This Month in Mormon Literature, February 2018

Tim Wirkus, the winner of the 2014 Association for Mormon Letters Novel Award, had his second novel, The Infinite Future, published by Penguin Press, and has received very strong reviews. As with his first novel, Mormons and Brazil are central aspects of the story. Tara Westover’s first book, Educated: A Memoir, about growing up in a dysfunctional Mormon survivalist family, has also received strong reviews and significant attention. There are new poetry collections by Heather Harris Bergevin, Lara Candland, and Karen Kelsay, and new YA science fiction novel by Dan Wells. There is a new Spanish-language Mormon literary society and newsletter. Two Mormon literary contests have been announced. The Whitney Awards finalists will be announced later today, and the AML Awards finalists will be announced by the end of February. For suggestions and corrections, please write mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.

Conferences

The schedule for the LDStorymakers Conference, May 3-5, in Provo, has been announced. Shannon Hale will be the keynote speaker. The Finalists for the Whitney Awards will be announced later today.  2500+ nominations were submitted from across the world, 431 books received nominations, and 207 books received the required 5 nominations.

Life, the Universe, & Everything: The Marion K. “Doc” Smith Symposium on Science Fiction and Fantasy will be held Feb. 15-17, at the Provo Marriott Hotel and Convention Center. There will also be a special writing seminar taught by David Farland on Feb. 14.

The Mormons Arts Center Mormon Arts Teaching Conference was held at the University of Utah on January 20. James Goldberg took detailed notes about the conference, check his twitter feed (@JamesGoldberg) on January 20.

Contests

Submissions for The Seventh Annual Mormon Lit Blitz Writing Contest are due by 1 May 2018 to everydaymormonwriter@gmail.com. Submitted works may be in any genre so long as they are under 1,000 words and designed to resonate in some way with an LDS audience. Previously published material and simultaneous submissions are acceptable. Up to three submissions are allowed per entrant.

Segullah announces its 2018 prose, poetry, and fine arts contest. The theme is “Intersections”. The deadline is February 28.

Blog posts and announcements

There is a new Spanish-language Mormon literature newsletter: El Pregonero de Deseret, and a new Mormon literary association: Cofradía de Letras Mormonas. The initial issue of El Pregonero de Deseret contains an editorial explaining the publication’s purpose, an author highlight (Mario R. Montani), a book review (of R. de la Lanza‘s novel Eleusis), a translated excerpt of Orson F. Whitney’s literary battle cry, and a poem (by Elvira Loyola) published in 1970 in the pages of the now defunct Relief Society magazine from Buenos Aires. You can contact Cofradía de Letras Mormonas at cofradiadeletrasmormonas@gmail.com.

A Motley Vision, the first Mormon literature and culture blog, was founded by William Morris in 2004. Morris has announced that A Motley Vision is shifting to become a quarterly newsletter.  “Once a quarter you’ll receive an email from William with mini-reviews, musing, assorted updates and links, Mormon culture recommendations, and occasional appearances by other AMVers. If that doesn’t interest you, there’s also an option to sign up to only be notified when A Motley Vision or Peculiar Pages (or both of us together) publish a new book.”

Matthew Bowman. “Orthodox Mormon stories that Napoleon Dynamite tells to me” (Deseret News). Bowman writes that Napoleon Dynamite’s body issues to discuss the value of “writing things about Mormonism that are not explicitly about Mormonism . . . Odd experimental films might seem not to bear much direct relevance to what Mormons think about when they think about their faith, but, of course, there are Mormons in the world thinking about odd experimental films, about fantasy novels, about the stock market and the state of higher education and the Syrian civil war. In seeking to find the ways Mormonism might speak to these issues, Mormons have the chance to further unpack what Mormonism itself might mean, to burrow past the sterile lines on the page and instead grapple with being Mormon in the world.”

David G. Pace created a KPCW piece on Frank C. Robertson (1890-1969), “the Sage of Springville.” Best known for his memoir of his destitute family’s efforts at homesteading in the Mormon west, Robertson was one of the most famous writers of westerns in his day.

Mackenzie Lee’s The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue was awarded a Stonewall Book Award Honor Award (honorable mention) by the American Library Association. The Stonewall Book Award is given annually to English-language children’s and young adult books of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender experience.

The Young Adult Books Central’s 2017 Awards finalists were announced. Finalists include: Tricia Levenseller, Daughter of the Pirate King (YA Romance and YA Debut), Mackenzi Lee, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue (YA Historical), and Emily R. King, The Hundredth Queen (All the Feels)

Elaine Vickers, Paper Chains is named one of “The Best Kids Books of 2017” by The Children’s Book Review.

Why young adult fiction — and YA authors — thrive in Utah”. Deseret News. James Dashner, Ally Condie, and others talk about the supportive environment of Utah YA publishing.

Mormon Movies: Life of Nephi, 1913. Ardis E. Parshall at Keepapitchinin’ introduces movie stills from a 1913 film Life of Nephi, made in Utah by Shirl and Chester Clawson, with financial backing from the Church. There are no known existing prints of the film.

