It has been two months since my last month in review, and a lot has happened. The AML and Storymakers conferences were held, the upcoming Mormon Arts Center Festival was announced, and the Mormon Lit Blitz stories were announced. Mormon literature, the kind that is actually about Mormons, had a huge boost when By Common Consent announced a new publishing house with a strong literary bent, and the New York-based Mormon Artists Group published its first work of fiction, Luisa Perkins’ Prayers in Bath. Other new novels include Richard Paul Evans’ tale of redemption The Broken Road, Rosalyn Eves’ YA fantasy Blood Rose Rebellion, Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham’s middle grade graphic novel/memoir Real Friends, and The Duke of Bannerman Prep, Katie A. Nelson’s YA reworking of The Great Gatsby. Please send news and announcements to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.
Awards and News
The AML Conference was held on April 21-22 at Utah Valley University and Writ & Vision. The AML Awards were presented, Orson Scott Card was presented with the Smith-Pettit Foundation Award for Outstanding Contribution to Mormon Letters, and Susan Elizabeth Howe was presented with a AML Lifetime Achievement Award. Both authors were able to attend the awards ceremony and panel discussions of their works. Phyllis Barber presented the keystone address. A Gofundme fundraiser was held for AML, which raised $2685. One of the uses AML will put the money towards is the restart of our literary journal Irreantum. A committee of interested volunteers are currently working on how to restart the journal as an online magazine, hopefully before the end of this year. If you are interested in participating in the process, please contact Andrew at mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.
The LDStorymakers Guild held their annual conference on May 11-13, at the Utah Valley Convention Center in Provo, Utah. Ally Condie and Jennifer Nielson were the keynote speakers. The 2016 Whitney Awards were presented, with twelve awards presented. Jeff Zentner won Best Debut Novel for The Serpent King, Ally Condie won Novel of the Year (Youth) for Summerlost, and Amy Harmon won Novel of the Year (Adult) for From Sand and Ash. Liz Adair and Marilyn Brown won Outstanding Achievement Awards. The 2018 Conference will be held on May 3-5 at the same location. The name of the conference will become simply Storymakers Conference, with the purpose of making the conference more inclusive and avoiding potential misunderstanding about any official connection with the LDS Church. The guild is still LDStorymakers. Wm Morris provided his 2016 Whitney Awards ballot and observations. So did Emily Milner.
The board of the Mormon blog By Common Consent has announced the creation of a new Mormon non-profit publishing house, BCC Press. The co-founders are Michael Austin, Steve Evans, Kristine Hagulund, Sam Brunson, Cynthia Lee, and Kyle Munson. So far they have announced three books to be published this spring and summer, Science the Key to Theology, a non-fiction work by Steven Peck, The Burning Point, a memoir by Tracy McKay, and Third Wheel: Peculiar Stories of Mormon Women in Love, a collection of two AML-award winning plays by Melissa Leilani-Larson, Little Happy Secrets and Pilot Program. Two more literary works will be announced later this summer. This may be the most significant publishing news in Mormon literature since the founding of Zarahemla Books in 2006. See this Salt Lake Tribune article and an interview with Steven Peck and Steve Evans at the What Say Ye podcast.
At Segullah, this month Shelah Mastny Miner steps down after five years as Editor-in-Chief of Segullah. Linda Hoffman Kimball joins Sandra Clark Jergensen (editor since 2015) at the helm as Co-Editor-in-Chief.
Mormon Arts Center is a new organization created by Glen Nelson and Richard Bushman. They will hold their first Mormon Arts Center Festival in New York City on June 29 to July 1. It will be a celebration and exploration of Mormon Arts on the 50th anniversary of President Spencer W. Kimball’s Gospel in the Arts sermon. Held at the Riverside Church, it will feature exhibitions, concerts, presentations, academic discourse, and publications. There will be the group art exhibition “Immediate Present,” featuring contemporary LDS artists represented in the permanent collection of the Church History Museum. The opening night keynote address by Terryl Givens, professor of literature and religion at the University of Richmond. Speakers at the symposium will include Paul L. Anderson, Campbell Gray, Kristine Haglund, Michael Hicks, Jared Hickman, Adam S. Miller, Glen Nelson, Steven L. Peck, John Durham Peters, Jana Reiss, and Eric Samuelsen. A concert in Christ Chapel performed by the Deseret String Quartet will feature works drawn from LDS composers. Kent Larsen will present, “The Journey and Travails of Corianton”, a performance/screening/lecture on the strange history of early Mormon rarities—the novel, Corianton (1889) by B. H. Roberts; the play with music, Corianton: An Aztec Romance (1912) by Orestes Utah Bean and Harold Orlob (a giant flop on Broadway, lasting only six performances); and finally the lavish Hollywood film, Corianton: A Story of Unholy Love (1931); including excerpts from the novel, play, and film. More than 50 artists, musicians, and scholars will be gathering, from the U. S., Argentina, Spain, and Australia. Richard Bushman and Glen Nelson discuss the festival in an episode of the podcast Mormon Visual Culture.
Finalists for the 6th Annual Mormon Lit Blitz will be posted on May 29th-June 10th. They will be: 29 May: “Celestial Accounting” by Katherine Cowley, 30 May: “Sonata in Three Movements” by Jeanine Bee, 31 May: “Germination” by Sarah Dunster, 1 June: “Pride” by Hillary Stirling, 2 June: “Spurious Revelations” by Niklas Hietala, 3 June: “On the Death of a Child” by Merrijane Rice, 5 June: “Worthy World” Tanya Hanamaikai, 6 June: “There Wrestled a Man in Parowan” by Wm Morris. 7 June: “Valley 176th Ward” by Eliza Porter, 8 June: “Walking Among the Legend People” by Marianne Hales Harding, 9 June: “Daughters of Ishmael” by Annaliese Lemmon, 10 June: “Forty Years” by Jeanna Mason Stay. Audience voting for the Grand Prize Winner will take place June 12-14.
Patrick Madden’s Sublime Physick won a 2017 Independent Publisher Book Gold Metal Award in the “essay/creative nonfiction” category. Madden also had a guest blog post, Some Notes on Expectations, at S[r] blog. “Over the years, as I read and wrote and taught and critiqued thousands of essays, I formulated an observation into a theory. For context, you should know that, including graduate school, I’ve been at this essay thing semi-professionally for twenty years. Through reading and writing countless good and bad examples, I came to feel that the best essay endings worked their way backwards through the text to shift a reader’s understanding of the whole, to reconfigure interpretation from a new insight. Thus, the endings were a surprise that made sense; they granted an insight beyond what I would have come to on my own, but not beyond what was reasonable. I became fond of saying that this represented a surprising inevitability (or inevitable surprise).”
Children’s Literature Association of Utah gave its Beehive Book Young Adult Award to Jennifer A. Nielsen, A Night Divided. Utah Best of State awards were given to Sarah M. Eden for fiction and Annette Lyon for short stories.
Among the winners of the 2017 Utah Film Awards were “The Uncomfortable Truth” (Documentary, Loki Mullholland, director) and “Dudes and Dragons” (Feature film, Maclain Nelson and Stephen Shimek, directors).
Sunstone Magazine’s 2017 Eugene England Memorial Personal Essay Contest Winners were announced. There are three pieces tied for first, and three honorable mentions. All of the pieces will appear in upcoming issues of the magazine. 1st Place: “Flesh, Language, Sacrament: Three Meditations on the Communal Meal,” by Tyler Chadwick, “The Ensō of Christ,” by Ted Lee, and “Poured Out Like Water,” by Charlotte Johnson Willian. Honorable Mentions: “Low and the Hermeneutics of Silence,” by Jacob Bender, “Yoo-hoo Unto Jesus,” By Dennis Clark, “You Are Whole,” by Mette Ivie Harrison.
Michael Collings’ dark poetry collection Corona Obscura has been named a finalist for the 2016 Bram Stoker Award from the Horror Writers of America, and has been nominated for a Elgin Award from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association.
Orson Scott Card will teach his two day writing class for the first time since 2014, in Orem, Utah. There will be no “boot camp” this time. Also, here is a video of Orson Scott Card and Robbert Stoddard speaking on Mormon Art at Southern Virginia University.
