This Month in Mormon Literature, January 2018

The year-end “Best of” lists are out, with Mackenzi Lee’s YA novel The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue appearing frequently.  There are new novels by Heather Moore, Obert Skye, Kasie West, a posthumous poetry collection by Linda Sillitoe. There are also new short stories and a novel in Spanish and a novel in Danish. Remember to turn in your AML Conference paper proposals by Jan. 5. We note in sadness the passing of the young author Neil Longo. For suggestions and corrections, please write mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.

In Memoriam

Neil Longo passed away in late November, taking his own life. According to an author bio in Dialogue, “Longo was raised in California and attended Brigham Young University. He was baptized into the LDS Church during his first month at BYU and developed a strong interest in Mormon theology, history, and sociology. After graduating with a BS in political science, he interned for the Senate Judiciary Committee Staff of Senator Orrin Hatch in Washington, DC. He lived in Portland, Oregon, loves to hike and camp, and hopes to study Russian religious thought from the late nineteenth century.” Longo had personal essays that appeared in the Summer 2016 (“Palmyra Redemption: July 18, 2015”) and Fall 2017 (“Cry for the Gods: Grief and Return”) issues of Dialogue. He also co-wrote a Salt Lake Tribune op-ed, “What’s more conservative than reverence for the Earth?” In a memorial post, BYU professor Ralph Hancock wrote, “I’ve had brilliant students of all kinds in my 35 years of teaching, but never one with the prodigious philosophical-religious imagination that moved Neil.  His thinking knew no limits and no disciplinary boundaries . . . He really couldn’t contain his love for a beautiful truth he thought he had glimpsed just beyond the horizon of whatever I was trying to get him to focus on.”

End-of-the-year “Best of” Lists

Mackenzi Lee’s YA novel The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue was included on many year end lists, including the NPR Book Concierge list, Publishers Weekly Best YA Books, the Shelf-Awareness 2017 Best Children’s & Teen Books of the Year, Kirkus Best Teen Books with a Touch of Humor, and Buzzfeed’s 28 of the Best YA novels published in 2017.

The Barnes and Noble Best YA Books of 2017 included two Mormon-authored novels:

Mackenzi Lee’s The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue. “This gorgeously written love story comes across like a wildly charming romantic romp, then bops you over the head with emotional depth and prose you can’t quit. Monty and Percy are set to take the Continent by storm, before settling into the lives their parents have planned for them: Monty will step into his detestable father’s shoes, and Percy is destined for something much darker. But Monty is distracted by his highly inconvenient feels for Percy, and their well-laid plans go up in smoke when they become the targets of a manhunt after Monty sort-of-accidentally steals a mysterious object from a royal hanger-on. With Monty’s steely sister, Felicity, in tow, the boys set off on a far different tour than expected…and Monty discovers his love for Percy may not be so unrequited after all. And great news for everyone who has already fallen in love with this devastatingly charming trio: Felicity is getting her own book!”

Now I Rise, by Kiersten White. “The sequel to And I Darken, one of our favorite books of 2016, has finally arrived, telling the second chapter in the story of fierce Lada, a genderbent Vlad the Impaler; her brother, Radu, who excels at more insidious forms of statesmanship; and Mehmed, the young, conquest-hungry sultan they both love. Mehmed has his sights set on taking Constantinople, Lada longs to reclaim her homeland of Wallachia, and Radu is caught between loyalty to the man who may never love him back, and the sister whose love always felt double-edged. Again White delivers beautifully researched historical fiction populated with imperfect characters who do terrible things in the name of love, religion, patriotism, and revenge. This is alt history at its most engrossing.”

Publishers’ Weekly Best Middle Grade Books: Shannon Hale and LeUyen Phan, Real Friends.

News & Observer Wilde Awards: Includes: Middle Grade–Shannon Hale and LeUyen Phan, Real Friends. Young Adult–Jeff Zentner, Goodbye Days and Mackenzi Lee, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue.

