Part two of the Month in Review. New books this month include poetry from Neil Aitken, a charming female superhero origin novel from Shannon and Dean Hale, Scott Hales’ second Garden of Enid graphic novel of a “weird Mormon girl”, Tricia Levenseller’s debut pirates novel gets a Publishers Weekly starred review, a new YA romance from Kasie West, and Brooke Williams’ meditations on his Mormon pioneer ancestors and the environment from a post-Mormon perspective.
New Books and their reviews
Neil Aitken. Babbage’s Dream. Sundress Publications, Feb. 8. Poetry book. 70 pages. “In stunningly elegant couplets, Neil Aitken transposes the dreams of machines and humans into musical, sonically deft lyrics that sing songs of creation, vision, possibility, futurity. These beautifully crafted poems—evoking the designs of nineteenth-century mathematician Charles Babbage, who conceptualized the first mechanical programmable computer—explore the tautologies between mathematics and song, science and lyric, the rational and the passionate, dystopia and hope. In the infinite tape loop of memory and imagination, Babbage’s Dream posits a Turing Test in which the reader circles both anxiously and gloriously through aspects of making, maker, and the made.” —Lee Ann Roripaugh, Author of Dandarians.
Renee Angle. WoO. Letter Machine Editions, 2016. Ex-Mormon poetry. “WoO is a hagiography written under the spiritual guide of a heretic, or, if you prefer, a creative translation of the original 116 pages of The Book of Mormon lost by Joseph Smith (founder and first prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints), never found, and subsequently rewritten as The Book of Mormon which is now circulated for free around the world in over 100 languages. WoO unchurches and unmoors an American religion that operates within violent, racist and misogynistic contexts. Mormonism is no longer the fringe or fundamentalist culture society has come to expect, yet it is the “mongrel” status of the book that Angle continues to reckon with as a descendent of Mormon pioneers and a former Mormon.”
Braden Bell. The Missing Heir of Mandralay. Mockingbird Cottage Press, Jan. 6. Middle grade speculative. Soulbound #1. A princess with magical powers is placed in an orphanage as part of a palace intrigue.
Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine. 4 stars. “The author has drawn characters caught up in the dilemma between good and evil. Their choices are not always good, but they learn and move forward. At thirteen, Tallie is at one of life’s crossroads; she’s child enough to want her own way and she’s adult enough to know right from wrong. The old nun seeks redemption from her part in the deaths and destruction brought about by the coup that turned the kingdom from good to evil and made Tallie an orphan. X wants a name, an identity, to be more than a puppet. There’s something deep inside of him that knows there is something more, something connected to choices. The plot moves quickly and though the story takes place in an imaginary world, it is relatable in most ways to the world we live in. It teaches some powerful lessons concerning the effects of choice versus coercion. It gives a picture of the possible result of having no choices and at the opposite end of the spectrum the evil that invades those who have total control of others.”
Jessica Day George. Saturdays at Sea. Bloomsbury USA, Feb. 21. Castle Glower #5, series conclusion. Middle grade fantasy. “After traveling to the seaside kingdom of Lilah’s betrothed prince, Lulath, Celie and her companions are busy training griffins, enjoying wedding festivities, and finishing construction of a grand ship built from parts of the Castle. But on their maiden voyage, the Ship steers them far off course into uncharted waters.”
Shannon Hale and Dean Hale. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World. Marvel, Feb. 7. Middle grade superhero. Novel featuring a Marvel Comics character.
Kirkus: “A middle-grade origin story for Squirrel Girl, one of Marvel Comics’ wackiest superheroes. Cheerful, silly, white, chubby-cheeked Doreen Green moves from sunny California to a surly New Jersey town besieged by mean girls, a minor crime wave, wild dogs, and horrific squirrel traps. Although her initial optimism is squashed in a typical fish-out-of-water new-kid story (which reaches a low point with the old new-kid-eating-lunch-in-the-bathroom cliché), it takes a lot to keep Doreen down. She’s special—born with squirrel abilities proportional to her human size, including the ability to communicate with them, and a giant fluffy tail. Soon her heroics come out and draw the attention of an aspiring supervillain just waiting to make his name by sending his evil machines against a nemesis. The villain’s cleverness makes him a good match for Squirrel Girl, who utilizes help from her friends (including squirrel Tippy-Toe and her deaf, Latina best friend, Ana Sofía) and exchanges comical text messages with famous Marvel characters in search of advice. The story is told in alternating chapters narrated in the first person for Tippy-Toe and third person for Doreen and Ana Sofía; the third-person account is interrupted, however, by first-person commentary from Doreen via footnotes. Early on, too many footnotes interrupt the narrative rhythm without serving enough purpose, but eventually her charm wins out. Despite a rough start, Doreen’s story offers a heroine it’s easy to go nuts over.”