2017 Sunstone Summer Symposium, University of Utah, July 27-29, will feature the presentation: “Bridgewalker: Spirituality in the Poetry of Linda Sillitoe”, presented by Cynthia Sillitoe.
Bert Fuller, a doctoral student at the University of Toronto, has a blog where he writes about Mormon poetry. Fuller moderated the AML panel on Susan Elizabeth Howe, did a presentation AML, called “Mormon Poetry in Review: Some Notes on the Last Five Years.”, and presented on “Cloven Tongues: Marita Dachsel’s Glossolalia,” at the Toronto Sunstone Symposium on April 8. Dachsel is a non-Mormon poet whose book Glossolalia is an “exploration of sisterhood, motherhood, and sexuality as told in a series of poetic monologues spoken by the thirty-four polygamous wives of Joseph Smith.”
Kiersten White will write a new series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer novels, with Simon & Schuster’s teen division, Simon Pulse, beginning in 2018.
Blog posts and podcasts
Segullah’s featured author of the month is Melissa Leilani Larson. They have a detailed interview with her, and an excerpt from her play Pilot Program, and an excerpt of her unreleased new play, Sweetheart Come, where we meet Emma who struggles to hold her husband’s political aspirations, illness, and her creative ability.
Michael Haycock, Patheos. “Unbridling Mormon Illustration: ‘From the Dust’”.
At A Motley Vision: Wm Morris: A conversation with Luisa Perkins about her short novel Prayers in Bath, On sentimentality, cynicism and Mormon art. Tyler Chadwick (who on May 1 successfully defended his Idaho State University dissertation) Enter the Poetarium: On the Problem and Promise of Alex Caldiero’s Sonosophy. Theric Jepson: Paragraphs on three very different things (three book reviews).
Tona Hangen. Gem from the Local Archive: My Turn on Earth. The Juvenile Instructor. Hangen reviews and gives the cultural context for Carol Lynn Pearson and Lex de Azevedo‘s 1977 Mormon musical My Turn on Earth.
Mormon Visual Culture is a new podcast created by Micah Christensen, a PhD in History of Art at the University College London and a board member of the Springville Museum of Art. Boad Swanson, Eric Biggart, and Tamara Haws Woods are also part of the team. They have done six podcast so far. The group’s blog goes back to early 2016.
Carol Lynn Pearson was interviewed on The Cultural Hall podcast about her life and her new book “Ghost of Eternal Polygamy”.
Brian Whitney and Brandt Malone’s This Month in Mormon Studies, including a wrap-up of the AML Conference.
The Junto Presents is a series of Audio dramas, by David Parkin and Robert Gibbs. The first episode, “My Rifle, My Pony, and Me” is a cowboy tale of a heavenly vision, or perhaps a desperate cry from a future time.
Magazines and short stories
The Spring 2017 issue of Sunstone Magazine includes the short story “The Dead Are All Around Us”, by Luisa Perkins, the personal essay “Invisible But Real”, by John Gustav-Wrathnll, and poetry by L. N. Allen, R. A. Christmas, and Steph Lauritzen. The main theme is “LDS Approaches to the New Presidency”, which includes essays by Stephen Carter, Eric Samuelsen, Michael Austin, Carol Lynn Pearson, and Boyd Petersen.
Spencer Ellsworth. “When Stars are Scattered.” Tor.com, April 5. “Ahmed is a doctor working in a far flung outpost of humanity. His way was paid for by the leaders of his faith and his atheism is a guarded secret. His encounters with the “kite people” will cause him to doubt his whole worldview however when the aliens start dying and escalating tensions between religious extremists threatens to destroy the colony’s peace. “When Stars Are Scattered” is a moving story about alien contact, religious intolerance, and the redemptive power of the divine channeled through the spirit. Whether that spirit is human or alien.” His debut novel, Starfire: A Red Peace, will be published by Tor in Aug. 22.
David Farland. “Dark Mother”. Larry Correia. “Episode 22”. Both in: Aliens: Bug Hunt. Jonathan Maberry, editor. April 18.
Shannon Hale. “Babysitting Nightmare”. In Funny Girl, edited by Betsy Bird. Viking Books for Young Readers, May 9.
Ellis Jeter. “White Shirt, Black Name Tag, Big Secret.” New York Times, May 12. Non-fiction “Modern Love” story, about his experience trying to understand his homosexuality while serving as a Mormon missionary.
Gabriel González Núñez. “Capitán Q”. miNatura. 2016, págs. 60-61. España. “Los duendes de Beto y Teresita”. El Narratorio. 2016, págs. 47-49. Argentina. “Los inventos del padre Dámaso Antonio Larrañaga, Ministro de Relaciones Exteriores”. Tiempos Oscuros. 2016, págs. 115-129. España. “El partido sin fin”. Punto en Línea. 2016. Ciudad de México.
New Books and their reviews
Various Authors. Unexpected Love: A Marriage of Convenience Anthology. Sweetwater/Cedar Fort, March 14. Victorian romance. Featuring authors Ashtyn Newbold, Heather Chapman, Mandi Ellsworth, and Paula Kremser .
Traci Hunter Abramson. Chance For Home. Covenant, April 1. Chance Are #2. Contemporary romance.
Jennifer Adams. My Little Cities: New York. Chronicle, April 11. Children’s picture book.
Kirkus: “Readers visit such New York City icons as the Empire State Building, the NYC subway, Times Square, Coney Island, and the Brooklyn Bridge. Adams’ simple text scans nicely, using two-word lines per double-page spread to set the scene and introduce youngsters to opposites. “Listen quiet / listen loud / sit alone / or in a crowd” is paired with Broadway, Times Square, Central Park, and Yankee Stadium respectively. Pizzoli, in his muted-colored cartoons, charmingly strips each landmark to toddler-friendly essentials; the New York Public Library lions are delightful, and the Times Square crowds are refreshingly manageable. The tableaux are populated with a representative cross-section of humanity in smiling profile—never has New York City looked so friendly. The final two pages review all the sights and share two to three sentences of simple facts about each one. Using much the same format, companion London focuses on that storied city and introduces young armchair travelers to Big Ben, the London Eye, Abbey Road (with a re-enactment of the famous Beatles cover), and a double-decker bus cruising through Piccadilly Circus. Sure to promote toddler wanderlust; here’s hoping more excursions are en route.”
PW: “A zippy tour of the Big Apple in this pitch-perfect board book that paints the city as a town of opposites . . . Bright colors, speckled textured, and smiley, round-headed citizens (and tourists) create a sense of friendly bustle on every page, and a useful closing spread fills in details about the 10 featured sites.”
Lee Allred (writer), Michael Allred and Laura Allred (art). Bug! The Adventures of Forager. DC Comics, May 10. A six-issue mini-series, based on Jack Kirby’s Fourth World character Forager the Bug. Hits shelves May 10. Newsarama review. Comicosity review.
Chelsea Curran. Unseen Road to Love. Bonneville/Cedar Fort, April 11. Contemporary romance.
Richard Paul Evans. The Broken Road. Simon Schuster, May 2. General. Broken Road #1. “Chicago celebrity Charles James can’t shake the nightmare that wakes him each night. He sees himself walking down a long, broken highway the sides of which are lit in flames. Where is he going? Why is he walking? What is the wailing he hears around him? By day, he wonders why he’s so haunted and unhappy when he has all he ever wanted-fame, fans and fortune and the lavish lifestyle it affords him. Coming from a childhood of poverty and pain, this is what he’s dreamed of. But now, at the pinnacle of his career, he’s started to wonder if he’s wanted the wrong things. His wealth has come legally, but questionably, from the power of his personality, seducing people out of their hard-earned money. When he learns that one of his customers has committed suicide because of financial ruin, Charles is shaken. The cracks in his facade start to break down spurring him to question everything: his choices, his relationships, his future and the type of man he’s become.
Then a twist of fate changes everything. Charles is granted something very remarkable: a second chance. The question is: What will he do with it?”
