This month a feature film, Mitch Davis’ family film The Stray, and BYUtv’s science fiction series Extinct were released. Among the new novels are Claire Åkebrand’s Mormon literary novel The Field Is White, and Josi Kilpack’s All that Makes Life Bright, about Harriet Beecher Stowe. There were two notable YA debuts, McKelle George’s Speak Easy, Speak Love, and Caitlin Sangster’s Last Star Burning. Two notable Middle Grade novels are Elaine Vickers’s Paper Chains and Chad Morris and Shelly Brown’s Mustaches for Maddie. This month two multi-author anthologies will be released. Shelah Mastny Miner and Sandra Clark Jorgensen edited Seasons of Change: Stories of Transition from the Writers of Segullah, a collection of essays. Stephen Carter edited Moth and Rust: Mormon Encounters with Death, which includes essays, fiction, poetry, and a play. Several of the works were previously published in Sunstone. Speeches given at the Mormon Arts Center Festival have been collected in The Kimball Challenge at Fifty: Mormon Arts Center Essays. Please send updates to mormonlitATgmailDOTcom.
Elouise M. Bell, one of the greats of Mormon literature, education, and feminism, passed away on September 30, 2017. Bell taught in the BYU English Department from 1963 to 1994. She authored hundreds of magazine articles and newspaper collumns. Here most well known collection is Only When I Laugh (Signature, 1990). She married Nancy Jefferis in 2015. You can read the obituary that I wrote, and this memorial article in the Salt Lake Tribune, which includes quotes by friends like Susan Elizabeth Howe and Robert Kirby.
Ted Eugene Ridenhour passed away peacefully on August 29, 2017, after 86 years of loving service to his family, church, and community, according to the Provo Daily Herald. Ted was born on November 30, 1930, near Mount Pleasant, North Carolina. After serving in the US Navy, he converted to the LDS Church in 1955. Ted’s conversion led him to Utah and enrollment in Brigham Young University where he began his study of English Literature and met his future wife of 57 years, Sherry Shipp. Ted received his BA and MA from BYU in 1959 and 1961 respectively, where he immediately secured a faculty position in the English Department. He taught a number of writing and literature courses, with a particular emphasis on English Masterpieces and Shakespeare until his retirement in 1993. Among his published works is the 1972 poem “Sunday Morning in March”.
Candace Salima (AKA Cancade Sluyter) passed away on March 25, 2017, due to complications from progressive bulbar palsy. Candace was born on July 26, 1963, and was 53 years old. You can read an obituary here. She married Alvin Salima in 1995, and he passed away in 2014. She was the author of five books, including the 2004 novel Out of the Shadows into the Night. In 2009 Salima founded Valor Publishing Group. The company published several works, including a novel written by Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, and a previously unpublished manuscript by the late conservative author W. Cleon Skousen. Despite these successes, the company faced financial setbacks, and went out of business in 2011. Salima was active in Utah Republican and conservative politics.
Awards and competitions
The Utah Original Writing Competition winners were announced. Among the winners were: Young Adult Book: First Place: By the Blood of the Witches, by Alison Woods (Springville). Second Place: Worth It, by Stephanie Moore (Farmington), Honorable Mention: The Logic of Love, Cynicism, and Related Theories, by Patrice Carey (Provo).
Poetry: First Place: “A Smell Sleepless,” by Elisabeth Loveland (Provo), Second Place: “The Skull on the Table,” by Claire Akebrand (Provo), Honorable Mention: “Filling Cracks & Walking on Water,” by Maurine Haltiner (Salt Lake City)
Short Story: First Place: “The Birth Canal,” by Larkin Weyand (Pleasant Grove), Second Place: “Samantha’s Memory,” by Aaron Allen (Orem), Honorable Mention: “In Denver,” by Ranjan Adiga (Salt Lake City)
Creative Nonfiction Essay: First Place: “On Blushing,” by Elizabeth Tidwell (Pleasant Grove), Second Place: “Marquinn Intake Form,” by Andrew Romriell (Logan), Honorable Mention: “Systole, Diastole,” by Darlene Young (South Jordan), Honorable Mention: “Thought Runs on the Fugitive Concept ‘Thing-Theory,’” by Eugene Washington (Logan)
2017 Book Bytes Awards finalists, from Artists of Utah’s 15 Bytes Magazine. Creative Nonfiction: Immortal for Quite Some Time (University of Utah Press), by Scott Abbott. Other finalists: Sublime Physick (University of Nebraska Press), by Patrick Madden, Good Water (University Press of Colorado), by Kevin Holdsworth.
Poetry: Imaginary Vessels (Copper Canyon Press), by Paisley Rekdal. Other finalists: Who is the Dancer, What is the Dance? (Saltfront), by Alex Caldiero, and Flight (Red Hen Press), by Katharine Coles.
Fiction: The House Across from the Deaf School (Texas Review Press) by Michael Gills. Other finalists: Desolation Flats (Minotaur), by Andrew Hunt, Playing with Fire (Severn House), by Gerald Elias.
Larry Correia and John Ringo won the Dragon Award Best Fantasy Award for Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge. D. J. Butler’s Witchy Eye was a finalist in the Best Alternative Novel category, and Dan Wells’ Nothing Left to Lose was a finalist in the Best Horror Novel category.
Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham’s Real Friends was named Parents magazine’s best graphic novel for children for 2017.
The LDS Publishing Professionals Association 2017 Conference, “The Power of the Word,” was held Sept. 22-23, 2017, at BYU Salt Lake Center. The keynote speakers were Brandon Sanderson, Sheri Dew, John S. Tanner, and Wendy Ulrich. Other presenters included John W. Welch, Thomas TA. Wayment, Bryce Mortimer, and Chris Schoebinger.
The Eleventh Annual Writing For Charity Conference will be held November 4, 2017 at Utah Valley University. It is a day-long conference and workshop for writers of picture book, middle grade, or young adult manuscripts. Founded by New York Times best-selling author and Newbery Honor recipient Shannon Hale, the conference is coordinated by professional authors in Utah who want to give back to their community and their world.
Utah Valley University Book Academy was held Sept. 26. It was a conference for aspiring writers and illustrators. Keynote Speaker: Matthew Kirby.
KSL produced “An Artistic Vision”, a 22 minute documentary about the Mormon Arts Center Festival in New York City.
Author interviews and feature stories
“Artistic Statement by Brittany Long Olsen”. Segullah article.
“Interview with Rosalyn Evens.” Segullah interview with the YA fantasy author.
Jana Riess interviews Steven Peck about Gilda Trillim.
American Literary Review interview with Patrick Madden.
“Mormon mother excels as author after surviving cancer”. Deseret News feature about Emily Bleeker.
“Spotlight on Larry Correia”. Sponsored feature at Publishers Weekly.
“A second atonement: Mother’s Milk and healing a theological crack in Mormonism’s heart“. By Elizabeth Pinborough, Exponent II.
“BCC Press and Priestcraft!” By Blair Hodges. Discusses the moral issues around selling LDS-related products.