Good Reads Choice Awards:

Mackenzi Lee. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue. Young Adult #4, 20,990 votes.

Brandon Sanderson, Oathbringer. Fantasy #5, 23,979 votes.

Brandon Mull. Dragonwatch. Middle Grade and Children’s #8, 6811 votes.

Kasie West. By Your Side. Young Adult #10, 8395 votes.

Anne Lebaron. The Polygamist’s Daughter. Memoir #16, 1824 votes.

Brian McClellan. Sins of Empire. Fantasy #17, 1621 votes.

Jeff Zentner. Goodbye Days. Young Adult #18, 1433 votes.

Christina Lauren. Autoboyography. Young Adult #19, 1286 votes.

Other blogs and news

15 Bytes profile of Scott Abbott, by Eric Robertson.

Melonie Cannon interviews Australian author Kel Purcill and Swedish-American poet Claire Åkebrand at the Segullah poetry podcast “Words Fall In”.

Interview with author Luisa Perkins at Segullah.

Jennie Hansen, “A Second Look at where LDS Fiction is Going”, Meridian Magazine.

Shelah Mastny Miner and Sandra Clark Jorgensen speak about their new collection Mormon women’s anthology, Seasons of Change, at the Exponent II podcast, “Religious Feminism“.

It was poetry month at AML, with authors Robert Rees, Heather Harris Bergevin, Merrijane Rice, and the poet/novelist Claire Åkebrand writing posts about their recent books on the blog. Also, Dennis Clark has been writing about R. A. Christmas‘ latest poetry collection.

Remember to turn in your paper proposals for the Association for Mormon Letters sessions at Mormon Scholars in the Humanities Conference, which will be held March 23-24 at Brigham Young University in Provo. The theme of the conference is humour, but papers on other topics are also welcome. The deadline for proposals is January 5, 2018.

The Mormon Arts Center, in collaboration with the Tanner Humanities Center at the University of Utah, is sponsoring a Conference on Teaching Mormon Arts. It is a day for discussion for artists, teachers, scholars, and administrators, with particular attention to literature, music, theater and film, visual arts, and dance. The conference will be held at the Fort Douglas Officers Club, 150 Fort Douglas Boulevard, Salt Lake City, on January 20.

Short stories

Larry Correia. “Oni of Aokigahara”. In the anthology Predator: If It Bleeds, edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt. A samurai drama set in the Predator universe.

Gabriel González Núñez.Martes a media mañana”. Chachalaca Review, 2017

Gabriel González Núñez. “Documentos artículo Norteamérica”. Mormonsofía [blog de Mario R. Montani]. 2017.  Argentina. [A Mormon alternative history story.]

New books and their reviews

Frank L. Cole. Potions Master: The Eternities Elixir. Shadow Mountain, Jan. 2. Middle-grade fantasy/adventure.

Booklist: “Pleasant addition of Gordy’s parents as strong secondary characters (his dad hilariously finds himself cast in the role of the damsel in distress), and some background hints that the good guys aren’t always so squeaky clean. Fast-paced and humorous, this should have easy appeal for fantasy fans.”

SLJ: “This first installment in a new trilogy has all the hallmarks of a grand adventure: an unknown treasure, an all-powerful enemy, and a host of secrets revealed. Adeline and Wanda both present strong supporting cast members, and Gordy’s adventure is a memorable one. VERDICT Fans of the archetypal hero’s journey will keep turning pages. A solid addition to large collections where fantasy circulates well.”

Kirkus: “While the worldbuilding is vague and the enemies are familiar, wackiness and suspense keep the pages turning. The primary characters are white Americans, but secondary characters hail from El Salvador, Russia, Great Britain, and more. A glossary of potions highlights some of the incredible brews, while an epilogue hints that there are more adventures to come. A solid if not spectacular beginning.” 

Emily Debenham. On Thin IceSelf, Nov. 17. Contemporary romance novelette.