Brian Whitney recommends books for pastoral care during faith crisis. “I say that if it is the truth you seek, you are better off looking to the creative arts: to literature, to poetry, to music, to theatre. Because this is where you see the truest human expression. This is where human creativity surpasses our limitations and moves us. The truth lies in our potential, not in our failure. Read Dostoyevsky, Kierkegaard, Voltaire, Whitman, Frost, Dickenson, Camus, Thoreau, Angelou, Plath, and Wilde, if it is the truth you seek. For Mormons, add to this list the fiction of Levi Peterson, Steven Peck, and Mette Harrison, the poetry of Rachel Hunt Steenblik and Heather Harris Bergevin, or the plays of Eric Samuelsen and Melissa Leilani Larson. The truth is a celebration of life in all of its glorious tragedy. The truth is our capacity to create meaning. The truth is vulnerability.”

BCC Press has published the French translation Rachel Hunt Steenblik’s Mother’s Milk: Poems in Search of Heavenly Mother, titled Lait maternel : poèmes à la recherche de la Mère Céleste

Podcasts

Heather Harris Bergevin is interviewed by Mormon News Report about her new poetry collection Lawless Women.

James Dashner interview with Mashable podcast about The Maze Runner series and dystopian novels.

Orson Scott Card interview with Antic: The Atari 8-Bit Podcast, about his time writing for Compute! Books in the early 1980s, and his reviews of video games, a time which was the basis for his novel Lost Boys.

Short stories and essays

A(my) Henrie Gillett  “All Light and Darkness” took second place in the Writers of the Future contest in the second quarter of 2017 (34:2).  The story will be published in April 2018 in L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future, volume 34.

Wm Henry Morris. “Ghosts of Salt and SpiritBig Echo.  Short story. Contains Mormonism, Marxism, and science fiction.

Darlene Young. “Systole, DiastoleJMWW. Non-fiction essay.

Annie Wiederhold. “Hyacynth”  Segullah.

Magazines

The Winter 2017 issue of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought is available. It includes Johnny Townsend’s short story “AMEN”, poetry by C Dylan BassettSusan Howe, and Sherilyn Fuhriman Olsen, personal essays by Moana Uluave Hafoka and Megan Conley, the review essay “Mormon Poetry: 2012 to the Present” by Bert Fuller, and In Memoiram essays for Elouise Bell by Michael Fillerup and Doug Thayer by Margaret Blair Young. There is a review of Tom Christofferson‘s memoir That We May Be One by Jerry Argetsinger, a review of Mette Harrison‘s novel The Book of Laman by Laura Hilton Craner Myers, a review of Tracy McKay-Lamb‘s memoir The Burning Point by Mel Luthy Henderson, a review of Luisa Perkins‘ novel Prayers in Bath by Sandra Clark Jergensen, and a review of Steven Peck‘s novel Gilda Trillim: Shephardess of Rats by Shane Peterson.

Also see “On the State of Mormon Book Reviewing–a guest post from Professor Warren G. Harding, Mervin Peake Online University of the Arts and Science”. By Blair Hodges, BCC. A humorous reply to Shane Peterson’s Dialogue review of Steven Peck’s Gilda Trillim.

Leading Edge, vol. 71. Featuring speculative fiction stories by Matthew Vita,‎ Mary Mascari ,‎ E. M. Eastick ,‎ James A. Miller ,‎ Adam Carlson,‎ Ken Poyner ,‎ John Grey ,‎ Zach Valenti ,‎ and Kristen Evans.

New Books and their reviews

James Anderson. Lullaby Road. Crown, Jan. 16. Literary crime.  Novel set in Utah, with Mormon characters, the author is not Mormon. Blurb: Winter has come to Highway 117, a remote road through the Utah desert trafficked only by oddballs, fugitives, and those looking to escape the world. So when local truck driver Ben Jones finds an abandoned, mute Hispanic child at a lonely gas station along his route, far from any semblance of proper civilization, he knows something has gone terribly awry. With the help of his eccentric neighbors, Ben sets out to help the kid and learn the truth. In the process he makes new friends and loses old ones, finds himself in mortal danger, and uncovers buried secrets far more painful than he could have imagined.” Deseret News review. “ There’s power in creating a sympathetic narrator, and Anderson uses this power to make his points about redemption, about suffering, about unlikely beauty and the realities of being both good and bad…Anderson’s prose is quick and sparse, but also building and rich, much like the desert in which he sets his narrative…Anderson offer’s intrigue, suspense, a few good fist fights and some Mormon quips that would give Joseph Smith himself a hearty chuckle.  But it is his underlying thread about the human need to hide and to be found (and sometimes found out) that makes this novel such a pleasant detour from whatever road a reader is traversing.  This book is absolutely worth your time.”

Heather Harris Bergevin. Lawless Women. BCC Press, January. Poetry collection. There are introductions to the collection at By Common Consent and Dawning of a Brighter Day.

