This Month in Mormon Literature, Mid-March 2017

Several conferences are coming up, including the AML Conference on April 22. New books include the third in the “Mormon Image in Literature” series, a collection of essays from Matthew James Babcock, fantasy novels by D. J. Butler, Brian McClellan, Bryce Moore, and Brandon Mull, the latest YA novel from Jeff Zentner, and a series of Thomas F. Rogers’ collected plays. New plays by Morag Shepherd and Eric Samuelsen are being staged soon. I got this out in less than a month in the first time in a while. Please send announcements and corrections to: mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.

News and blogs

The Association for Mormon Letters Conference will be held at Utah Valley University on April 22. The conference schedule will be released soon. A major national author will be among the participants in the conference. Be sure and check out the AML Award finalists in twelve categories.

The schedule for the Mormon Scholars in the Humanities Conference, May 25-27, in Boston, has been released. The theme is “Wisdom”, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and Terryl Givens are the keynote speakers. Literature-related talks include:

“The (Un)Wisdom of Literature” • David Paxman (Brigham Young University)

“What Wisdom is Buried in Domestic Fiction?” • Lee Ann Westman (Rutgers University)

“How ‘Seek Ye Out of the Best Books Words of Wisdom’?” • Bruce Jorgensen (Brigham Young University)

“The Wisdom of Weeping Gods in Middle Earth and Mormonism” • Jacob Rennaker (John A. Widstoe Foundation)

“Beyond a Form of Godliness to the Power Thereof: Mormon Literature as Christo-Fiction” • Adam S. Miller (Collin College)

Poetry Reading: “Wisdom for the Dead and Dying” • Jonathon Penny (Rochester Institute of Technology, Dubai).

The LDStorymakers Conference and Whitney Awards Gala will be held May 11-13 at Provo, Utah. Ally Condie and Jennifer Nielsen are the keynote speakers.

The BYU Theatre and Media Arts Writing Conference will be held May 17-20. Organized by Tom and Courtney Russell, students and alumni will join Media Arts faculty and special guests at the Timpanogos Lodge at Sundance for screenings, presentations, and discussions on writing for film, TV, and media. The conference is open to all BYU students and alumni, with current Media Arts students receiving priority.

The UVU Mormon Studies Conference will be held March 29-31. The theme is: “Multicultural Mormonism: Religious Cohesion in a New Era of Diversity”

The LDS Film Festival was held March 1-4 in Orem.

Feature Film Audience Choice Award:

Story Tellers, Filmmaker: John Lyde

The Last Descent, Filmmaker: Isaac Halasima

Waffle Street, Filmmaker: Autumn McAlpin

Short Film Competitions:

1st Place and $1,000: Home, Filmmaker: Ben McPherson

2nd Place and $300: Another Time, Filmmaker: Autumn McAlpin

3rd Place and $100: The High Road, Filmmaker: John Lyde

Audience Choice Awards:

My Place in the Lineup,
Filmmaker: Steven D. Falatea

The High Road, Filmmaker: John Lyde

Red Lopez, Filmmaker: Stephen Frandsen, Hadleigh Arnst

Believe: The Michael Ethington Story, Filmmaker: Jake Featherstone

LDSPPA Praiseworthy Award. A new award, from the Latter-Day Saint Publishing Professionals Association. Awards for 2016 works in the following categories: Text publication—short form, Text publication—long form, Multimedia publication—short form, Multimedia publication—long form, Audio/video—short form, Audio/video—long form. Submissions are due April 30, and there is a $50 entry fee.

The Sunday Pews. A new humor/parody news website, a Mormon version of “The Onion”.

“Utah writers consider life springing from shadows of dead relatives. “Salt Lake Tribune, Ellen Fagg Weist. Two Utah writers take stock of the echoes left by the dead — one exploring an ancestor’s “inner wilderness,” one meditating on fraternal ties. “Maybe literary inspiration can be captured by that famously quoted idea of writer William Faulkner, about how history isn’t really dead, or even really past. That’s the metaphorical link between two recent memoirs by Utah writers Brooke Williams and Scott Abbott, whose lives are shadowed by dead relatives. Williams’ ghost is his great-great-grandfather William Williams, who died in Wyoming along the Mormon Trail. In contrast, Abbott is haunted by someone he once knew well, his younger brother, John, who died at 40 in 1991 of complications from AIDS. Williams, in his new memoir, “Open Midnight: Where Ancestors and Wilderness Meet,” imagines a story from the barest outlines of his great-great-grandfather’s life. In the decade or so since Williams “met” his ancestor, the writer came to believe he has been guided to discover what might be called an inner wilderness . . . In Abbott’s book, “Immortal for Quite Some Time,” the Utah Valley University philosophy professor crafts what he calls “a fraternal meditation.” In a fragmented, intellectual style, he includes challenges from an unnamed female voice and questions from his dead brother.” A long profile of Williams and Abbott.

The Ultimate List of Mormons Who Have Written NYT Best Sellers. LDS Living. Not complete, but includes 33 authors, pretty good. There was one author I had not been aware of before, Heidi Schulz, who writes middle-grade and picture books. I list her three books below.