Ebbe Larsen. Rejsen til Zion. Hovedland, Fall 2017. Historical. Written in Danish. Danish Mormon immigrants to Utah in the 1850s. A cargo train with 550 Mormon emigrants, mostly Danes, crossed in 1854 America’s prairie and mountains. Larsen’s documentary novel follows Ane-Marie and Niels Pedersen, from leaving their homes at Mariager Fjord until they settle in Spanish Fork, Utah. We experience their journey over the prairie, hear about their meeting with Indians, and cholera outbreaks.  The book’s illustrations are due to William Henry Jackson, who made the journey as described in the novel. Ebbe Larsen has published several documentary/historical novels.

Spencer Ellsworth. Starfire: Shadow Sun Seven. Tor, Nov. 28. Sequel. Shadow Sun Seven continues Spencer Ellsworth’s Starfire trilogy, an action-packed space opera in which the oppressed half-Jorian crosses have risen up to supplant humanity.

Liz Isaacson. A Dash of Love. Hallmark, Dec. 26. Contemporary romance. Novelization of a Hallmark movie.

H. B. Moore. Ruth. Covenant, Dec. 4. Historical/scriptural.

Jennie Hansen (Meridian) 5 stars. “The story follows the basic outline of the biblical version, but Moore explains some of the customs and rules of the Hebrew people of that early time period which strengthens the story and makes sense of some of the characters’ actions. The main characters are strong and appealing. Even the minor characters are easy to see as real people. The story outline is set, but the author’s addition of logical explanations and realistic background information make an old story fresh and new. There’s a simple brilliance to Moore’s writing style that will appeal to teens and adults who enjoy scriptural stories, historical fiction, and those who enjoy a tender, low key love story.”

Mindy (Min Reads and Reviews), 5 stars. “Ruth is another beautiful book written by a talented author. As with every book from this author, the characters are well-developed and their struggles were heartfelt. Ruth was a wonderful character. The author does a great job of showing the reader what a compassionate person she was. I also loved Naomi. I enjoyed the POV switches from Ruth and Boaz. Both character’s journeys were captivating and well written. The author took a story from the Bible and made it her own.”

H. B. Moore. Poetic Justice. Mirror Press, Dec. 12. Futuristic thriller. Originally published as part of the Murder and Mayhem boxed set.

Scarlette Pike. In Spite of Lions. Sweetwater/Cedar Fort, Dec. 12. Historical romance. Set in Victorian-era colonial southern Africa.

Efrain Jorge Rodriguez. The Last Laminate Chief. Self, 2017.  A historial/scriptural novel by a Peruvian author, first published in Spanish as El Ultimo Jefe Inca.

Linda Sillitoe. Owning the Moon. Signature, Dec. 15. Poetry. The final poetry collection by Sillitoe  (1948-2010, she won AML Awards in 1977, 1980, 1981, 1987, 1993), whose deceptively simple verses explore the complex themes of motherhood, ambition, faith, gender, and mortality. She transforms ordinary events into thoughtful, funny, and sharp commentaries on the human condition. A mother painstakingly alters a dress for a beloved daughter, and the “cloth and needle weave her daughter’s dreams.” Later a daughter mourning her father’s death remembers how “something vital vanished.” From warning a friend against growing “spoiled just a bit for ordinary men” to trying  to “fit this time among our dearest and darkest demons” after moving back to Utah, Sillitoe reveals a world “where poems hold such power,” and each stanza carries multiple meanings. Despite, or perhaps in conjunction with, life’s joy and sorrow, Sillitoe’s verses reveal an unconventional spirit determined to transcribe life’s experiences in a manner that is both accessible and extraordinary, ending with a promise to continue “scribbling warranties in the sand./Over time, we lose what we own/ and learn the motions that bring it back—/like this moon, as caught, as wild, as we.”

Obert Skye and Eduardo Viera. Mutant Bunny Island. Harper Collins, Nov. Middle grade humorous fantasy.