Kirkus: “Charles James’ world crashes down on him, which readers can see from the story’s outset. But why the sinner is on that hot and lonely road is the question for this morality tale. A thoughtful, well-plotted yarn that will evoke either pity or schadenfreude.”
Rosalyn Eves. Blood Rose Rebellion. Knopf, March 27. YA fantasy. First of a trilogy. In a world where social prestige derives from a trifecta of blood, money, and magic, one girl has the ability to break the spell that holds the social order in place. Set in a fantasy version of 19th century London and Hungary. Debut novel. Utah author’s sparkling historical fantasy ‘Blood Rose Rebellion’ showcases a different kind of strength. SL Tribune feature.
PW: “Eves’s captivating debut opens in London in 1847. Highborn magicians known as Luminates rule Europe, and a spell dubbed the Binding precludes proletarian insurrection by restricting the use of magic to those with noble blood. Enter Anna Arden, a 16-year-old of noble birth who can’t cast spells, and will therefore never be accepted into Luminate society. When an unfortunate incident reveals that Anna has a singular talent for breaking spells, she is beset by requests from rebels to undo the Binding. Anna is sympathetic to their cause but knows that Luminate officials would kill to maintain the status quo, so she decamps to Hungary. A class war is brewing there, too, forcing Anna to decide between playing it safe but remaining a nobody and risking everything for the chance to transform the world. This richly imagined historical fantasy enchants while contemplating sexism, classism, and how best to effect social change. Intrigue, action, and star-crossed romance abound, propelling this trilogy opener toward a heartbreaking yet hopeful conclusion.”
SJL: “Despite its 400-page length, this is an enjoyable, fast-paced read with a likable protagonist with whom teens will identify. Recommended for most YA collections”
Kirkus: “Intrigue, romance, and revolution, with enough unanswered questions that fans will cross fingers for a sequel.”
Jessica Day George. 5 stars. “Not only do we have a proper Victorian miss with a legacy of magic, but we have the magic and folklore of Hungary, and the intrigue of the Austro-Hungarian Empire shortly before the outbreak of WWI. So there’s a lot going on, and all of it fascinating!”
Lauren Winder Farnsworth. Chasing Red. Bonneville/Cedar Fort, April 11. Contemporary romance.
Mindy Holt, 5 stars. “A funny and very clever re-telling of Red Riding Hood. I had a smile on my face the whole time I read. Ryder is hilarious and quirky. She is someone I would want to be friends with. Ryder is an all-around good person. The ending is absolutely amazing and it blew me away!”
Megan Grey. Tuesdays with Molakesh the Destroyer and Other Tales. Garden Ninja Books, March 8, 2016. Fantasy short stories. Includes the story, which first appeared in “Tuesdays with Molakesh the Destroyer“. Fireside Magazine, Jan. 2015. A demon moves in next door.
Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham. Real Friends. First Second/Roaring Brook, May 2. Middle grade graphic novel/memoir. Based on Hale’s childhood in Utah, facing bullying and having trouble making friends. SL Tribune interview.
PW (starred review): “Hale’s childhood struggles with friends and family come to achingly poignant life in this candid graphic memoir. Over five chapters, readers follow a bookish and shy Hale from her earliest days in school through fifth grade, as she zealously guards her first friendship (“One good friend. My mom says that’s all anyone really needs”), negotiates forever-changing friendship politics, and tries to stay on the good side of her turbulent oldest sister. Hale makes her own flaws evident, and that fairness extends to the bullies in her life, who lash out brutally at times, but whose insecurities and sadness are just as clear. The carefully honed narration and dialogue give Pham plenty of room to work. Her digitally colored ink cartooning pulls substantial emotion out of everyday moments (such as Hale retreating to a playground shrub to cry, only to find another girl already there, doing the same) and the imagination-fueled games Hale was forever devising, presaging her writing career. It’s a wonderfully observed portrait of finding one’s place in your world.”
SLJ (starred review): “The author reflects on her life from the vantage point of adulthood, displaying a mature awareness of her own flaws and an understanding of the behavior of unsympathetic kids such as Wendy and Jenny, and her accessible writing and hopeful tone will speak to readers. Pham’s gentle cartoon images make effective use of perspective and composition to underscore Shannon’s sense of alienation. Her various flights of fancy reinforce her budding storytelling abilities and provide relatable metaphors (for instance, Shannon imagining her friends as members of a royal court and herself as the jester). In Hale’s afterword, she acknowledges that though she attempted to faithfully represent her experiences, she re-created some dialogue and made changes for the sake of the plot. VERDICT This tender, perceptive graphic memoir is bound to resonate with most readers, especially fans of Raina Telgemeier and kids struggling with the often turbulent waters of friendships and cliques.”
Kate Messner, New York Times: “Hale reflects on her own friendship-troubled elementary school years with honesty, humor and grace. This graphic memoir is new territory for Hale, the author of novels and chapter books for young readers including the Newbery Honor-winning “Princess Academy.” Her books are usually full of fairy tales, fantasy kingdoms and fearless fashion-forward princesses, but her readers will find much to love here, including LeUyen Pham’s brilliant and multilayered art . . . Shannon’s character is refreshingly real in that she sometimes fails to be the kind of great friend she so desperately wants. When she invites Adrienne over to write stories, Adrienne is reluctant; she says all she does is watch Shannon type. “That’s because I have the better ideas,” the clueless heroine answers. Shannon is bewildered as her friend stomps off, but readers will understand and empathize with the role she’s playing in her own friendship issues. Pham’s use of color and space captures all the wildly shifting moods of elementary school. Illustrations are boxed in and full of shadows on Shannon’s lonely days. They’re at their brightest and most free in the scenes depicting imaginative play — the world of princesses, superheroes and spies that the future-author Shannon imagines with various friends. These detailed memories of elementary school will ring hilariously true to adult readers who grew up with lace Madonna gloves, Michael Jackson, phones with cords, and dreams of being either Wonder Woman or a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. At the same time, stories of whispered rumors and being left out will be achingly familiar for readers navigating those waters in the here and now.”
Kirkus: “The protagonist’s faith (presented as generically Christian) surfaces overtly a few times but mostly seems to provide a moral compass for Shannon as she negotiates these complicated relationships. This episodic story sometimes sticks too close to the truth for comfort, but readers will appreciate Shannon’s fantastic imagination that lightens her tough journey toward courage and self-acceptance. A painful and painfully recognizable tale of one girl’s struggle to make and keep “one good friend.””
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books: “Her doctor and mother shrug off what would now be labeled obsessive-compulsive disorder and extreme anxiety, and with home (her older sibling Wendy, drawn by the talented Pham as an actual ferocious bear most of the time) and school (more bullies and toadies than good guys) causing stress, Shannon’s a mess. When she finally hits the right crowd, there’s a glorious sense of freedom and joy. A candid author’s note and pictures of Hale as a child reinforce the authenticity of the tale—this is a woman who lived through some rough early childhood years, even with the moments of pure fantasy and joy sprinkled in. Pham’s visual version of Hale expresses everything, with bright creativity and intense emotional suffering warring across her face, her body posture, and even in her gait. Hale fans will appreciate the look behind the curtain at where some of her amazing book ideas are rooted, and kids who have struggled with the complexity of grade school friendships, i.e., any kid, will find comfort that the dark days can be survived.”
Amy Harmon. The Queen and the Cure. Indie, May 1. Fantasy. The Bird and the Sword #2. “Kjell of Jeru had always known who he was. He’d never envied his brother or wanted to be king. He was the bastard son of the late king and a servant girl, and the ignominy of his birth had never bothered him. But there is more to a man than his parentage. More to a man than his blade, his size, or his skills, and all that Kjell once knew has shifted and changed. He is no longer simply Kjell of Jeru, a warrior defending the crown. Now he is a healer, one of the Gifted, and a man completely at odds with his power. Called upon to rid the country of the last vestiges of the Volgar, Kjell stumbles upon a woman who has troubling glimpses of the future and no memory of the past. Armed with his unwanted gift and haunted by regret, Kjell becomes a reluctant savior, beset by old enemies and new expectations. With the woman by his side, Kjell embarks upon a journey where the greatest test may be finding the man she believes him to be.”
Donna Hatch. The Matchmaking Game. Mirror Press, April 18. Regency romance.