SLJ: “Though not quite an origin tale, this prequel to the popular graphic novel series provides the backstory for how Doreen became the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl . . . Her signature humor, ability to think through situations before using her incredible strength, and desire to help others have been successfully incorporated. While the narrative is not told in the first person, there are one-line remarks from Squirrel Girl on the bottom of each page reminiscent of the format Ryan North uses to make comments throughout the graphic novels. VERDICT New readers and fans of the “Squirrel Girl” graphic novels will not be disappointed with this fun and engaging middle grade title starring a strong, positive, and utterly likable heroine.”
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books. “The book draws on the Marvel world for maximum comedy, with Squirrel Girl texting the Avengers with hilarious but eventually fruitful results. Even kiddos who fancy the dark underbelly of the superhero world would be nuts (pun intended—no, required) to pass this up.”
The Book Smugglers. “This novel is for lack of a better word: perfect. It perfectly transports Squirrel Girl from comic to novel and it encapsulates not only Squirrel-Girl-the-superheroine but it also does so in the context of an origin story for kids. In other words: it works as a superhero story, as a middle grade novel and as an origin/coming-of-age story . . .It is as delightful as the comic is and just like it, it includes footnotes and text messages with other superheroes AND hilarious cameos by Black Widow, Thor, Iron Man and Guardians of the Galaxy’s Rocket as well as Doreen’s greatest idol, She-Hulk. There are also messages between her and her parents – and they are SO funny. In fact, her relationship with them is brilliant as they are supportive of her dreams of super-heroism.”
Scott Hales. The Garden of Enid: Adventures of a Weird Mormon Girl, Part Two. Greg Kofford Books, February. Mormon graphic novel.
Walker Wright, Worlds Without End. 4 stars. “While the strips are still brimming with Enid’s quirky humor and Mormon self-deprecation, this second volume strikes me as more pensive than the last one. The longer strips in particular take the time to address important themes and issues in modern Mormonism, from cruel comments at church (Enid vs. The Messed-Up Day) to homosexuality (Enid vs. The Party) . . . We begin to see deeper elements of Enid’s character (including her flaws) as she establishes friendships and attempts to cope with her mom’s failing health and mysterious past. The questions she asks are harder. The situations are, for lack of a better word, messier than before: just like life. The last act (Enid vs. The Story) was not unexpected, but the realism of it (“I was just checking Twitter…”) was, in my view, theologically profound and I think far closer to what we actually experience. And the cliffhanger (along with the sheer joy of seeing Enid’s friends come through) makes me excited for Part Three.”
Andrew Hamilton, AML. “Enid, a weird Mormon girl with an active imagination who is always contemplating the meaning of life as she tries understand the purpose of her existence and her place in the world, is the Calvin and Hobbes for the internet generation of Mormons . . . Scott Hales understands Mormonism, he understands weird Mormon people who don’t fit in, and through Enid he tells the story of a weird Mormon Girl and her struggles in such a way that we can all see our struggles in her.”
Stacy Henrie. The Outlaw’s Secret. Harlequin, Feb. 7. Western historical romance.
Ronda Gibb Hinrichsen. One Fell Down. Covenant, Feb. 1. Mystery. Set in New Zealand.
Nathan Smith Jones. Dragonkyn. Sweetwater/Cedar Fort, Feb. 14. YA fantasy. A teenage boy loved books about dragons, then he entered their world. This is Jones’ first published novel, but he has had an interesting career in Mormon arts. He wrote, directed, and starred in The Work and the Story in 2003, a mockumentary about Mormon movies. He has written and acted in several other Utah-based films. He had a children’s story published by Shadow Mountain. He was the Democratic candidate for a Provo district in the Utah State House of Representatives in 2016. He is a public school English teacher.
Tricia Levenseller. Daughter of the Pirate King. Feiwel & Friends, Feb. 28. Middle grade pirate/fantasy. Debut.
PW (Starred review). “Levenseller makes an impressive debut with this funny, fast-paced, and romance-dashed nautical fantasy, set in an alternate world of pirates, sirens, and myriad islands. Alosa, the 17-year-old daughter of an infamous pirate king, embarks on a dangerous undercover mission, allowing herself to be captured by a rival crew in order to retrieve part of a legendary treasure map. Alosa believes she has the situation under control thanks to years of training and experience, as well as certain special abilities, but she finds her match in the Night Farer’s first mate, Riden, who seems wise to her tricks. The resulting game of wits results in a burgeoning attraction, as Alosa tries to carry out her mission without giving away her secrets (“If I’m to keep up appearances, I’ll have to escape the ship. Then get caught on purpose. Oh, the ridiculous things one has to do when one is a pirate,” she laments). Resourceful and confident, Alosa swaggers through the pages with style and panache, and her supporting cast is just as delightful. This one’s not to be missed.”
SLJ: “With many plot turns and emotional bonds forming between Alosa and Riden, the search leads to an interesting twist. Levenseller has created a formidable female character who can take care of herself as she makes some hard decisions. VERDICT Hand to skilled readers seeking true adventure with swashbuckling, sword fighting, and a great problem-solving heroine.”