Chad, Goodreads. 4 stars. “The book is a selection of poems from an LDS mother, student, and feminist. Some of the poems make you a little uncomfortable. But I think that is a place we as members need to be more often that we allow ourselves. What is that phrase that we throw around at stake conferences and youth meetings? “There is no comfort in your growth zone, and no growth in your comfort zone.”  Each poem deals with a variety of perspectives– from the author’s own experience as a parent, from a fairly tale character, or from a woman in the Bible. These characters tend to be overlooked or forgotten. One of the opening poems deals with Vashti, the wife of the king of Persia in the story of Esther who refused to come to the king when he called. Other characters include Wendy from Peter Pan, Gothel from Rapunzel, and the queen from Snow White. The genre of literature that tells the story from the character traditionally portrayed as a villain is very well done here– think Disney’s Maleficent or the TV series Once Upon a Time. In her introduction, the poet explains her motivation for writing these: “Why is any woman educated in a monastery suddenly suspected of wizardly and seen as dangerous? Why were the stepmothers and queens always evil? Does history originate from and get written about only one gender?”  The poetry is absolutely beautiful. They are written in open form, meaning that there isn’t a set structure of stanzas or rhyming or rhythm schemes. What makes them poetry for me is what is left unwritten, what is open to interpretation, that, like a human being, you can’t expect to know everything about the poem, because it is complex. Some poems require the reader to have some background knowledge (I didn’t know about the La Belle Dame by John Keats, for instance). Many poems wouldn’t make sense if you didn’t read the title first. She also uses several techniques in her poems that I found charming: 1. She uses parentheses to indicate two different words that change the meaning of the line e.g. fair(l)y, unlo(i)ved, and (de)scribe. Germans are really good at this, and do it all the time in book titles and more (Bis(s) zum Abendgrauen is the title of Twilight). 2.  She shoves words together into one word (again, a German thing! I wonder if it’s a coincidence) to make new ones e.g. horrorugliness, sparklingcrisp, editrevisedouble and check. 3. She uses alliteration in lists of words e.g. unpresidented, unprecedented, unpredictable. Just so good!”

Lara Candland. The Lapidary’s Nosegay. University Press of Colorado, January. Poetry collection. A hybrid text using the lexicon of Emily Dickinson. She was the fiction editor at Sunstone in the mid-90s.  Blurb: “The Lapidary’s Nosegay, Lara Candland’s primer of poems, presents to readers a bouquet of resplendent poems that Candland has created, collaged, curated, and reimagined by using the rich floral and gem imagery in the poetry of Emily Dickinson as her primary source material. Dickinson and Candland share linguistic and theological roots in the Bible, nineteenth-century American Protestantism, and a lexicon distinctive to their specific individuarian communities, and this collection of poems draws a serpentine kind of map across nearly two centuries, journeying from Amherst, Massachusetts, to Provo, Utah, from Dickinson’s severe and lush New England to Candland’s own jagged, harsh, and stunning high desert Utah. The Lapidary’s Nosegay explores the ways that both poets have simultaneously challenged and embraced the axiomatic constraints of religion, landscape, and cultural conventions and expectations of each poet’s time and place. Aesthetically, Candland attempts to challenge the hierarchies of the page through linguistic, typographic, and sonic experimentation. The Lapidary’s Nosegay carries Dickinsonian echoes to alliterative and parenthetic excessivities that indicate sound stresses or that pictographically invoke sun, god, ghosts, ecstasy, and the jewels and flowers tumbling throughout Dickinson’s own poems. This collection works at toppling textual hierarchies, systematically jumbling sound, text, meaning, symbol, and context and entering the vein of radical American aesthetics, politics, and culture that have shaped Candland’s life and poetics.” Lara Candland is a poet, musician, singer, and co-founder of and chief-librettist for the Seattle Experimental Opera. Her first book, Alburnum of the Green and Living Tree, was published in 2010, and her performance with Lalage—poetry and live electronic looping and manipulations—appears on the CD Lalage: Live on Sornarchy. Her opera Sunset with Pink Pastoral was a finalist in the Genesis Prizes for New Opera.

Carolyn Twede Frank. Heart of the West. Covenant, Jan. 1. Western historical fiction. Set in 19th century Colorado. Female doctor starts a new life in the West.

Jenni James. Lord Atten Meets his Match. Serenity Brook Press, Jan. 26. Regency romance.

Karen Kelsay. Of Omens that Flitter. Bit Table Publishing, Jan. 15. Poetry. “Karen Kelsay’s third full length book of lyric poetry, Of Omens That Flitter, is a moving collection of new and selected poems, both in form and in free verse, showcasing the musicality, care, and craftsmanship that have become the hallmark of the author’s work. The shifting courses setting the tone in the opening sonnet reappear throughout, and provide the reader with deeply spiritual meditations on the theme of change—from youth to old age, from life to death, from summer to winter, from doubt to belief. The touching poems about her family, her travels, her faith, and her life in California and in England are infused with wisdom and humor, enhanced by an inspired and graceful combination of plainspoken language and striking sensual imagery. Her treatment of light and shadow, for example in “The Courtship Hour” and “Needlepoint in Blue,” is particularly fine. In his search for a definition of pure poetry, scholar of philosophical theology and literature James Matthew Wilson states, “Poetry never appears so powerfully as a gift or revelation as when it finds words for the invisible life of the spirit.” Karen Kelsay has indeed found those words.” ~ Catherine Chandler

Chalon Linton. A Tangled Inheritance. Covenant, Feb. 1. Regency romance. 2nd novel.

Melissa McShane. Champion of the Crown. Night Harbor Publishing, Jan. 30. Epic fantasy. Saga of Willow North #3. The final book in the trilogy.

Kevin L. Nielsen. Colonial Prime: Humanity. Immortal Works, Feb. 6. YA science fiction. Captain Amara Corrin, hero of the late Solar Wars, commands the first colonial fleet. Full of hopeful dreamers looking for a new home, world-weary ex-soldiers, and those just seeking escape, five ships set out from Earth with the hopes of humanity behind them. But Amara soon finds herself with more trouble than she can handle. The Council, Earth’s new governing body, has saddled her with their political rivals, exiling them to a place where they could do them no harm.