PW: A comics-loving boy travels to an island full of bunnies (but completely lacking in junk food) in Skye’s joyfully wacky tale. Ten-year-old Perry Owens loves the Ocean Blasterzoids comics his uncle Zeke sends him, and he tries to model himself after Admiral Uli, a heroic squid who fights evil newts. In reality, Perry is friendless, living with his single father and spending most of his time reading at home. When Zeke sends a note with the latest comic asking for help, Perry packs a suitcase of junk food and flies from Ohio to Bunny Island. After discovering that his uncle has vanished, Perry befriends locals Rain and Juliet, who help him uncover the plot behind his uncle’s disappearance and the greater danger that faces the island. Filled with Admiral Uli’s wisdom and aquatic puns (“When things look dark as ink, always suck it up and get kraken”) and interspersed with comics excerpts drawn by Vieira (not seen by PW), this goofy, mile-a-minute romp is a boatload of fun.

SLJ: Kids who enjoy fast-paced books with unlikely, hyperactive heroes, and outlandish adventures will be amused.

Kirkus: There’s a long, proud history of nonsense books, which includes Lewis Carroll and Dr. Seuss. But this novel makes less sense than most. When Perry goes on vacation to Bunny Island, he packs nothing but junk food. He leaves on the spur of the moment because his uncle has mailed him a two-word distress call. The first word is “HELP.” The second word is “MEL,” and Perry interprets it to mean that his uncle has been kidnapped by intelligent newts. This actually makes sense. Perry and his uncle are fans of a comic book about Adm. Uli, a talking squid, and in the squid language, “mel” means newt. But even people who don’t read comics seem to think Perry’s behavior is normal. His father has no problem sending him across the world by himself, with no notice whatsoever. Juliet Jordan, a girl he meets on the island, does think his story is odd, but it doesn’t bother her much. “Sometimes,” she says, “life is better when you stop trying to make sense.” (Most of the characters are white, though one supporting character is described as “dark-skinned and cool looking.”) The book would have benefited from a few more skeptics. After all, Alice questioned everything she saw in Wonderland. The story is always fast-paced and imaginative, but maybe it’s a little too imaginative. Skeptics may prefer something a bit more grounded.

Children’s Literature: Filled with hilariously weird scenes, author Skye takes readers on a side-splitting adventure to solve the mysterious disappearance of Uncle Zeke and the other residents of Bunny Island. Vieira’s fantastic and memorable illustrations treat readers to the action packed world of the Admiral Uli comics. A cannot miss for any reader that loves to laugh.

Karen Tuft. The Gentleman’s Deception. Covenant, Dec. 1. Regency romance.

Kasie West. Love, Life, and the List. HarperTeen, Dec. 26. YA romance. This is the first in a set of three standalone books with crossover character.

SLJ: “It’s been a tight-knit group of four teens—Abby, Cooper, Rachel, and Justin—for many years. But this summer, Rachel and Justin will be away, and Abby and her handsome best friend Cooper are keeping each other company when they’re not working and volunteering. Abby has a tremendous unrequited crush on Cooper and was rejected romantically last year when she declared her love, but is realizing that hanging out constantly and not wanting to lose him as a friend is increasingly difficult, given her deep feelings. She’s also handling several stressful situations at home: trying to manage her mom’s increasing anxiety while her dad is away serving in the military, and striving to improve her artwork which has been judged as having no heart. Abby decides to create a list of ways to challenge herself and help open her horizons, which should theoretically improve her painting skills. Does she have to distance herself from Cooper in order to move on? The prolific rom-com YA author entertains in this enjoyable, semi-serious contemporary title that is sure to please her many fans. VERDICT Another chaste and appealing title that should circulate heavily among romance fans and reluctant readers, this is just-right for libraries where West’s other work has an audience.”

