Books I read with my kids last week

Press Start! Game Over, Super Rabbit Boy! by Thomas Flintham

My kids love video games and were immediately attracted to the graphics of this chapter book. I personally thought it strange to read a video game plot within a book plot. Still, the story is set up well and hooks you into a defeat-the-tyrant adventure plot with ease. In the process, there is a nice character building illustration of grit and pushing through failure. I’m super happy to see that this is a series (currently seven books long) and hope to check out other volumes over the summer to encourage more screen-free time.

Lego Ninjago: Stone Cold by Greg Farshtey and Laurie E. Smith

It is Ninjago and it is a graphic novel. My kids loved it. They begged me to read it twice. I also caught my eight-year-old reading it to her little brother.

Master Wu has to defeat all his old foes with witty and clever tricks while he tries to discover the identity of his antagonist who has released them to attack him again.

Beavers: The Superpower Field Guide by Rachel Poliquin

We had so much fun reading this! I had no idea that Beavers could be so interesting and I’ve been looking for a book like this for my eight-year-old. She loves non-fiction about animals but I wanted something that had more depth to it than those basic information chapter books. I’d love to find more books like this! It was written in a humorous, light-hearted and casual voice that made the information entertaining and a joy to read. We learned so many cool facts about beavers biologically, environmentally, and historically. I think this writer just went onto my insta-read list. There are forthcoming books on Moles and Ostriches this year.

Pokemon Deluxe Essential Handbook

There are some books we read because we love our kids and our kids love Pokemon. We’ve read 8 pages of this 432-page monstrosity every night at bedtime for months. Last weekend we finally finished. Praise be! This, honestly, was mind-numbingly awful. However, my kids loved it and we had more than one night where we joked about which Pokemon we were most like. It was also fun to laugh at or make jokes about clever Pokemon names. I survived. I’m never reading it again and hope it disappears in the bottom of a drawer until tenth grade.

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Turn yourself into a Mormon literature curator for your local community

I’ve discovered the coolest thing ever. The Library Item Request. Seriously.  World changing! Did you know that you can walk into your library and make suggestions as to what books they purchase for your community? Did you know that they will listen to you? I’m living proof. I have personally, as of this moment, curated a collection of Sarah M. Eden novels for my local community.

The first time I made an item request, I felt like I had to convince the library that it was worth their time. I’m a Mormon who lives in Pennsylvania and we’re a rare breed out here. Our library doesn’t stock Mormon authored and themed fiction the way Utah libraries do. That means that my LDS fiction obsession is an expensive habit. I don’t have the budget or the advantage of geographic location to read LDS fiction the way I used to. Deseret Book and Covenant have extremely high e-book prices. I’ll wait over a year for an ebook title to go on sale for $2.99. But this has problems. Not every book goes on sale and the numbers in my bank account are a bitter brick wall.

The library is the happy compromise I’ve found between these two problems. The library purchases the book so the publisher and author get compensated (as they should) for their work. More than they would if I waited for a sale. More than they would if refused to purchase because of price. More than if I had solicited a free copy for review.  I get to read the book and check it out from the library again if I want to reread it. I feel like I help both the publisher and author by extending their reach into a new community and increase their opportunities to introduce themselves to new readers.

I’ll tell the women I visit teach, “Hey, I ordered this awesome book in at the library. It’s a regency published by covenant/Deseret Book. I love it. Check it out and read it.” Running a Relief Society book club is often a common feature of the ward. It is easy to tell them each month if you’ve ordered something new into the library.

So, I am testing this request power. Sure, I “conned” my library into ordering clean, regency romances by an LDS author but everyone loves regencies! Could I really I order a religious/LDS themed novel and have it be approved for purchase? Yes!  I sent a request for Gilda Trillim: Shepherdess of Rats by Steven L. Peck and Ruth by H.B. Moore. I got an email notifying me that the library would purchase both titles and thanking me for my request.

But I’m pondering on the implications of this new found power. What if one member of each ward ordered a single book into their local library once a year? This gives each stake a handful of LDS literature books to read. That’s just one year. By the third year they could have up to 15-20 titles that stake members could choose from. People complain that asking non-member friends and co-workers to read the Book of Mormon is really hard. Well, of course, it is! It’s like asking someone you’ve only been on a first date with to move in with you. It would be far less weird and scary if you asked someone to read a Mormon-themed book that also overlapped with their own interest.

Say, you see a guy reading mystery novels on his lunch break–recommend him something by Sheralyn Pratt, Stephanie Black, Julie Bellon, Clair Poulsen, etc. See if he responds with interest to the Mormon themes in the book. Then maybe you can go all missionary on him, but it never has to become a missionary thing. It could just be a way of making a friend who you’re allowed to be authentically Mormon with. The world is getting more secular and I think it’s important that people are exposed to religious points of view without agendas attached. I think fiction is really fertile ground for people to explore what it looks and feels like to live a religious life without being dragged into a commitment schedule and weekly meetings.
So, pretend your local librarian comes to you and asks what three Mormon titles* you’d select for your local library for both members of your stake and the community at large? Pretend you have no restrictions.** Here’s my three.