Magazines and Short works
The Summer 2017 issue of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought is now available. It includes two short stories, “What Happened Sunday Morning”, by Erika Munson, and “The Home Teacher”, by Heidi Naylor (who has a collection of short stories coming from BCC Press in the Fall). Poetry by C. Dylan Bassett, R. A. Christmas (who has a new poetry collection out this month), Joanna Ellsworth, Ronald Wilcox, and Darlene Young. Three personal essays, “That’s Where the Light Enters” by Lon Young, “Dreaming After Trump”, by Gail Turley Houston, and “Why I Stay” by John Gustav-Wrathall. Book reviews: Scott Russell Morris reviews Scott Abbott’s memoir Immortal for Quite Some Time, both Brittany Long Olsen and Steven L. Peck review Scott Hales’ graphic novels The Garden of Enid: Adventures of a Weird Mormon Girl, Parts One and Two. Elizabeth Ostler reviews Holly Welker’s collection. Baring Witness: 36 Mormon Women Talk Candidly about Love, Sex, and Marriage. Maxine Hanks reviews Jamie Zvirzdin’s collection. Fresh Courage Take: New Directions by Mormon Women. Gary James Bergera reviews J. Seth Anderson. LGBT Salt Lake. Also articles by Bryce Cook, Colleen McDannell, David Grandy, Julie M. Smith, Robert De Groff, and Lisa DeLong. The literary pieces were reviewed by Theric Jepson.
The Summer 2017 issue of Sunstone is now available. It includes the short stories “The Thicket,” by Bradeigh Godfrey, and “Jane’s Journey,” by Heidi Naylor. Also poetry by Patty Willis and L. N. Allen, and essays by Jacob Baker, Jody England Hansen, Derrick Clements, and Stephen Carter.
Ryan Shoemaker. “The Cat’s Paw,” Santa Monica Review. Short story.
Orson Scott Card. “Renegat“. in Infinite Stars, edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt. An Ender story about extraterrestrial fauna. Appears in a new anthology of stories from space opera universes.
Darci Stone was the 3rd Quarter 2017 Writers of the Future Contest First Place winner. Her story will now go on to the annual Grand Prize contest. Darci’s husband, Eric James Stone, has previously won the contest. Semi-finalist: John M. Olsen. Silver Honorable Mention: Brittany Rainsdon.
Lance Larsen, “What the Body Knows”. Poem.
Danya Patterson. “Post-Mormons are Leaving”. West Texas Literary Review. A lyric meditation on the painful route out of Mormonism, and describing the difference between a “Post-Mormon” and an “Ex-Mormon”.
Hope Nation is an anthology of inspiring stories by 24 YA authors. It includes pieces by Ally Condie, James Dasher, and Jeff Zentner.
New books and their reviews
Various Authors. The Kimball Challenge at Fifty: Mormon Arts Center Essays. Self, Oct. 1. A collection of speeches given at the first Mormon Arts Center Festival, held June 28-July 1, 2017. “The theme of the Festival was a speech given fifty years ago by Spencer W. Kimball, “Education for Eternity”, September 1967. He suggested that Mormon culture might produce our own Shakespeares, Michelangelos, and Goethes. Ten years later, President Kimball wrote a new introduction for the speech, which was published in the Ensign magazine and has become a touchstone for many of the faith’s creative artists. He said, “In our world, there have risen brilliant stars in drama, music, literature, sculpture, painting, science, and all the graces. For long years I have had a vision of members of the Church greatly increasing their already strong position of excellent till the eyes of all the world will be upon us.” Scholars invited to present papers at the Mormon Arts Center Festival delved into questions of the relevance of such ideas today.” Essays by Terryl Givens, Paul S. Anderson, Richard Bushman, Campbell Gray, Kristine Haglund, Jared Hickman, Michael Hicks, Kent S. Larsen, Adam S. Miller, Steven L. Peck, John Durham Peters, Jana Riess, Eric Samuelsen, and Nathan Thatcher.
Traci Hunter Abramson. Safe House. Covenant, Oct. 1. Suspense. Guardians novel, which is related to the “Saint Squad” series. The guardians, the shadowy heroes of the top-secret program designed to protect members of the most elite government organizations, are being hunted down one by one. There is a single explanation: a traitor must be embedded somewhere in their midst. But if they themselves are the target, who will protect them?
Jennie Hansen, Meridian. 5 stars. “Hold onto your hats! This novel contains enough twists and turns to satisfy the most avid Suspense reader. The characters are well done and realistic. I would like to know more of Kade’s background, but there’s enough given to make him a sympathetic character. The slight role played by the Saint Squad fits in nicely and serves as a welcome bridge for fans of that much loved series. Abramson, a former CIA employee, brings a wealth of background and procedural information to her stories that adds a touch of authenticity both to the physical DC setting and the interactions of governmental security.”
Claire Åkebrand. The Field Is White. Kernpunkt Press, Oct. 9. Literary. John Eliason is a young Mormon missionary from Alberta about to return home after two years in Sweden. When his only convert dies, John’s last duty is to visit the estranged family to make funeral arrangements. As the snow strands him in the countryside, tensions rise and family secrets are uncovered. The story unfolds through letters, journal entries, flashbacks, and fragmented ruminations. It is a love note to people outside of their cultural comfort zones, to failed poets, and to silence. Åkebrand is a Swede who grew up in Germany and Utah. Her poetry has appeared in the Manchester Review, BOAAT, the Beloit Poetry Journal, and elsewhere. Her debut poetry collection What Was Left of the Stars was released in Summer 2017. She is a Poetry MFA student at the University of Utah. The novel was an honorable mention in the 2016 Utah Original Writing Competition.
Allen Appel. The Book of Norman. Mandel Vilar Press, Sept. 26. “Probes Mormon-Jewish relationships and traditions with humor and thoughtfulness. A sibling rivalry erupts between brothers Norman and Jon Gould, who compete for their dead father’s soul in this wild theological ride set in southern California during the Summer of Love.”
Michele Ashman Bell. Wish Me Love. Covenant, Sept. 1. Contemporary romance.
Stephanie Black. Mind Games. Covenant, Sept. 1. Thriller. Sequel to Not a Word. Are ghosts haunting a newly opened clinic in a renovated 19th century building?
Mindy, 5 stars. “Mind Games is another top notch thriller from this talented author. This pacing on this book is perfect. I stayed up WAY past my bedtime reading this book, I had to find out what happened! Stephanie does a great job of building a steady foundation of suspense. This book is heart-pounding. With every turn of the page, I would think, “No way that just happened!” I don’t know how Stephanie does it, but I was left guessing until the end. When you sit down to read, make sure you have things taken care of, as you will not want to stop reading until you are done. This book reads really fast, with engaging characters and excitement on every page.”