New Books and their reviews

Michael Austin and Ardis E. Parshall. Dime Novel Mormons. Greg Kofford Books, March 21. The Mormon Image in Literature Series #3. Republication of four dime novels from 1870 to 1903. “Dime novels probably did more than any other kind of book to turn lower- and middle-class Americans into both book owners and book readers. They were so cheap that almost anyone could afford them, and so exciting that almost everybody wanted to read them. It’s hard to tell just how many of these dime novels featured Mormons, but the way Mormons were portrayed in dime novels was remarkably consistent over many decades and multiple genres. This consistency tells us that dime novelists were playing with common stereotypes that nearly all their readers recognized—indeed, these stereotypes worked their way into much of the more respectable literature of the day and influenced the way American culture has interacted with Mormonism ever since. These tropes were based on three things, perhaps the only three things that most Americans knew about the Mormons in the final decades of the nineteenth century: Danites, polygamy, and the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Whatever variation occurs in the dime novels comes from mixing these three ingredients into new concoctions. For this volume, four full-length dime novels have been chosen to represent different aspects of the Mormon image in dime novels: Eagle Plume, the White Avenger. A Tale of the Mormon Trail (1870); The Doomed Dozen; or, Dolores, the Danite’s Daughter (1881); Frank Merriwell Among the Mormons; or, The Lost Tribes of Israel (1897); and The Bradys Among the Mormons; or, Secret Work in Salt Lake City (1903). The often-lurid and scandalous portrayals of Mormons in these dime novels had consequences for the relationship between Mormons and the rest of the United States. They would represent reality for millions of people, and the basic portrayals found their way into more serious literature. Understanding how these stereotypes were created and first employed can help us understand many things about the way that Mormonism has always functioned in American culture.”

Meg Stout, The Millennial Star. “Reading these dime novels gives me perspective on why various people I have know had such strange ideas about Mormons and why they felt it was acceptable to be so impolite. And if you can suspend a feeling of deep outrage at the gross factual distortions contained in these books, you will likely have a great time reading the tales.”

Matthew James Babcock. Heterodoxologies: Essays. Educe Press, Mid-March. Essays. Babcock teaches creative writing and literature at BYU-Idaho. “Expansive, exuberant, and relentlessly eclectic, Matthew James Babcock’s debut essay collection, Heterodoxologies, mixes the long view with the quick glance to examine every abstruse angle of a life lived in the Rocky Mountain Northwest.  Those pieces long enough to change a life—ruminations on breakdancing and bullying, body dysmorphic disorder and virginity—sit cheek-by-jowl with breezy snapshots on assassins, roller rinks, and bowling alleys—dashes of nonfiction short enough to read while you wait for the traffic light to change.  Even if you’ve never had an imagined conversation with Jane Austen, or been awakened from a dream visit to a fictional town in Indiana, if you’ve never been smitten with scabies or watched your brother’s garage band make it most of the way out of the garage, Heterodoxologies reminds us that the flipside of our expectations is exactly what we need.”

D. J. (Dave) Butler. Witchy Eye. Baen, March 7. Alternative universe Americana flintlock fantasy.

PW starred review. “In an alternate North America where magic is pervasive and the Appalachians are under the boot of Emperor Thomas Penn, 15-year-old Sarah Calhoun, youngest daughter of imperial war hero Iron Andy Calhoun, is content with her rural Tennessee tobacco-farming life, in which she gets to cast the occasional small spell. She’s mostly come to terms with having a “witchy eye” that’s been swollen shut since birth. When the priest Thalanes, an acquaintance of Andy’s, arrives and helps to reveal that Sarah is not a Calhoun daughter but carries royal blood—and is being hunted by humans and magical entities in the service of the emperor—she flees with the priest and her smitten, protective cousin, Calvin, to find help in low and exalted places, reclaim her heritage, and discover what she’s capable of when her eye finally opens. Butler’s fantasy is by turns sardonic and lighthearted; ghoulish shadows claw into the most remote areas and heroism bursts out of the most unlikely people. Sarah is the epitome of the downtrodden hero who refuses to give up until she gets what she needs, and her story will appeal to fantasy readers of all stripes.”

MySF Reviews: 5 stars. “Butler is a master at creating deep stories filled with rich details. He did this in The Kidnap Plot, and he amped it up to 11 in this book. The pacing is spot-on all through the story, but nothing ever feels rushed. As the story slowly reveals itself, Butler’s extensive research into the time period really shows. I lived in the Appalachians for a while, and he really did his homework, making the culture of the hill folk stand out . . . I highly recommend Witchy Eye. I had a great time reading it, and I couldn’t put it down. The creative alteration of the early history of the Americas reminded me of Orson Scott Card’s Seventh Son series (which I really enjoyed). If you like unique fantasy alternate history, you will love this book. I’m looking forward to the next one.”

Laura and Tracy Hickman. Unhonored. Tor, Oct. 2016. Nightbirds #2. Gothic mystery.

