Category Archives: Reviews

Guest Post: D. J. Butler’s City of the Saints: An Irreantum Review

5.29.14 | | 3 comments

Before Irreantum folded, I’d recruited a few people to write book reviews for what I thought would be the last issue. Among the reviewers was Emily Harris Adams, winner of the 2013 Mormon Lit Blitz. Emily was given the assignment to review D. J. Butler’s City of the Saints, a Mormon steampunk novel that was originally serialized and published through Amazon. After Irreantum‘s no-more-ness became manifest, Emily contacted me and asked what to do with her complimentary (i.e. FREE!) review copy. I told her to keep it and forget about the review. Not wanting the book to go to waste, though, she wrote the review anyway and sent it to me to post on A Motley Vision.

So, in memory of Irreantum, I post Emily’s review…with hope that the journal will find a new beginning sometime soon.

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After reading City of the Saints, I couldn’t quite figure out a succinct way to describe the overarching, grand picture of what I had just mentally ingested. Not until I ran into Dave Butler himself.  When he asked me what I thought of his book, I said,

“It’s history cake, isn’t it?”

And it is. There’s an unabashed reveling in the historical yumminess.

This book isn’t history candy. If you are looking for something enjoyable but without density, a fun read that happens to take place in a historical setting, turn your handcart around because this is not the right place. This story is rich and indulgent but still substantive. In other words: cake.

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Of two minds regarding Smurthwaite’s Road to Bountiful

4.9.14 | | 9 comments

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In this round of Reading the Whitney Finalists, we come to the only author I have read previously. Shortly after my mission—whether a couple months or a couple years, I’m not sure—my youngest brother recommended to me Donald S. Smurthwaite’s Do You Like Me, Julie Sloan? I don’t remember why, exactly, but it was a book he liked and he thought it would meet certain requirements I had and I don’t remember exactly what I thought, but I certainly didn’t hate it like the book I had hated the book I had previously read and for which my brother had offered Julie Sloan as a healing salve.

What I do remember is that Julie Sloan largely rose and fell on the strength of its narrative voice, and the same is true of Road to Bountiful times two. more

Three posts on The House at Rose Creek by Jenny Proctor

4.4.14 | | 4 comments

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In recent years, as a higher percentage of my reading has become decidedly “Mormon,” I have read very little published by Deseret or Covenant. I’m ashamed of my reluctance. In part I’ve been hesitant because although I hear that quality at these houses has grown vastly over the past years, I also once heard wide acclaim for Baptists at Our Barbecue by Robert Farrell Smith. And hoo boy but was that an unfunny disaster. (Sadly, this was before I started blogging every book I read, so I can’t get more specific than that.)

But as recent discussions attest (eg), coming into a genre without knowing its rules can lead to expectations failing to be met and a disappointment which might not be fair to the work under consideration (consider the recent Deseret News review I discussed here).

Why is why the first of these three posts will be: more

In which Theric takes [minor] issue
with a review in the Deseret News

3.26.14 | | 25 comments

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I hope you’ve all seen this delightfully miscontstruing review of Jennifer Quist’s Love Letters of the Angels of Death. Generally, I’m happy to let wrongheadedness do its own thing, but a couple points seem to demand rebuttal and Deseret News hasn’t written back regarding my kind offer to do so in their pages. more

Love Letters of the Angels of Death by Jennifer Quist
your marriage . . . your death . . . you

3.19.14 | | 15 comments

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I was on Amazon reading about this book, no idea it was by a Mormon author, and darn near bought it. Then I remembered there’s a moratorium on Theric buying new books and since I wasn’t up to the free-shipping level I closed the tab before I could get into trouble. Then, later that day, I bounced into an email lounging in my inbox offering a free digital copy to AMV for review. And, now, here we are.

In this review, I’ll be worrying less about a holistic look at the novel (though if that happens , great; if not, just know it’s terrific) and more about looking at the striking artistic choices Quist has made. Or, in other words, we’ll be discussing passages I highlighted during my reading.

But enough about me. more

The Reluctant Blogger: a novel with deep, structural flaws

2.26.14 | | 12 comments

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Before reading on, know two things.

