Final Whitney Votes

Whitney award winners will be announced tonight! A month ago, we (Shelah, Mara, and Emily M.) listed a few of our Whitney favorites. You can read that post in its entirety here, but this is a quick summary of our favorites from it:

For Best Novel: Wolves, Boys, and Other Things that Might Kill Me, by Kristen Chandler
Best Novel by a New Author: Wolves, Boys, and Other Things that Might Kill Me
YA General: Wolves, Boys, and Other Things that Might Kill Me; also Glimpse, by Carol Lynch Williams
Speculative Fiction: The Way of Kings, Brandon Sanderson
Mystery: Murder by Design, Betsey Brannon Green
Romance: Cross My Heart by Julie Wright

We had not yet chosen our favorites in General, Historical, or Youth Speculative. So, here they are:

General: The Segullah vote went to Lucky Change; it was a tough call, essentially a toss-up between Lucky Change, by Susan Law Corpany, and Band of Sisters, by Annette Lyon. Lucky Change is the story of a working-class woman who wins the lottery and changes the hearts of her snooty ward. At first I wondered if the lottery-winning protagonist was just a little too good, too kind, too forgiving. But as the book progressed I also came to believe in her great-spirited heart. Band of Sisters tells about the friendship of five women whose husbands are deployed to Afghanistan, and the moral/emotional support they give each other. I especially liked the way Lyon portrays the boundaries each woman had towards being real, really showing their lives and problems, and the way the women grew closer through gradually sharing more of themselves with each other.

I should also mention that all of us were disappointed that Brady Udall’s The Lonely Polygamist was not a finalist in the General Fiction category. In the comments of this thread, Josi Kilpack, Whitney President, discusses the process of choosing finalists and possible reasons why the Lonely Polygamist was not ultimately selected. It’s a great conversation and I appreciate the openness of the Whitney leadership in explaining how things were.

Historical: The Sheen on the Silk, by Anne Perry. Perry’s book, set in Byzantium, combines a great mystery, romance, and vivid historical detail to great effect. Anna Zarides pretends to be a eunuch doctor and treats high-level religious and government officials in order to clear her brother of murder charges. Perry does a fantastic job of allowing the reader to enter the Byzantine world while still keeping the story tightly paced.

Youth Speculative: Matched, by Allyson Condie. In Matched, Cassia lives in a perfect society, where her spouse and job and life are planned by a perfect government. From Shelah’s review on her blog:

…Ally Condie’s Matched is the most highly-anticipated, most hyped YA novel of the year… Having said that, does the book live up to the hype?

The story is a dystopian romance in which seventeen-year-old Cassia is matched with Xander, the boy next door, but before their first date, she finds out that she’s actually also matched with Ky. Xander represents safety and status quo. Ky represents taking chances. Cassia loves them both, and ultimately has to choose what kind of life she’d rather live. I’d say that Matched does what it sets out to do, and does it well.

Final Thoughts:
Emily M.: This is the third year I’ve read all the Whitney finalists and voted for the winners. Maybe it’s a factor of being more aware of what’s going on in LDS publishing than before, but what I missed this year was a surprise, something I had never heard of before and then fell in love with. In 2008 it was The Reckoning, Waiting for the Light to Change, and Keeping Keller. (I would say Bound on Earth, but I had already heard of it.) In 2009 it was In the Company of Angels, Counting the Cost, Gravity vs. the Girl, and No Going Back. And this year, I missed those smaller-press or independently published gems.

In the time I’ve read the Whitney finalists, for me the locally published books have improved a lot. This is especially noticeable if you track individual authors, as I do. There are a couple of authors whose finalist books from 2010 are dramatically, delightfully better than their 2008 finalist books. This is a great thing: to me it shows that editors and authors are working to improve the writing and storytelling. This is not to say that there were not books I disliked, but overall I think the quality is improving. The exception to this for the 2010 finalists has also happened in past years: more well-known authors seem to get a pass as far as writing and story quality goes. It seems that if the publisher believes it will sell well no matter what, it’s not edited as heavily. Perhaps that is cynical of me, but that has been my observation.