PW: “In the Hickmans’ second Nightbirds novel (after Unwept), amnesiac protagonist Ellis Harkington is beginning to understand why she’s trapped in a peculiar place that resembles an early 20th century warped by a fun house mirror. To get answers, she must face painful truths and avoid the people who want to keep her prisoner. With the basic worldbuilding already complete, no time is wasted in showing the horror of Ellis’s situation as her former lover Merrick torments her by shaping the setting around her. Details of Ellis’s lives in different dimensions come into focus via perfectly executed gothic sequences depicting war-torn lovers in WWI, a progressive woman trapped by Victorian mores, and class resentments. There’s a great feeling of claustrophobia as Ellis travels a mazelike path through this strange, morphing space. Some biblical allusions distract, but otherwise, this woman’s struggle for her right to self-determination is developing into a compelling horror-fantasy.”

Deseret News: “A fast-paced young adult novel full of suspense and mystery. The plot is intriguing as the reader discovers answers along with Ellis about who she is and what happened to her in the past. The Hickmans, who write together as a married couple, do a good job creating the fantasy world while incorporating symbols and parallels from Christian theology and characters similar to ones from Greek or Roman mythology. As a result, there are subtle themes, scenes and messages typical of a Christian faith.”

Brian McClellan. Sins of Empire. March 7. Epic flintlock fantasy. First in a series, set in the same world as his Powder Mage trilogy.

Library Journal, Starred Review. “While it features some recurring characters from the earlier books, new readers shouldn’t have any trouble jumping in here. Still, the author’s skillful worldbuilding and nuanced characters will undoubtedly tempt them to go back to his early work.”

Kirkus: “A new sequence, following the outstanding Powder Mage fantasy trilogy and set in the same war-torn world—gratifyingly, some of the characters reappear—gets under way. In a narrative that builds upon, but adds no fresh ideas to, the previous books, the scene switches to the land of Fatrasta and its capital city, Landfall . . . These sturdily drawn characters struggle, contend, and plot, not always in entirely convincing fashion, amid brief bursts of action. After 500 pages of this elaborate and often remarkable scenery-chewing, McClellan finally delivers the concluding furious, visceral, and relentlessly thrilling action that so delighted readers of the original trilogy. A yarn that promises more than it delivers. Fans will be entitled to a small measure of disappointment.”

Provo Library: “Sins of Empires brings together the best elements of McClellan’s talents. Sins brings back the epic rifle and magic battles from the Powder Mage trilogy, along with one of the most creative and interesting magic systems, the competing powder mages (mages who draw strength and speed from imbibing small amounts of gunpowder and can control detonations to manipulate bullets or whole supplies of gunpowder), privileged (who can summon elemental forces like fire and ice), and the mysterious magic of the bone-eyes. While the action and intrigue are as splendid as ever, McClellan’s characters in Sins demonstrate new skill and depth. Sins of Empire is already on my list for best books of 2017. At 600 pages, most books will have lulls, but Sins maintains a pace that will keep readers engaged to the very last page.”

Bryce Moore. The Memory Thief. Adaptive Studios, March 21. Middle grade fantasy.

Kirkus: “Memories are slippery things. Twelve-year-olds Benjamin and his fraternal twin, Kelly, look forward to the Adams County fair every year. There isn’t much to do in their corner of Maine besides listen to their parents bicker. This year a new tent appears on the fairgrounds: the Memory Emporium, where a wizened man says he can take and share memories. Narrator Ben hopes that he can help his parents forget their anger. But when he returns to the tent, a young tattooed woman has taken the old man’s place. She promises to help the white preteens with their problem if she can have a few memories in return. Her solution seems to harm more than help, though, as the memories of the fairgoers are disappearing, including Kelly’s and their parents’. It’s up to Ben to figure out how to restore the minds of his family and town before he is forgotten as well. Moore crafts a compelling premise and a plot that delivers more than might be expected. Ben initially believes that a memory is an objective moment in time, but the quest to restore memories brings him to a deeper understanding of how they affect a life. Memories are not separate—they are integral to who we are. With interesting twists, captivating action, and a down-to-earth lead, this adventure is sure to become a new favorite.”

Heather B. Moore. Condemn Me Not: Accused of Witchcraft. Mirror Press, March 14. Historical. Based on the story of a woman who was accused during the Salem Witch Trials.

Brandon Mull. Dragonwatch. Shadow Mountain, March 14. First in a new series set in the Fablehaven universe. Kendara and Seth face new dangers, as the dragons who have been kept at the dragon sanctuaries no longer consider them safe havens, but prisons and they want their freedom. Brandon Mull interview at the SL Tribune.

SLJ: “Calm, logical Kendra and reckless, wisecracking Seth must work and stay together to find a way to hold the dragons in check. Seth and Kendra have many exciting and dangerous confrontations with fantastic beasts, but they are resourceful and brave, and there is never a doubt that the heroes will triumph. The action moves slowly, especially in the beginning of the book, as much of the backstory is explained and characters reintroduced through dialogue. VERDICT Sure to please loyal “Fablehaven” readers and may be appreciated by fantasy and adventure lovers who have advanced beyond the “Magic Tree House” series.”