First, from this paragraph on, I will be assuming that you’ve either read The Reluctant Blogger  by Ryan Rapier (ruhPEER) or don’t mind knowing its intimate details prior to picking it up.

Second, this post is not about the nice things I could say about the novel. Some of those things may creep in, but nice things was the purpose of my post over on the AML blog. This post is about the book’s flaws which I think are significant and interesting and worth talking about.

If you can handle that, then let’s move on. more

A Review of L.T. Downing’s Get That Gold

2.16.14 | | 3 comments

Get That Gold is a tale of the LDS Restoration, aimed at middle-grade readers (and for families to read together, according to the author.)

I started this story with some trepidation. I always feel that way about books written by writers in this LDS community. I once read something that Angela Hallstrom wrote about how, as a writer of LDS fiction, she didn’t feel she could be a reviewer of LDS fiction. The two were becoming less compatible for her.

I have determined to be both a writer and a reviewer because I feel that I have a kind of duty, if that makes sense. I love LDS fiction. I actually read it, and I read it growing up. Therefore, I am a legitimate part of the audience, and as a writer, I can provide good feedback and some relevant insights about books I read, mingled with real constructive criticism as someone who works hard at the craft myself.

The problem is, this means sometimes I’ll be reviewing the story  of someone who has reviewed mine. There can be a feeling, in this small community of “tit for tat,” etc, whether people mean that or not. So I’m just going to state up front, right now:  all of you people in this community who are reading my stories? And writing reviews of them? I expect your honesty, and I can handle it. If you did not like something about my story, say so. So that I can improve. If you found dialog disingenuous or forced. If you disliked a character. If you felt my plot fell apart, or my pacing was off. (Mark Penny pointed this out about Lightning Tree, and gave me only three stars because of it. See? I really can handle it.)

Not to say I don’t believe my stories are awesome. I think they are. And those of you who have appreciated and reviewed them, thank you for taking the time to write a review! It really helps motivate us as writers to get feedback not just from our audience but from our peers who are among that audience.

OK. Disclaimers aside. I’m going to say the stuff I’m dreading up front, like ripping off a bandaid.

I enjoyed both Island of the Stone Boy and Get That Gold, but I felt both could have benefited from another round of editing. Not sentence structure or grammar; I think Downing is flawless there. More for story flow, descriptions and dialog. Particularly when description and dialog mixed, I felt jarred a lot. There were some tag echoes, a bit too much description of character movement/action in the middle of dialog, and some of the character descriptions and actions were hard to picture in my head.

OK. I got that out of the way. Moving on:

Get That Gold is eminently worth your time. I loved this story, and I know my kids will love it, and I fully plan on reading it to them as a bedtime story for the next several nights. I was deeply touched by this story. I loved the depiction of Joseph, especially. I was moved to tears at times. I loved the depiction of Emma. I loved Joseph’s family. I can tell that Downing put a great deal of time and effort into her research, and as a reader I trust that. I really enjoyed being transported into the setting and time period of the restoration. Above all, I felt the excitement, the deep and spiritual profundity, of Joseph and his retrieval of the Gold Plates.

There is a slapstick feel about Downing’s fiction at times. Her humor runs to the bad-guys-being-silly-and-getting-hurt sort of thing. While I am not the biggest fan of slapstick, I know this will make my kids laugh a whole lot as I read it to them. As an adult, I probably need to loosen up and enjoy it more, too.

I know that this story has been waiting for a while to be published; that one of the big 3 LDS publishers finally turned it down several years ago because they felt the fiction made light of the sacredness of the Joseph Smith story. I felt the opposite. I felt, after reading this, excited to re-read Joseph Smith History in my scriptures, and the testimony of the witnesses. I felt excited to read the Book of Mormon. I think that this story is a jewel, to be honest. As I read it to my children, I expect it will engage them in the story of the Restoration, and help them to be interested in Joseph Smith as person. I find this to be a vital part of my own testimony and am grateful someone has taken the time to write a story that will help young people see the excitement, the danger, the fun and funny in such an important story.