, who (like Howe) teaches at BYU, seems to have responded likewise, although the places he inhabits in his fourth poetry collection, Genius Loci, are more directly mobile than those Howe inhabits in Salt. Salt’s geographies and the people and creatures who populate them are essentially in motion. But a persistent concern in Genius Loci is what it means to live in a world that doesn’t hold still—scratch that: not just to live in a world that doesn’t hold still, but to be fully present in that world. The book foregrounds the postindustrial world’s lack of stillness in its movement among places and images and its repeated references to public transportation. In a conversation I recently had with a colleague regarding Genius Loci, she mentioned that the collection’s movement among so many places and things made it feel like it had ADHD—like the poet couldn’t sit still long enough to settle on a unifying theme or focus. The poems jump between past and present; the subject matter moves from trout fishing to big city living to life in the suburbs, from interactions between parent and child, between lovers, or among strangers; and the imagery points to something beyond this world even as it remains deeply rooted in life on Earth . . . Both Salt and Genius Loci can be productively read by those interested in poetry of high literary value and also by those interested in the impact our presence and our language have on the earth and who seek to be fully present in that world.”

Rebecca H. Jamison. Chemistry Lessons (Jennie Hansen, Meridian). “Jamison faces some of today’s social problems head on and hints at a liberal politically correct attitude. I found the personalities of her characters a little extreme and I didn’t care for them at first, but most grew on me as the story advanced. There’s little reference to real ranching and the major focus is more on animal rescue of discarded or injured animals than on really running a two thousand acre ranch. The real story is in the changes that take place inside Rosie that permit her to see her long time boyfriend in a different light, forgive the young woman responsible for her grandmother’s death, and face the future without the fears that have held her back and kept her from being the strong person she has pretended to be. In this day when many novels, both good and poor, are self published more than the usual number of flaws go uncorrected. This is true of this book, though the story is interesting and the writer shows great promise, there are a few glitches an experienced novel editor would have caught. Hopefully the unappealing title won’t discourage Romance readers from trying a new and promising author.”

Brittany Larsen. Pride & Politics (Jennie Hansen, Meridian) 4 stars. “The author uses examples of real bigotry and bias found in today’s political arena which is shared by some members of the Church. The partisan squabbling, manipulation, and dirty tricks unfortunately add a layer of realism to the story . . . Some of the other characters are so real they’re a painful reminder of some of the less-than-wonderful people we’ve all had run-ins with in our lives. Some make us want to hug the friends and family members who have been there for us through thick and thin. The book is well-written, well-edited, and certainly holds the reader’s attention. The ending isn’t exactly what romance readers may be looking for. These two have their work cut out for them to achieve family unity and achieve their “happily ever after.””

Patrick Madden. Sublime Physick (Times Literary Supplement). “Each consideration reveals something of the writer’s persona: by turns earnest, introspective, ambitious, anxious, guilt-ridden, optimistic, melancholic and eternally fearful that we are ‘only partially present, sleepwalking through life’.”

Adam S. Miller. Future Mormon (Walker Wright, Worlds Without End). “Whether you agree with everything (or anything) in Future Mormon is beside the point. Miller wants you to wrestle with these ideas . . . [The book] starts conversations, gets the mental wheels turning, and begins to transform the reader into a theologian. Miller’s book is the very world-building and alliance-making he describes. In it, he helps lay the foundation for a more thoughtful, earthy, and creative Mormonism; all while extending his hand to readers as an invitation to join him in the process. At least in my case, his hope of inspiring “a thoughtful and creative engagement with Mormon ideas” has not been in vain. And when you pick up Future Mormon and reflect on its pages, I think you’ll find your case to be similar.”

Adam Miller. Nothing New Under the Sun. (Segullah).