Kirkus: “After narrowly averting a demon apocalypse in the previous series, Fablehaven sibs Seth and Kendra face a new threat to the world. No good deed goes unpunished, it seems, and so cautious Kendra and her irrepressibly reckless little brother find themselves challenged by wily, scenery-chewing Celebrant, king of the very dragons who were so instrumental in quelling the demons. The dragons are now hot to break out of their own long confinement, and a hidden talisman is all that can restore the mysteriously weakened magic barriers that have kept them in check. Time for quests and tests! “The unworthy will not survive. Death is likely. Off you go,” a cheery guardian bids. With help from Calvin, a gigantic (i.e., thumb-sized) nipsie, and other motley allies, the young heroes survive hazards ranging from slavering dire bears to the clinically depressed Somber Knight to find the talisman and sneak it past a draconic blockade…only to learn that dragonkind is in general revolt and other sanctuaries have already fallen. In a broad hint of where Mull is going with this, Kendra gets an offer of help at the outset—from a demon. Stay tuned. If it feels formulaic, that’s because it is, but formula has its place. Fans of the series will welcome a new story arc stocked with familiar characters, settings, and adventures.”

Reading for Sanity. 4 stars. “I have always liked Brandon Mull’s writing. I appreciate the thought he puts into his stories, the detail and nuance that carries throughout the book, and his ability to create characters who are real and endearing. While I was beyond excited for a continuation of the Fablehaven series, I was concerned it wouldn’t live up to my expectation. It definitely surpassed them . . . As for the storyline, I’m pleased to say that Mull has surpassed himself here. I’m curious to see this series develop. While some of our villains in the first series were cunning, demons seemed more to be the “take it by force” type of villain. Dragons, however, totally could take it by force, but I got the feeling they’re more James Moriarty than Jean Claude Van Damme. And I’m not going to lie, I prefer my villains to be more of the professorial sort.”

Heidi Schulz. Hook’s Revenge. Disney-Hyperion, Sept. 2015. Middle grade fantasy. Reached the #5 spot on the “Children’s Middle Grade E-Book” list in October 2015. It was also a Bank Street Best book, an OCTE Oregon Spirit Honor Book, and one of the New York Public Library’s Top 100 Titles for Children in 2014.

SLJ starred review. “Feisty 12-year-old Jocelyn Hook, the estranged daughter of Captain James Hook, longs for a pirate’s life at sea, but instead she’s faced with finishing school, hairbrushes, and corsets. When a letter from her father arrives, foretelling his demise by the crocodile responsible for the loss of his hand, Jocelyn is eager to set out for the Neverland to avenge her father’s death. Once there, she faces pirates, mermaids, cannibals, fairies, the Lost Boys, Peter Pan, and, ultimately, the dreaded crocodile. Through it all, Jocelyn learns to face her fears, believe in herself, and realize that she’s more than just a girl. Schulz’s debut novel is a rollicking page-turner that’s more than just an action-packed adventure. Filled with humor and pathos, Schulz has crafted a warm and humorous tale of a young girl who yearns to know the parents she’s never met. Jocelyn is smart, quick-witted, and stubbornly loyal, and she proves to be a worthy adversary to all her foes, especially the arrogant Peter Pan, who insists she needs rescuing. Richly developed secondary characters, especially the emotional Mr. Smee and Jocelyn’s dearest friend Roger, populate the story, and the evocative language moves beyond simple description and engages the audience’s imagination. Most notable, however, is the wickedly funny narrator who doesn’t hesitate to add his amusing commentary and pointed dislike for the audience to the narrative. Whether a fan of J.M. Barrie’s classic tale or new to Neverland, readers will be clamoring for more from this enchanting world.”

Kirkus: “Unfortunately, this potentially exciting treatment of the familiar tale is forced and uneven. While Jocelyn is spunky, flawed and endearing, the supporting characters are flat and uninteresting. However, there are bright spots. Jocelyn uses her wit and manners to defeat bloodthirsty cannibals, angry fairies and her own fears. An incompletely satisfying return to Neverland.”

Heidi Schulz. Hook’s Revenge: The Pirates Code. Disney-Hyperion. September 2016. Hook’s Revenge series #2. Middle grade fantasy.

Kirkus: “Sneaky humor, surprising twists, and an outrageously irreverent take on the familiar Neverland tale combine to great effect. Jocelyn’s bravery, loyalty to her crew and her family, and love for adventure make her a terrific heroine. And while Jocelyn’s wild adventure is filled with raucous pirates, snippy fairies, and a terrifying villain, there are also quiet moments. After all, Jocelyn is not only a pirate captain, but an orphan, a friend, and a girl looking toward her future. An imaginative adventure filled with humor and heart.”

Heidi Schulz. Giraffes Ruin Everything. Bloomsbury, Aug. 2016. Picture book. Chris Robertson, illustrator.