Emily Bleeker. Working Fire. Lake Union Publishing, Aug. 29. Suspense. “Ellie Brown thought she’d finally escaped her stifling hometown of Broadlands, Illinois; med school was supposed to be her ticket out. But when her father has a stroke, she must return home to share his care with her older sister, Amelia, who’s busy with her own family. Working as a paramedic, Ellie’s days are monotonous, driving an ambulance through streets she’d hoped never to see again. Until a 911 dispatch changes everything. The address: her sister’s house. Rushing to the scene, Ellie discovers that Amelia and her husband, Steve, have been shot in a home invasion.”
Annette Lyon, Goodreads. 5 stars. “I’d love to sit down with Emily Bleeker and grill her about how she constructs her plots, because all of her books so far have intricate stories with multiple timelines, events and information revealed a crumb at a time until the end. As both a writer and editor, I usually have no trouble putting a book down, and I haven’t since my English studies in college–I had to put books down all the time for one reason or another, and I constantly do now as a matter of my career. But somehow, Emily’s books draw me in and hold me there. If I have to put one of her books down, it’s with intense reluctance, and I look for when I can get back to it. Working Fire is no different. Without any spoilers: The dual timelines that gradually merged were done so well. The stakes are so high in the present, and the story moves on a fast clip in it. The thread that begins six weeks earlier moves more slowly, and it needs to for the role it plays, but it never feels boring or slow because we KNOW certain things that happen later and we’re anxious to find out how what we’re reading now ties in to those events. If I have any complaint, it’s wanting a bit more at the end–a slower wrap-up and denouement. But again, it’s a credit to her excellent writing that I wanted MORE, and didn’t want it to end quite so fast! The author has explored several kinds of relationships in her books, but this is the first to dig into the connection between two sisters. I can’t wait to see what she releases next!”
RT Book Reviews. 3 stars. “This compelling novel starts off strong with a horrific crime that occurs close to home and tests the bond of two sisters. The story is told from two separate viewpoints. Ellie’s viewpoint unfolds in current time whereas Amelia’s viewpoint starts six weeks earlier and leads up to the crime. Both sisters carry burdens and secrets that propel a series of events forward. The suspense and pacing are good, as is the final reveal of the crime. The only detraction was the ambiguous ending with one character’s questionable actions. This character became less likable in the final moments, and the ending itself did not provide a satisfying outcome or punishment for the guilty.”
Carol Pratt Bradley. Waiting for the Light. WiDo, Sept. 11. Scriptural/historical. Daniel and King Nebuchadnezzar.
JoLyn Brown. Break. Walnut Springs, Aug. 17. YA contemporary. Preston Bensen struggles with the same social anxiety that led his father to walk away years ago. With a younger brother who has Down syndrome, Preston has made it his job to hold together what remains of their family. A few weeks after he loses a friend in an accident, Preston’s mother announces her decision to remarry. Now Preston must deal with a prying stepdad and three emotional stepsisters. After growing up with six neighbor boys, Preston doesn’t know what to do with glitter, pet mice, drama, and nonstop chatter. The only thing untouched by change seems to be Preston’s relationship with Morgan, a girl he met during the summer. But he fears that sharing more of his past will scare her away. Juggling everything at once, he reaches his breaking point. Is Preston going to end up like his father after all?
Nicole Castroman. Blacksouls. Simon Pulse, April 11. Blackhearts #2. YA adventure/romance. Pirates in the Caribbean. Romance between the son of a wealthy British merchant and a bi-racial young woman.
Booklist: “Tracing the origins of Blackbeard the Pirate, this sequel to Blackhearts reunites Teach and Anne, but not before each of them crosses the Atlantic in separate, grueling journeys to Nassau . . . The swashbuckling romance is tempered with bracing brutality, political trickery, and discrimination inherent to the era. Depictions of whippings and bloody battles are vivid, and so are the passion and complexity of the main characters in their dedication to one another and in doing what is right—or as close to right as burgeoning pirates can muster. Sell it as an action-packed romance or adventure-laced historical fiction; there’s something here to please almost everyone”
Bloggin’ ‘bout Books: B. “Chock-full of tense action, Blacksouls is engaging from the get-go. The intensity never lets up, guaranteeing a wild, nail-biter of a boat ride. The novel is a page turner that demands to be read in one sitting—you won’t be able to put it down anyway. It’s not a super original pirate story, but who cares? Blacksouls is fun, exciting, and peopled with lovable characters brimming with bravery, loyalty, and determination. I, for one, have thoroughly enjoyed this series. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how Castroman wraps up the story in the final installment.”
Stephen Carter. Moth and Rust: Mormon Encounters with Death. Signature, Oct. 30. Anthology of writings about death, some of them previously published. Mostly essays, but also fiction, poetry, and a play. Contributors include Jennifer Quist, Phyllis Barber, Elouise Bell, Richard Dutcher, Angela Hallstrom, Jack Harrell, David G. Pace, Steven L. Peck, Eric Samuelsen, Eugene England, Adam S. Miller, and thirty-two others.
R. A. Christmas. Saviors on Mt. Disneyland. Self, Aug. 5. Poetry. “Our Heavenly Father admonishes us to spend our lives becoming Saviors on Mt.Zion, in other words His Saints, in Christ-like service to others. But mortality is fraught with temptation and distraction, and all too often we trade the challenging climb up the Lord’s Matterhorn for a brief and shallow ride on a fake Matterhorn, like the one at Disneyland. We forget that we are here to struggle with sin and foolishness, and, with God’s help, to rise above ourselves and begin again, and again, to climb the real Mt. Zion.” Christmas had a short story in a recent issue of Dialogue. He has taught English and creative writing at Idaho State University, the University of Southern California, San Jose State, and Southern Utah State College, where he served as department chair. He left teaching in 1973 to pursue a career in business, and is still writing. Has served several missions lately.
Renee Collins. Remember Me Always. Sourcebooks Fire, Oct. 1. YA speculative. Changing memories, like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Kirkus: A white high school senior, unsure of whom to trust, navigates romance and secrets in Collins’ (Until We Meet Again, 2015, etc.) third novel. After her involvement in a devastating car accident during junior year, Shelby’s anxiety and panic attacks became so severe that she entered a clinical program for “neural restructuring”—a combination of “brain stimulation” and hypnosis—to wipe her most painful memories. Both she and her mom are ready for her life to settle back to normal, complete with auditions for the lead role of Juliet in the school play. Yet although she has no memory of the accident, Shelby can’t shake the feeling that something isn’t right. Little, unpredictable triggers still spike her anxiety, and there’s a boy—a boy named Auden who claims not only that she knows him, but that they are in love and that the doctors wiped her memories of him too at her mother’s request. Drawn to him, Shelby must decide whether she will trust him and secretly explore this old-but-new relationship or whether something feels wrong there, too. Shelby’s best friend’s escape from an emotionally abusive relationship leads both characters and readers to question the health of Shelby’s relationship with Auden, whose power in their relationship frequently wavers over the line of abusive. Shelby’s first-person narration sets up readers to discover the truth as Shelby does, but her present-tense voice is so bland it undercuts the tension, and readers will find the plot easy to predict. Forgettable.