Kenneth M. Page. Six Days to Live. Covenant, Jan. 1. Romantic suspense/thriller.  A murderer carjacks and kidnaps a woman as part of a get-away, and her military husband tries to find her. First novel.

Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine. 5 stars. “The characters in this story are strong, convincing people readers will quickly care about. The villain’s tendency to blame others for his own faults and failures is handled particularly well. Spokane and the mountain area around that city are portrayed realistically. The working relationship between the Air Force and civilian law enforcement adds to the story and is handled in a knowledgeable way. Both major settings for the story, the modern city and the rugged back country, enhance the story and provide vivid contrasts. The plot builds to an exciting climax that will satisfy readers. This is the kind of novel that keeps readers turning pages late into the night. It begins with a strong attention getter, then keeps the action building. Readers who enjoy suspense and action will love this one.”

Janci Patterson. A Billion Echoes. Garden Ninja Books, Jan. 17. YA speculative fiction. A Thousand Faces #3.

Jessilyn Stewart Peaslee. Finding Beauty in the Beast. Cedar Fort/Sweetwater, Jan. 12. Speculative/fairy tale romance. From the same universe as her earlier novel Ella.

Elizabeth, Reading for Sanity, 4 stars. “Despite the predictability of the story, I really loved this book. It was so sweet. The characters were real to me — they had flaws and failures, they grew and they had purpose. The story, while definitely light reading, was exactly what my brain needed during the stress of starting a new and scary job. Additionally, the lighter fare of the storyline allowed me to develop a better connection with the characters, because I wasn’t so consumed with trying to figure out a convoluted storyline. I really enjoy this series, and hope this isn’t the last one in it. I want to visit these characters again. I want to see their growth, get to know their children, and see how they stay connected.  Again, if you’re looking for a good series to direct a teenage girl to, this is a good one. These are the qualities I’d like my daughter to grow into.”  Deseret News review.

Kathi Oram Peterson. A Familiar Fear. Covenant, Feb. 1. Suspense.

Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine. 5 stars. “The reader can readily relate to the emotions Riley and Matthew experience; taking a life, losing someone they love, the danger their children are in, trust issues, guilt for not being able to protect someone they love, and fear of making a wrong choice. Riley has the additional problems of losing her faith in God and after having been apart from her son for an extended time they have parent/child issues to resolve. The setting which extends from the Puget Sound through several western states reveals the author’s familiarity with the West and with law enforcement. The plot arc begins in a strong way with the first sentence, introduces the overall mystery/suspense element of the story, then continues to build to several small, but important resolutions, then continues at a fast pace to the denouement. This is a great pick for mystery/suspense readers.”

Shawn Pollock. The Road to Freedom. Cedar Fort/Bonneville, Dec. 12, 2017. Historical fiction. Debut novel. “World War II is ending, but for German Captain Meier, the fight for his life has only begun. Stranded behind enemy Russian lines and tormented by his past, his only ally is a young private who practices a strange American religion. As they travel through treacherous Germany, the two quickly realize they will have to trust in a merciful God to have any chance of escaping a deadly fate.” Jennie Hansen, 5 stars.

Melinda Sue Sanchez. The Fisherman’s Daughter. Covenant, Jan. 1. Historical romance. Set in Sicily, before and during World War II.

Anita Stansfield. The Stars Above Northumberland. Covenant, Feb. 1. Regency romance.

Dan Wells. Active Memory. Balzer + Bray, February 13. YA science fiction/noir. Mirador #3. Final book of the series. Blurb:For all the mysteries teen hacker Marisa Carneseca has solved, there has been one that has always eluded her: the truth behind the car accident in which she lost her arm and a mob boss’ wife, Zenaida de Maldonado, lost her life. Even in a world where technology exists to connect everyone’s mind to one another, it would seem that some secrets can still remain hidden. Those secrets rise violently to the surface, however, when Zenaida de Maldonado’s freshly severed hand shows up at the scene of a gangland shooting. If Zenaida is—or was—still alive, it means there’s even more about Marisa’s past that she doesn’t know. And when she and her friends start digging, they uncover a conspiracy that runs from the slums of Los Angeles to the very top of the world’s most powerful genetic engineering firm. If Mari wants the truth, she’s going to have to go through genetically enhanced agents, irritatingly attractive mob scions, and some bad relationships to get it.

Tara Westover. Educated: A Memoir. Random House, Feb. 20. Memoir of being raised in a radically survivalist, dysfunctional Mormon family in Idaho. First book. Blurb: “An unforgettable memoir about a young girl who, kept out of school, leaves her survivalist family and goes on to earn a PhD from Cambridge University. Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills bag.” In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father’s junkyard. Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent. Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home. Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty, and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes, and the will to change it.”  One of The New York Times Book Review’s Must-Know Literary Events of 2018.  BBC’s Books Look Ahead 2018.

A long feature story about her from The Times (London). She transitioned into being a mainstream Mormon while at BYU, and then left Mormonism during her time in Britain.

