This year I have had the great pleasure of reading the Whitney finalists with Shelah. We agree about enough of the books to have fun discussing them, and disagree enough to make it interesting. After much emailing and talking, these are the Official Segullah Whitney Award Choices. Ballots are due April 3, and the winners will be announced April 24 at the Whitney Awards Gala.
Space constraints prevent me from saying more than a line or two about each book. For more detailed and insightful reviews, check out Shelah’s blog.
So, without further ado, our favorites:
Emily: All the Stars in Heaven. Michelle Paige Holmes tells a great story, more suspense than romance, but the romantic elements were strong and compelling. I read it instead of making dinner. Not so happy for my family, but a great indicator of a good book. I’m also giving a shoutout to Santa Maybe, which was a fun read.
Shelah: Going into this experience, I never thought that one of my favorites would be a romance. But Counting the Cost is much more than just a romance. It has a rich, western setting, compelling characters, and a story that’s about working at a marriage and not just riding off into the sunset to live happily ever after. Adair based the story on her parents’ courtship, and she doesn’t shrink from accurately portraying a hard-living cowboy’s life, and also writes well about the couple’s burgeoning conversion to the church.
Emily: Much as I enjoyed All the Stars in Heaven, and found Counting the Cost more work to appreciate (the main female character bugged me), I am a sucker for gorgeous, lyrical writing, and Counting the Cost was beautifully written.
Consensus: Counting the Cost.
Shelah: I’ve read enough mysteries by now that I’m rarely surprised when the killer is revealed, but Josi Kilpack’s Lemon Tart kept me guessing again and again. Kilpack’s writing was also smart and tight, and her characters deep enough to surprise me too.
Emily: I agree with Shelah on Lemon Tart as my favorite. I loved Sadie, the detective character, and I enjoyed her strong, consistent voice. I also want to mention Altered State as a book that felt fresh and unique among the mystery finalists. It had an engaging scientific mind-control plot, and kept me turning pages.
Consensus: Lemon Tart.
Emily: The Chosen One. Wrenching, lyrical story of a thirteen-year-old girl escaping polygamy. I loved this book. The ending jarred me a little, but overall this was exceptional writing.
Runner up: Princess of the Midnight Ball. I love a good fairy tale retelling, and this was a great reworking of the 12 Dancing Princesses.
Shelah: I’m with Emily on this one. Deceptively simple writing The Chosen One was both direct and haunting, and Williams did a wonderful job getting into the mind of Kyra, and showing the challenges of life on a polygamous compound.
Consensus: The Chosen One
Shelah: If I had to choose one book among the thirty that was the freshest and most fun to read, the decision would be easy, it’s definitely Dan Wells’s I am Not a Serial Killer. I couldn’t put the book down, and can’t wait for my kids to grow up a little so I can force them to read it too. But I also really enjoyed Brandon Sanderson’s ambitious, complicated, epic Warbreaker, and that’s saying a lot for someone like me, who normally shuns sci-fi and secondary creation.
Emily: Do I really have to choose? Dang, I don’t know. I am Not a Serial Killer is creepy and gory but the writing is beautiful and John Wayne Cleaver, the teenage boy fighting against his inner serial killer, broke my heart. But Warbreaker is the one I read on Brandon Sanderson’s website till two in the morning when I broke my leg, and I think it’s brilliant. I loved its romance and satisfying ending.
Consensus: Serial or Warbreaker for the win? Warbreaker wins out. By a nose.
Emily: In the Company of Angels, David Farland’s self-published story of the Martin and Willie handcart company. It’s honest, it’s well-researched, it’s beautiful and sad and holy and all the things that our best pioneer stories have. I’m recommending it for my book club next year. A great work.
Shelah: I’m with Emily on this one. I especially loved the way that Farland approached the story from the point of view of three very different members of the handcart company, as well as the way that he didn’t gloss over some of the harder parts of the historical account of the story.
Consensus: In the Company of Angels
Emily: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, the story of a Japanese internment camp and a lost love. My book club loved it, and I did too. I also really enjoyed Gravity vs. the Girl, about a girl haunted by past versions of herself. I am that girl.
Shelah: My heart wants to vote for Jonathan Langford’s moving No Going Back, the story of a gay Mormon teen who struggles between his desire to stay faithful to a faith he has a testimony of and a sexual orientation he can’t deny. But my brain forces my nod to go to Jamie Ford’s Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet for the quality of its writing.
Consensus: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
Best Novel by a New Author:
Emily: I am not a Serial Killer. See above comments. It’s an impressive book.
Shelah: Totally. It’s Twilight for boys (and girls, but boys can read this without hiding it inside a magazine), with writing chops to match the storytelling.
Consensus: Serial Killer
Best Novel of the Year:
Shelah: The Chosen One
Emily: In the Company of Angels
Consensus: This is a really tough call. The Chosen One has stunning writing. Spare, beautiful, haunting. But I love it when people write about Mormons and really get it right, and In the Company of Angels is one of my favorites ever.
We’ve got our opinions, but we’d love to hear yours, too. Which of the Whitney finalists were your favorites? What sounds interesting to you? Do you plan to read any of these? What other books by LDS authors did you enjoy this year? Also, if you live in Utah Valley, the Orem library has purchased many of these books, including some harder-to-find independently published ones, so you can hop on over and see whether you agree with us or not. Either way, it’s great to see the increasing excellence of LDS writing. Congratulations and good luck to all the finalists!
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