Larry Correia and Bryan Thomas Schmidt, eds. The Monster Hunter Files. Baen, Oct. 3. Fantasy anthology. A collection of stories set in Correia’s Monster Hunter world. Includes stories by Steve Diamond, Jessica Day George and Brad Torgersen.
Sarah M. Eden. Love Remains. Mirror Press, Sept. 5. Historical romance. Pioneer-era Wyoming.
Mindy, 5 stars. “I loved being back in the Hope Springs world. I truly love and cherish these characters. This book is beautifully written and a joy from start to finish. Tavish, oh Tavish. He is such a great character. I love his wit and charm. Cecily was also a fabulous characters. I loved how she could keep up with Tavish and I loved her “no nonsense” approach to helping Finbarr. Mrs. Claire was also a joy. I love and appreciate her humor. Sarah Eden is one of my favorite authors and her books never disappoint. I feel this book could be read as a stand-alone, but if you haven’t read the other books, I would definitely recommend starting the series with Longing for Home, then Hope Springs. You will understand and appreciate the characters more and what they’ve gone through, especially Tavish, Katie, Finbarr, Emma… well all of them.”
Sarah M. Eden. For Love or Honor. Covenant, Oct. 1. Regency romance. Jonquil Brothers #6.
Mindy, 5 stars. “Another masterpiece by Sarah Eden. Sarah is one of my favorite authors. I can always count on a well developed, lovely story from her. Her writing is perfect. This book is heartbreakingly beautiful. I ached for Stanley and his hardships. He is so brave, but needed to learn to forgive himself for the battlefield. Accepting his wounds was his toughest battle. I loved Marjie, she had her own hardships to overcome as well, but I loved how strong she was. Pluck was a delight. He brought humor and help wherever he was. There is a great scene with Pluck and Marjie, that is very touching. Sorrel had her struggles, but I admire her character and the amazing women she is. Phillip was wonderfully Phillip. I love all the Jonquil brothers, but he holds a special place in my heart.”
Jennie Hansen: 3 stars.
Richard Paul Evans. Michael Vey 7: The Final Spark. Simon Pulse/Mercury Ink, Sept. 12. YA adventure/speculative. The 7th and concluding book of the series.
M. L. Forman. Adventurer’s Wanted: The Axe of Sundering. Shadow Mountain, Oct. 3. YA Fantasy. Adventurer’s Wanted #5.
McKelle George. Speak Easy, Speak Love. Greenwillow Books/Harper Collins, Sept. 19. YA comic romance. Retelling of Much Ado About Nothing, set in the 1920s. Debut novel.
VOYA: George’s debut novel is a retelling of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing set in 1920s, Prohibition-era Long Island. Seventeen-year-old Beatrice Clark is kicked out of boarding school and sent to live with her uncle and cousin, Hero, at their estate on Long Island. Named Hey Nonny Nonny, this estate is more that what meets the eye. Late at night and on weekends, it is transformed into a speak-easy where jazz acts sing, patrons dance, and the illegal liquor flows freely. The bootlegging business is running dry, however, and poor but tenacious Prince is determined to find a way around his brother, John Morello, and the rest of the Italians so that he can become the ultimate supplier to the bar. Boarding at the estate alongside Prince and Beatrice is the trust-fund enabled Benedick who has left school against his father’s wishes to become a writer. Once their paths cross, the witty banter between Beatrice and Benedick is deliciously enjoyable, and the modernized cast of characters is so colorful that the entire novel seems to do the Charleston right off of the pages. If readers’ interests are piqued by this Prohibition-era retelling full of stories of Italian gangsters, the Cotton Club, jazz music, and speakeasys, George has done her research: she includes an author’s note full of information about the nonfiction elements of the story and what was aggrandized for the novel. This is sure to delight fans of Anna Godberson’s Bright Young Things and Shakespeare’s writings alike, leaving a taste for much more of the Roaring Twenties and much more from George.”
Kirkus: “This 400-plus-page retelling will likely disappoint readers who haven’t encountered the original. As a stand-alone plot, it loses steam over its length, and placing teenage characters in the very adult positions of running a speak-easy and acquiring illegal booze stretches credulity. The characters feel out of place and never fully come to life in this 1920s time period. Ambitious but a miss.”
Rosalyn Eves. 5 stars. “The plot is a clever riff on the original, but what I fell in love with was Beatrice and Benedict’s prickly repartee, and their slowly evolving relationship. It has all the delightful banter of the original with a sweetness that is all its own. The period setting is also delightful–well-researched, fresh, and lending itself to some sharp, vivid descriptions. A wonderful story–I was sad when it ended.”
Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham. The Princess in Black and the Mysterious Playdate. Candlewick, Sept. 5. Early reader, illustrated. Princess in Black #5.
Christine Rappleye, Deseret News. “It’s an adorable and humorous installment in the Princess in Black series that shows that not all heroes look the same and many skills are useful and needed, as it can take more than one heroine to solve a problem. LeUyen Pham’s illustrations add depth to the story as Princess Sneezewort transforms into a hero and a shape-shifting monster becomes, among other things, a bench, a bush and a stone.”
Josi Kilpack. All That Makes Life Bright: The Life and Love of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Shadow Mountain, Sept. 5. Historical romance.
PW: “Kilpack, inaugurating a romance series about the lives of famous women writers, looks at the early years of their marriage, when they had three children in two years and Harriet was barely established as a writer. The expectations for a woman in that day and age did not include serious intellectual work, and in Kilpack’s telling, both Harriet and Calvin must learn to take her career seriously in order to make their marriage work. Kilpack’s depiction of the challenges of juggling household management, childcare, and pen is convincing and touching, and her research is solid (and well-explained in the endnotes), but her prose is rather flat, side characters are standard types, and there is a tendency to repeat information. That said, as an examination of how much labor domesticity really involves, the book is surprisingly passionate—and entertaining.”
Starred: “In her latest marvelously engaging historical novel, Kilpack writes with great insight and superb sensitivity about the ways in which Harriet and Calvin struggled to achieve a marriage that works for both of them. At the same time, Kilpack deftly demonstrates how Harriet’s early married years acted as a sort of literary petri dish in which she refined her own writing skills while also defining her thoughts on the issue of slavery, ultimately leading her to write Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a novel which played a major role in advancing the abolitionist cause not just in the United States but around the world. An excellent introduction to the early life and times of one of nineteenth-century America’s most fascinating and influential women.”
Abel Keogh. The Time Seller. Ben Lomand Press (self), Sept. 17. Chronos Book #1. A Bulgarian warrior from 1017 defeats a giant, lives for 1000 years, meets his wife, who he thought was long dead.
Dene Low. When Our Love Was New: A MalibuVu Sweet Romance #1. Laurel Wreath Publishing, Sept. 25. Romance.
Melissa McShane. Pretender to the Crown. Self, Sept. 19. The Saga of Willow North #1. YA fantasy. Author AKA Melissa Proffitt. The first chapter of this book won the League of Utah Writers First Chapter contest in 2016. The judge’s comment was “It’s just like Assassin’s Creed, but with a woman main character.” I’m not sure how accurate that is, but I appreciate the compliment.
