Category Archives: Daily Special

2013 Whitney Roundup (and a plea for support for its founder)

Here at Segullah, we love the Whitney Awards. We love reading the books, learning about the authors, attending the Awards banquet, and, most importantly, engaging in spirited debates about the merits and detriments of each work. This year, Emily Milner headed up our group of readers, which also included Rosalyn Eves, Jessie Christensen, Sandra Jergensen, Heather Bergevin, and me. The awards will be handed out at the annual banquet, held this Saturday night in Layton, Utah. But we wanted to give you a sneak peek into our thoughts about the forty books we read.

First of all, we are delighted to see the quality of LDS fiction improving in the years we’ve been reading for the contest. Nearly all of the young adult novels are now published by national publishers, and those published by regional presses are showing more maturity in the writing, both in subject matter and style. There are five books nominated in each of eight categories. Readers can read a single category, all of the “adult” novels, or all of the youth fiction. Readers who read all 25 adult books can vote for Novel of the Year, and those who read all 15 youth books can vote for Best Novel in Youth Fiction. Any finalist that is an author’s first novel is eligible for Best Novel by a New Author

General: The competition this year came down to two strong works: Mile 21 by Sarah Dunster, which is very readable and moving with great characterization, and Jennifer Quist’s Love Letters of the Angel of Death, the most ambitious, literary and lyrical of the novels in the entire competition. Both stories are about married couples, separated too soon by death. All of our readers loved both novels, and we were evenly divided over which novel should claim the top spot. We were also very happy to see a stronger General category this year than in years past.

Historical: Both H.B. Moore’s Esther the Queen, the novelization of the story of Esther from the Old Testament, and Carla Kelly’s Safe Passage, about an estranged couple brought back together during their escape from the Mormon colonies in Mexico, are great novels– well written with great characters and compelling plots.

Romance: It’s rare that everyone in our group of readers agrees on a single novel to nab our top vote, but this year, we were unanimous in our adoration of Melanie Jacobson’s Second Chances, with the story of a producer who falls for the star of the Mormon Bachelor, who happens to be her ex-boyfriend. The story is witty and wise, and made us all wish we were single again and could date Jacobson’s bachelor.

Mystery/Suspense: While we were unanimous in our vote in the romance category, we were hopelessly divided in the Mystery/Suspense category. Some of us really enjoyed Josi Kilpack’s Rocky Road, especially the longtime readers who have seen the evolution of  Sadie Hoffmiller’s character over the course of the ten (now eleven) novels in her culinary mystery series. Other readers fought hard for Heather B. Moore’s Finding Sheba, enjoying the complexity of the plot about uncovering the Queen of Sheba’s tomb. We also want to give a shout out to Traci Hunter Abramson, whose Deep Cover, about a CIA agent who falls for an FBI agent in her ward, demonstrates a lot of her growth as a writer and plays with the complexities of writing for a home audience.

Speculative: Jeffrey S. Savage’s Dark Memories was creepily reminiscent of a Stephen King novel, where the world is just a half-step away from the one in which we’re living. The story of revenge, more than thirty years after the fact, for the death of a young boy in a mine, kept us turning pages.  Many of us also enjoyed CJ Hill’s Echo in Time, the story of two sets of twins working with time travel, set four centuries in the future.

Young Adult- Speculative: We all loved Kasie West’sPivot Point. Addie is able to see her two separate futures in alternating chapters in this book, and in the end she faces a difficult decision. Addie and her fellow characters in both the paranormal and normal worlds made the story come alive. We also enjoyed CJ Hill’s Friends and Traitors: Slayers 2, a book about dragon fighters, and a great example of how to make a sequel interesting and relevant for new readers.

Young Adult- General: Julie Berry’s All The Truth That’s in Me wowed. The writing was beautiful, the historical setting was realistic, and the choices Judith faced were heartbreakingly real. By contrast, we also though that Lindsey Leavitt’s Going Vintage was delightfully fun, and she did a nice job of handling serious subjects with a light touch.

Middle Grade: Liesl Shurtliff’s RUMP was a totally delightful retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin story in which we learn to sympathize with the little guy and no longer make the mistake of siding entirely with that poor miller’s daughter. We also enjoyed The Runaway King, Jennifer A. Nielsen’s sequel to The False Prince, which won big last year.

Best Novel by a New Author: RUMP

Best Novel of the Year: Love Letters of the Angel of Death

Best Novel in Youth Fiction: All the Truth That’s in Me

When the Whitney Awards were established in 2007, it was largely accomplished through the hard work and love of Robison Wells and is brother Dan. Both brothers have gone on to win Whitney Awards, and their books are weird in all the best ways. Rob has worked tirelessly to build the field of Mormon letters, and now we have an opportunity to help him as he suffers from mental illness and crippling debt. Check out Altered Perceptions to find out how, and consider ordering the anthology whose proceeds will benefit him. It looks fantastic!

P.S. If you want to read reviews of the Whitney books, both Rosalyn and Shelah have blogged their reviews.