Steven L. Peck. Wandering Realities (Scott Parkin, BYU Studies). “I can’t think of any good reasons to be coy, so I’ll just draw my conclusion from the start and let the reasons come after: Steven L. Peck may be the most important Mormon fiction writer producing today, and this collection of selected short stories vividly demonstrates why. . . . Peck’s work represents a reflection of his very Mormon mind that models the next stage of literary development for Mormon artists writing to broad audiences. His characters’ identities are so deeply integrated that their experience transcends regional foibles or broad cultural aspirations to reveal real experience that resonates at the most basic human level. His stories explore how being Mormon affects the way his characters perceive and interpret and act, rather than cataloging the special challenges of being a Mormon in the midst of an o en hostile world at difference represents a powerful vision of literature that I find profound, important, and praiseworthy.”

Steven L. Peck. Wandering Realities and Evolving Faith (Michael Austin, Dialogue). “He is a writer who knows how to use all of his tools—boundary-pushing narrative technique, big ideas, ingenious plot twists, and engaging characters—to expand what we mean by both “fiction” and “Mormonism.” Mormon to their core, these stories constantly ask what it means to be a Latter-day Saint in America today or on Mars a thousand years into the future. Peck asks us to consider the many ways that different contexts and environments shape the way Latter-day Saints understand their common religion . . . Steven L. Peck is one of Mormonism’s best living writers, but he is also one of our most formidable and comprehensive intellects. His interests are as wide-ranging as his experiences, which lead to great satisfaction for his readers and, I suspect, great frustration for his publishers and booksellers. In an age when we expect books (and their authors) to conform to genres and categories, Peck gives us fluid intellectual borders and a genre-busting literary style. It is no accident that both collections contain the word “wandering” in the title; no word better describes Peck as a writer or as a thinker. In both his fiction and his non-fiction, he moves through ideas, topics, and styles at a dizzying pace. By their very nature, retrospective collections like Wandering Realities and Evolving Faith must try to capture the movements of a peripatetic mind. Both do so admirably, and I recommend them enthusiastically and without qualification.”

Robison Wells. Dark Energy. (Wm Morris) 3 stars. “This is a fun read with a very interesting conceit and solid plot lines and a few genuine (at least in my case) surprises. What kept me from loving it was that some of the sections seemed a little rushed for my taste and some of the characterization was inconsistent or incomplete.”

Jeff Zentner. The Serpent King (Majorie Ingall, New York Times). An ambitious, sui generis genre mash-up. The three main characters, who live in rural Tennessee, seem to come from three kinds of literature: Dill, with his snake-handling fundamentalist preacher father — currently incarcerated for possession of child pornography — and fearful, quietly manipulative mother, is straight out of Southern Gothic. His parents don’t want him to go to college (his mother wants him to drop out of high school and make money), and with his soulful guitar playing, self-doubt and yearning, you ache for him to find his way into a different story. Lydia is a smart-mouthed fashionista and power blogger whose spiky voice is so well executed she could text with Scarlett. Travis is a lumbering, black-clad, dragon-pendant-­wearing, staff-­carrying guy who lives through his passion for a George R.R. Martin-style fantasy world. Zentner’s great achievement — particularly impressive for a first novel — is to make us believe three such different people could be friends. He also manages to blend a dank, oppressive, Flannery O’Connor-esque sense of place with humor and optimism. I particularly looked forward to Travis’s passionate narration as he pretends he’s in the “Game of Thrones”-like world . . . The characters narrate their own chapters, which makes for some wild shifts in tone. The unredeemable monstrousness of Dill’s and Travis’s fathers may prove hard for some readers to take, and a senseless, drug-­fueled tragedy may seem over the top. But I adored all three of these characters and the way they talked to and loved one another.”


The Lost Children of Hamelin. By Jamie Erekson. BYU, June 8-11. The premier of a new opera. Staged in 1295 in the village of Hamelin, Germany, the opera tells the story of the Pied Piper 11 years after the 130 children went missing. As a girl stumbles into town, she sets into motion a series of events that reveal the true identity of the piper and the fate of the lost children.