PW: “In an age where hurling accusations about someone else’s shortcomings has become something of a social norm, this is a gentle but firm reminder that patience and understanding have their rewards. Robertson’s easygoing cartooning, with its hints of 1960s-style animation, makes it an easy lesson to learn.”

Jeff Zentner. Goodbye Days. Random House, March 7. YA contemporary. “Carver Briggs never thought a simple text would cause a fatal crash, killing his three best friends, Mars, Eli, and Blake. But now Carver can’t stop blaming himself for the accident and even worse, a powerful judge is pressuring the district attorney to open up a criminal investigation. Luckily, Carver has some unexpected allies: Eli’s girlfriend, the only person to stand by him at school; Dr. Mendez, his new therapist; and Blake’s grandmother, who asks Carver to spend a “goodbye day” together to share their memories and say a proper farewell.”
Publishers Weekly starred review: “Carver Briggs already feels responsible when his three best friends are killed in a car accident after he sent a “Where are you guys?” text message to the driver. Now it seems as though the whole town wants him to be prosecuted, and he’s having debilitating panic attacks. When one friend’s grandmother suggests they pay tribute to the deceased by spending a “goodbye day” swapping stories and doing what he loved, Carver finds a cathartic way to atone for his perceived sins. From the opening line, Zentner channels Carver’s distinctive voice as a 17-year-old writer turned “funeral expert” who argues with himself about girls and retains glimmers of easy wit despite the weight of his grief and guilt. Flashbacks and daydreams capture the jovial spirit of the four members of the so-called Sauce Crew, glimpses of sophomore shenanigans interspersed with poignant admissions only best friends would share. Racial tensions, spoiled reputations, and broken homes all play roles in an often raw meditation on grief and the futility of entertaining what-ifs when faced with awful, irreversible events.”

Booklist, starred: “Zentner does an excellent job in creating empathetic characters, especially his protagonist Carver, a budding writer whose first-person account of his plight is artful evidence of his talent. The story builds suspense while developing not only empathetic but also multidimensional characters in both Carver and Jesmyn. The result is an absorbing effort with emotional and psychological integrity.”

SLJ: “Zentner is yanking heartstrings here in this painful but compelling narrative. Although sprinkled with lighter stories of the friends in happier times, this is a weighty, well-crafted novel—the kind of intelligent, intense, and life-affirming tale that will resonate with teens seeking depth and honesty. VERDICT Recommended as a first purchase for school and public libraries. Hand this to readers looking to explore the somber and complex realities of life, especially responsibility, fractured relationships, and the butterfly effect of consequences.”

Kirkus: “Zentner’s novel peels back the many layers of feeling that Carver experiences as he deals with his family, the families of his friends, and school, the present-tense narration putting readers directly in Carver’s head. However, although Carver is an unusually bright student with a supportive family and therapist, his voice is at times too adult, too didactic in delivering long passages of wise reflections about life normally gained from more time and experience. Still, it is a novel full of wisdom, even if Carver himself hasn’t had time to acquire all of it himself. Carver is white, as are Eli and Blake; Mars is black. A fine cautionary tale and journey toward wisdom, poignant and realistic.”

Reviews of Older Books

Sarah M. Eden. A Fine Gentleman (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books) B-. “If you’ve ever spent time in the company of Sarah M. Eden, you know she’s a petite woman who’s big on spunk, humor, and charm.  If you’ve read her books, you know her sparkling personality comes through very strongly in her stories.  Her newest, A Fine Gentleman, is no exception.  The Regency Romance exudes Eden’s trademark warmth and wit.  Yes, it deals with serious subjects (war, loss, mental instability, etc.), but overall the novel provides a light, fun, romantic read.  Although it reaches a very predictable Happily Ever After, there’s enough substance in A Fine Gentleman to keep the story interesting.  You won’t find a lot of originality here, nor will you be blindsided by shocking twists in the tale.  But, if you’re looking for a bright, swoony story that’s clean and ultimately satisfying, this one should serve you very well.”

Mette Ivie Harrison. For Time and all Eternities (Heather Moore, Dialogue). “At times, Linda questions her own core beliefs, especially since some of them are founded on “cultural” opinions and not actual Mormon doctrine. We don’t see Linda actively involved in her congregation, but we gain an essence of her nurturing personality and how, even when faced with women who have chosen to perpetuate a confining lifestyle, she withholds judgment and helps where she can. Linda’s internal religious debates reminded me of The Ladies Auxiliary by Tova Mirvis, in which we get see into the mind of a faithful woman who may question some religious principles, but still believes in the divine nature of God. For Time and All Eternities is a compelling read—one that will have readers considering if their love for family is stronger than their preconceived expectations for each other. Readers will become wrapped in the Wallheim family’s idiosyncrasies, which will leave them looking forward to the next book in the series.”