Allison K. Hymas. Under Locker and Key. Aladdin, April 18. Middle grade mystery/thriller. Debut novel. “Eleven-year-old Jeremy Wilderson teams up with his rival crime fighter to stop the stealing spree that’s wreaking havoc on Scottsville Middle School.”
SJL: “Details given throughout the story keep readers guessing, while leading up to a satisfying ending. Jeremy’s family and the relationship between his best friends add to the believability and relatability of the novel. Many readers will appreciate that even though Jeremy and Becca are in the youngest grade at school, they are still able to accomplish big things. With no bad language or violence, this title is perfect for those who prefer a lighter crime story. VERDICT A great pick for middle grade readers who enjoy crime capers such as Gordon Korman’s Swindle and Varian Johnson’s The Great Greene Heist.”
Kirkus: Hymas’ debut is entertaining caper fiction. Jeremy’s genuine and at-times charmingly jokey voice will engage fans of Gordon Korman’s Swindle series. The structure of the tale might be familiar, but the details and the realistic kids bring it home. Jeremy and the other principals seem to be white, but the secondary cast is multiethnic. Lovers of light thrillers won’t feel cheated by this one.”
Kimberly Johnson. Hesiod, Theogony / Works and Days. Northwestern University Press, April 15. Translation of 8th century classical Greek poetry.
Carla Kelly. Courting Carrie in Wonderland. Sweetwater/Cedar Fort, March 14. Historical romance. Set in frontier-ear Yellowstone.
Jennie Hansen, Meridan Magazine: 4 stars. “Both Carrie and Ned are likable characters, but a little bland. They both become more interesting when they tangle with the diva, who is a strong character. Other characters are portrayed well, but the emphasis of the story is not as much on the characters as on the park itself and environmental issues. The first part of the book is a little slow, but provides a lot of interesting data concerning the establishment of Yellowstone Park and its early days.”
Josi Kilpack. The Vicar’s Daughter. Shadow Mountain, April 4. Regency romance.
PW: “After a leisurely start, this Regency romance picks up steam as the plot unfolds. Cassie’s ambitions are hampered by her shy, emotionally fragile older sister, Lenora, who must marry before Cassie’s parents will allow Cassie to come out in society. Cassie hatches a plan to kindle a love affair between Lenora and handsome Mr. Glenside, a newcomer to their small village. Circumventing decorum and her stringent mother’s watchful eyes, Cassie begins a secret correspondence with Mr. Glenside, pretending to be Lenora, explaining her sister’s terrible social shyness. Before long, Cassie falls for Mr. Glenside herself, only to be dismayed by her plan’s unexpected success. Once her sham is revealed, chaos erupts, afflicting people throughout the village and leaving Cassie with a complicated mess to untangle and a determination to alter her methods. Kilpack creates convincing chemistry between the two protagonists and captures subtle nuances of familial conflict and affection. Themes of betrayal and reconciliation, forgiveness and redemption, and the high value of integrity and kindness in all relationships make for a sweet and satisfying tale.”
Romantic Times: ““Kilpack’s romance novels rarely play out the way one might first suspect. Instead, the reader is treated to a story deeper and richer than expected, with exquisite emotional dilemmas and unpredictable plots. This latest novel is a prime example. All three protagonists, the sisters and their mutual love, are people of highest character, and the decisions that come to bear are neither easy nor obvious. Breath-stealing kisses do manage to find their way in, so readers may want to stick a fan in their [handbags] before setting out.””
Brittany Larsen. Sense and Second Chances. Covenant, May. LDS romance. A retelling of Jane Austen’s novel.
Mindy Holt, 5 stars. “Sense and Sensibility is my favorite Jane Austin novel, so I jumped at the chance to review this book, also being a book of Brittany’s, I knew it would be a great book, and I was not disappointed. I thoroughly enjoyed this book from start to finish. I loved how the book resembled Sense and Sensibility, and how it also had a beautiful story to tell of its own. I loved the similarities between the two books. Brittany’s characters were pretty close to perfect . . . The author’s descriptions made me appreciate my home state even more. I connected with the characters and the book was very enjoyable.”
Bloggin’ ‘bout Books. C+. “Like Larsen‘s first novel, Pride & Politics, her newest takes a classic Jane Austen tale and gives it a modern, LDS spin. The result is Sense & Second Chances, a romantic story about two sisters finding love in unexpected places. Like the original, Larsen’s version is full of conspiring characters, thorny complications, and insurmountable-seeming obstacles that keep love from coming seamlessly together. The plot gets silly at times, with contrived twists and melodramatic turns. Emily drove me a little crazy, too, with her rigidity and fickleness (despite a bad case of insta-love). Still, Sense & Second Chances is an easy, fun book that is clean, upbeat, and swoony. I liked Pride & Politics much better, but overall, I enjoyed this one.”
Gerald N. Lund. The Proud Shall Stumble. Deseret Book, May 18. Historical. Fire and Steel #4. Follows two families in the 1920s. One in a Germany on the brink of economic and social collapse, another in Southern Utah. Hitler appears as a character.
Reading for Sanity: “This was a really interesting follow-up to book three . . . It fascinated me to revisit the series of events that led to Hitler’s prison stay, to experience them in more detail than we ever covered in history, and to see Lund’s imaginings of how those events would have been viewed by citizens both in Germany and in the United States. While this wasn’t as fast-paced or as jam-packed with historical references and events, it delved into the history and the ramifications of the few events it covers in astounding detail. It felt pressing, and urgent, and harrowing. I love how Lund can make me forget that I know how it ends. Now, let’s be honest. There were a few years in the 20s where nothing major either in America or Germany happened. Instead of trying to fill the time, I was surprised to just see a three-year jump. It shocked me a bit to finish one chapter and start another to find teenage characters now finishing school and engaged, but it moved the story forward in a way that would have otherwise detrimentally slowed it down. I get invested in these families, but I also get ridiculously bored when I’m bogged down with the minutia of their daily lives. My biggest draw to this series isn’t the lives of the characters, it’s how they’ve fit into history. I’m happy to say that the traction that Lund found in book three hasn’t slackened. This is a great addition to the series, and I can NOT wait for the next installment!”
Heather B. Moore. A Taste of Sun. Mirror Press, April 25. Contemporary romance.
Jennifer Moore. Miss Whitaker Opens Her Heart. Shadow Mountain, April 1. Regency romance. Set in Australia, 1814. A young woman has to take over the sheep farm after her father’s murder. She clashes with a neighboring rancher who was a convicted felon.
Bloggin’ ‘bout Books: B-. “ Jennifer Moore‘s novels always deliver a quick, adventure-filled tale peopled with likable characters and sweet romance. I’ve read most of Moore’s books, all of which I enjoyed. Her newest takes place in the Outback, giving the story an exotic bent that makes it even more intriguing. The tale is predictable, sure, but who cares? It’s a light, engaging read that is romantic, clean, and delightful. If you’re looking for a breezy, swoon-y read, you really can’t go wrong with a Jennifer Moore novel. Her newest is no exception.”
H. Linn Murphy. The Heart of Fire. Walnut Springs, March 31. Regency romance. London.
Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine. 4 stars. “The author has put a great deal of research into the beliefs, dress, and background of this time period and her characters show it . . . Both the strengths and weaknesses of the various characters, along with dialog that suits the characters and circumstances make the characters believable. Murphy does a superb job of showing the horrors of early nineteenth century street life and the blind, emptiness at the opposite end of the economic scale. Only in various characters’ reactions to the deaths of others did I find a slight lack of realism and the role of the ruby called “the heart of fire” could have been tied in more to make the ending more fitting. Overall, this is a highly satisfying read which will be enjoyed by young and old.”
Katie A. Nelson. The Duke of Bannerman Prep. Sky Pony Press, May 9. YA contemporary. A contemporary retelling of The Great Gatsby. Debut novel.
