Category Archives: Book Reviews

Whitney Finalists: Middle Grade Round Up

For the first few years of the Whitney Awards, all of the books written for young people were lumped into the same category. In 2010, the category was split into Young Adult General, and Young Adult Speculative, and last year, further split into the Middle Grade category, which generally targets readers from about 9-12 years of age. This year’s five finalists are all enjoyable, quick reads, and I had to defend several of them from my nine-year-old son.

1) The Inventor’s Secret by Chad Morris

The year is 2074 and it’s time for Abby and Derick Cragbridge to start their time at Cragbridge Hall, the boarding school that only takes the best, brightest and most distinguished middle schoolers on the planet. The problem is that Abby, at least, hasn’t done much to distinguish herself. She happens to be the granddaughter of the school’s founder, a world-famous inventor, and therefore feels a great impulse to prove herself worthy of being at the school. She’s able to do this when her parents and grandfather turn up missing. Her parents are being held aboard the Titanic, and unless Abby and Derick can figure out how to go back in time and reach them, their whole world might come crashing down on them. Continue reading

Whitney Finalists: Historical Round-Up

Historical fiction has long been one of my favorite literary genres; as a young adult I read it almost exclusively, eschewing other genres like science fiction and fantasy. Although my reading tastes have broadened as an adult, historical novels are still one of my favorite things to read and one of the categories that I most look forward to when it comes to the Whitney awards. This year the finalists in the category are all established authors whose names should be familiar to you. There are three previous winners: Gale Sears for Letters in the Jade Dragon Box, 2011; Carla Kelly for Borrowed Light, 2011 and My Loving Vigil Keeping, 2012; and H.B. Moore for Abinadi in 2008. The other two authors, Jennie Hansen and Phyllis Gunderson, have both been finalists in previous years. Competition in this category is going to be stiff, especially with such a diverse group of books covering a wide range of historical periods. Continue reading

Whitney Finalists: Young Adult General Round-Up

If the Whitney young adult speculative category had a strong showing from male writers and male point of view characters, then the young adult general swings the pendulum the other direction. Of the five books, all are written by women, and all feature exclusively female point of view characters. Some of this might have to do with genre: four of the five are young adult contemporary novels (though Jennifer Shaw Wolf’s Dead Girls Don’t Lie might also be classified as YA suspense)–and from my vantage point, this is a genre dominated by women authors and female point of view characters, largely because romance is often a central feature in the plot. ( Granted, there are exceptions: John Green and David Levithan spring to mind. I can’t think of any LDS male authors writing young adult contemporary–if you know of any, I’d love to hear them in the comments.)

Julie Berry’s All the Truth that’s in Me was the exception to the general trend for this year’s YA finalists: this is a historical novel (the setting is vaguely revolutionary war-era) with a terse but lyrical style. This was also the darkest in terms of theme and content. Four of the five finalists were published with national presses; one (Chasing June) was independently published. Continue reading

Whitney Finalists: General Fiction Round-up

The General fiction category for the Whitney Awards has always been one that seems to spark a lot of controversy. Sometimes, the category seems dominated by inspirational, feel-good stories that might sell a lot of copies but night not be well-respected by fans of literary fiction. Some years, audiences and publishers raise the outcry– “But how could <<Insert book name here>> not be a finalist? It was far and away the best book of the year!” This year, the pendulum seems to have swung away from the inspirational novels, and toward, well, death. Protagonists in four of the five novels have recently been uncoupled, and in the fifth, an aunt’s death starts the action of the story in motion. And with that common thread running through the stories, I know you’re just dying to dive in, right? Continue reading

Whitney Finalists: YA Speculative round-up

The five Whitney finalists in the YA (young adult) speculative category are all terrific stories–not surprising given that they represent the top five of one of the largest categories of the Whitneys, and all five books are published with national publishers. Two of the books–J. R. Johansson’s Insomnia and Kasie West’s Pivot Point–represent strong debuts by new authors to watch.

1. The first of the nominees is C. J. Hill’s Friends and Traitors, the second in her Slayers series. (The first book in her series was also a finalist last year). I’m a long-time fan of Janette Rallison (the real person behind Hill’s pseudonym), and while her Slayers books are very different from her (very funny) YA novels, there’s still a lot of humor and relationship drama in these books. Though this book is the second in a series, it doesn’t seem to suffer from the second book syndrome–partly, I think, because the characters still have some compelling arcs.
Friends and Traitors (Slayers, #2)

The Slayers books are based on the premise that dragons exist–and that exposure to an unhatched dragon egg can awaken “Slayer” DNA in the descendents of Slayers. Tori, the privileged daughter of a senator, is the main character in the series, but she’s joined by some pretty compelling secondary characters, including Jesse, the boy she’s fallen for, and Dirk, Jesse’s best friend. (Dirk even gets his own point-of-view chapters in this second book). In Friends and Traitors, Tori is just beginning to come into her own as a Slayer when she has to put all her training aside to return home from “summer camp” for the school year and a high-profile life as a senator’s daughter. Because of the danger of associating outside of camp, Jesse breaks things off with her. And while Tori is heartbroken, she finds some solace in her friendship with Dirk, who isn’t afraid to break a few rules to see Tori outside of camp. Of course, that might be because Dirk is struggling with a few dangerous secrets of his own.

I have to say that I really loved the interplay between Tori and Dirk. While I don’t agree with all of Dirk’s choices, I found his position to be a complicated and compelling one. I didn’t love Tori’s relationship with Jesse as much–he winds up coming across as a bit of a prig. Still, it’s hard not to love a book that has the heroine zooming across the sky in a Wonder Woman costume (and fully aware of the ironic humor in her appearance). And the dragons are beautiful and dangerous and heartbreaking all at once.

2. J.R. Johansson’s Insomnia

The great thing about the Whitney’s is that I end up reading (and liking) books I might not otherwise pick up. I’m not a big fan of horror–or even thrillers (just ask my husband about pre-screening every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer).  But I enjoyed this one. The story line is quite original: Parker is a Watcher, which means he’s forced to inhabit the dreams of the last person he makes eye contact with each day. Continue reading