Sheldon Lawrence. Hearts of the Fathers (Lalove Foser, Rational Faiths).
“I’ve read many good books in my life, but there are a select few that stick with me, shaping a little piece of who I become. Hearts of the Fathers: A story of Heaven, Hell, and the hope of new life after life by Sheldon Lawrence is one of those books . . . When I first read the description of the book — all about a spirit wandering around in the afterlife — I was worried that the book would be too abstract and heavy. It’s surprisingly not . . . One thing I loved about this book is its portrayal of heaven and Hell as places people choose to enter. My own childhood concept of the next life was there would be a judgment day, we’d all be assigned our fates for eternity, and that was it — everyone would be stuck where they landed. In this novel, even in the afterlife, everyone has the opportunity to progress, everyone has the chance to change, to let go of the earthly addictions and pride that hold them back — the only thing that impedes or encourages their progress is their own desires and choices . . . Much like the work of C. S. Lewis, this is a book full of depth and wisdom, yet it’s all intertwined in a beautiful storyline that makes it easy and enjoyable to read. Though Lawrence is LDS, his novel is not entrenched in religious dogma, making it a book that anyone interested in the purpose of life or life after death would enjoy.”

Kathi Oram Peterson. Breach of Trust (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine) 5 stars. “The characters in this story are so real, readers will feel they know them or they’re patterned after people we all know from recent news casts. The dialog is realistic and careful research has gone into the various backgrounds. Every time the motivation and the culprit for the murders begin to cast suspicion in the reader’s mind, there’s a surprise that directs suspicion in another direction. Suspense readers will love this one. In addition to a suspenseful tale, Breach of Trust raises questions of trust and honor. The author raises legitimate questions concerning following orders and carrying out tasks “by the book.” The characters in this story face questions of loyalty and trust on a personal level, in their relationships, and as citizens. Matters of trust, integrity, patriotism, and loyalty set in today’s world of suspicion, political ambition, betrayal, and distrust creates a well-crafted story readers will not soon forget.”

Kristen D. Randle. The Only Alien on the Planet (Jessica Day George) 5 stars. “I would like to know, if anyone can tell me, why the HELL this book isn’t at the top of every list for everything? This book should be up there with Catcher in the Rye, Absolutely True Diary, and The Outsiders. This would be an EXCELLENT book to teach to teens, dealing as it does with some of the same complexities, but without having any sex or swearing that would get it banned! I thought that it was about divorce, when I found out it wasn’t aliens, something about the vague “family looks perfect on the outside” descriptions gave me that idea. It’s not about divorce. It’s about abuse, I’ll just come out and say it. It’s about emotional, psychological, and even physical abuse, but it’s handled very delicately. It’s also about the nature of love, and friendship. It’s about mental illness. It’s about loyalty, and bravery. AND IT HAS AN ENDING THAT WON’T MAKE YOU SUICIDAL! Ginny, the narrator, is wonderful. She is awkward. She babbles. But she’s also smart. She has trouble with change, especially the big move her parents make right as her oldest brother is off to college. Her world has been rocked, and into it come new friends, who are both wonderful, but also challenging, as she tries to get into a new comfort zone, and they basically won’t let her. She has a great family, with brothers who tease her, but also love her, and they are all very close, contrasted to the weirdness and stiffness of Smitty (the Alien of the title) and his family . . . And, in short: Everybody read this book. This shouldn’t be an “unsung favorite.” It should be sung about. Loudly.”

Emily Wing Smith. Back When You Were Easier to Love (Jessica Day George) 4 stars. “It took me a while to warm to Joy, the main character. She was so caught up in her boyfriend, Zan, who had left and gone to college early. All of her friends were telling her to get over him, and honestly, they were right. I couldn’t understand why Joy couldn’t see that, and why she had to go around like the walking wounded. And then I realized: She was wounded. She couldn’t get over him. I started to realize that this is exactly how I acted and felt about things when I was a teenager. Yes, as a middle-aged mom I can say, “Oh, please! He was a jerk!” But teenage me would have thought Zan was so cool! Teenage me would have thought that Joy was feeling exactly how she should have felt! This book is very real. The characters are true. Not just Joy, but Zan and Noah and Mattia and Gretel. They talk and feel like real teenagers. Also, props to Emily for doing the thing. The church thing. I have often bemoaned the fact that there are very few (in fact, this is the only one I can think of) books for teens where the main character is Mormon, and that their faith is not the main plot. Sure, there are books published by Deseret Book, a church-owned publisher, chock full o’Mormons. But mainstream books? Where the characters just happen to be Mormon? Nope. Catholic, Jewish, atheist, Muslim, yes. Mormons? Nope. I really liked that. I did feel that it was a little uneven. At the beginning I actually wasn’t sure Joy was, because she was new in town, and her friends explained a couple of things to her, but after about the midpoint it got clearer. Big props for that. Mormon kids need books about Mormon kids that aren’t just “Should I leave the Church?” stories. Also, props for the Barry Manilow references. Because why not?”