Melissa McShane. Abounding Might. Curiosity Quills Press, Oct. 2. Fantasy. Extraordinaries #3. Set in 1813, a British woman in India who can transport herself.
Shelah Mastny Miner, Sandra Clark Jergensen, editors. Seasons of Change: Stories of Transition from the Writers of Segullah. Peculiar Pages. October 24. Anthology of essays. Segullah’s third anthology. Featuring essays by Shelah Mastny Miner, Sandra Clark Jergensen, Angela Hallstrom, Anna Sam Lenhart, Becca Ogden, Catherine Arveseth, Christie Clark Rassmussen, Claire Åkebrand, Courtney Miller Santo, Dalene Rowley, Emily Clyde Curtis, Emily Milner, Darlene Young, Gladys Farmer, Heather Kimball, Heather Oman, Jennie LaFortune, Jennifer Quist, Jes S. Curtis, Jessie Christensen, Julia Blue LaMar, Julie Nelson, Kathy Soper, Katie Stirling, Kel Purcill, Kylie Turley, Lara Yates Niedermeyer, Leslie Graff, Lisa Garfield, Lisa Rumsey Harris, Elizabeth Cranford Garcia, Luisa Perkins, Melissa Dalton Bradford, Melissa Young, Melody Newey, Melonie Cannon, Michelle Lehnardt, Rosalyn Eves, Sherilyn Olsen, Teresa Bruce, Teresa Hirst, Terresa Wellborn, Tracy McKay-Lamb, and Tresa Edmunds Dixon “There are so many ways we learn, share and are reshaped through a spectrum of transitions. We crave the catharsis of writing through the change. We write trying to understand the cycles of life and embrace our reshaped selves. Joining the Church or re-examining our faith; falling in love or sharing a marriage bed for many years; sending children out on their own or taking estranged parents back into our lives; illness, divorce and new careers—all of these changes (and more) force us to examine, regroup and adapt.”
Heather B. Moore. A Year of Love. Mirror Press, Sept. 19. Edwardian romance novella. Set in 1907 England.
Jennifer Moore. Miss Leslie’s Secret. Covenant, Sept. 22. Regency romance.
Bloggin’ ‘bout Books: B+. “Having read most of her books, I know I can count on Moore to deliver an exciting, engaging tale featuring a brave, likable heroine; a courageous, dashing hero; a rich, exotic setting; and a positive, uplifting tone. Miss Leslie’s Secret, is no exception. It offers everything I love in a Regency romance—and more. Although I’ve enjoyed all the books I’ve read by Moore, I think this one is my favorite. I adored the setting, the characters, and the sweet romance between Conall and Aileen. If you are in the mood for a swift, swoony read set in the always enchanting Scottish Highlands, I definitely recommend Miss Leslie’s Secret.”
Jennie Hansen, Meridian. 4 stars. “This story is rich in the customs and politics of the early 1800s in Scotland. Some readers may find the heavy use of a Scottish accent in the dialog difficult to understand or annoying, but it does add to a feel of authenticity. The characters are strong, determined, and do not shy away from doing whatever needs to be done. The extreme social rules of the Regency period are not in evidence in this story, but there is a strong commitment to family and friends, loyalty to their heritage, fierce independence, and a never give up determination. Not a lot of attention is giving to clothing other than whether or not their few wardrobe items are clean. The story begins with a devastating scene, then slows to an even pace, then toward the end speeds up similar to a high action novel. The romance elements of the book proceed well, but it is the history and action that make the book compelling.”
Chad Morris and Shelly Brown. Mustaches for Maddie. Shadow Mountain, Oct. 3. Middle grade. Based on the true story of how Chad and Shelly Brown Morris’ daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and how her friends and family rallied around her, cheering her up with hilarious mustache pictures.
PW: Maddie learns to stand up for herself and face her fears head-on in this moving story of courage and heart. Morris and Brown balance the gravity of Maddie’s illness with her buoyant imagination as she navigates the reality of the surgery she needs and the politics of sixth grade.
SLJ: Based on the true story of the authors’ daughter, this is a moving novel about a truly brave girl. Maddie is a wonderfully thoughtful, creative, and funny protagonist, with whom readers will identify as she grapples with her social and physical challenges . The title comes from her love of fake mustaches, which she carries around to lighten the mood wherever she goes, and which become a viral sensation when she is hospitalized. Although the novel does not reveal the outcome of Maddie’s second surgery, an author’s note explains that the real Maddie recovered completely, and that thousands of people really did wear fake mustaches to show their support for her. VERDICT This poignant and uplifting novel is a good read-alike for fans of R.J. Palacio’s Wonder.
Kirkus: The authors—parents of a real-life Maddie who really had a brain tumor—imbue fictional Maddie’s first-person narration with quirky turns of phrase (“For the love of potatoes!”) and whimsy (she imagines her medical battles as epic fantasy fights and pretends MRI stands for Mustard Rat from Indiana or Mustaches Rock Importantly), but they also portray her as a model sick kid. She’s frightened but never acts out, snaps, or resists. Her most frequent commentary about the tumor, having her skull opened, and the possibility of death is “Boo” or “Super boo.” She even shoulders the bully’s redemption. Maddie and most characters are white; one cringe-inducing hallucinatory surgery dream involves “chanting island natives” and a “witch doctor lady.” Medically, both squicky and hopeful; emotionally, unbelievably squeaky-clean.
Jessica George: I was braced for this book to be sad (though I know in real life there is a happy ending), or perhaps even too silly to try and undercut the drama. Instead it was a spot-on story about being twelve: figuring out friends and crushes, running afoul of mean girls, dealing with annoying younger siblings, having homework, as well as handling bad news. Maddie is a fun-loving girl, with a rich imagination, but she’s not always as courageous or cool as she wants to be. In other words: she’s real. And the things she deals with are real, too. Not just the brain tumor, but everything else, and the book is so well done. The family dynamic is great, the dynamic between the kids in Maddie’s class is great.
Jennifer A. Nielsen. Deadzone. Scholastic, Sept. 12. MG speculative. Horizon #2. Part of a multi-author series. A group of teens survive a plane crash, try to survive in a variety of ecosystems.
Anne Perry. An Echo of Murder. Ballantine Books, Sept. 19. Victorian mystery. William Monk #23. A murder in London’s Hungarian community.
Thomas F. Rogers. The Plays of Thomas F. Rogers: Perestroika and Glasnost (Volume 1). Leicaster Bay Books, July 26. Collection of five plays, and an introduction by Bob Nelson, Professor of Theater at the University of Utah. Rogers is a prominent Playwright and former Professor of the Russian language, now retired. Having lived in the U.S. and in Russia, his plays have made the mystery and controversy of “The Red East” singularly accessible These plays, written between 1979 and 1992, deal with Russia, Russians, and The U.S.S.R, their relations with other countries as well as internally, and focus on the transition into and out of Communism. Taut, political and ideological dramas, all, they enlighten the Human condition, in thoughtful and lively stage adaptations. Charades, God’s Fools, and The Second Priest, are original works. Two, Crime and Punishment and The Idiot are adaptions of Dostoevsky novels.