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books. “Fiery as her scarlet hair, Alosa narrates with a bold and cocky voice; her swagger is backed up by serious fighting skills, and there is pure satisfaction in the scenes where she handily takes down (and sometimes kills) men who have underestimated her, threatened her (both physically and sexually), or simply looked at her wrong. It’s this boldness matched with Riden’s more uptight, well-mannered character that makes their relationship so much fun to watch; she’s the cad, he’s the prude, and traditional gender rules are bucked through witty banter and increasingly undisguised lust. By book’s end Alosa has discovered only a portion of the map, ensuring a sequel that readers will happily climb aboard.”
Rosalyn Eves, 5 stars. “This was a fun, rollicking ride of a read . . . Throughout, she proves herself smart, strong, competent and her banter (particularly with first mate Riden) is funny and smart. Plus, the romance is engaging and there are plenty of twists to keep readers turning the pages.”
Chalon Linton. An Inconvenient Romance. Covenant, Feb. 1. Regency romance. Debut novel. I am beginning to think that Covenant took a series of photos of a woman in a white dress looking out into the distance, and are using them all for their chaste Regency romances.
PW: “It takes more than a passing familiarity with Jane Austen to craft a Regency romance, as demonstrated by Linton’s debut, which is weak in plot and style . . . The book suffers from overwrought characters who always believe the worst of each other. Leah and Charles narrate alternating chapters in first person, which only serves to make the reader want to lock them in a room together to put an end to their misunderstandings and anachronistic fondness for the word okay. A predictable romance does little to mask Linton’s inexpert employment of several words where one would suffice, and inaccurate use of historical terms. Regency readers seeking a chaste story will find it here but may wish they had looked further.”
Bookworm Lisa (4 stars): “This is a thoroughly enjoyable Regency romance. The writing style is a little different from the Regency books I usually read. The chapters are short and told from both Leah and Charles POV’s. As a reader we are immediatley rewarded with the other characters thoughts and feelings. It was refreshing and felt “real time”. There wasn’t a lot of past tense rehashing of plot points. There were flashbacks to previous events that revealed piece by piece the history of the characters.”
Jennie Hansen, Merdian Magazine. 2 stars. “Regency fans will enjoy this one. The characters fit the era and the plot develops as expected. Most of Leah and Charles doubts about their relationship could be eliminated in a ten minute conversation and the blackmail situation also could be resolved by a few questions and answers between father and daughter. Both Leah and Charles demonstrate their love for each other through their unwillingness to cause the other pain. They go to great lengths to give the other what he or she thinks the other one wants and in the process fail to communicate with each other. There is a motif of kindness and consideration that runs through this story rather than the usual class and greed that permeates many Regency novels.”
Kimberley Griffiths Little. Forbidden: Returned. Harper Collins, Feb. 7. YA historical romance. Forbidden #3. “Jayden and Kadesh’s love will be put to the ultimate test as they fight a war to save their kingdom.”
Heather B. Moore. Falling for Maria. Mirror Press, Feb. 7. Contemporary romance. Falling #2.
Jennifer Nielsen. Wrath of the Storm. Scholastic Press, Jan. 31. MG historical/speculative. Mark of the Thief #3. Set in an alterative history Rome, where magic works. .
Kathi Oram Peterson. Breach of Trust. Covenant, Feb. 1. Romantic suspense. A female Navy SEAL is rescued after being stuck behind enemy lines in Afghanistan for four years. She returns to find her husband remarried, then murdered, and she is the prime suspect.
Chantele Sedgwick. Switching Gears. Sky Pony Press, Feb. 14. YA drama/romance. Sequel to Love, Lucas.
SLJ: “Emmy is a sympathetic, believable character, and while Sedgwick shows her coping believably with grief, she keeps the focus on the big race Emmy is training for, along with her growing relationship with Cole. The secondary characters are distinct, but since the story is told from a first-person point of view, Emmy is the main concern. VERDICT Not a first purchase. Recommend this to fans of Sedgwick’s Love, Lucas and those who like realistic fiction with a hopeful ending.”
Kirkus. “Catastrophe strikes, ramping the melodrama level up even further. Luckily for Emmy (and readers), a quick epilogue provides easy resolutions. The cast appears to be a largely white one. Best for fans of three-hanky weepers.”
Cameron S. Staley. In the Hands of the Gadiantons. Covenant, Aug. 1 2016. Book of Mormon novel. A Lamanite boy in charge discovers ancient Lamanite records, and falls in love with a girl who has been converted by Samuel the Lamanite. Gadiations and danger lurk in the years around the birth of Christ. Debut novel. Deseret News review.
Diane Stringam Tolley. Daughter of Ishmael. Cedar Fort, Jan. 10. Book of Mormon novel. Faithful daughter of Ishmael is married to Lemuel, is torn between her husband and her faith.
Jeffrey Tucker. Kill February. Sage Hill Press, January 2016. Poetry. “Tucker explores how the environment affects us, creating a sense of the here and now.” The winner of Sage Hill Press’ Powder Horn Prize. Tucker is a BYU Department of English visiting professor. BYU College of Humanities profile.
Various Authors. A Season in London. Mirror Press, Jan. 24. Timeless Regency Collections #6. Regency romance novella anthology. Stories by Elizabeth Johns, Heather B. Moore, and Rebecca Connolly.
