Tuesday, May 12, 2015

2014 Whitney Finalists Recap

The books are read, the votes are in, and once again, I won't be at the Whitney Gala (I'm afraid that the candor with which I write my reviews would not make me a popular person at the dinner table-- and besides, I'm running a marathon that day and I'm not sure I could do heels that night). So here's my opportunity to wish all of the finalists well and to weigh in on what I'd like to see happen and what I think will happen in all of the categories.

General: The only book that I think actually deserves to win is Amy Harmon's The Law of Moses, which is a complex and engrossing story about a biracial boy and the farm girl who loves him, but since it features premarital sex and the characters swear, I doubt Whitney voters will get behind it. My guess is that Maria Hoagland's Still Time, about an LDS family who struggles to care for a grandmother with Alzheimer's disease, will take the prize. I was thoroughly disappointed with the category this year, and a A Song for Issy Bradley and City of Brick and Shadow were glaring omissions among the finalists.

Historical: I really enjoyed both Carla Kelly's Softly Falling, about a couple falling in love during a treacherous winter on the Wyoming frontier and Deadly Alliance by EL Sowards, about a man who goes missing during World War II and the spy who saves him.

Mystery/Suspense: Anne Perry's Death on Blackheath, a case where a missing servant leads Inspector Thomas Pitt down a rabbit hole that ends with treason, is a perfect example of why she's a master of the Victorian mystery novel. Josi Kilpack's Wedding Cake, the twelfth and final book in her Culinary Mysteries series, provides a satisfying ending to everyone who has grown to love her intrepid sleuth, Sadie Hoffmiller.

Romance: I'd love to see Melanie Jacobson's Painting Kisses, about a celebrated painter who got fed up with her career and took a job as a waitress and lets her guard down when she meets a handsome construction worker, take the Whitney this year. I think Sarah Eden's Longing for Home: Hope Springs, the second half of a story in which an Irish immigrant in a small Wyoming town must chose between two men who love her, is also a strong contender.

Speculative: While Brandon Sanderson's Words of Radiance (a story too complicated to whittle down to a single phrase) will undoubtedly win, my favorite book in the category was Mercedes M. Yardley's Pretty Little Dead Girls, about a girl who everyone thought would die, but didn't.

Middle Grade: The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry was probably the Whitney book I most enjoyed reading all year. The seven girls who try to hide their headmistress's death so they can enjoy a little freedom was thoroughly delightful. I also thought that Kimberley Griffiths Little's The Time of the Fireflies, about a girl who saves her family from a cursed doll, and Marion Jensen's Almost Super, about young superheroes who got snubbed when someone was handing out powers, were also great reads.

YA General: Chris Crowe's Death Coming Up the Hill was the most delightful surprise of the Whitney reading. The book, written entirely in haiku, with a syllable representing each American man who died in Vietnam in 1968, was moving, thoughtful, rich and not at all gimmicky, despite its spareness. If it doesn't win, I will eat my hat.

YA Speculative: Kiersten White's Illusions of Fate, the story of a girl from the Caribbean transplanted to a Victorian England where the nobles have secret magical powers, was rich in detail and setting, and the story in the category that moved me most this year.

Best novel by a new author: To be totally honest, I wasn't a huge fan of any of the five books in this category, although if pressed to choose a book, I think that Jennifer Moore's Becoming Lady Lockwood, a historical romance about a young widow who falls in love with the ship captain who wants to take away her inheritance, was probably my favorite.

Best novel of the year: While Brandon Sanderson's Words of Radiance will probably win, I would love to see Academy voters have the chutzpah to vote for Amy Harmon's The Law of Moses.

Best novel in youth fiction: Although Death Coming Up the Hill and The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place were both phenomenal books, my heart has to go with my mentor and professor Chris Crowe. His is a knockout of a novel, both in form and narrative-- the best of both worlds.

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