PW (Starred Review): “A girl claws her way out of a claustrophobic, violent fundamentalist family into an elite academic career in this searing debut memoir. Westover recounts her upbringing with six siblings on an Idaho farm dominated by her father Gene (a pseudonym), a devout Mormon with a paranoid streak who tried to live off the grid, kept four children (including the author) out of school, refused to countenance doctors (Westover’s mother, Faye, was an unlicensed midwife who sold homeopathic medicines), and stockpiled supplies and guns for the end-time. Westover was forced to work from the age of 11 in Gene’s scrap and construction businesses under incredibly dangerous conditions; the grisly narrative includes lost fingers, several cases of severe brain trauma, and two horrible burns that Faye treated with herbal remedies. Thickening the dysfunction was the author’s bullying brother, who physically brutalized her for wearing makeup and other immodest behaviors. When she finally escaped the toxic atmosphere of dogma, suspicion, and patriarchy to attend college and then grad school at Cambridge, her identity crisis precipitated a heartbreaking rupture. Westover’s vivid prose makes this saga of the pressures of conformity and self-assertion that warp a family seem both terrifying and ordinary.”

Financial Times. “Educated is the story of a transformation so courageous, so entire, as to beggar belief . . . Westover opts for a traditional narrative structure for Educated, and in this case it’s the better for it: formal high jinks might have risked undermining the sense of hard-won truthfulness that’s so central to the book’s undertaking. In the end, Westover’s triumph in forging a grounded self, and a coherent narrative, from such a maelstrom, come to the same thing: for it is in the often complex and sometimes long-delayed act of assembling the story of our lives that we discover who we really are.”

Kirkus: “A recent Cambridge University doctorate debuts with a wrenching account of her childhood and youth in a strict Mormon family in a remote region of Idaho. It’s difficult to imagine a young woman who, in her teens, hadn’t heard of the World Trade Center, the Holocaust, and virtually everything having to do with arts and popular culture. But so it was, as Westover chronicles here in fairly chronological fashion . . . We learn about a third of the way through the book that she kept journals, but she is a bit vague about a few things. How, for example, did her family pay for the professional medical treatment of severe injuries that several of them experienced? And—with some justification—she is quick to praise herself and to quote the praise of others. An astonishing account of deprivation, confusion, survival, and success.”

Library Journal: “Explicit descriptions of abuse can make for difficult reading, but for a student who started from a point of near illiteracy, Westover’s writing is lyrical and literary in style. With no real comparison memoir, this joins the small number of Mormon exposés of recent years.”

Jeff Wheeler. Kingfountain: The Poisoner’s Enemy. Amberlin, Jan. 9. YA fantasy. Kingfountain #0. Prequel.

Becca Wilhite. Check Me Out. Shadow Mountain, Feb. 6. Contemporary romance. Blurb: “Greta loves her job as assistant librarian. She loves her best friend, Will, the high school civics teacher and debate coach. She even loves her mother despite her obvious disappointment that Greta is still single. Then she meets Mac in the poetry section of the library, and she is smitten. Mac is heart-stoppingly gorgeous and showers her with affection, poetic text messages, and free hot chocolate at the local café where he works. The only problem is that he seems to be a different person in his texts than in his face-to-face conversation. When the library is threatened with closure, Greta leaps into action. She arranges for a “battle of the bands” book jam, hosts a book signing by a famous author, and finally, stages a protest that raises more than a few eyebrows. Through it all, she slowly realizes that it is Will, not Mac, who she turns to for support and encouragement. Mac has the looks; Will has the heart. How can she choose between them? A contemporary romance with just a hint of Cyrano de Bergerac.”

PW: “It’s difficult to say who would enjoy this contemporary romance, since the thin, white 20-somethings at its heart are depicted as shallow and self-absorbed, and everyone who’s fatter, browner, or older is made the target of the heroine’s casual cruelty and obliviousness. Greta is an assistant in the quaint Victorian library of Franklin, Ohio. She’s perkily unkind to everyone, including her “best friend,” Will, who is “huge in the way that nobody really wants to be.” Her narrative is Cyrano de Bergerac from the woman’s perspective, told entirely without irony. Will claims to love Greta, but promotes her to his gorgeous cousin Mac because she has “the package” of brains and beauty that Mac wants; Greta reads the cheesy pick-up lines printed on Mac’s T-shirts as love letters aimed uniquely at her; and Mac has no apparent reason other than narcissism to engage in this nonsense. As these three use one another romantically, Greta nominates herself to singlehandedly save the library from the stinginess of the city’s voters, assuming she can take time away from griping about her obsessively matchmaking mother, the longtime senior librarians, the wheelchair users who dare to want an accessible library, and Indian food. She dismisses the humanity of everyone around her—and she’s rewarded abundantly for it. The reader, however, is not.”

Foreward: “Clean contemporary romance, a modern librarian’s update on Cyrano…It’s quirky and fun, light and comfortable.  A whimsical work, with a style of dialogue that feels believable and genuine. Casual banter keeps the tone delightful, with pleasing turns into comical dialogue. Passages have a unique format that includes text messages between characters, grounding the narrative’s charming ambiance.  A convivial romance that holds closely to its underlying thesis; it’s what is on the inside that matters the most.”

Booklist: “Wilhite’s sweet contemporary romance is a charmer for readers who enjoy witty banter and a breezy writing style similar to romance-authors Mary Kay Andrews and Donna Kauffman.”