Various Authors. Timeless Romance: Valentine’s Day Collection. Mirror Press, Feb. 1. Contemporary romance novella anthology. Timeless Romance #19. Novellas by Annette Lyon, Heather B. Moore, Heather Tullis, Janette Rallison, Jenny Proctor, and Sarah M. Eden.
McKenzie Wagner. The Amulet Case: Benotripa. Sweetwater/Cedar Fort, Feb. 14. Middle grade fantasy. Benotripia #0. Prequel, there have been two books in the series published previously.
Rachel Ward. Dear Jane. Bonneville/Cedar Fort, Aug. 9, 2016. LDS YA romance. “The plan was to serve a mission, marry her boyfriend, and live happily ever after. But all of that changed when Quinn got a Dear Jane email. Now she’s stuck at home with no boyfriend, no job, no major, and absolutely no social life. Will Quinn ever find the path that leads to her eternal happiness?”
Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine. 4 stars. “This story is modern, light, fun, and stresses the point that even families and individuals that try to live according to the Gospel still have problems, make mistakes, and aren’t perfect. It may appeal to older teens as well as adults. The characters, while mostly likable, are immature. Quinn is more like a sixteen-year-old than a twenty-something. So are the men in her life. Her mother is not likable, in fact, she seems less than sane. The book itself is smaller than standard size which gives it a juvenile market appearance. The author has a warm, easy style that will appeal to readers and the story has an interesting premise, but it contains too many coincidences and the similarity of names between Nick and Nate is confusing.”
Jacob Proffitt. 3 stars. “Elements of this really worked well. Others pulled me out enough I nearly stopped reading. In all, it’s a good story and the ending was fantastic . . . What I didn’t have a tough time with were some of the awful characters who surrounded Nick and Quinn. They were exceedingly awful, starting with her mom and his dad. I am so glad I never got the feeling that Ward meant for us to sympathize with the judgmental, completely unchristian actions of these “parents”. Indeed, we see the trials their unbending and destructive disapproval bring to their children. Which opens the opportunities for good people to step up and help heal and comfort those so wounded. It was an excellent representation of faithful living among a church community full of flawed people, some of them awful, even as it shows the strength of those striving to live the spirit of their religion at the same time and in the same place. I thought this was a really strong aspect of the novel. And the ending was fantastic. Tears flowed as Nick and Quinn began figuring things out and finally drew together (but then, I’m a noted soft touch in these things). The strength they find with each other in the midst of so much trauma was outstanding. I fell for them both by the end and that is no small thing. If it hadn’t been for the authorial manipulations and the couple times I nearly stopped reading altogether, this would have been a solid four star read. As is, I can stand confidently behind the three. I look forward to more from Ward. There’s a lot of talent here, even if some of the character actions nearly threw me out of the story entirely. This is a deeply and completely LDS story. It’s steeped in Mormon culture and is unabashed about doing so. There are numerous elements likely to be opaque and possibly confusing to outsiders. Which was exactly right for this story, I think.”
Dan Wells. Ones and Zeroes. Balzer + Bray, Feb. 14. Mirador #2. YA science fiction. Set in the future, a virtual reality team enters a prestigious tournament, finds out that there is more to it than it seems.
David J. West. Scavengers: A Porter Rockwell Adventure. Self, Jan 24. Western horror. Dark Trails Saga Book 1. “Deputy Marshal Porter Rockwell can’t be harmed by a bullet or a blade. As long as he never cuts his hair, Rockwell is free to right wrongs and chase criminals without worrying about the consequences. But when he learns about a map to a mysterious cache of gold, he’s embroiled in a battle for the treasure with enemies lining up on every side. As outlaws, villains, and a surprisingly formidable Ute chieftain stand between the Deputy Marshall and the gold, bullet and blade might not be what finally take Rockwell down. It could be plain old bad luck…”
Kasie West. By Your Side. Harper Teen, Jan. 31. YA romance. A boy and girl with seemingly nothing in common get locked in a library together over a weekend.
PW: “After two high school students get locked in the local library over a three-day weekend, they end up sharing intimate details of their lives with each other, even though Autumn is well aware that Dax’s “reputation wasn’t exactly stellar,” and he thinks she is a “naïve, spoiled priss.” When Autumn emerges, she finds her life in chaos: her family and classmates thought that she had been in a car accident involving her friends. As Autumn copes with the consequences of the weekend, she turns to Dax, a lonely foster kid, for distraction and comfort. West offers a largely formulaic story of a golden girl falling for a bad boy, from the initial accident that throws the unlikely pair together to the path their relationship takes and its effect on Autumn’s friendships. Fans of opposites-attract romances, though, should enjoy watching Autumn and Dax find each other, even as the two teens pushback against a host of judgments, expectations, and assumptions.”
Kirkus: “Though quite slow to start, Autumn and Dax’s relationship burns brightly. Autumn’s struggles with anxiety are equally dynamic. If only the rest of her life—her friends and other love interest—were equally engaging. A simmering romance that gives weight to mental health and hard choices.”