Thomas F. Rogers. The Plays of Thomas F. Rogers: Personal Journeys (Volume 2). Leicaster Bay Books, March 27. The seven plays in this volume, “Frére Lawrence,” “Gentle Barbarian,” “The Immortal,” “The Seagull,” “Siegfried Idyll,” “The Wager,” and “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” gathered in one volume for the first time, deal with men and women and their relationships, treacheries, hopes, dreams, plots, plans, cruelties and sometimes kindnesses. Both historical and political, these dramas expose the Human condition, in thoughtful and unforgettable stage adaptations. Introduction by Tim Slover.
J. Scott Savage. Embers of Destruction. Shadow Mountain, Sept. 26. Mysteries of the Cove #3. Middle grade fantasy.
Mindy, 5 stars. “This book is action packed. It is full of many exciting, heart-pounding moments. Like the other books in the series, it is also full of heart, love and friendship. I have grown to love these characters and I was excited to see their final battle and what a battle it was . . . This series is one of my all-time favorites.”
Caitlin Sangster. Last Star Burning. Simon Pulse, Oct. 10. YA dystopian fantasy. Debut novel, set in a society reminiscent of Maoist China. Author has lived in China, received a degree in Asian Studies.
PW: The people of the City are beset by encephalitis lethargica—sleeping sickness—and drug-resistant strains are cropping up. The symptoms can be violent, but 16-year-old Jiang Sev, who is infected, places her trust in the City. Years ago, Sev’s mother betrayed the City, infecting Sev with the disease, and now lies in stasis, on display above the Traitor’s Arch, leaving Sev branded and diminished in status. When Sev is blamed for a bombing, she and a secretive boy named Howl wind up on the run. Howl insists that answers lie at a far-off mountain, but the journey is dangerous, and the promise of safety may only be an illusion. Loosely inspired by China’s Cultural Revolution, Sangster’s vibrant debut is set in a world where class and status define its citizens; some genuinely surprising twists highlight Sev’s struggle to accept a reality vastly different from what she has known. Her candid voice propels the tense narrative to a conclusion that leaves no question where Sev’s convictions and loyalties lie and sets up the next chapter in her journey.
SLJ: The backdrop of vicious creatures coupled with adventures in which survival is not always assured will keep patient readers engaged. The cliff-hanger ending guarantees a sequel in the offing, and the action-packed, adventurous prose makes it appropriate for younger teens. VERDICT Give to fans of Leigh Bardugo’s “Six of Crows” series and Sabaa Tahir’s “Ember in the Ashes” trilogy.
Kirkus: Brimming with rich detail in an Asian-inflected alternative world that’s lightly touched with Maoist terminology and concepts and helmed by achingly real characters, Sevvy’s story is thrilling to get lost in. By the end, readers will be clamoring for more. Incredibly immersive and tightly plotted.
Elaine Vickers. Paper Chains. HarperCollins, Oct. 17. MG. Semi-sequel. Two girls are best friends, but have secret struggles. One was adopted from Russia, the other’s Dad has left.
Kirkus (Starred): Secrets and family upheaval test Katie and Ana’s newly minted friendship. Adventurous Ana makes fifth grade fun, although Katie still misses the mountains and her friends back in Utah. She’s grateful for the new heart she received after her adoption from a Russian orphanage and for her loving parents, but lately she’s been wondering about her birthparents and life before adoption. Chafing at her mother’s overprotectiveness, Katie admires Ana’s fearlessness, unaware it’s prompted by desperation. Ana’s Jewish family has been torn apart since her father, who played hockey for the Boston Bruins, abruptly left them. Ana’s dropped hockey; her little brother, Mikey, is bullied by a gang of her classmates; their mother’s depressed. Soon their dad’s Russian-immigrant mother, Babushka, arrives to take charge. Ana resents her imperious ways and weird meals, so when Katie bonds with Babushka, friction develops between the girls. Ana envies the attention Katie’s loving, white Christian parents lavish on her; Katie longs for a Babushka to explain and share her Russian heritage. As misunderstandings mount, the white girls’ friendship threatens to unravel. The complicated realities of adoption—for example, that Katie’s intact adoptive family resembles Ana’s fractured one in ways an intact biological family does not—are portrayed with insight rare in children’s fiction. The also-rare depiction of a Russian-born adoptee (one of more than 46,000 in the U.S.) is especially welcome. A well-told story celebrating the power of friendship to comfort and heal when families fall short.
SLJ: Cultural traditions such as nesting dolls, aspic, and even the scary witch Baba Yaga are sprinkled throughout. Alternating chapters allow the thoughts and voices of both girls to develop into endearing, authentic personalities. As the narrative progresses, Ana and Katie (with the assistance of Ana’s little brother Mikey) strive to find the courage to embrace their burgeoning identities and confidence. An exciting search for Ana’s father adds action. This tale stands powerfully on its own, but fans of Vickers’s previous book, Like Magic, will enjoy the happy realization that Paper Chains inhabits the same world. VERDICT A captivating story with tremendous heart; recommended for most collections.
Jack Weyland. Hannah’s Legacy. Self, April 13. YA religious. Five days before James Davis is scheduled to begin a summer job as a youth counselor in a Protestant church a few hours away from his home, he is baptized into the Mormon Church. In a phone call to the pastor, before James can explain his situation, the pastor tells him that because of some health problems, he is about to go to a clinic for a few days to undergo some tests, and that James is needed to fill in for him while he’s gone. James decides not to tell the pastor that he’s now a Mormon, but just go and serve until the pastor returns from the clinic. To complicate matters, the pastor has a beautiful, talented and dedicated daughter named Hannah. As James and Hannah fall in love, James must decide how, when, or if he should tell Hannah and her dad about his deception.
David J. West and James Alderdice. Walking Through Walls. Lost Realms Press, Aug. 24. Fantasy novella. “Kenaz, an information broker, can step outside his own body and into the ghost-like realm of spirit. He does this to gather secrets and knowledge, and of course business in Tolburn, the decadent City of a Million Gods, has been very good. But when Kenaz suddenly finds himself blackmailed by multiple sinister parties, plans go out the window.”
Reviews of older books
Claire Åkebrand, What Was Left of the Stars. Reviewed by Theric Jepsen, A Motley Vision.
Lisa Bickmore. Ephemerist. Reviewed by Amy Brunvand, 15 Bytes. “Eidolon,” perhaps the strongest poem in the collection, won the Ballymaloe International Poetry Prize in 2015. The title comes from ancient Greek and refers to a spirit image of a person who may be living or dead, or to an idealized image of a person. This eidolon is the poet’s son who phones from abroad where it seems he is serving a Mormon mission since he rides a bicycle and speaks a new language, but also because his voice reminds Bickmore of her own crisis of faith: “I collect photographs of altars although I kneel at none. / The church on the corner hides an empty nave where the icon should go.”