Reviews of older books

Claire Åkebrand. What Was Left of the Stars (Brett Fuller) 5 stars. “Ho-lee smokes. I know Mother’s Milk by Steenblik is getting a lot of attention on Amazon right now: but Åkebrand’s What Was Left of the Stars is where people should be looking. Her creatures and shadows, celestial bodies and nature sounds; esp. her fluent vowells and quick yet deliberate line turns. Just, delightful. Personal favs include Cain’s Lullaby, The Taxidermist’s Wife, Waking to Crows at Night, Insomnia, Elegy for Tomas Tranströmer, Mug Shot, Arrival in Hades. Also, for those involved either personally or through family and friends with a Mormon faith transition, I found these poems claire-fying ^_^: Faith, Telephone, Night Song, Burning Bush. “a man in despair/will see God everywhere”—what a line!”

Michelle Ashman Bell. Wish Me Love (Jennie Hansen, Meridian) 4 stars. “This story is light and fun. The characters are totally today. The dates are sadly reminiscent of some of those “worst” dates most of us experienced during our own young adult years. The classy hotel and touristy dates in Brazil showed off a side of that modern city not often seen in fiction.”

Julie Berry. The Passion of Dolssa. (Ashleey, Reading For Sanity) 4.5 stars. I am happy to report that I am very happy with my decision for this book. I think it has a lot of great attributes that make it an excellent book club book:

  1. This writing was beautiful and although it was written for a YA Fic audience, it didn’t feel dumbed down or trite like I think some books in this genre teeter on the edge of.
  2. The story was very interesting. It was in-depth and featured many well-developed characters. Although the book is long, it is still a relatively quick read and I didn’t have anyone complain about the length (which will happen if a book happens to be too long to read in a month for some people’s liking). The story was engaging and even had some surprises and twists in it, which was nice.
  3. The book had a hint of magic, but not too much to turn off those people who are really against fantasy. In fact, it was up to the reader to decide whether it was magical realism, magic, or something entirely religious. This made for some great discussion in my book club, especially considering our religious background.
  4. Which brings me to an essential…this made for some great discussion in our book club. We talked longer about this book than we have any other book in a long time. I had a list of questions that I had gathered from various places, but there was also just a lot of discussion and hashing out details. Part of this is, admittedly, because we are an LDS book club (in the sense that we are all LDS, not that we only read LDS literature), and so these types of religious happenings were a very interesting topic for us to delve into. If you are LDS you’ll know what I mean when you read this book—there’s a lot to discuss.
  5. The female characters are really cool. There are some great male characters, too, don’t get me wrong, but this book is based on real-life female mystics that lived during the Middle Ages. The author had done a lot of research into the original journals and first person accounts of miracles that were performed and what happened. I love me some historical fiction, but it’s so fun when it’s based on true historical facts and real people.

I really enjoyed this book. I had planned on reading it myself sometime, but I am so glad that I read it in a book club so that I had other people to discuss it with. I have, in fact, recommended it to other people as well in the hopes that we can discuss it. As a religious person I just found it really fascinating, and also engaging and well-written. I highly recommend it.

D. J. Butler. Witchy Eye. James Wymore. 5 stars. Best historical fantasy I ever read. Butler is smart and he writes intelligent fiction that makes you think. The existence of magic creates an alternate timeline in early America which is in itself a commentary on humanity and diversity. The ensemble of characters expresses amazing depth, but I loved each one as much as the next. This complex system expresses the importance of both the depth of the individual and the breadth of human culture, yet it is fun and engaging to read. Also, I HIGHLY recommend listening to the soundtrack the author made to go with it. It goes perfectly with the feel of the story!

Stephen Carter, editor. Moth and Rust: Mormon Encounters with Death (Andrew Hamilton). When you read “Moth and Rust”, and I say when because I think that everyone with a connection to Mormonism should read “Moth and Rust,” you will discover writings that will make you ponder and think; chapters that will make you chuckle and laugh, and contributions that will make you cry and even weep.  There are 46 chapters in the book so it is impossible to tell you about them all, but I want to highlight my experiences with a few of them . . . . Every essay, poem, story and writing in this book touched me in some way.  They all made me think.  Many challenged my beliefs.  They definitely challenged and made me ponder on my Mormon preconceptions about death.  Do yourself a favor and buy a copy of “Moth and Rust” and see how it makes you think and feel. Just, do yourself a favor and have some tissues nearby.