Tim Wirkus. The Infinite Future. Penguin Press, Jan. 16. Literary mystery novel. Blurb: “A mindbending novel that melds two page-turning tales in one. In the first, we meet three broken people, joined by an obsession with a forgotten Brazilian science-fiction author named Salgado-MacKenzie. There’s Danny, a writer who’s been scammed by a shady literary award committee; Sergio, journalist turned sub-librarian in São Paulo; and Harriet, an excommunicated Mormon historian in Salt Lake City, who years ago corresponded with the reclusive Brazilian writer. The motley trio sets off to discover his identity, and whether his fabled masterpiece–never published–actually exists. Did his inquiries into the true nature of the universe yield something so enormous that his mind was blown for good? In the second half, Wirkus gives us the lost masterpiece itself–the actual text of The Infinite Future, Salgado-MacKenzie’s wonderfully weird magnum opus. The two stories merge in surprising and profound ways. Part science-fiction, part academic satire, and part book-lover’s quest, this wholly original novel captures the heady way that stories inform and mirror our lives.”

Wirkus is interviewed about the book at the author podcast Otherppl with Brad Listi.  Skip the first few minutes, where the podcaster talks about his employment situation. Wirkus talks a lot about his background, and how Mormon ideas fit into the novel. Also, there is an interview with Wirkus by Gabriel González on this blog.

Publishers Weekly: “Wirkus’s second novel features an obscure science fiction writer whose stories chronicling the exploits of a space captain inspire an aspiring novelist, a Brazilian librarian, and a feminist historian to seek out the author. The action begins when Salt Lake City lawyer Danny Laszlo, one of Wirkus’s former BYU classmates, gives Wirkus a two-part manuscript. The first part of that manuscript is Danny’s account of how, while in São Paulo, he is introduced by librarian Sérgio Antunes to Eduard Salgado-MacKenzie’s stories about 23rd-century spaceship Capt. Irena Sertôrian. Like Sérgio, Danny is soon enthralled by Salgado-MacKenzie’s fiction. Joining forces with fellow enthusiast, historian Harriet Kimball, they track down the pseudonymous Salgado-MacKenzie at a remote Idaho hideaway. The second part of Danny’s manuscript is part of Salgado-MacKenzie’s unfinished last work, The Infinite Future, described in a book proposal as offering unparalleled majesty and insight. Themes of enlightenment and transgression, authority and dissent, and intellect and obsession pervade the many narratives within narratives. Wirkus can be inventive or derivative, a skilled storyteller who introduces more elements than he can connect, posing more questions than any earthly being could answer.”

Kirkus review: “A struggling American writer, a Brazilian librarian, and a Mormon historian come together in a dubious mission to unearth a long-lost science-fiction masterpiece. Wirkus delved into the lives of Mormon missionaries in his debut novel and here makes a science fictional play at The Book of Mormon with a lightly comical meditation on the search for meaning in literature. It begins in a very meta fashion as “Tim Wirkus” meets Danny Laszlo, an old Brigham Young University creative-writing classmate, who presses upon the author his translation of a story by an obscure Brazilian science-fiction writer. Sad-sack Danny picks up the narration, relating how he ended up in Sao Paolo on a deceitful writing scholarship from the Coalition of Aggrieved Christians, who want him to write a book about Mormon missionaries in Brazil. But a more intriguing mystery presents itself when Danny’s library liaison, Sérgio Antunes, gives him several stories by Eduard Salgado-MacKenzie, a long-forgotten sci-fi novelist whose most famous work was to be titled The Infinite Future. They find this description, written in his own hand: “Strictly speaking, THE INFINITE FUTURE is not a novel. It is, instead, a prose-poem epic that discerns in the imagined empires of the future the germ of humanity’s eventual henosis—its sublime and terrible union with the infinite future. It is, in other words, a prophetic text on a par with the Holy Bible or the I Ching.” (Spoiler alert: it is not.) Next we get a prolonged road trip during which Danny and Sergio connect with Dr. Harriet Kimball, a disgruntled Mormon historian, to track down the mysterious author in the wilds of Idaho. The revelation that follows is a surprise by itself, but then Wirkus offers more than 150 pages of The Infinite Future, a pulpy yet literary nugget that reads like a cross between Flash Gordon and The Seventh Seal. An experimental, deeply meta novel about the search for meaning and the disappointments of reality.”

Booklist review (starred). “Wirkus’ latest novel is stupendously inventive and rewarding. In a narrative approach similar to that of Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves (2000) or Michael Chabon’s Moonglow . . . The second half of Wirkus’ tale is the lost novel itself, a sci-fi epic which echoes Battlestar Galactica and the fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin in equal measure. Wirkus’ complex novel has a Russian-doll structure, with stories within stories, yet despite all the layers and the fact that it is, essentially, two novels set side by side, it is somehow never confusing or messy. Especially well suited for fans of Jonathan Lethem and Ron Currie, this work announces Wirkus as one of the most exciting novelists of his generation.”

Shelf Awareness. “In an ambitious second novel that combines literary and speculative fiction, Tim Wirkus rolls a host of wildly disparate stories into one structured yet trippy whole . . . To call Wirkus’s opus labyrinthine perhaps conveys its scope and intricacy. Unlike a true labyrinth, however, The Infinite Future contains blind alleys that may not contribute to forward momentum, although they always provide a thought-provoking diversion. Wirkus swings wide, presenting an obsessive quest, a road trip story, a two-sided look at Mormonism and faith itself, a mystery and, finally, The Infinite Future, the lost novel. With more layers than Damascene steel, the end result shouldn’t work but, against all odds, it does. As Wirkus the character muses, “any story that creates a more potent and delightful version of itself in the reader’s memory” has pulled off a magical metamorphosis, and Wirkus the author has given us just such a story.”