PW: “When Tanner McKay, the 16-year-old son of a struggling single mother, receives a scholarship to Bannerman Prep School, he believes that it’s his ticket to a brighter future. Paired with Andrew “the Duke” Tate to lead the debate team to victory, Tanner is initially put off by the Duke’s cocky and seemingly lazy attitude. But Tanner slowly gets sucked into the Duke’s flashy world, full of fast cars, partying, trading favors, and money. Little does Tanner realize that the Duke isn’t who he says he is, and it isn’t long before Tanner must figure out how to save himself. In an effective contemporary update of The Great Gatsby, debut novelist Nelson accurately reflects the stresses high school students face in both academics and extracurricular activities. Through Tanner’s realistic voice and the situations he faces, readers comes to believe that a place like Bannerman and a boy like the Duke could actually exist, though Nelson is careful not to romanticize the Duke’s criminal behavior or Tanner’s role in it.”
VOYA: “ Everything is seen through the prism of Tanner’s almost single-minded focus on debate and winning, and that may limit the book’s audience. Parallels to The Great Gatsby are obvious, but the characters are not fully formed, especially Tanner and the Duke. The audience for this title will probably be limited; put it in the collection if there is a strong debate tradition, or if boarding school books are popular.”
Kirkus: “In her debut novel, Nelson offers a contemporary retelling of The Great Gatsby that goes beyond many of the themes of the original novel to make for a spirited look at what happens when a good kid makes some bad choices in a place where consequences don’t always follow. The private school setting is written with an authentic mix of charm and weirdness, although the characters are perhaps overly iconic in their wealthy kid/poor kid roles. A satisfying examination of morality and the decisions that change our lives.”
Peter Orullian. Trial of Intentions. Tor, April 5. Epic fantasy. Vault of Heaven (Book 2).
Kirkus: “Second installment of an overstuffed fantasy series following The Unremembered. A magical Veil keeps the evil Quiet trapped in the Bourne. A sect of magical singers maintains the Veil by singing the Song of Suffering. But as the singers falter, the Veil weakens, so the defenders need a grand alliance to fight the invading Quiet, whose ranks include evil wizards, giants, and numerous quasi-human species. A catastrophic defeat leaves each of our heroes with a problem or two to solve. Vendanj, a Sheason, or wizard, must persuade a pacifistic faction of the order to join him in battle. Bowman Tahn Junell will travel to Aubade Grove to rejoin a colony of scientists, hoping to find a means to strengthen the Veil. Braethen, a warrior-scholar sworn to protect the Sheason, carries the magical Blade of Seasons but doesn’t know how it works. Root-digger Sutter will take his Sedagin glove, blade, and magic sigil to Alon’Itol and attempt to persuade smith king Jaales Relothian to join the alliance. And magical singer Wendra travels to Descant Cathedral in order to learn from Maesteri Belamae how to control her powerful song. A couple of other narratives weave in and out, one about a seeming good-guy faction within the Bourne and another, particularly annoying, thread in which manipulative League of Civility leader Roth Staned hatches despotic plots while his opponents stand around wringing their hands. Once again it’s a case of intriguing ideas drowned in details; characters who prefer talking to doing, even in the middle of a battle; and an author seemingly convinced that more is better. In sum, more of the same, at even greater length.”
David Parkin. The Cave of the Shadow Ninja. Self, Feb. 7. A serial of short adventures, four so far, with more to come.
Luisa Perkins. Prayers in Bath. Mormon Artists Group, April. Short adult Mormon novel, with four paintings by Jacqui Larsen. “After several attempts at in vitro fertilization, Ted and Julia Taylor are out of money and out of hope. In an attempt to shake herself out of her depression, Julia accepts an internship on an archaeological dig in Bath, England. When she finds an ancient scroll while working in the sewer connected to the Roman baths, she sneaks it back to her flat, translates it, and discovers a secret previously lost in the shadows of legend. But her new knowledge poses significant risks, and the repercussions leave her career, her faith, and her marriage hanging in the balance.”
Wm Morris. 4 stars. “Lovely, economical and a little bit spiritual and a little bit weird.”
Violadiva, Exponent II. “Intelligent, educated, talented Mormon women. Infertility. Marriage and partnership. Women receiving revelation. Women translating ancient texts . . . In the story, Julia finds an ancient scroll in the sewer, feels overwhelmingly inspired to take it home, and sneaks it back to her apartment to translate it, despite obvious risks to her career (and possible jail time!) by breaching the contract of the archeological dig site. She translates something very special, akin to scripture (I won’t spoil it!) When I asked Luisa about this plot point, she explained, “I wanted to show that there was some risk and some transgressive sacrifice in following through with her revelation to take the scroll. Like the way Nephi agonizes over killing Laban, I wanted to honor the fact that the gospel is not so simple, but at times very complicated . . . My favorite theme of this novella is that revelation and inspiration are not limited to the confines of conformity.”
Steven L. Peck. “Luisa Perkins is among a handful of first-rate authors whose work I read as soon as it appears. Her stories are always well-written, compelling, and rewarding. Most important they are character-driven stories that make me think—even long after the story has ended. Prayers in Bath is no exception. It’s Perkins at the height of her craft. Don’t miss this one. Frankly don’t miss anything she writes.”
Anne Perry. Murder on the Serpentine. Ballentine Books, March 17. Victorian murder mystery. Charlotte and Thomas Pitt #32. “The body of Sir John Halberd, the Queen’s confidant, has been found in the shallow water of the Serpentine in Hyde Park, bearing the evidence of a fatal blow to the head. At Her Majesty’s request, Sir John had been surreptitiously investigating Alan Kendrick, a horse-racing enthusiast who seems to have had an undue amount of influence on her son, the Prince of Wales. Now Commander Pitt must navigate the corridors of power with the utmost discretion and stealth, for it seems certain that Sir John’s killer is a member of the upper classes. Aided by his wife, Charlotte, and her social contacts, Pitt seeks out the hidden motives behind the polite façade of those to the manner born—and uncovers a threat to the throne that could topple the monarchy.”
VOYA: “It escapes the cliché of two best friends growing apart when one of them starts dating due to the book’s twist. Neither Gabe nor Bree are likable characters; they are both selfish and behave badly towards each other. The ending saves the book, however, making it larger than just a story about broken friendship, new romances, and death. Both the ending and the funeral home setting make this book stand out among other novels dealing with friendship and death.”
SLJ: “Perry manages to give the whiny Gabe enough quirks to make her life interesting. Bree is a much more sympathetic character, balancing her gritty home life with the shock of the most popular boy in school showing her attention at the possible expense of a friendship. The plot becomes too predictable at times—disasters on prom night offer a convenient close to the friendship struggle. The life of a teenage girl who works in a funeral home initially seems like a compelling premise, but unfortunately Perry does not deliver a strong narrative to support the characters. VERDICT Purchase only where YA romance collections need to be refreshed.”
Kirkus: “Through Gabe’s present-tense narration, Perry emphasizes her protagonist’s distress over losing her only friend as well as her newfound interest in romance with Hartman. She does her best to navigate her “Graveyard Gabby” image—she’s even bought into it with her cultivated Wednesday Addams image, an endearing quirk—but her understandable sense that life is fleeting hampers her ability to grow. The funeral twist makes for an interesting and unusual romance.”
Rosalyn Eves, 5 stars.“Perry always has a great sense for the emotional heart-beat of young adult stories and this is no different. Gabe has grown up in a funeral home and her friend Bree has always been the one person who understands this darker side of her life–but now Bree has fallen for the one guy Gabe can’t stand, and both of them are floundering as this new relationship threatens to unmoor their always steady friendship. Meanwhile, Gabe isn’t quite sure what to do with the new guy in town, who has just lost his dad. A lovely story about friendship, loss, and the messy lives we live.”
Louise Plummer and Ann Cannon. You Are Boring, But You Are Uniquely Boring: 25 Models for Writing Your Memoir. Indie, March 31. “You Are Boring addresses every new writer’s greatest fear: that she has nothing worth writing about, that her life is boring. With wit and wisdom, Louise Plummer and Ann Cannon, teachers and award-winning writers, guide you through 25 exercises of writing about your life. They write and then you write. They show you fast writing, then you try fast writing. They write about a first memory, then you write about a first memory. Soon you’ll become comfortable with writing about your life even if you’ve never written before. And you’ll discover that you are unique and that your life isn’t boring after all.”