Bethany Wiggins. The Dragon’s Price. Crown Books, Feb. 21. YA fantasy adventure. Transference #1.
SLJ: “There is very little originality in this slight fantasy: prince (check), princess (check), bad dragon (check), cruel father (check). On the plus side, there is a nice dynamic between the two protagonists, and the growth of their affection for each other is well paced. Wiggins also wrote the popular “Stung” series. VERDICT A flawed but serviceable tale for readers looking for new fantasy works about princes, princesses, and dragons.”
Kirkus: “Formulaic fantasy-romance enlivened by an innovative take on dragon treasure . . . The remainder of the novel includes a few set-piece adventures, kissing, much banter about lustful feelings, and finally facing another dragon, whose treasure is hatred. There is little to make this stand out; Sorrowlynn’s journey is the standard girl-power arc done better by such authors as Tamora Pierce and Kristin Cashore, foreshortened by the magical knowledge dump; Golmarr (of the “long black hair” and skin like “caramel-colored silk”) is the classic (exoticized and problematic) noble barbarian, whose darker-skinned people are in touch with the earth and their feelings. Oh, and it’s first in a series. Skip.”
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books: “What follows is a bit of cool dragon lore and a lot of hesitant, stilted romance that requires one to fervently believe in the notion of love at first sight. Golmarr, the brute with a heart of gold, is memorable as a character, patient, intelligent, loyal, and creative, and the dragons themselves are well-developed and worthy opponents. Unfortunately, Sorrowlynn is a drag, vacillating between self-pity, insecurity, and stubbornness; in addition, there’s a touch of exoticism to the treatment of the dark-skinned, earth-centered Antharian characters. Readers can probably find more memorable fantasy girls staking out their own destiny, but true dragon fans may be pleased enough with the sharp, angry beasts here to keep going through the anticipated series.”
Brooke Williams. Open Midnight: Where Ancestors and Wilderness Meet. Trinity University Press, Feb. 20. Memoir/Non-fiction. “Open Midnight weaves two parallel stories about the great wilderness—Brooke Williams’s year alone with his dog ground truthing wilderness maps of southern Utah, and that of his great-great-great-grandfather, who in 1863 made his way with a group of Mormons from England across the wilderness almost to Utah, dying a week short. The book is also about two levels of history—personal, as represented by William Williams, and collective, as represented by Charles Darwin, who lived in Shrewsbury, England, at about the same time as Williams. As Williams begins researching the story of his oldest known ancestor, he realizes that he has few facts. He wonders if a handful of dates can tell the story of a life, writing, “If those points were stars in the sky, we would connect them to make a constellation, which is what I’ve made with his life by creating the parts missing from his story.” Thus William Williams becomes a kind of spiritual guide, a shamanlike consciousness that accompanies the author on his wilderness and life journeys, and that appears at pivotal points when the author is required to choose a certain course. The mysterious presence of his ancestor inspires the author to create imagined scenes in which Williams meets Darwin in Shrewsbury, sowing something central in the DNA that eventually passes to Brooke Williams, whose life has been devoted to nature and wilderness.” Williams is a wilderness advocate, author and freelance journalist. He is an ex-Mormon, and the husband of Terry Tempest Williams.
Rachel Chipman, Deseret News: “Williams’ prose is magnificent — lyrical, evocative and encompassing. Readers will see clearly the wild beauty of southern Utah and be reminded of the spiritual nourishment that only comes through nature. “Open Midnight” is an expanding experience, one that will change forever how readers see life, death and those who have gone before us. Latter-day Saint readers will find much to connect with in the author’s ideas of life, eternity and learning from ancestors — that is, if they can disregard the anti-Mormon flavor of the book. Williams is a former member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and takes potshots throughout the book at various aspects of Utah Mormon culture and LDS doctrine. While some LDS readers will enjoy “Open Midnight” anyway, others may feel alienated by Williams’ disdainful perspective.”
Reviews of older books
Scott Abbott. Immortal for Quite Some Time. Review by Steve Peck, 5 stars. “Scott Abbott’s book was devastating. Its fearless reflections and meditations on his life and his brother, held a mirror to my own. The work left me with numerous questions about how I have lived, about the choices I’ve made, the perspective’s I’ve taken up and abandoned, and about my relationships with my own family and friends and institutions. This is powerful stuff. It is beautiful and sad. Potent in its confrontation with vulnerability. Rich in evocations. I want to say I could not put it down, because it has that force, but I had to again and again to deal with the resonate emotions it drew from me and that demanded confrontation. Read this book. You won’t be sorry. This is a magnificent memoir—unique, compelling, hopeful, funny, healing, and as I said, devastating. Or then again maybe you will sorry because it drills into hidden nerves over and over and doesn’t offer simple patches or novocaine to ease the lesions.”
Scott Abbott. Immortal for Quite Some Time (Harlow Clark, AML). A lovely essay, but impossible to take a quote from it, as one would expect from Harlow.