Paul Di Filippo, Locus. “This is Wirkus’s second novel, after City of Brick and Shadow, which earned comparisons to both Motherless Brooklyn and The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, so we have a sense at the outset that he is going to fit right into our slipstream-genre fold, and indeed he does, exhibiting a lot of savvy about SF. Wirkus’s book is, on many levels, a science-fictional version of Nabokov’s Pale Fire: a supposed lost text serves as the platform for a commentary, and the juxtaposition reveals more about original author and commentator than is obvious from the separate surfaces. But The Infinite Future is not as arcane or as rococo as the Nabokov novel, and while it presents many multivalent, perhaps ultimately unresolvable enigmas, it is eminently readable as a straightforward, engaging mystery quest. Additionally, it offers great insights into the whole business of what science fiction novels can do and what motivates writers to tackle this genre.  . . . The plot level of the story, the actual realtime quest for Salgado-MacKenzie’s identity, is enthralling, surprising, and satisfying. But after enjoying that dimension of the tale, we still have to consider the equally important aspect of what the book wants to tell us about science fiction itself. The core of the presentation of Eduard Salgado-MacKenzie is that he is, basically, Kilgore Trout. A genius hack with brilliant ideas too big for his skills. Wirkus illustrates this in the first half by giving us several totally convincing synopses of Salgado-MacKenzie’s short stories, as well as their highly plausible publication history. He makes us believe that Antunes and Laszlo would have genuine sincere reasons to fall in love with the cultish work. And of course, the entire second half of the book–which reminds me variously of the best-selling Saga comicbook franchise, Jodorowsky’s assorted futures, and Dune–also performs the same function quite well. Probably not since Steve Aylett’s Lint has an author pulled off such a good imitation of a bad writer with redeeming qualities. But the book also plumbs deeply into what would motivate someone–anyone–to pursue such mind-croggling speculative work, undeniably much more demanding than mere mimetic fiction, in the face of scorn, ignorance and poverty . . . Truly astonishing on several levels, The Infinite Future proves that when the obsessive passions of readers and writers align, cosmic balances can be shifted.”

Becca Ogden, Exponent II. “In The Infinite Future, as with his first book, Wirkus ultimately settles on a thesis about such questions. That is, the discovery of truth is often secondary to the search itself. In fact, the payoff of resolution hardly seems to matter when the reader becomes entangled with the book’s many questions. If you’re like me, you’ll enjoy the neat comparison that arises between fiction (in this case, pulpy science fiction) and religion, an exercise that begs the question of whether something needs to be factually true for it to create meaning in our lives. The book also contends with existential imaginings of the afterlife. Indeed, this seems to be a major theme in The Infinite Future as well: is the prospect of eternal life (especially the Mormon version) more beautiful or terrifying for those of us still living? . . . In the end, readers will relish in the chance to dance around sticky philosophical questions raised by The Infinite Future, and both men and women will enjoy seeing relatable representations of themselves on the page. Anyone who’s interested in untangling literary puzzles will have plenty to chew on, though these additions will not distract readers who just show up for the plot. The Infinite Future is richly layered, funny, and mind bending in its own right. Though the narrative structure of the book is somewhat unconventional, keen readers will appreciate its depth and craftsmanship, as well as its engrossing storyline. If you read one work of fiction this month, make it The Infinite Future.”

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Like a box of Cracker Jack, Tim Wirkus’ novel “The Infinite Future,” comes with a surprise inside. Whether it’s a good surprise depends largely on how you feel about literary Cracker Jack. Those who read for both pleasure and technical merit will have the most fun with the treasures buried in this meta-fictional adventure . . .  There’s a lot to unpack in “The Infinite Future,” but the bursting-at-the-seams story will brighten up the late winter months for its target audience. This includes everyone who’s been obsessed with a writer, wrestled with their childhood faith, or written for scholarly publication. If that’s you, make room on your “to read” list and prepare to laugh or cry. Maybe even both.”

Alfred Woollacott III. The Believers In The Crucible Nauvoo. Self, Sept. 2017. Second in a trilogy about Woollacott’s ancestors. Novelization of the life of Naamah Carter, who joined the Church, married in Nauvoo, was widowed, and became a plural wife of Brigham Young.

Reviews of older books

Stephen Carter, editor. Moth and Rust (Bert Fuller, Artists of Utah/15 Bytes). “We shall always honor Sam Brown for his book on Mormonism and death, In Heaven As It Is On Earth, but Moth & Rust, for most people anyway, will be easier to love. Carter deserves our gratitude, as do the other 45 contributors—a logistical feat. Death won’t give up, and it’s tempting to grow hardened or ironic toward it, but when people die, we need to feel it. And this collection helps with exactly that.”