Jenny Proctor. Wrong for You. Covenant, May. Contemporary LDS romance.
Bloggin’ ‘bout Books: C+. “If the plot summary for this new LDS rom-com by Jenny Proctor, seems a little thin … well, it is. Besides the love triangle at the center of the novel, there’s not a whole lot going on with this story. It’s meant to be a light-hearted romance, sure, but that doesn’t mean the novel can’t have some depth. Wrong For You is fun and upbeat, with a strong female lead and yet, it just gets a little too silly for me. I’m not a big fan of love triangles as the only source of conflict in a book in the first place. I also didn’t care much for Lane, who seemed like a big, fat hypocrite to me. So, while Wrong For You is a light, fun While You Were Sleeping-ish novel, I didn’t love it. It made for easy, breezy reading during a week where my overtaxed brain couldn’t have handled much more, but still … Proctor’s got a great storytelling voice; I’d just love a little more depth from her books.”
Mindy, 5 stars. “Jenny Proctor is the master of a well-written romance. This book had some humor too and that was a great addition to the story. Each page brought a smile to my face.”
Marty Reeder. How to Become a Pirate Hunter. Sweetwater/Cedar Fort, March 14. YA fantasy. Debut novel. A high school boy meets a girl who can see other’s natural abilities. They travel on the high seas and through time.
Richard Siddoway. The Prodigal Father. Bonneville/Cedar Fort, May 9. “After thirty-two years of running from his past, Scott makes a shocking discovery. Now he’s returning home to the friends he left behind, and the mother who never gave up hope. But what he finds when he gets there is even more surprising.”
Jennie Hansen: 3 stars. “I really wanted to rate this book higher because it is extremely well written and holds the readers’ attention. It also makes some strong points concerning holding grudges and repentance. However the father’s emotional abuse of his son and the boy’s mother’s enabling of the abuse with her lack of defense for the boy is never addressed. The boy is an adult when he runs away and could not be dragged back against his will, so there’s no real reason for him to continue to hide his identity for so long.”
A. L. Sowards. Defiance. Covenant, April 3. WWII historical. “Eight years after immigrating to the United States, German-born Lukas Ley embodies the American dream: successful athlete, gorgeous girlfriend, loving family. But beneath the surface, eighteen-year-old Lukas is driven by ambition, resolved to avenge the murder of his father at the hands of the Nazi regime.” He joins the US Army infantry, fights on the Western front, and is captured by the Germans. Jennie Hansen: 5 stars.
Elodia Strain. The Dating Experiment. Sweetwater/Cedar Fort, Feb. 1. Contemporary Romance.
Jennie Hansen, Merdian Magazine. 4 stars. “The characters in this book aren’t realistic, but they’re not meant to be. They’re meant to be humorous and are on the silly side. The central theme of the story is serious and is handled well as Gabby comes to realize luck isn’t the answer to either her employment or romance problems. She can create her own positive relationships and improves her life through doing kind things for others. Scene changes are not smooth and will occasionally leave the reader wondering who or what. The endless lists get tiresome. As in most Romances, the ending is predictable. This book will appeal to fans of modern humorous romance and even to Teen Romance readers.”
Nikki Trionfo. Shatter. Cedar Fort, May 9. YA mystery/suspense. “An explosion in the middle of a peach orchard kills Salem’s sister during a labor strike, and police call it an accident. Salem becomes convinced the death was no accident—it was a conspiracy. Salem wants to prove her sister was murdered for supporting the union despite being the daughter of a grower. Her biggest clue is knowing her sister hired a cunning gang banger named Cordero to protect union workers. But no one else at her high school believes her, and all she has so far are theories and clues.”
Head Over Books: 9.5 out of 10. ”
ts pacing is superb, its plot is as twisty and straight as a french braid, and its writing is prosaic but tight, all of which make of a deliciously suspenseful and intense read. For me to like a book, especially a mystery, it is essential that there is a good “hook”–meaning a strong “whodunit” question posed at the very beginning–quickly followed by a steady, brisk accumulation of clues, red herrings, and well-structured chapters. I don’t like mysteries that spend all their time meandering toward an ending that is simply pulled out of nowhere, like Forever Odd by Dean Koontz, in my opinion. I like stories that neither insult me with their simplicity, nor confuse me with their pretentious overcomplicatedness. Shatter‘s plot steps briskly from hook to observation to next clue to twist throughout, which is awesome.”
Cinnamon Cindy. 5 stars. “This book was intense and fast-paced. The writing was polished and professional but still felt YA. I loved Salem. I liked it that she doubted herself so much in the beginning. I loved watching her determination and her fear. The author created a terrifying blend of circumstances for Salem as she fought to discover the truth behind her sister’s tragic death. The plot was expertly woven to keep my attention and the details of the story felt well-researched and all too real. The fight between the union workers and the peach growers felt authentic, and I liked it that both sides had weaknesses. Even some of Salem’s high school friends were getting out of hand and crossing lines.”
Mel’s Shelves, 4 stars. “This was a great blend of mystery and suspense! There were gang members that made me nervous and others that I wanted to like and hoped they would turn out okay. There was quite a bit going on and I liked how it all came together in the end. I would recommend this book to anyone that enjoys YA mystery/suspense! ”
Jennie Hansen: 3 stars.
Kate Watson. Seeking Mansfield. Flux, May 1. YA romance. Retelling of Mansfield Park.
VOYA: “While the plot remains quite predictable, the characters are interesting and the romantic tension between Oliver and Finley is fun. The dialogue waffles between “teen speak” and old-fashioned, proper phrasing. This can be jolting, making teen characters sound far older and more mature than their years. Finley has survived her mother’s violence and appears to suffer from PTSD, but the topic is not fully explored. This is not a novel for fans of Jane Austen’s classic. The retelling is clichéd and simplistic, but if readers are looking for a light, romantic read with a heaping dose of melodrama, Seeking Mansfield will be perfect.”
SLJ: “With a classic plot to build on, this title successfully illustrates gray areas of human nature and communicates them in a way readers will see reflected in their own lives. This novel will satisfy fans of the source material and Austen neophytes alike. The book’s complex themes will be enjoyed by fans of Estelle Laure’s This Raging Light and Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl. VERDICT This debut ultimately weaves an impressive mosaic and is an excellent selection for fans of young adult literature that is heavily thematic or romantic or that revisits the classics.”
Kirkus: “In a modern spin on Mansfield Park, Watson’s debut blends Austen with a dash of Shakespeare, all in contemporary Chicago. Sixteen-year-old Finley Price, “half-Brazilian, half-Irish,” has found a sanctuary with her wealthy white godparents and their son, the Bertrams, after escaping her abusive mother . . . Austen’s Regency plot fits well among contemporary teens trying to define their own values and ambitions away from family obligations, expectations, and psychological baggage. Watson avoids the satire of the original, though, as this Finley and indeed all the characters seem to be entirely in earnest. A commendable adaptation of a 200-year-old tale made fresh for a 21st-century audience.”
David J. West. Crazy Horses: A Porter Rockwell Adventure. Indie, May 9. Western adventure. Dark Trails Saga #2. “Infamous gunslinger Porter Rockwell made a blood oath with the Ute War Chief to help him out no matter what, and now that the Chief’s daughter has been kidnapped by the desperado Matamoros, that favor is getting called in at a most inopportune time . . . Crazy Horses is a Western with colorful characters and wit straight out of an Eastwood flick. If you like strong and admirable heroes, surprising action and eerie weird Westerns, then you’ll love the second book in David J. West’s Porter Rockwell series.”