Scott Abbott. Immortal for Quite Some Time (Brooke Williams, 15 Bytes). “The first thing I read on opening Scott Abbott’s Immortal for Quite Some Time was that “This is not a memoir.” I agree. This book is, in my opinion, the world’s most perfect obituary . . . Scott Abbott’s obituary for his brother John, who died of AIDS on July 21, 1991, may fall into the “treasure hunt” category except that the number of clues contained in its 256 pages leave, at least for this reader, little unfilled space. It is not frustrating. It is beautiful. As with the best of this genre, Abbot’s is less about his dead brother than it is about himself. The clues, laid out in journal form spanning most of his life are to a story, a treasure that remains unfinished . . . And readers? Either they will find Scott Abbott’s story familiar because they are on a similar path, and it will inspire them to tell their own, or they will be drawn in because in quiet moments they know they need to start their own journey. They will know that this beautifully brave book, this unique obituary, will give them courage.”
Mary Lythgoe Bradford. Mr. Mustard Plaster and Other Mormon Essays (Joey Franklin, Dialogue). “Since my time as an English major at BYU, I’ve deliberately worked to be a writer who happens to be Mormon, and not, heaven forbid, a “Mormon Writer.” To focus one’s work on the cultural curiosities and provincial preoccupations of Mormondom seemed tantamount to insulating one self from the “real” artistic world. Writing about Mormonism would turn people off, shut out readers, and invite prejudice, misunderstanding, and maybe even downright scorn. Common advice given to me early on, usually from other writers who happen to be Mormon, was to keep my Mormonness out of my writing; focus on learning the literary tradition and leave my cultural tradition out of it. But this summer I’ve been reading a small collection of Mormon essays by Mary Lythgoe Bradford and it has me reconsidering my definition of tradition and my understanding of its role in literature, particularly in the personal essay . . . As a personal essayist, a teacher, and a Mormon, I read Bradford’s work and the label “Mormon Writer” begins to feel less problematic. After all, the most successful essayists will always write from the core of Eliot’s literary tradition, but an essential part of that tradition is a candid analysis of the essayist’s life. If Bradford’s collection teaches us anything, it is that the line between one’s life and one’s culture is thin, if it exists at all. And a writer’s best hope for authenticity is to not only embrace one’s literary tradition but one’s cultural tradition as well.”
Ally Condie. Summerlost (Theric). “If I taught junior-high English I would be tempted to teach this book for the same reason John Green’s Fault in Our Stars tempts: the intertextuality teaches kids how to read well. It’s not as blatant as Green’s book but it’s doing many of the same things (including some over-the-top symbolism near the end) . . . The book plods a bit at times, but it has many more moments of lyrical beauty. And although some of the emotional beats seemed a bit undercooked, I prefer that anyday over being burnt. In short, it’s a pretty typical YA story—boy, girl, precociousness, a mystery, at least one bully—but it’s a fine, fine example of its genre and we should all encourage her. Keep on, Ally!”
Larry Correia. Son of the Black Sword (John Brown). “It has all the action and entertainment you expect from a Correia production. There are monsters. There are battles and wonderful scenes of sword fighting. There are magic and wizards, but it’s not the magic and wizards you’ve seen before (magic from demon body parts?!) And unlike many fantasies, which revolve around the magic—discovering how it works and some chosen person growing in its power—this story revolves around matters of justice and mercy and law and truth . . . As a reader, I was delighted. As an author, I found many things to admire (and some to be envious of), including the fact that when you’re in the point of view of a character, you’re with that character, caring about what they care about and seeing the world through their eyes.”
Darin Cozzens. The Last Blessing of J. Guyman LeGrand and Other Stories (Braden Hepner, Dialogue). “Darin Cozzens’s second collection, The Last Blessing of J. Guyman LeGrand and Other Stories, contains emus and Mormon spinsters, ill-fated wedding ceremonies and wheelchair races in the dementia ward, washtub nostalgia and the ambiguous values of patriarchal blessings. Beneath these elements of the quietly bizarre run themes of desire, fate, and, most prominently, forgiveness. From the wind-swept lands of Wyoming and the Intermountain West, these stories feature lives of struggle and need. Cozzens plumbs the human experience for meaning and dredges it up in double handfuls . . . Readers looking for quiet stories of complex emotion and human struggle will enjoy this carefully-wrought collection. Cozzens deserves to be read, and this collection is a welcome addition to contemporary Mormon fiction.”
Joey Franklin. My Wife Wants You to Know I’m Happily Married (Eric Freeze, Dialogue). “Franklin’s winding essays truly essay—or try out a concept or idea by tying together various personal, cultural, and academic ephemera. Franklin essays about kissing, about fast food jobs, about T-ball parenting, and about his father’s incarceration. Each subject has its fair share of reflection and examination, combined with narrative and description. The revelations aren’t earth-shattering—I get the feeling Franklin would be suspicious of them if they were—but instead sit on the tongue like a great vintage of a non-alcoholic wine. But although they may look alike, Joey Franklin is not Montaigne. He’s a contemporary Montaigne. A Mormon Montaigne. Probably Franklin’s most interesting work in the collection happens when the subject matter pushes boundaries of Mormon culture. When Franklin was seven, his father was incarcerated, causing rifts and tensions in an otherwise seemingly normal LDS home. Franklin plies the experience for insights about father-son communication, about the ways that parents and children mirror each other or hide their insecurities or inadequacies behind the guise of adulthood . . . My Wife Wants You to Know I’m Happily Married is pleasurable, aesthetically interesting, thoughtful, and complex, if at times a little thematically safe. If there is any fault in the book, it is this: it reinforces rather than challenges the rules it has prescribed for itself. It’s a book that’s aware of its limitations, as unpretentious as its t-shirt-festooned cover. It has male-pattern baldness, a diminutive name, and it will never get past second base. But I think that’s also partly the point. Within those self-prescribed limitations, the book is a delight.”