E.B. Wheeler and Jeffery Bateman. No Peace With the Dawn (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine). 5 stars. “If I had received [this] before the 2016 Whitney Awards deadline, it would have definitely had my nomination. It’s an outstanding World War I novel that takes place partly in Logan, Utah, and partly in Europe . . . The story follows an excellent plot line and weaves the stories of individual, well-developed characters into the real events that took place a hundred years ago. The authors didn’t stint on research and bring both the day to day events of the time period and the harsh realities of war into focus. Neither do they shy away from the bias and social prejudices of that era. Both those looking for a compelling historical novel and those who simply love a great action story will enjoy this one. There is some violence, but it would be difficult to describe war scenes accurately without it.”

Theater

Morag Place Shepherd. Not One Drop. Plan-B, Salt Lake City, March 23-April 2. One of two winners of the David Ross Fetzer Foundation for Emerging Artists grant at Plan-B Theatre.

Salt Lake Tribune Preview: “One intriguing element of Morag Shepherd’s new play “Not One Drop” is attempting to describe what it’s about. The play . . . features two women. As designated in the stage directions, Aidan (Colleen Baum) is described as “older,” and Rowe (Latoya Cameron) is “younger.” The Utah playwright says it’s about “two women and the little intricacies of their life, which are just as important as war and violence and things that seem more immediately important.” “Not One Drop” explores the pair’s relationships. As the characters morph into each other — that’s collusive, of course, Shepherd says — the play’s form becomes as significant as the story’s content. Stuff happens in this absurdist tragicomedy, which might or might not explore a fall, a push or a murder, as it delves into questions of intimacy, identity, power and death.”

Eric Samuelsen. The Ice Front. Reading, Pioneer Theatre Company, Dumke Auditorium of the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, Salt Lake City, April 14-15. Jerry Rapier will direct. There will be a full production on Nov. 9-19, Plan-B Theater. Set during World War II, it’s the story of what happens when Norwegian National Theatre actors are ordered to perform a Nazi propaganda drama. The play raises questions “about what it means to be an artist, to be a patriot, to be human.”

Thomas F. Rogers. The Plays of Thomas F. Rogers. Volume 3: A Crisis in Faith. Leiceister Bay Theatricals, Feb. 23. Anthology. “In the seven plays in this volume, “Huebener,” “Fire In The Bones,” “First Trump,” “Reunion,” “Set Apart,” “The Anointed” (a musical theatre play), and “Petunia Passes” (a short play), the worlds of belief, faith, devotion, belonging, yearning to know God, and standing true when those worlds are challenged, make up the heart of Dr. Rogers’ dramas.” With an introduction by playwright, actor, and director, J. Scott Bronson.

Coming soon: The Plays of Thomas F. Rogers Volume 1: Perestroika and Glasnost. Leiceister Bay Theatricals. “Having lived in the U.S. and in Russia, his plays have made the mystery and controversy of “The Red East” singularly accessible.  His plays, “Charades,” “Crime and Punishment,” “God’s Fools,” “The Idiot,” and “The Second Priest,” gathered in one volume for the first time in this volume, deal with Russia, Russians, and  The U.S.S.R, their relations with other countries as well as internally, and focus on the transition into and out of Communism. Taut, political and ideological dramas, all, they enlighten the Human condition, in thoughtful and lively stage adaptations. With an Introduction by Robert A. Nelson, Phd.”

Coming Soon: The Plays of Thomas F. Rogers, Volume 2: Personal Journeys. Leicester Bay Theatricals. “The seven plays in this volume, “Frére Lawrence,” “Gentle Barbarian,” “The Immortal,” “The Seagull,” “Siegfried Idyll,” “The Wager, and “A Good Man Is Hard To Find”  gathered in one volume for the first time in this volume, deal with men and women and their relationships, treacheries, hopes, dreams, plots, plans, cruelties and sometimes kindnesses. Both historical and political these dramas expose the Human condition, in thoughtful and unforgettable stage adaptations. Featuring an Introduction by Playwright and Theatre Educator, Tim Slover, a professor at the University of Utah Department of Theatre.”

Janice Jenson. Inactive Mormon women: an ethnodrama. Salt Lake Acting Company, March 7. Staged reading. “Inspired by my personal faith journey, this play was created by interviewing fifteen inactive Mormon women through a group interview process called a story circle. The 15 brave women who participated shared beautiful and heartbreaking stories—everything from their isolation and depression to their stories of their lives on the other side of Mormonism. The stories were audio recorded, transcribed, and then rearranged into a performance script. Every word in the script is directly from these women’s experiences. This performance is part of my capstone project for my Masters in Community Leadership from Westminster College. Join me for a night of community, catharsis, and exploration of the experiences of inactive Mormon women.”

The Daily Utah Chronicle. “These six woman read lines that felt like easy conversation between friends. Audience members easily became a part of their discussion, feeling as if they were in a comfortable living room somewhere, all discussing similar life experiences. This was particularly true for members of the audience who also identified as inactive Mormons, as they explained in a post-show talkback that took place immediately after the show.”

Lorax by Katherine Gee Perrone, a ten-minute environmental play, has been accepted to be part of the Boston Theater Marathon. May 14, Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts.