Reviews of older books
Neil Aitkin. Leviathan and Babbages’ Dream (Danya Patterson, Bellingham Review). “Charles Babbage (1791-1871), the inventor of the first mechanical computer, whose personal life was riddled with a series of crippling griefs, is the subject of Neil Aitken’s poetry chapbook Leviathan. Sundress Publications recently released an expanded version, the poetry collection Babbage’s Dream, which contains all eighteen of the poems in Leviathan, plus an additional thirty poems and elucidating endnotes. Leviathan reads like a lyric biography with an arc that guides readers through the emotional peaks and ravines of Babbage’s life . . . Aitken’s background as a former computer games programmer and poet puts him in a unique position to write about Babbage’s ambitious undertaking. Some of the added poems found in Babbage’s Dreamriff on computer terminology, words such as “Array,” “Loop,” and “Short,” which function as titles and launching coordinates for Aitken’s imaginative exploration . . . Throughout the collection, Aitken plays with binaries, the language of computers that manifests as ones and zeroes. Poems that aren’t written in couplets are sometimes split into two columns. One of my favorites is “Binary,” where Aitken translates the visual poetics of binary code into language . . . In addition to binary forms, the collection is ghosted with the binaries of presence and absence, living and dead, making and unmaking, creator and creature. Throughout, Aitken eloquently expresses Babbage’s questing after the “unanswerable questions” and the mixed legacy of creative effort:
. . . In the hour of our words and their departures,
we are captive here to whatever comes, whatever returns,
be it beauty or love, or the unfurled wings of their manifold ruin. (BD 15)
Aitken’s musical lines and striking imagery will loop through readers’ minds long afterwards, calling them to return, to immerse themselves again.”
Michael Austin and Ardis Parshall. Dime Store Mormons (Ivan, Goodreads). “The four “dime novels” in this collection are entertaining and historically valuable portrayals of how Mormons appeared in late 19th and early 20th century popular literature. A concise and entertaining introduction from the editors discusses the history and impact of dime novels and their portrayals of Mormons, as well as how these 4 specific novels fit in the overall milieu. Yes, the portrayals of Mormons bare only the most tenuous connection to reality and actual Mormon history/practice, but if you can overlook that, they are amazingly fun and entertaining. The prose is occasionally clunky (but overall very competent, even highly literate in places) but the tales move quickly with cliffhangers and twists in all the right places. I can watch movies and TV shows with Americans as the bad guys, or men, or college instructors, or whatever other “tribes” I may belong to, so I figure I can do the same with these texts. Since these stereotypes still exist today (as seen in quite a bit of pop culture), often existing side by side with other Mormon stereotypes (such as in the episode of Supergirl where Cat Grant states something like “someone that nice is either a superhero or a Mormon”), it’s useful to see these clichéd portrayals in their early forms, just to see how much (and how little) has actually changed.
Julie Berry. The Passion of Dolssa (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books) A. “I’ve loved all her novels, her newest being just as unique and lovely as all the rest. While I can’t see teens flocking to check out The Passion of Dolssa, I adored it. The rich, sophisticated story is told in gorgeous prose. Short vignettes narrated by various everymen and -women break up the narrative, adding interest, local color, and originality to the tale. Dolssa and Botille are intriguing narrators in their own right, but it’s all the different voices that really plump this book up, making it stand out from its fellows. The recipient of numerous awards (including a Printz Honor designation and a recent Whitney Award for best YA novel by an LDS author), it’s a gem that I can’t stop recommending.”
Nicole Castroman. Blackhearts (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books) B. “Although Blackhearts doesn’t boast a lot of swashbuckling, it’s an exciting beginning to what promises to be a satisfying trilogy. The story does offer a tense, romantic story line which is also fun and well-executed. Sure, it’s predictable, but that really didn’t bother me in the least. I thoroughly enjoyed Castroman’s debut; in fact, before I’d even finished it, I found myself pre-ordering its sequel, Blacksouls (which I liked even better, by the by). If you—or your teen—are looking for a clean read that is both engrossing and entertaining, definitely pick this one up. I loved it.”
Sarah M. Eden. A Fine Gentleman (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine) 4 stars. “Though a Regency, A Fine Gentleman, also has strong elements of a Mystery and readers will enjoy guessing who is hiding what and discovering what has become of Mariposa’s family. The plot is developed well and holds the reader’s attention as it builds. The background is realistic and portrays well the combination of the silliness of the Regency period and the very real terrors of the Napoleonic Wars.”
Shannon Hale. Squirrel Girl (Every Day is Like Wednesday). “It is a two-page sequence in which 14-year-old Doreen Green’s best human friend Ana Sofia asks her if she actually knows the individual names of all of the scores of squirrels that have gathered around their tree house, and Doreen proves it by pointing them out one by one. This goes on for one giant paragraph that fills two pages before Ana Sofia finally cuts her off. It reminded me of the list of Seven Hundred Hobo Names in John Hodgman’s The Areas of My Expertise, although the section here doesn’t really compete, in large part because writers Shannon Hale and Dean Hale don’t even try to hit 700, although I think they could have if they really wanted to put the effort in (Also because as funny as squirrels might be, they are just not as funny as hobos). I was a little wary of this book, which I listened to on audiobook (Recommended! I liked hearing a grown woman speaking aloud lines like “Chkkt!” and “Chktt-kit” and so on pretty much constantl) rather than read, as that is my preferred way to consume prose fiction. The reason I was wary was because what I like most about Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (the comic) is the way that Ryan North and Erica Henderson make it, as a comic, rather than anything in particular about the character, as likable as she may be (and as awesome as squirrels might be) . . . The audiobook was really fun and funny to listen to, but the book allow you to check the spelling of those squirrel names and has those nice end-pages. I guess I’m torn here.
Scott Hales. Garden of Enid, vol. 2. Nancy Ross, Exponent II. “Enid asks a lot of big questions about God and religion. There are many funny moments and entertaining bits. But there are problematic elements. Most scenes/sections in this book are one page long, making the book feels very choppy in its construction. While graphic novels are made up of short frames of action, Hales does not follow Enid through the details of her narrative, but flashes her thoughts and actions to the reader in ways that feel under-developed. I finished parts one and two wishing that there was more story and fewer short jokes in this graphic novel. Having lengthier, more developed scenes may have helped with other issues . . . I feel like Hales does not write Enid’s character with strong insights about being a Mormon teenage girl. Yes, she has Young Women leaders, a named girlfriend, and a crush on a boy, but these features do not create a three-dimensional Enid. There is a lot of unexplored potential in her character.” (See the comments, especially Ardis’ comment.)
Jack Harrell. Writing Ourselves: Essays on Creativity, Craft, and Mormonism (Dani Addante, Exponent II). “I’ve read other books on creative writing, but this book is unique because it specifically talks about LDS writers and Mormon literature. I enjoyed the writing style of this book. It was very personable and amusing to read. Though Harrell talked about creative writing, I found myself studying the book closely, thinking, “Wow, this is exactly what I’ve observed throughout my life!” The things he says about writing completely relate to real life. Also, I was pleased to see that several things in this book relate to feminist views . . . Harrell declares that conflict is essential to a story. ‘When it comes to Mormon writers, I’d rather see writers motivated by some insistent need to process a deep and troubling internal conflict. By contrast, Mormon writers who seemingly have no internal conflict, who are wholly certain of themselves and the rightness of their position on any number of matters, they might be more interested in lecturing than writing’”
Jennifer A. Nielson. Mark of the Thief (Reading for Sanity) 3.5 stars. “As a book falling solely in the MG genre, it’s also predictable. From an adult standpoint, it was super easy to see where the characters were being led, the twists weren’t true twists as much as well-broadcast turns, but I didn’t get bored. Sometimes it’s a pleasant change to read something that requires less brain power than Victor Hugo, and where I’m not as stressed about solving the mystery as I tend to be with the Queen of Mystery Agatha Christie’s books. This is exactly that kind of book–fun, doesn’t require too much commitment, easy on the mind, and well-written enough for me to look past the genre and reach for the second book.”
Regina Sirois. The Truth About Fragile Things (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books) C+. “If the plot summary seems a little thin, that’s because it is. The novel has no real driving plot, which makes the story rather episodic and unfocused. Which isn’t to say the book isn’t interesting or compelling. It is; the threads of the novel just feel as if they’re very, very loosely woven together. Megan, our heroine, isn’t overly likable. She’s “fragile,” which seems to mean she has to be whiny, melodramatic, and helpless. While these things definitely bug, The Truth About Fragile Things is, overall, a hopeful novel with some thoughtful insight. It’s not a book that’s really stuck with me, but it’s not a bad one either.”