  1. House on a Hill by Annette Lyon

I’d chose this book because we recently had a temple built in Philadelphia. There is a higher probability that both members and non-members would pick up the book because they are interested and curious. A reader who wants to know a little more about temples and what they mean to the people that built them would be satisfied. It’s also a clean historical western romance which is on trend right now.

House on a Hill is currently only $1.99 on Amazon Kindle. That’s a great deal.

*What other LDS literature explores what temples mean to us?

     2. Being Sixteen by Ally Condie

Hands down, no other author I’ve read nails what it feels like to be both Mormon and a teen like Ally Condie. It doesn’t have a Mormon title or cover but it would be easy to find on the shelf next to Condie’s other books for teens. I think the success of her national market Matched Trilogy and the fact that her backlist isn’t gigantic would maximize the possibility for discovery on the shelf.

*What other LDS literature explores what it is like to be a teenager in the church today?

 3. Other side of Heaven by John H. Groberg

         This one was super hard. The other thing that many non-members know about us is that we have an all-male priesthood and frequently send out missionaries. I felt like it would be good to cater to that curiosity. I wanted people to have access to what it was like to be male and Mormon. (note: my other two choices are extremely female-centric novels written by women. Guys are valid too.) To have access to both the grief and joy that comes with using priesthood power.   

*What other books explore the struggles of being male in the contemporary Mormon church? What literature do we have that helps people understand the roles of a bishop, stake president, etc? What literature speaks to exercising the power of the priesthood?  

* It occurs to me that books are very much my thing, but maybe books aren’t your thing. Libraries stock DVD’s, CD’s and other media. Feel free to adapt to your preferred format.

** My library only allows books published within the last year to be requested.

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Book Rec of the week: The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe

It has been a long wait for YA fans of Ally Condie but The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe came out in April. It was worth every moment of the wait. I absolutely adored it. Goodness gracious, it is so lovely. So, everything. The prose is elegant without being self-conscious or pretentious. The point-of-view never falters. The info-dumps aren’t even there, seamless, woven into the narrative with an invisible hand. I truly am in awe.

I thought I could only love one person. Call. I thought I could only make one thing. The armor, to kill.

What if there is more.

What if I can make something else.

What if I can love someone again.

The Voyage of Poe Blythe,311

An older City of Ember and more similar to her previous work Atlantia than the Matched trilogy. Voyage is an emotionally haunting story of grief and resilience and has enough mysteries to keep you reading to the very last page.

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An Essay about Anita–

I can sense the eye rolls now. Anita Stansfield is not considered a great literary writer. She’s scoffed at for writing cheesy romance novels. She’s an example, for some people, of all that is wrong with LDS fiction–melodramatic, preachy, bad writing. I’d go far as to say these accusations are not all baseless. I’ve read around 28 of her 72+ published titles. So, basically, all of her early work. It would be entirely believable that her weaknesses have improved over the course of 40 novels. So, take these opinions in that context.

Notwithstanding, Anita’s reputation for writing the type of literature that critics love to hate, I think she is one of the most interesting writers of LDS fiction and her body of work deserves serious study.

She doesn’t write cliche romance novels. She writes controversial ones.

The romance genre is full of so many cliches, tropes, and formulaic plots that it takes work as a writer to avoid them. I think this is honestly where Anita’s brilliance shines.  Her work is full of unconventional and rule-breaking romances. As a person who tried to write an unconventional romance once, let me tell you–it is hard. It’s hard to ignore those voices in your head that whisper that no one is going to believe this, that people will call your story freakish, that you are not doing things the ‘right way.’ Yet, Anita churned these out one after the other like clockwork. The woman either has no concept of fear or has the courage of David walking out to slay Goliath.  

Consider this list:

Mormon stay at home mother has an emotional affair with college sweetheart whom she rejected because he wouldn’t convert to Mormonism.

Interracial marriage

Woman falls in love with man who kidnaps her  

Deals with multiple facets of rape and sexual abuse

Man cheats on his wife and they stay together after they work it out

Pornography and suicide

Adoption and abortion

Fiance paralyzed in accident

Breast cancer and mastectomy

Hero marries sister-in-law after first wife dies from cancer

Several of these topics land on “market will not even consider this” list. You tell me that you can’t write about a topic because of the market and I’d say to you–bet you a hundred bucks Anita could pull it off. Anita is a ballsy risk-taker.

She has a complicated relationship with her audience

Anita has pushed the boundaries of the conservative portion of this market farther than any other author I’ve observed. She had a public falling out with her publisher over the sexual content of her books when she started publishing general audience historical fiction. Her historical characters were moral people but did not have LDS standards, obviously. I find it ironic that this was the straw the broke the proverbial camel’s back because her most provocative piece was an LDS novel titled A Promise of Forever, which has on screen but generally not explicit bedroom scenes between a husband and wife whose marriage has been affected by her breast cancer. The story cannot stand independent of these scenes and so it can technically be categorized as an erotic romance title.  You’d think that would be the book that caused the uproar and the backlash.