The Mystery category was my favorite as far as locally published books go. My top three favorites (Cold as Ice, A Time to Die, and Murder by Design) were all great reads, and it wouldn’t surprise or disappoint me to see any of them win.

Finally, it tickles me to have categories dominated by nationally published books. Not because I want to edge out the locally published authors, but because I’m proud of what LDS writers have also accomplished on the national scene. Speculative, Youth Speculative, and Youth General, all dominated by nationally published books. That’s impressive to me, and it makes me happy that we are blessed with talented writers.
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Shelah: I feel a little bit like an interloper in this discussion, because I this year I only read 21 of the 35 books. So I can’t contribute to the discussion of the historical novels, the speculative fiction, or the YA speculative fiction. This year the biggest surprise, and perhaps the biggest disappointment, was that the general category didn’t have stronger offerings. I know I’m biased, but I tend to think of contemporary realistic fiction as the heart and soul of fiction, and the general category is essentially contemporary realistic fiction. It’s the category I look forward to reading– I save these books until the end as a reward to myself. In last year’s competition, three of the general fiction finalists, The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, No Going Back, and Gravity vs. the Girl, were all strong contenders– all books with interesting themes, well-developed characters, and good writing. I felt that each book challenged me in some way as a reader. This year, all five of the books were problematic in one way or another, and a couple of them were downright dreadful. I know, I sound like a jerk, but Emily, Mara and I want you to be able to see that we’re giving you our unvarnished opinions.

That said, I was pleasantly surprised by the strength of some of the genre categories I read. This year the mysteries were great, and Whitney president Josi Kilpack published several more good mysteries in 2010 that were exempt from the competition. The YA category has been so strong in past years that this year the Academy decided to split it into two separate categories, and nine of the ten books were targeted to a national market. I never thought I’d say it, but I’ve even found a soft spot in my heart for the romances.

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Good luck to the finalists–I’m sure they will post the winners here. You can go here to find a list of 2011 fiction from LDS authors and get a head start on reading and nominating books for next year’s Whitney Awards.

About Emily M.

(Poetry Board) graduated from BYU in Comparative Literature, but it was long enough ago that most of what she learned has leaked out. She would like to mention other hobbies or interests, but to be honest she spends most of her free time reading (although she does enjoy attempting yoga). She used to blog at hearingvoices.wordpress.com. For now, though, Segullah is her only blogging home, and it's a good one.

9 thoughts on “Final Whitney Votes

  1. I always love the Segullah wrap up of the Whitneys – if only I had the means to buy all the recommendations! I’ll be looking forward to see who won. Thanks for composing my Christmas list for me ;)

  2. Thank you for all the recommendations! I’m always looking for something new to read. I was also pleased with the comments on Ally Condie’s Matched–she came and spoke to our book club last month (her sister’s in the group), and I was really impressed with her (not just with her book). She made me want to start writing seriously again. I agree–it’s great to see so many LDS authors with national recognition and respect.

  3. I wasn’t able to be a Whitney voter this year so I’ve only read the adult Speculative Fiction finalists (all of them) and Matched (which I enjoyed).

    I too was disappointed that there don’t appear to be any general fiction novels that seem like something I would pick up.

  4. Winners tweeted here: “http://twitter.com/#!/marionjensen”

    They are:
    Best Romance: Julie Wright, Cross My Heart
    Best General Fiction: Annette Lyon, Band of Sisters
    Best Mystery: Stephanie Black, Cold as Ice
    Best Historical: Sandra Grey, Trespass
    Best Youth Fiction-General: Kimberley Griffiths Little, The Healing Spell
    Best Youth Fiction-Speculative: Ally Condie, Matched
    Best Speculative Fiction: Brandon Sanderson, Way of Kings
    Best Novel by a New Author: Kiersten White, Paranormalcy
    Best Novel: A tie between Dan Wells, Mr. Monster, and Brandon Sanderson, Way of Kings

    Congratulations to the winners!

