Review: A Few Good Mormon Novels

So there’s several Mormon novels I read that I kept meaning to review, but never got around to it. They were there in the back of my head, screaming at me, “Tell the world about us!” I looked compassionately at those great works of art and said, “Okay, I have a duty to you for making my life that much better. Okay.” So these are going to be fast and dirty, but they’ll be better than the guilty silence that has waited impatiently the past several years. So here’s a handful of some of the best Mormon Literature that I have come across the last several years:


by P.G. Karamasines

Written by AMV’s very own Patricia Karasamines, this novel still has left a very vivid impression on me, despite the fact that it’s been probably six or seven years since I read it. It’s the story of Alex McKelvey, a Mormon convert who participates in a BYU sponsored archaeology dig in Southern Utah. Alex is a English/folklore student at the Y and a naturalist, so although she isn’t actually studying archaeology, her interest in the Southwest and the myths and culture of the Native Americans makes her interest in participating in the dig more than believable. At the dig, a disappearance and possible murder occurs, which leads us into an intriguing plot involving the possible involvement of mythological figures, culture clashes, and a tight, interesting thriller plot.

The characters in the novel were well drawn and intriguing, especially Alex (and, interestingly enough, her Siberian husky Kit), as well as the portrayal of the Native American mythological figure Coyote. Character driven in a magical realism setting, this was an achingly beautiful novel, despite masquerading as a thriller. The evocative language Karamesines uses, especially when describing Southern Utah’s emotional beauty or  using her archetypal brush to paint new visions on Native American mythology. Being a lover of mythology, cultural exchange, and poetic prose, this book was right up my alley. Beautifully written, intelligently plotted, and deeply satisfying, I would heartily recommend The Pictograph Murders to nearly anyone.

Continue reading “Review: A Few Good Mormon Novels”

On being unsure what to say


Note for those wondering when my next Bright Angels & Familiars post will be: not until the Mormon Lit Blitz has ended. Let’s all head over now and get caught up!


For Christmas, I gave my mother a copy of Bound on Earth and my father a copy of On the Road to Heaven (the links are to my personal reviews of those books as written when I first read them). I had intended to write inside them why I was giving them these books (I matched them carefully, book to parent), but I never got around to it, so they were simply wrapped and handed over at my brother’s house and we never even spoke about them.

Then, at the bottom of a Valentine’s Day package of keychain dogs that say I ruff you woof woof! when you squeeze them, was the still pristine copy of On the Road to Heaven with a Post-it in my mother’s handwriting telling me this book was not for them and I could have it back thanks all the same. Continue reading “On being unsure what to say”

Why my not liking “Blood Work” means you should buy Dispensation


If you know anything about Angela Hallstrom, you should know that she is a person of taste and a keen parser of literariness.

And if you followed my Twitter reviews of her new short story collection (archived here–scroll up for the key), then you know that I did not feel equally positive about every story she collected. In fact, some I didn’t really care for at all. But not liking a story in a collection–or even several stories–is a far cry from disliking a collection.

Let me explain. Continue reading “Why my not liking “Blood Work” means you should buy Dispensation”

Why this book? (a question about Coke Newell’s On the Road to Heaven)

I try to avoid reading with an agenda. I try to let my mind be open to the words and their flow, let them wash over me and sweep me away to new perspectives, ideas, and feelings. Some books feel like a babbling brook–lots of chatter but no real pull. Others feel like a hurricane– the prose buffets me with overwhelming force that leaves mental and emotional devastation in its wake. (By the way, my prayers are with those in the South right now. God bless you all.) No matter what the force or style though, I try to be open when it comes to reading. I try to jump in with both feet. But with Coke Newell’s On the Road to Heaven I was unable to do that. A question kept my mind bobbing around: why this book?

There was a lot of buzz about On the Road to Heaven when it first came out. And then again when it won both the AML award and Whitney award for novel of the year. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t shake my questions: What was it about Newell’s autobiographical novel that so many people liked? How did he please both the literary/academic crowd (as the AML is perceived to be) and the mainstream fiction crowd (as the Whitney’s are perceived to be)? Or in other words, why this book?

My question made me fairly skeptical as I thumbed through the first few pages. So did his strange choice of genre (What is an “autobiographical novel” anyway? Aren’t a lot of novels autobiographical? How was this supposed to be any different? [This wikipedia entry helped with those questions.]). And, I don’t know if I should admit this out loud but, I’m not a Kerouac fan. I’ve never actually finished one of his books. They just seem so contrived. And if this book was an homage to those books then I was not sure how I was going to get through it. Continue reading “Why this book? (a question about Coke Newell’s On the Road to Heaven)”

Coke Newell on his autobiographical novel ‘On the Road to Heaven’

By now most AMV readers have heard of Coke Newell’s “On the Road to Heaven.” Reviews and news releases are good, but I’m pleased to post something that may convince you to give it a try — an essay on the novel by the author. Newell is a former PR flack so the thing has some salesmanship going on, but I liked it because it captures much of the humor and tone and uniqueness of the work itself. “On the Road to Heaven” is available, of course, from Zarahemla Books.

A Bohemian Rhapsody from the New Mormon Trail: Some thoughts on “On the Road to Heaven”

by Coke Newell

This is a love story, about a girl and a guy and their search for heaven. The guy is me, and the story is mine. The risks of telling it are great.

You see, where I go with this story is right into the middle of the modern Mormon experience, the intimate realities of a journey into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, one of the world’s fastest growing and most morally conservative faiths. But the course the story follows will surely make a number of people nervous, for I am a convert to the faith and this is a story of change.

You have to understand that most stories that end up on purpose in Salt Lake City, Utah–world headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–have been stories written by insiders for insiders; stories that started somewhere out in the bad, bad world, where a perpetual path of full-blown faith and honorable enterprise led men and women of perfect virtue to sacrifice home and homeland, status and stability, family and friends in their striving to live worthy of the Kingdom of God.

Well, mine’s kind of like that, except that it starts out in a canvas tipi and wanders through the Panama Red realities of the Colorado hippie heyday and the wooded wonders of Yasgur’s farm on its way to faith and faithfulness. This is not the kind of story that will be found in great quantity in the public annals of Mormonism. Nor in small quantity. Stories like this one “just aren’t talked about” among the Old Guard. Continue reading “Coke Newell on his autobiographical novel ‘On the Road to Heaven’”