Most authors won’t take this treatment. It breaks their creative spirit and destroys their careers. There’s a lot of people that would turn their back on the market. Heck, there are people who’d give up on the entire industry. I’ve watched writers walk away or give up writing altogether for far less. Anita walked away and self-published for a while and then came back. We could write a mountain of negative or pessimistic things about how this reflects the narrow-mindedness of the market.  I’m way more interested in this woman that still has the guts to write despite the fact that she was publicly shamed by her publisher and got hate mail. I’d argue that Anita is an LDS author worth studying because her career intersects with the LDS audience and the market in dynamic and interesting ways.

Longevity and Output   

Anita’s first book was published in 1994 and so she’s been publishing in the LDS market for 24 years and has 72+ titles to her name. While arguing that her career is interesting to study as a whole, it should be conceded that not all of her novels are worth your time.  Some years Stansfield released four titles into the market, a feat for any author in any market. She is prolific but there are novels in her body of work that read like pure filler. They are boring, cliche, and don’t do anything for her career and nothing remarkable for the market in general. If you read too many of her novels you can begin to feel like you’ve been conned into reading a self-help book recommended by your aunt on the sly. At their weakest, her characters become puppets for life advice instead of authentic and genuine actors in their own plots.

But is this failing really that awful? Really, if you’re going to argue that trying to convey psychological concepts in a narrative form is automatically preachy or bad writing then you need to give up on a lot of interesting and informative literature. This is one of the main goals of creative nonfiction and swaths of pictures books. Using the tools of narrative to convey important and complex information that would be indigestible otherwise is a valid form of authorship. We should stop shaming each other for it. I’d argue that Anita’s work is worth serious study to explore the ways that this style of storytelling is successful and the conditions within which it fails.   

Many writers don’t stick in the market long enough to accomplish half of what Stansfield has during her lifetime. Stansfield is one of the most resilient, courageous, and persistent storytellers that we have and that alone makes her worthy of serious consideration.  

New Year New Books!

Start your new year off with a great new book!!





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Now Live!

On Thin Ice and Double Booked are now live on Amazon. I’m so excited to launch this new novelette series set in the small, western town of Ranchette Station. If you’re in the mood for a quick romance fix these titles are a perfect way to squeeze some swoon into your afternoon.


Cover Reveal

I am so excited that after a lot of hard work I can reveal two covers that will launch my new novelette series set in a little western town called Ranchette Station.  Both novelettes should be released around November 18-20 if everything goes as planned.

Why we love underworld stories: Part one–Revealing Character

The vision of Drythemlm I think illustrates one of the key draws of Underworld literature in the classical or Christian tradition. These stories reveal the participant’s true character and often the character of the actors they see punished. In Alderik’s Quest I portray Iritana with the ability to intuitively see a person’s character. She uses this skill to direct the shades she meets to a better end in the story because justice has been supernaturally thwarted. The revealing of character in the underworld is a common trope.

These visionary and underworld stories make us confront the true nature of humanity.  There is no doubt that some of these works were used for overt teaching purposes. Gregory said that these visions were given so that “ when the torments of heaven and hell are shown to men and woman, sometimes it is for their own benefit and sometimes as a witness to others.” He encouraged learning from these vision experiences.

In accounts that showed many sinners and their punishments, the idea was not only to make people think about how they wanted to avoid punishments in hell but also to search their own characters and find where they were lacking. Carol Zaleski Author of Otherworld Journeys   writes, “These traditions see death as a journey whose final goal is the recovery of one’s true nature.” Underworld stories can be seen as a study of character and nature of a man. When Dryhemem exits from his vision he straightaway does what he can to purify himself so that he can return to heaven. He reminds himself almost daily as he dips himself into the cold water about the vision that he saw and the souls lingering there. He immediately changes how he split up his worldly possessions and dedicates his life to service.

The Stephen that was seen by the soldier in Gregory’s account failed to purify himself from all sins and so the devils had some claim on his soul. Though, he did improve so much in other areas that the angels could fight for him. These stories ask the implicit questions are you truly converted to your religion? What faults still remain in your character? What must you do to prepare yourself individually to inherit the kingdom of heaven?

These stories make us question the things we must give up in order to obtain some future glory. This is exactly the tough spot I place Alderik in. He is asked hard questions and forced to make decisions that will affect the outcome of his fate. In stories about the underworld, hard things are seen and hard choices are made. The things accomplished and seen in the underworld affect our destiny and change our course.

These character searches also lead to the idea of preparation. Zaleski also points out that it is “necessary to prepare-morally, spiritually, or imaginatively—if one is to die well.” It is interesting to ask oneself if I were at the point of death what would I worry about? Have I committed great sins? Perhaps this genre was so popular because it instructed people on how to die without regret or “to die well.” It hit at the heart of a universal fear, dying with regrets or things left undone and taught how to prevent such a thing from happening. These are ideas and themes that even we as a modern audience can relate to. Inside each of us is the firm knowledge that we will die. Though we differ much in perspective from our medieval predecessors, we still explore in literature and discussion the ways that we must deal with death and the wise use of time in our lives.