Michael Hicks. Do Clouds Rest?: Dementiadventures with Mom (Blair Hodges) 5 stars. “Most books about dementia are science or therapy focused. Only a few focus on the relationship between a parent and child. None manage to combine warmth, wit, and sorrow as deftly as Michael Hicks’s “Do Clouds Rest?” If you love someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, I strongly recommend this cathartic, funny, sad, thoughtful book. It made me feel somehow both lonely and less alone. It’s a playful archive of exchanges between mother and son spending time together during her final eight months of life with dementia.”

Sandra Clark Jergensen and Shelah Mastny Miner, editors. Seasons of Change: Stories of Transition from the Writers of Segullah (Karen Austin) 5 stars. This far-ranging collection of personal essays, creative non-fiction, short stories, and poetry depicts a number of transitions that the authors have faced. Most have to do with shifts in faith and family roles, but not exclusively. (Karen writes short summaries/reviews for each selection).

Rachel Hunt Steenblik, Mother’s Milk (Steven Peck) 5 stars. “A fantastic collection in every way. Each poem seems to capture a different dimension of our relationship with Mother in Heaven. I found myself deeply moved by many of these. While the collection is clearly oriented toward woman and draws on the idea of motherhood,I think Men can relate to many of the poems. I came away with a greater sense of love for and appreciation of the divine feminine.”

Tracy McKay. The Burning Point (Steven Peck) 5 stars. “McKay’s powerful memoir is the kind of discourse that I want to replace the heroic Mormon pioneer stories I grew up with. I want to understand the lived reality of modern Saints who have walked through the darkness this world often offers.I want to be inspired by those who have fought to find meaning as they’ve struggled to wend their way in tears of anguish, watching loved ones wrestle with the most destructive demons of our age. This book is amazing in every way from her marvelous voice and writing, to the depth of feeling she achieves as she tries to manage her children in the face of her husband’s drug addiction. Don’t miss this one.”


In December, four plays that had been workshopped were presented in the BYU WDA (Writer-Director-Actor Workshop) Readings.  Shelley Graham and George Nelson team taught the class. The plays included A Brief History of Blogging, by Marianne Hales HardingThe Ice Bear, by Chelsea MortensenLove in Two Ways, by Teagen Clark; and Frontier Prophet, by George Nelson.


Finding God, Davey Morrison and Bianca‘s new short film, screened December 15th in Studio 4C of the CMB building at The University of Texas at Austin.

My Brother the Time Traveler. Jake Van Wagoner, director, writer, actor. Maclain Nelson, writer, actor. Also stars Chris and Lisa Clark, Adam Johnson. Comedy about two brothers, one who thinks he is a time traveler. Dec. 2017 premier.


Dec. 10, 17, 24, 31, Jan. 6

Brandon Sanderson. Oathbringer
PW Hardcover: #8, #12, #20, #21, #23 (6 weeks) 11,994, 12,159, 7782, 8059, 10,705 units, 108,785 total
USA Today: #21, #40, #118, #100, #84 (6 weeks)
NYT Hardcover: #8, #11, x, x, x (3 weeks)
NYT Combined Print and E-book: #10, #14, x, x, x (3 weeks)

Richard Paul Evans. The Noel Diary
PW Hardcover: #16. #16, #19, #23, #24 (7 weeks).  16,627, 9065, ?, 9229, 7846, 7724, 10,080 units. 67,870 total
USA Today: #97, #115, x, x, x (4 weeks)

Christine Feehan. Leopard’s Blood
PW Mass Market: #24, x, x, x, x (5 weeks) 3630 units, 46,573 total

Shannon Hale. Real Friends

PW Children’s Frontlist: x, #24, x, x, x. 3857 units. 74,137 total

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