McKelle George. Speak Easy, Speak Love (Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books)  “Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing bears up uncannily well in this richly imagined and well-researched relocation into a 1920s Prohibition setting . . . With all the principal characters accounted for and most of the twists, betrayals, and misunderstandings faithfully rendered, George doesn’t forget that this is a YA adaptation; the ending features characters moving on, some together, some not, rather than marrying. The novel works as well as a standalone as it does as an adaptation, with readers fully immersed in the excitement, glamour, and danger of a culture tipping into rebellion and making way for change in more ways than one. Author’s notes and a bibliography provide additional context for the liberties taken with the actual history, but their effect is to more pointedly highlight the clever fidelity of the retelling.”

Merrijane Rice. Messages on the Water (Steven Peck) 5 stars. “There is so much to love about these poems. They reflect a longing for engagement with the deeper resonances life offers– acknowledging faith but offering subtle questions about life’s problems and doubts. In many of the poems she seems to be probing God for explanations about why things are the way they are, and where she fits. Throughout the book, I sensed deep gratitude for gifts that are proffered her from the light that playfully skirts the edges of nearly every poem. Technically, my favorites were the sonnets, which are abundant in the book. However, emotionally I loved her section entitled “Nature” best. My favorite poems in the collection were ‘Ghosts,’ and the Villanelle ‘Sunsets Missed.’”

Brandon Sanderson, Oathbringer. (Wm Morris) 4 stars. “Weirder, more female, more diverse in general, a bit darker and more human, and better paced. Sanderson is a bit of a competent grinder when it comes to his writing, but he’s actually getting better, and this novel actually pays off all the ground (some of it a slog) covered in the previous two books. I’m not sure where he goes from here with the series (or if he can sustain this for two more novels [let alone novels 5-10]), but I went into this thinking this would be a last hurrah for me as a reader of this series, and now I think I’ll give the next one a chance.”

Obert Skye. Mutant Bunny Island (Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books). “The plot’s careful balance between real and fantastical (it turns out souped-up carrot juice is transforming human residents into adorable rabbits) keeps the tension present but still light hearted, and the comically exaggerated take on tourist culture provides a bit of satire as well. Readers who like their mysteries wacky and weird will find Perry’s jaunt to Bunny Island just the ticket.”

Diane Stringam Tolley. A House Divided (Jennie Hansen, Meridian Magazine) 5 stars. This fascinating story continues the story begun in Daughter of Ishmael and will be greatly enjoyed by readers who enjoy action novels, scripturally based stories, or family drama. It brings out the heartache and loss that comes when close family members choose to leave the church or place personal pride and gain above family welfare. Those familiar with the story in the Book of Mormon will recognize that beyond the basic outline, A House Divided is a product of the author’s imagination. Yet it highlights to a greater degree than the scriptural account the close relationship of the various characters who are all siblings, inlaws, cousins, and grandchildren, making their story touchingly poignant. The author does an excellent job of gleaning the personalities of the major players from the scriptures and building on those characteristics to create strong, believable characters. The only character I question is the wolf. I’m not sure a wolf could be as domesticated and live as closely with humans as that one does. The setting and daily tasks of the characters feel realistic. Overall the story is enjoyable and brings fresh introspection to the power of faith and invites renewal of our familiarity with the book that is the bedrock of the “Mormon” church.”

Film

Believer. Directed by Don Argot, staring and executive produced by Dan Reynolds. Documentary. Follows Imagine Dragons lead singer Dan Reynolds as he tries to reconcile his deep Mormon faith with the church’s policies against the LGTBQ community, and creates the “Love Loud” music event. Music by Hans Zimmer. Played at Sundance in January, will be shown on HBO in the summer. KUER Radio West interview with Reynolds and Argot.

The Death Cure. Dystopian feature film, released Jan. 26. An adaptation of James Dashner’s novel, the third in the Maze Runner series. 45% rating at Rotten Tomatoes.

Theater

Tony Kushner. Angels in America: Millennium Approaches (part 1). An Other Theater Company, Provo Towne Centere, Provo, Feb. 9-Mar. 3. Kacey Spadafora, director. A staged reading of “Angels in America: Perestroika,” the second part of the production, will be held March 9-10 at 7 p.m.  Daily Herald feature story.

Bestsellers

Jan. 14, 21, 28, Feb. 4, 11, 18

Christine Feehan. Judgement Road

USA Today: x, x, x, x, #3, #25 (2 weeks)

PW Mass Market: x, x, x, x, #1, #3 (2 weeks). 23,085, 12,108 units. 35,103 total.

New York Times Combined Print and Ebook Fiction: x, x, x, x, #1, #14 (2 weeks)

RaeAnne Thayne. The Pines of Winder Ranch: A Cold Creek Homecoming\A Cold Creek Reunion

PW Mass Market: #9, #12, #13, #17, x (4 weeks). 5652, 5251, 5207, 4287 units. 5652 + 14,745. (restarted numbers with the new year)

RaeAnne Thayne. The Valentine Two-Step

USA Today: x, x, x, x, x, #86 (1 week)

PW Mass Market: x, x, x, x, x, #9 (1 week). 8012 units.

James Dashner. The Fever Code (The Maze Runner Series)

PW Children’s Frontline: #23, #24, x, x, x, #25 (6 weeks). 3066, 1733, 2173 units. 8918 total.

NY Times Children’s Series: x, #10, x, x, #7, #7 (195 weeks)

Brandon Sanderson. Oathbringer
USA Today: #84, x, x, x, x (7 weeks)

Ali Cross. Minnie Kim: Vampire Girl. In the box set Sigils and Spells

USA Today: x, #122, x, x, x (1 week)

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