Mahonri Stewart. Evening Eucalyptus and Other Enchanted Plays. Reviewed by Harlow Clark, A Motely Vision.

Film

Tim Timmerman, Hope of America. Cameron Sawyer, Director, producer, and co-writer. Justin Copier, co-writer. High School comedy, set in 1994 Utah. March 3 theatrical release in Utah. VidAngel Studios. Distributed by Purdie Distribution. Sawyer and Copier were interviewed on The Cultural Hall podcast.

Sean Means, Salt Lake Tribune. 3 stars. “The made-in-Utah teen comedy “Tim Timmerman: Hope of America” is a smile-inducing throwback to John Hughes high-school movies of the 1980s — some effervescent fun centered on a self-centered slacker . . . Director Cameron Sawyer, co-writing with Justin Copier, says much of Tim’s story is autobiographical — in that he was Orem High School’s student-body president in 1995 and, he admits now, was really bad at the job. Sawyer uses that experience to add a pleasant sense of authenticity to what could have been a grating, stereotypical lead character, the cad who finds redemption. Sawyer also has an ear for light comedy and invests the story with some fun running gags. The best of those involve Tim’s participation in something called The Assassins Game, which forces him to periodically run for his life as he’s pursued by a Goth classmate armed with a pellet gun. But “Tim Timmerman: Hope of America” would be hopeless without Perino and Maidhof. He’s got a raffish charm, she’s delightful as an ingenue, and their chemistry together sparkles.”

Josh Terry, Deseret News. 2.5 stars. “[It] gets better as it goes along, and is at its best when it uses its own quirky voice rather than trying to echo its superior influences . . . Sawyer’s film is also an unabashed tribute to early 1990s popular culture, that awkward flannel-clad window between the end of the ‘80s and the dawn of the internet age. It’s all there: the haircuts, the jean shorts and, in one memorable scene, the Sony Car Discman, complete with cassette tape adapter and frequent skips. But cinematically, Sawyer seems more influenced by the 1980s John Hughes films that the class of 1995 grew up watching . . . When “Tim Timmerman” tries to set itself up as a neo-Bueller, all you can see is how Bueller is better. But when “Tim Timmerman” tries to be itself and focuses on its own story, it improves greatly . . . Overall, “Tim Timmerman: Hope of America” is a quirky but flawed film that is headed in the right direction, just good enough to get you to look forward to the filmmaker’s next effort. It may not be at the Ferris Bueller level, but Sawyer’s piece of 1990s nostalgia ends on a hopeful note.”

Derrick Clements feature article in the Daily Herald about Tim Timmerman and VidAngel’s new business strategy.

Storytellers. John Lyde, writer and director. DVD March 21. Covenant Communications. Imagine if Porter Rockwell, Mark Twain and J Golden Kimball spent an evening together. Imagine the conversations they would have. Lyde: “Ron Brough and Covenant Communications pitched me the story of these three colorful characters meeting together and I thought it would be very entertaining. Joshua Michael French wrote an amazing script and soon we cast Josh as Mark Twain, Jasen Wade as Porter Rockwell and Cameron Aaron Asay as J Golden Kimball.”

The Laughter Life. Jeff Werner and Juliet Werner, writers, directors, producers. Documentary, LDS Film Festival. The Laughter Life goes behind the scenes of the popular sketch comedy series, Studio C, and explores the creative process and tensions that arise for various cast members who must balance their moral and religious beliefs with the mandate to be always funny. See Mallory, Matt, Jason, Jeremy, Whitney, and the others in an intimate and personal way, never before seen.

DN: 2.5 stars. “A film by father-daughter pair Jeff and Juliet Werner, explores a week within the creative process of “Studio C” cast members as they balance jokes, the “Provo bubble” and representing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” (A terrible review, it only talks about Studio C, while hardly reviewing the documentary at all.)

Jared Hess has recently directed the first two episodes Making History, of a new comedy series on Fox, and one episode of Son of Zorn, a mixed live-action/animation sitcom, also on Fox.

Rebecca Thomas, a BYU Media Arts alum and guest presenter at this year’s BYY TMA Writer’s Conference, has been chosen as one of Sundance’s 2017 FilmTwo Fellows.  The Sundance Institute helps guide “eleven filmmakers through the often-tricky process of making their second feature.” Her first feature, Electrick Children, earned her a spot on Variety’s “Top Ten New Directors to Watch in Hollywood” as well as an Independent Spirit Award nomination. She is slated to direct the upcoming live action adaptation of The Little Mermaid.

Bestsellers

March 12, 19, 26

Stephanie Meyer. The Chemist

USA Today: #144, x, x (34 weeks)

PW Hardcover: #20, x, x (16 weeks). 2857 units. 46,020 total.

Christine Feehan. Dark Promises (out in paperback)

USA Today: #100, x, x (3 weeks)

PW Mass Market: #8, #14, #24 (3 weeks). 7840, 6408, 4934 units. 19,182 total.

RaeAnne Thayne. Brambleberry House                

PW Mass Market: #23, x, x (4 weeks). 4188 units. 24,333 total.

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