James Goldberg. Let Me Drown with Moses. Reviewed by Theric Jepson. Whale Road Review.
Steve Evans reviews books at BCC, including Steven Peck’s Gilina Trillim.
Melissa Leilani Larson. Third Wheel. Reviewed by Conor Hilton. “Mel does a masterful job of creating real, embodied, fleshed-out characters. The action is orchestrated in a way that you feel for all the characters and the choices that they make and the ending is ambiguous enough that there’s plenty of room for further speculation and interpretation. It’s not quite happy and not quite tragic, but some mixture of the two. These are the sorts of stories that we need more of. Stories that confront some of our biggest challenges and concerns and struggles as a faith community. These imagined, narrative spaces seem to give broader allowance for the events to unfold and for the audience to let the characters speak for themselves. We’re removed just enough to perhaps not only willfully suspend our disbelief, but also our judgment of the morality of their choices, as we may be want to do if these were real people in our wards.”
Steven Peck. Gilda Trillim: Shepherdess of Rats. Reviewed by Karen D. Austin. “The book appears to be a master’s thesis by a graduate student . . . However, the text is not a thesis; it’s a novel by Peck. Therein he asks a lot of philosophical questions, including—but not limited to—the following: What is the nature of Being? What is the role of randomness in the eternities? Can we really understand another being—a plant, an animal, a person, a god? How can we communicate the sacred to others? . . . Peck’s novel is broad in scope and wonders if the human mind can really examine itself. Questions of narrator reliability remind me of another book. In ways similar to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Peck assembles documents from a range of authors, epistemologies, and genres in an attempt to discern the Truth about Being . . . How should I place Gilda Trillim on a spectrum of narrative-to-philosophy in Peck’s catalog of publications? Gilda Trillim has less narrative than Scholar of Moab, but a lot more narrative than Science the Key to Theology, which was out of my reach. So, yes, I had to put the book down every few pages and meditate about the implications of some of the more essay-like passages. I settled into a routine of reading, rereading, and then musing over the Big Questions of this novel while doing laundry, dishes, yard work, shopping and carpooling. It took me almost a month of read-pause-think to finish Gilda Trillim. This novel is about the journey, not the characters, plot, or even list-able themes. I thrilled over many of the epiphanies borne from the process. Gilda Trillim: Shepherdess of Rats made me fall in love with all of creation . . . So don’t rely on my incomplete descriptions. Read—or rather—experience the novel yourself. This absurdist philosophical narrative helps me explore all of my roles, all of my ways of being in the world and how they relate to each other to create Karen. I exist within a specific ecology, grander and more complex than I can articulate or even perceive.”
Rachel Hunt Steenblick. Mother’s Milk. Reviewed by Theric at A Motely Vision.
Rachel Hunt Steenblick. Mother’s Milk. Reviewed by Conor Hilton. “A beautiful, poignant collection of poems. Frequently brought tears to my eyes with its longing and reaching for Heavenly Mother and the divine feminine. There’s a personal and intimate connection with the divine present here that may not always be what my connection is or hopes to be, but is unabashedly Rachel’s, modeling one path to strive towards the divine feminine. Ashmae’s illustrations are a perfect accompaniment for Rachel’s poetry—close, intimate, personal, and snuggly (you can almost cuddle up with them). The poems are brief snapshots, capturing moments and reworking familiar phrases, narratives, verses, ideas to include or focus on Heavenly Mother. I’m left hungry for more. I want to create & find my own connection to Heavenly Mother, to write my way there. Rachel gave me a delicious taste of that possibility here.”
Shawn Vestal, Daredevils. Reviwed by Julie Nichols at Dialogue. “Daredevils is a smack-your-lips-with-pleasure kind of read. Every sentence is intact, every image finely balanced with its corresponding action, every scene the only one that could follow the one that came before. It’s a must-have. I can’t think of anybody (except maybe a die-hard plotless-enigma Beckett fan) who wouldn’t be highly entertained and pleasantly excited by this novel. It makes you smarter, more able to meet your future. It keeps you turning pages, not wanting to miss a beat, smiling all the way through. Don’t miss it.”
Christopher Clark. Jumpers. September 29 – October 7 at Utah Valley University.
Derrick Clements, Daily Herald feature story. “Director Christopher Clark first discovered Tad Friend’s New Yorker article “Jumpers” soon after it was published in 2003. Tackling the subject of suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge, the article made an impact on Clark, and he’s revisited it several times over the years. But it’s been more recently — since Clark was diagnosed with ALS in 2016 — that the director has discovered for himself a new medium of creative expression, and now he’s using it as inspiration for a devised theater piece based on the article. That medium: podcasts. The text of the article was licenced and is performed verbatim in the show, which lasts about 45 minutes (“Nobody has to wallow in suicide for over an hour,” Clark said. “I think it’s just enough time to make the point.”) As the words are performed, actors visually represent the descriptions in the article and speak the interview quotations as their lines.”
Frances Smeath. Shaking the Earth. Zion Theater Company, Provo, Third Space Studios, Oct. 16-28. About the Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe. Fran Smeath’s play The Returning, set in Nauvoo, played to sold out crowds at BYU in 1976.
Melissa Leilani Larson has two recent staged readings at Utah Valley University: Pilot Program, on September 9, and Girl Who Drank the Moon, on October 13.
Plan-B Theatre announced its 2017/18 Script-In-Hand Series of free readings of new plays in progress, featuring THE PRIESTHOOD by Carleton Bluford on Nov. 15 (about the 1978 decision to allow blacks to hold the priesthood), MOUNTAIN LAW by Melissa Leilani Larson on March 7, 2018 (based on a 1851 case where a Mormon man was found not guilty for killing another Mormon man who had an affair with his wife) and pieces from the THEATRE ARTISTS OF COLOR WRITING WORKSHOP, which will be led by Julie Jensen. Also remember Eric Samuelsen‘s new play The Ice Front will be performed November 9-19, 2017.
In other Melissa Leilani Larson news, she reports she is working on a film, called Jane and Emma. MLL is the writer, Chantelle Squires is the director/producer, and Arthur Van Wagnenen a producer. It imagines Jane Manning James and Emma Smith on the night of Joseph Smith’s martyrdom.
Jason Sinclair Cloud. Jack Mormon. Vienna, December. “This ‘stand-up tragicomedy’ explores the failed suicide attempt of a Mormon missionary left with fragments of the past to put together and a present to reassess. ‘There are a lot of rumors and misconceptions about the Church to this day, and I want to put out my findings from first-hand experience.’ Born in the US, Jason Cloud relocates to Europe in 2010 in pursuit of his personal, professional and artistic development in the music capital of the world.”
Cameron Wright, Samuel Wright, Allen Bentley, Jason Hanson. Pocket Monsters: A Musical Parody ImprovBroadway Theater, Provo. Sept. 15-30.