There Are Monsters in My Office

Specific things I avoid:

  1. Drying plastic containers by hand (they can drip dry)
  2. Bees (allergic)
  3. Shaving my legs (hellooo Autumn!)
  4. The two mailing boxes in my office

Oh, the boxes look innocent enough, all fluffy-cornered from the multiple moves I’ve dragged them through over the past six years, held together with packing tape and stubbornness. Those two boxes, though, (each no longer and higher than hand to elbow) are crammed to bursting with monsters. Monsters lurking in between the photos of my oldest son learning to ride a bike, monsters nibbling on the edges of the pictures of my youngest dancing in the backyard, monsters stuffed into every frame, every spare gasp of air, wrapped around every memory sleeping in the boxes. Memories have vicious teeth, and if I open those boxes I’m going to get mauled. Continue reading

Morning with All of Us Who Mourn

Growing up in Southern California denied me the experience of migrating through the intensities of all four seasons.  In Orange County, we had mild summers, few displays of fall foliage, a bit of rain and some fierce Santa Ana winds in the winter, and then a timid showing of springtime flowers.  I never really understood neither the cabin fever of winter nor the spring fever that follows.

Consequently, it took moving to climates further north to discover that I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder.   During the four years I lived in Wisconsin, I had a lot of trouble staying awake past 7 pm. I was moody and had very little energy from December through March.   I was overjoyed when spring came in April. (March is merely “mud month” in Wisconsin.)  April brought longer days, milder temperatures and an awakening earth that cheered my spirits.

I witnessed the most brilliant displays of spring during the four years I lived in Washington, DC.  The earth would explode with color: daffodils, tulips, forsythia pushed decaying leaves aside and brought me cheer.  They seemed as Lazarus, coming forth from their tombs to live again.   When the cherry trees were in full bloom, I would drive to the Tidal Basin and jog underneath their branches.  I felt jubilant with these floral fireworks above me.

Not until I had experienced the darkness of a deep winter followed by the color of a vibrant spring did I feel some measure of the joy promised by the Resurrection.  “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Psalms 30:5).

As we journey through mortality, we all have occasion to mourn.  Our mortality makes us vulnerable to sin and sickness, decay and death, weakness and weariness.  But in our mourning we can comfort each  other while we look with hope to the morning of the resurrection where we will be healed from the ravages of mortality. The sick will be made whole, the dead shall rise again, the weariness of this world will be laid aside for eternal joy.

Please enjoy this powerful Easter hymn performed by a choir of voices and a hand-bell choir and string orchestra. It also includes video of beautiful landscapes as well as video depicting Jesus during passion week. 

“He Is Risen” Mormon Tabernacle Choir

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

We live in a society of broken and struggling families, yet most don’t know how to talk to someone who has been through a divorce, abandonment or abuse by a parent and/or estrangement from a family member. While excruciating in their own right, the pain from these experiences is often escalated by well-meaning friends and family.

I shudder to think of things I may have said in the past– I remember hearing of people who couldn’t be in the same room as a family member and judging them harshly. I remember thinking, “Buck up. Grow up.” That was before I spent a year of my life sobbing on the floor in agony.

If you read nothing else, remember this: extend love; refrain from judgment.

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Finding room for your burdens on my back

About a dozen years ago, my best friend went through a difficult time. It was actually more than just difficult; as the miscarriages added up, they seemed to obscure everything else and take over her life. We had lived together for several years in college, but we had graduated, gotten married, started our families, and now lived more than a thousand miles apart. We’d talk on the phone a couple of times a month, but I never knew what to say. I called because I loved her and I knew I needed to, but it always took a certain amount of pysching myself up to pick up the phone. She felt powerless. I felt helpless. I didn’t know whether to listen or to offer advice, and I was always sure I was going to stick my foot in my mouth. And then there was the fact that while we both had toddler sons, I had gone on to have a daughter as well. I think it was hard for both of us not to retreat from the friendship. When I got pregnant with my third child, telling her was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

In the years since that time, I’ve talked with friends about their unhappy marriages, and given (probably bad) advice from the point of view of my own solid union. I’ve chatted online with a friend whose son was dying while my own houseful of sons created chaos at my feet. I’ve tried to listen sympathetically to unmarried friends, while staring at the diamond on my own ring finger. In each case, there was absolutely nothing I could do to fix the situation, and listening didn’t feel like enough.

Right now, someone I’m close to is going through a hard time financially. My own family enjoys enough affluence to be comfortable, but not enough to make their problems go away. And even the daily, easy interactions we used to have (“What did you do this weekend?”) feel charged (“Dinner and the Ira Glass concert, how about you?”). I think we’ve both retreated from our relationship, and I know that it’s hard for me because I just feel so darn guilty. In Mosiah 4 we learn that we’re supposed to impart our substance with those that need it, without judgment, and that makes me worry that we’re prioritizing piano lessons and date nights above the more serious needs of our friends.

How have you helped friends through difficult situations, especially when your own life seems relatively easy by comparison? How do you resist the urge to retreat and manage not to stick your foot in your mouth? How do you know how much to help? How do you know when you’re “mourning with those that mourn” and not just making things harder for them?