Judith Freeman. Latter Days: A Memoir (Doug Christensen, AML). “Freeman has seamlessly traversed the space between her fiction and nonfiction in her recent work, The Latter Days: A Memoir. There can be no doubt about her success in this genre because she so convincingly pulls the reader into rich folds of personal details that lead to affinity and connection. After knowing the end from the beginning, I was tempted to start the book over again to re-experience or keep experiencing her familiar voice and lyrical cadence, the second time with a more informed perspective about who she is and where she was taking me . . . Freeman’s memoir suggests that like other religions, Mormonism offers a peculiar sense of place and of self, and the way she conveys this reality makes us grateful that some people who leave Mormonism cannot leave it alone.”
Jessica Day George. Princess of the Midnight Ball. (Rosalyn Eves) 4 stars. “The story was enjoyable, but I didn’t think it was great. The characters never seemed very well-developed to me, nor were they entirely plausible. The princesses were all a little more friendly with a lowly gardener than I would have expected, even allowing for the nature of the story (a retelling of the twelve dancing princesses). Juliet Marillier’s Wildwood Dancing is a much more inventive retelling of the same story.”
Amy Harmon. From Sand and Ash (Sheila Staley) 5 stars. “I’ve never read anything from Amy Harmon before, but after reading From Sand and Ash, I’ll be reading a lot more. I read this book very quickly. It literally is hard to put down. It’s a story that takes place in Italy during World War II. The story is about two people Eva, a Jewish girl, and her close family friend she grew up with Angelo Bianco, a Catholic, American boy, being raised by his Italian grandparents. Everything about this story is mesmerizing, from the beautiful lyrical writing style to the flat out reality and harshness of what Hitler and the Nazis did to the Jewish people and those that were brave enough to try and help them. This book is about good and evil, survival and death, helplessness and hope, and making hard choices that can define your life and those around you. The beauty of this story contrasts so much with the ugliness of war and persecution, that at times you forget to breathe while reading. The love story is also so heartwrenching you want to fall down into a puddle of tears.”
Josi S. Kilpack. The Lady of the Lakes (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine) 4 stars. “Kilpack has applied thorough research to the life and loves of Scotland’s national literary hero and to the pre-Regency period when the story unfolds in the late 1700s. The setting is primarily in the lake area from Edinburgh to northern England and adds to the realism. Though the story is billed as a Romance, it also will appeal to history buffs for its meticulous attention to the social customs and mores, prejudices, and values of the time period. It is part of a series of novels called Historical Proper Romances, written by various authors which take place in diverse locations and features characters facing some of history’s greatest moments.”
William Morris. Dark Watch and Other Mormon-American Stories (Theric Jenpon, AML). “Peculiarly Liminal” “Dark Watch is story after story after story about how being Mormon is being between. Between middle-school cool and YM/YW righteous, between academic hobnobbing and lifelong moral boundaries, between, if you like, Babylon and Zion. Many of the pieces included here are bitesize . . . .which appropriately allows them to fit between the moments of our own lives, into the nooks and crannies we intend to devote to art. Morris has boldly subtitled his collection Mormon-American stories, daring anyone to use that as an excuse to reject him. And people will, of course, because a prophet hath no honour in his own country and no one is more swift to reject Mormon artists than Mormon who, like, really appreciate good art.”
Karen Rosenbaum. Mothers, Daughters, Sisters, Wives (Josh Allen, Dialogue). “When reading Karen Rosenbaum’s short story collection Mothers, Daughters, Sisters, Wives, I kept thinking about the end of The Great Gatsby and Fitzgerald’s haunting conclusion: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” So it is with the women who populate Rosenbaum’s fourteen stories in this collection. The past defines them, breathes always within them. They live preoccupied with family legacies and personal histories, often ruminating, always remembering . . . They also bear the weight of family legacy—inherited faith, family responsibilities, or even stories themselves. And yet, for Rosenbaum’s female protagonists, the past is never an oppressive force. Rosenbaum’s women bear their pasts without complaint, accepting them as instrumental and often welcome parts of who they are. This emphasis on preoccupation with the past does much for Rosenbaum’s writing. It fuels her prose, lends her stories a gratifying subtlety, allows her to develop finely wrought characters, and ultimately imbues her work with the artistic weight that makes this collection such a pleasure. There are no high-adrenaline moments in these stories, no swift crescendos into passion or drama, and so, neither are there passages where the sentences shorten and speed up to fuel the rising drama. The prose throughout this collection remains quiet, reflective—as it should for a book built upon memory . . . Mothers, Daughters, Sisters, Wives is a fine collection. It is carefully crafted, and its thorough examination of how our histories shape and re ne us lends this book its artistic and thematic weight. That weight, like these characters’ pasts, is well worth bearing. These stories were composed over four decades and appeared originally in various publications including Sunstone, Irreantum, and Dialogue.”