Charly, A Love Song is playing at Brigham’s Playhouse, Washington, UT, now through July 2. Music and arrangements by Lex de Azevedo, book and lyrics by Heather Young, based on a novel by Jack Weyland. Originally produced around 1980. Weyland says, “I had see it years ago and loved it tremendously. Even so, probably because of years watching people I care about go through hard times, I was not prepared for the impact it had on me and Sherry. We were very much moved by the music and by the skilled actors and actresses who did such a good job bringing this story to life. James Young, the director, added innovative touches which added to our understanding and our empathy.” Playing every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, until July 2.

First Freedom, by Larry Sidwell, Rob Lauer, and Sam Cardon. Brigham’s Playhouse, Washington, UT, through July 2. “It is a powerful new musical that tells the story of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison’s fight for humankind’s most fundamental right: freedom of religion. This production was created by Larry Sidwell, who is retired U.S. Air Force and has served as an adjunct guide in Jefferson’s hilltop home in Virginia as a house guide. Combining Mr. Sidwell’s knowledge and religious background with award-winning playwright Rob Lauer and Emmy Award Winning Utah composer, Sam Cardon, First Freedom will give you humor, fact, suspense, and gripping music to tell this powerful, yet less-known story.”

At BYU Theatre and Media Arts, Adam Houghton is a recent hire. Houghton graduated from BYU in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in theatre arts studies. He received his MFA in directing from the Carnegie Mellon School of Drama. He was Department Chair and an Associate Professor of acting for the Theatre Department at the College of St Benedict and St John’s University, where he directed a run of Melissa Leilani Larson’s Persuasion. Also Barta Heiner, a long-time theater professor at BYU, and noted film and stage actor, retired from the university this year.


The Mormon History Association conference was held June 10-11, and had two literary-related sessions.

“Mormonism and Social Practice in Nineteenth-Century France”. Chair: Elizabeth Emery (Montclair State University).

Daryl Lee (BYU): “Mormonism as a Secte Rouges in 19th-Century French Thought”
. Heather Belnap Jensen (BYU): “Romantic Socialism, La Nouvelle Femme, and Representations of Mormon Women in Nineteenth- Century French Art and Literature”. 
Corry Cropper (BYU): “Dangerous Similarities: Mormons in Nineteenth- Century French Fiction”.

“Women Writers and the Practice of Mormonism” Chair: Lisa Olsen Tait (LDS Church History Department).

Saskia Tielens (TU Dortmund): “’When Men Were Men and Women Were Women’: An Exploration of the Regency Romance Novel in a Mormon Context”. Sarah Reed (University of Wisconsin- Madison): “Polygamy and Postmemory: Virginia Sorensen’s Utah Novels”. Scott Hales (LDS Church History Department): “The Poet and the Apostle: The Correspondence of Ina Coolbrith and Joseph F. Smith”

The 2016 Salt Lake Sunstone Symposium will be held July 27-30, at the University of Utah. Among the literary works will be: Play reading: “Burn”, by Morag Shepherd. The story of a young Mormon mother working through a crisis of faith manifesting itself through an allergy to the sun. A new work, to be produced this fall in Salt Lake City. Directed by Dave Mortensen.  Judith Freeman, “Memories of a Mormon Girlhood.” A discussion of her memoir The Latter Days. Tyler Chadwick. “Doing Mormonism. This presentation explores what it means to “do” Mormonism, to put on a Mormon identity, especially through speech acts and literary texts. Tyler Chadwick. “Woman of Another World, I am With You.” Heavenly Mother in Mormon Poetry. Tyler reads and comments on the poems feature in the A Mother Here Art and Poetry Contest.


June 12, 19, 26, July 3

Brenda Novak. Discovering You

USA Today: #48 , x, x, x (1 week)

Christine Feehan. Fire Bound

USA Today: Off after 4 weeks.

PW Mass Market: #25, x, x, x (5 weeks). 4234 units. 51,469 total.

2 Thoughts on “This Month in Mormon Literature, June 2016

  1. Sarah Dunster on June 26, 2016 at 2:59 pm said:

    Wow. This month has been big.
    Charlie Holmberg’s burgeoning career really interests me. 47 North is Amazon’s publishing company, I believe.

  2. .

    Impressive month.

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