Conor Hilton review of Carol Lynn Pearson’s Mother Wove the Morning. 21 August 2017 performance, Amphitheater Canyon Glen Park, Provo Canyon. “I quite enjoyed it. Some of the vignettes resonated more than others (Amenepshut the Egyptian Princess, Julia the Gnostic (very very much), Paula the Christian at Ephesus, Phoebe the Shaker, Emma Smith the Mormon First Lady, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton the American Feminist notably for a variety of reasons). But I think the vignette structure is one that highlights HM’s historical and continued presence in our lives and some of the shifting that’s occurred there. I wonder (and talked with some of the friends that I saw it with after) if these sections would have been more powerful if the different women had been portrayed by different actresses, rather than a single actress. I appreciated the diversity of Heavenly Mothers and the way the use of different actresses highlighted Her multifaceted nature and personalization and think some of those same themes and messages would have been more powerful if each vignette was isolated (I understand the logistical challenges associated with it and some of the thematic benefits of doing so–all women are connected, share this experience, she’s many women but one woman, etc.). It was fascinating to me that HM does very little throughout the play. She observes and is present, comforts, feels pain, occasionally introduces and mediates for the audience, but for the most part, the play is about women and the journey of these women to find HM in their lives, not who or what HM is (though that’s definitely an oblique goal and outcome of the performance). I’m intensely curious what a play about HM and Her day-to-day life would be like (I know that’d require intense amounts of speculation, but I think could be productive nonetheless) . . . I hope this is only the start of many conversations and other efforts to creatively ask how Heavenly Mother fits into our lives and what we do with that understanding. (Rachel Hunt Steenblik‘s new book Mother’s Milk is one such creative endeavor that I’ll share more thoughts on when I finish it, also efforts like Mel Leilani Larson’s Third Wheel that creatively engage other complex facets of Mormonism are encouraged and needed by plays such as this.) We can and need to be asking these questions, having these conversations, and engaging creatively with our Mormonism if we want it to continue growing and progressing and to foster a continued spirit of Restoration.”
The Stray, a film written and directed by Mitch Davis (The Other Side of Heaven), opened Oct. 6, nationwide, on over 600 screens. Based on a true story of Davis and his family hiking in the mountains and being hit by lightning. And their stray dog. No specific Mormon content. Distributed by the Utah based Purdie Distribution, and Pureflix – a Christian-run film distributor that also handled the film God’s Not Dead. So far it has a 29% rating at Rotten Tomatoes.
Sean Means, Salt Lake Tribune. 2.5 stars. “A family’s love for their pet pooch is reciprocated mightily in writer-director Mitch Davis’ “The Stray,” a movie with a gentle spirit and tone shifts that go all over the place . . . Basing a family-friendly drama on an incident in one’s own past is a risky proposition for any filmmaker, and Davis (best known for his 2001 LDS missionary drama “The Other Side of Heaven”) pours his heart into it . . . The tone veers from slapstick comedy (with Pluto peeing on a rich guy’s Beemer — twice) to tearful dramatic moments in the aftermath of the lightning strike hinted at in the opener. There also are many instances when the characters stop and pray in crisis moments, which some will find inspiring and others may find grating. Cassidy (who played Jimmy Olsen in “Batman v. Superman”) gives a solid performance as the overworked Mitch, and Lancaster (who had prominent roles on the TV shows “Chuck” and “Everwood”) plays Michelle as the family’s rock, reminding Mitch of what really matters as this warm-hearted story unfolds.”
Josh Terry, Deseret News. 2 stars. “Only moments into “The Stray,” a lightning bolt hits the tent of its unsuspecting occupants in the Colorado wilderness. It’s a dramatic start for a film that means well, but can’t quite make its pieces fit the story it wants to tell . . . There’s a kind message at the heart of “The Stray,” but at times it feels like Davis is trying to force two stories together that aren’t quite a natural fit. The heart of the film is a father’s struggle to figure out how best to serve and love his family, and the moments that focus on this narrative provide the film’s greatest strength. Mitch may be trying to realize his dreams as a Hollywood screenwriter, but his situation should be relatable to any father who has had to weigh his career decisions against his family’s well-being. The problem is that “The Stray” is intent on making Pluto the emotional heart of the story, when often his involvement feels more incidental. This is especially apparent in the third act of the film — which won’t be spoiled here — where the sobering aftermath of the lightning bolt feels emotionally misdirected.”
Los Angeles Times. “An underpowered, white-bread sermon on the importance of family and faith . . . Love of God and dog can be powerful things, but in this uncinematic telling, they fail to inspire.”
Film Journal. “Beyond its pervasive, wholesome sweetness and worthy intentions, The Stray is on four shaky legs. Among many matters, the script is serviceable but mediocre, the depiction of hero Mitch as a toiling L.A. studio script evaluator and his colleagues rings false, and the ending—decidedly protracted—will prove patently unpleasant for animal lovers.”
Extinct. BYUtv. TV series, 10 episodes, beginning Oct. 1. Written and executive produced by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnson. Directed by Ryan Little and Scott Swofford, produced by Adam Abel. Science fiction, it takes place 400 years after the human race has been exterminated by aliens. BYUtv’s second scripted series.
Carthage. October. Direct-to-DVD, 50 minutes. John Lyde, director, producer. Joshua Michael French, writer. Ron Brough, executive producer. Mainstay Productions, distributed by Covenant Communications. Starring Sarin Southam, Jasen Wade, Lincoln Hoppe, and Michael Buster.
Room 104. Episode about Missionaries having doubts, and romantic feelings for each other. HBO, Sept. 15.
Sept. 17, 24, 31, Oct. 1, 8, 15
Richard Paul Evans. Michael Vey #7: The Final Spark
USA Today: x, x, x, #10, #104, x (2 weeks)
PW Children’s: x, x, x, #1, #3, #12 (3 weeks). 23,641, 6402, 4138 units. 34,181 total
NYT Children’s Series: x, x, #2, #8, #9 (12 weeks)
RaeAnne Thayne. Sugar Pine Trail
USA Today: x, x, x, x, #9 (1 week)
PW Mass Market Paperback: x, x, x, x, #1 (1 week). 16,392 units
NYT Combined Print & Ebook: x, x, x, x, #8 (1 week)
RaeAnne Thayne. Snowfall on Haven Point
USA Today: x, x, #52, x, x (1 week)
Christine Feehan. Dark Legacy
USA Today: x, x, #6, #82, x (2 weeks)
PW Hardcover: x, x, #9, #20, x (2 weeks). 9145, 3601 units. 12,746 total
NYT Hardcover: x, x, #9, x, x (1 week)
Shannon Hale and Dean Hale. The Princess in Black and the Mysterious Playdate
PW Children’s: x, x, #8, x, x (1 week). 4990 units
NYT Children’s Series: x, x, #7, x, x (10 weeks)
Anne Perry. An Echo of Murder
USA Today: x, x, x, x, #66, x (1 week)
Brenda Novak. No One But You
USA Today: #96, x, x, x, x. x (2nd week)