Brandon Sanderson, et al. White Sand (Theric). Graphic novel. “What a blasted mess this thing it. It’s boring for one thing. The plot is a clustertrump of events and happenstance. The dialogue only aspires to B-movie quality. The organization of panels is at times utterly bewildering. And the art is that mid-90s style where everyone looks like they were made of dried clay then hit with hammers. I really can think of nothing to recommend it or why I would look forward to further volumes.”
Anita Stansfield. Color of Love (Jennie Hansen) 3 stars. “Stansfield’s characters spend a lot of time talking and thinking about their feelings. Happy or sad, they cry a lot–and that isn’t just the female characters. The story is more character driven than action oriented. The setting shows lingering similarities to the earlier Regency period. Action oriented readers will find the plot extremely slow while those who enjoy romances will like the lingering, detailed reactions to every glance or touch. Much of the emphasis of the story is directed toward the injustice and bigotry shown by many people toward dark skinned people.”
Erin Summeral. Ever the Hunted (Jessica Day George) 4 stars. “A scrappy young heroine sets out to find her father’s murderer, and encounters betrayal, secrets, and magic along the way! This is a nice set up to a series that looks like it’s gonna be chock full of political intrigue as well as kissing. I through that in there because often in books I’m like, EW, make them STOP! That is NOT how you talk about kissing! But I have to say: Erin has a gift for making romance seem actually romantic!”
Camron Wright. The Orphan Keeper (Reading for Sanity) Five stars. “I’ve never thought about the ramifications that adoptions could have on older kids. This novel — while based on a true story, this has some elements of fiction to move it along and make the narrative flow — explores exactly that question. How does an international adoption affect the adoptee throughout life? How does it impact the bonding with the adoptive family? There’s a scene, told from Chellamuthu’s adoptive mother’s point of view, when Chellamuthu arrives from India at the airport. She envisions a little boy who will run to her, thank her in halting English for rescuing him, and they’ll all live happily ever after. What she gets is a terrified little boy who is overwhelmed — probably way more common and much less talked about. Further, even though there’s a jump of ten years, it’s clear that the circumstances of Chellamuthu’s adoption affected every aspect of his life. HIs relationship with his adoptive parents and siblings suffers, his relationships with girls is tenuous because he always feels like they’re dating the novelty and not the guy, and how do you decide what to do with your life when you’ve had that kind of upheaval? Chellamuthu’s journey from Indian child to americanized—and then rediscovered Indian heritage—Taj is an amazing read. I couldn’t put the book down. Literally, I was in the middle of another book and couldn’t get back to it, I was too worried about Taj. His two families, both incredible, both so loving are families I want to know. The circumstances, coincidences, and miracles that came together to reunite Taj are incredible, even if they’ve been slightly dramatized for a book, wow. Doesn’t matter . . . This is one of those books that makes me want to travel, to start a humanitarian fund, to volunteer to do more and help more, and to go find the real Taj and hear the whole story. And meet his wife, because their love story may be one of my favorites I’ve read this year.”
The New York Times discontinued several lists after Jan. 29. These include mass market paperbacks, graphic novel/manga, middle grade and young adult e-book and paperback lists.
Feb. 5, 12, 19, 26, March 5
Stephanie Meyer. The Chemist
USA Today: #54, #83, #105, #139, #41 (33 weeks)
PW Hardcover: #5, #6, #8, #13, #13 (14 weeks). 7686, 6094, 5180 4295, 4441 units. 43,163 total.
NYT Hardcover: #10, #7, #11, x, x (13 weeks)
RaeAnne Thayne. Brambleberry House
USA Today: x, x, #97, x, x (1 week)
PW Mass Market: x, x, #10, #10, #15 (3 weeks). 8443, 6602, 5100 units. 20,145 total.
Christine Feehan. Power Game
USA Today: x, #12, #136, x (2 weeks)
PW Hardcover: x, #9, #20, x, x (2 weeks). 5342, 3091 units. 8433 total.
NYT Hardcover: x, #9, x, x, x (1 week)
NYT Combined Print & Ebook: x, #4, x, x, x
Brandon Sanderson. Snapshot
USA Today: x, x, x, x, #100
James Dashner. The Fever Code (The Maze Runner series)
PW Children’s: #29, #24, x, x, x (17 weeks). 7034 total.
Kasie West. By Your Side
PW Children’s: x, x, #25, x, x (1 week). 2149 units.
Brandon Sanderson. Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection
PW Fantasy: #2, x
Brandon Sanderson. The Bands of Mourning
PW Fantasy: x, #4