  5. Interesting post! I love that we all have our favorites, and there seems to be no clear winner’s consensus among any of us–thus the voting academy. Whether a category winner was my favorite book or not, I definitely support and honor the academy’s ultimate choice. As far as some readers’ disappointment with the general category, I actually disagree. I think the winner could stand up against many of the other finalists and winners and hold its own. Women’s fiction that is also LDS fiction may not be for everyone, but out of all the 35 books I read, it was one of the few that affected me emotionally and stayed with me for months. I think it’s great that different types of books can be forerunners each year.

    I was surprised that The Lonely Polygamist wasn’t a category finalist as well, but not disappointed at all. It’s received plenty of acclaim in other circles and the author has likely been extremely satisfied with that. I doubt the author even noticed he wasn’t recognized by an LDS academy. So we might be worrying about nothing.

    I really loved Sheen on Silk as well by Anne Perry, but I also read a lot of reviews that readers thought the book moved very slowly.

    I think the one book I thought for sure would win something was Glimpse by Carol Lynch Williams. So I was surprised when it didn’t.

    For the mystery/suspense category, I actually thought there were only two very strong books in there that were contenders. But I’m pretty picky in the genre.

    I definitely enjoyed reading the YA categories this year–many from authors I’d never heard of, so that was a treat.

    Overall, I’d say it was a successful Whitneys and it just gets more exciting each year.

  6. Thanks for chiming in, Heather! It’s true there are lots of different perspectives–I am always interested to hear what other voters think. I confess to being really surprised that Wolves, Boys… did not win anything at all. I loved that book. I’m going to convince my book club to read it next year.

    But it seems like every year there’s a book I’m sure will win that doesn’t do so well. I think the wide range of winners and finalists is interesting and shows the diversity of both LDS authors and academy members.

    As far as the General category goes, I enjoyed Band of Sisters and Lucky Change, and I’m delighted that Band of Sisters won. I ranted about a couple of my least-favorite books in that category on Facebook a while ago as I was reading them. For me, books that intend to be inspirational often end up feeling manipulative, and I get very grouchy at them. I know that is not true of every reader, though, just that I am not the reader for that kind of book.

    I liked Trespass the best of all the books in that trilogy, and while I liked Sheen on the Silk, Trespass was my second favorite.

    Yes, Glimpse was powerful.

    I wonder how many academy members actually read all the finalists so they can vote on Best Novel? If you like speculative fiction and epic fantasy, it’s easier to get through all of them than if you don’t. Does that mean that the voting for Best Novel skews towards speculative fiction if the majority of people who read every book are Speculative Fiction fans?

    Thanks again for commenting!

  7. Good question on the speculative/epic fantasy fans. I’m not an epic fantasy fan, yet when I read ELANTRIS by Brandon Sanderson a few years ago, I loved it (although maybe that wasn’t epic since it was only ONE book. lol). And so I read Sanderson’s Mistborn series and loved it too. Maybe for me it was the author–although I don’t think you could pay me to read the Wheel of Time series. The good thing about The Way of Kings was that is was the first volume. So at this point, I’d venture to say the Best Novel selection is an author/writing choice, not necessarily a genre choice (based on my “conversion”).

    I do think that it’s harder to jump into the middle of the series. I remember when a book from the Runelords series was a finalist–it was like volume #7 or something–so to me that was a detriment as far as enjoying the full scope of the story.

    Sandra Grey’s books ended up working out perfectly because her first book in the series came out when the Whitney’s was up and running, so the academy has theoretically been able to read the entire series–since all of her books have been finalists.

    Trespass was excellent–I still marvel at the research that went into it.

  8. I really liked Trespass as well–I’ve enjoyed the whole series and thought this one was particularly good. I was also disappointed that Glimpse didn’t get anything, but I still need to read Wolves….

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