Curtis Taylor. The Dinner Club (Theric Jepson). “Let me preface my remarks that this is the second novel by the author of The Invisible Saint, one of the most important books in my personal development as a writer. And that this book is enormously flawed, burying its potential under tons of dross that should have been edited out. I intend to write a longer look at the novel after I read Rolling Home which, I take it, is a novella-sized rewrite of Dinner Club . . . I hope it’s an improvement because there’s an excellent book at the bottom of The Dinner Club and it kills me to see it drowned and sunk, bloated and dead.”
Diane Stringham Tolley. Daughter of Ishmael (Jennie Hansen, 4 stars). “Dreams don’t always come true. Stories don’t always have happy endings. Life is full of disappointments. Yet this story is not dreary or negative, but teaches strong lessons concerning faith and obedience to God’s laws. Perhaps what we see as the end is not the end. Those following President Thomas S. Monson’s admonition at the recent General Conference to read and study the Book of Mormon may find it worthwhile to read the scriptural story and this novel in tandem to discover for themselves the truths clarified by Sister Tolley and determine which concepts and actions are simply imagination and which promote adherence to God’s commandments. Those who enjoy action stories, historical fans, and those who read human drama will find much to like in Daughter of Ishmael.”
Dan Wells. Bluescreen (Bryce Moore) 5 stars. “I’ve read a fair number of dystopian books. I’m a big fan of the genre, from City of Ember to Pretties to Hunger Games and everything in between. But after a while, many of them begin to blend together for me. It’s been a while since I read one that really stood out and made me take notice. Dan Wells’ Bluescreen did that and more. For one thing, it’s not set in the distant future or on an Earth that’s gone through some horrendous world-changing disaster. It’s set in 2050, and Wells does a fantastic job of presenting what America might look like at that point, realistically . . . I enjoyed the book from start to finish. It reminded me in many ways of the movie version of Minority Report. Cool future tech displayed in a way that makes you believe it could happen. The plot is great, the characters well written.”
Dan Wells. Ones and Zeros (Jessica Day George) 5 stars. “This was an excellent, excellent heist story, combined with a sports story, combined with a timely meditation on urban decay, classism, and the perils of living in a corporate-controlled society.
So, you know, typical Dan Wells kiddie fare. Also, some seriously snappy dialogue, more of these characters I adore, and an endless string of Your Mom jokes that I can’t believe Dan wrote, and I can’t believe I laughed at.”
Dan Wells. Ones and Zeros (Wm Morris) 4 stars “I enjoyed this even more than the first book. Getting the whole team together was a good idea, and Wells’ descriptions of their gameplay are way more compelling than I thought they would be. The ending seemed a little rushed without not quite enough difficult twists, but that’s okay–it’s a heist novel.”
Kasie West. P. S. I Like You (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books) B-. “I read a lot of dark, heavy books, so it’s nice to take a break sometimes and enjoy a little fluff. Kasie West is my go-to author for fun, light-hearted novels. I can always count on her for quick, clean rom-coms that are cute, engaging, and humorous. Yes, they’re silly high school romances. Yes, they’re predictable. But who cares? They’re enjoyable. P.S. I Like You is no exception. If you need to insert a little happy into your reading life, you really can’t go wrong with a Kasie West novel.”
Brooke Williams. Open Midnight (Larry Menlove, 15 Bytes). “Open Midnight is a book that elicits understanding if the reader has ever stepped on ground that is still wild, on ground that cannot be exploited for any worth on its surface or below it, ground that connects earth with the universe at night. Open Midnight is a reverent meditation on places where, if we would only open our eyes, we all might say, “I can finally see forever” . . . Open Midnight is in equal parts a man’s struggle to preserve wilderness, a ghost story, and a love story. Brooke Williams is employed in a task to doggedly dead end every route marked on a map of thousands upon thousands of acres in southern Utah in support of federally declared wilderness designation.”
Jeff Zentner. The Serpent King (Bloggin’ bout Books) C+. “The Serpent King is a bit short on plot. Its focus is Dill, Lydia, and Travis, and their friendship. Which is great, except when the story drags because little is actually happening. I was drawn to The Serpent King because I found its title intriguing and the idea of a cult-like, snake-handling sect fascinating. Unfortunately, the things I found most beguiling about the novel weren’t explored much, leaving me a bit disappointed. Add in a here, there, and everywhere plot and a loosely constructed story line and yeah, I just didn’t end up loving this one. The book does explore some important ideas about the power of true friendship, not allowing yourself to be defined by the sins of your parents, and finding oneself even in the worst possible situations. Overall, though, I didn’t enjoy this one nearly as much as I wanted to. I’m in the minority here, though, as The Serpent King has received a number of awards including the William C. Morris YA Debut Award and a Whitney Award for Best Debut Novel of 2016.”
Eric Samuelsen. The Ice Front. Plan-B. A staged reading in April and a full production in November. 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.”
Mahonri Stewart. The Death of Eurydice. Hollywood Fringe Festival, Los Angeles. June 3, 9, 23, 24.
Morag Shepherd. Not One Drop. SL Tribune review.
On April 6, close to 200 theatre students and faculty attended the end-of-year BYU Theatre Student Celebration. Among the awards given were: Andrew Justvig, Mayhew Playwriting Honorable Mention for Full-length Play. Brittni Henretty, Mayhew Playwriting Award Best Overall Play. Jessica Holcombe, Mayhew Playwriting 10-Minute Play Honorable Mention. Kristin Perkins, Mayhew Playwriting Award Best Working Playwright. Perkins also won the Susa Young Gates Award for outstanding women’s studies essay.
Last Chance U is a Peabody Documentary Award finalist. One of 25 films.
Taijitu is the latest BYU animation film to be nominated for a College Television Award (widely referred to as a student Emmy). Primarily a coming-of-age story. “A young boy, chosen for an important responsibility that he finds frightening and overwhelming, “needs to realize that there is beauty in growing up and beauty in experiencing new things,” said Emma Gillette, the film’s art director and a recent BYU grad. Gillette worked with a team of more than 40 animation, illustration, computer science and music students for more than a year to create the film, which garnered BYU’s Center for Animation its 19th student Emmy nomination since 2004.” (BYU News).
Davey and Bianca Morrison Dillard. A Pug and Wolf Christmas. Tower Theater, SLC, May 10.
Mormonism and the Movies is a project, led by Christopher Wei, which aims to create a non-fiction book of essays exploring the ways in which LDS theology, culture, and history interact with film. Contributors include Reyna Mustard, Adam S. Miller, Davey Morrison Dillard, Scott Parker, Derrick Clements, Nigel Goodwin, Brooke Parker, Jordan Karchner, Conor Hilton, Karli Hall, Barrett Burgin, Preston Petersen, Anne Hart, Preston Wittwer, and Greg Soper.
April 2, 9, 16, 23, 30, May 7. 14. 21. 28
Brandon Mull. Dragonwatch
USA Today: x, x, #17, x, x, x, x (1 week)
PW Children’s: x, #1, #8, #15, #21, #22, #24 (6 weeks). 20, 637, 7521, 4780, 4072, 4564, 2647 units. 43,951 total.
NY Times Children’s Middle Grade: x, #4, #7, #7, #6, #9, x, x (5 weeks)
Brandon Mull. Fablehaven
NY Times Children’s Series: #4, x, x, x, x, x, x, x (16 weeks)
Christine Feehan. Bound Together
USA Today: x, x, #3, #28, #78, x, x, x, x (3 weeks).
PW Mass Market: x, x, #3, #6, #13, x, x, x, x. 20,841, 11,821, 7388 units. 40,000 total.
Richard Paul Evans. The Broken Road
USA Today: x, x, x, x, x, x, x, #37, x (1 week)
PW Hardcover: x, x, x, x, x, x, #6, #14 (2 weeks). 11,257, 6088 units. 17,345 total.
NY Times Hardcover: x, x, x, x, x, x, x, #6, x (1 week)
Shannon Hale. The Princess in Black Takes a Vacation
PW Childrens: x, x, #19, x, x, x, x, x, x. 4249 units.
NY Times Children’s Series: x, #8, x, x, #9, x, x, x (9 weeks)