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2015 Whitney Historical Finalists

By Emily Milner

The Whitney Award Winners will be announced Saturday, May 7 at the Whitney Awards Banquet. I will not be there, because I’ll be watching my beautiful daughter perform in BYU’s children’s creative dance recital. It’s a trade-off I’m okay with; watching her dance is one of the greatest joys I know. But as soon as I get home I will be checking Twitter to see who won. In the meantime, here are my thoughts on the Historical finalists.

romeThe Rules in Rome, by A. L. Sowards

This is the next in Sowards’ series of WWII books. I haven’t read them all but I really enjoyed last year’s Whitney finalist, Deadly Alliance. The Rules in Rome begins with Bastien Ley assuming the identity of a dead Nazi officer, a dangerous but valuable undercover position. Her superiors assign Gracie Begni to work with him as a radio operator–she’s also undercover as Ley’s girlfriend. I like World War II settings, and this book was well-researched. I liked the romance as well, and I thought the Mormon elements were well done and not preachy. I did find myself wishing it had a few more layers to it, though–I recently read All the Light We Cannot See, another World War II book featuring radio operators–and I loved its resonance and depth. WWII radio as something that both saves and destroys–so much potential there, and I would have loved to have the author of The Rules in Rome tap into something similar and bring a little more meaning to a great story.

candleLight of the Candle, by Carol Pratt Bradley

When the Babylonians capture Daniel in Light of the Candle, he leaves behind Sarai, his betrothed. Daniel leaving behind a fiance is an interesting take on a familiar story. It works well. Bradley effectively explains the political situation of the day, giving just enough details to add depth to the story without getting bogged down in minutiae. (I’ve read other less successful historical fiction set in this time period, and I really appreciated Bradley’s approach). While I liked the romance and thought Bradley handled the dual points of view well, I especially enjoyed the relationship between Daniel and his father. It would have been an easier, safer choice to make Daniel’s father a more sympathetic character, but Bradley chose to bring some complexity and tension there, with a tender yet believable resolution. Well done.

rememberedA Hope Remembered, by Stacy Henrie

In the post-WWI England of A Hope Remembered, returning pilot Colin Ashby must take the place of his older twin, also a pilot, who died and left him the heir. The estate, a la Downton Abbey, needs significant cash to continue, and Colin must marry rich. Enter Nora Lewis, an American who inherits a small sheep farm near the Ashby estate and decides to leave home and make a go of sheep farming. Her entire family, as well as her fiance, died from Spanish influenza, and she wants a fresh start. She and Colin help each other heal from their losses. I loved the Lake District setting and the details of sheep farming. Some of the plot elements–the deus ex machina discovery of a significant record, for instance–felt contrived to me, and I could pretty much tell where the story was headed from the beginning. I liked the premise of it quite a bit but I wanted a little more zip, a little more magic, something to surprise me.

harmDoing No Harm, by Carla Kelly

Historical fiction is at its best when it tells a story from the past with modern echoes. In Doing No Harm, Kelly explores the plight of Scottish Highland refugees from the point of view of Captain Douglas Bowden, a doctor and veteran of the Napoleonic wars. Captain Bowden, searching for a village in which to practice medicine, lands by accident in Edgar, a southern Scottish coastal town, at Olive’s inn. Scottish Highland refugees, evicted from their homes by the Duchess of Sutherland, have flooded the town and created tension between themselves and the longtime residents. As Captain Bowden works through his PTSD, he and Olive attempt to heal the town and its many broken people. Douglas and Olive do seem a little too good to be true, but I loved this book anyway. PTSD and helping refugees are problems both current and eternal, and this book explores them well (with a gentle romance to boot). Carla Kelly is always a good idea, and Doing No Harm is another great addition to her body of work.

mosesThe Moses Chronicles: Bondage, by H. B. Moore

In Bondage, the first in H. B. Moore’s trilogy about the life of Moses, Moses races chariots and fights off invaders while his sister Miriam spies on him and avoids Pharoah’s invitation to join his harem. I liked Miriam’s character quite a bit; she was strong-willed and loyal, which fits the woman who saved her baby brother from Pharoah’s soldiers. I also enjoyed the relationship between Moses and his Egyptian mother. A good deal of the story was Moore’s invention–specific chariot races or invasions are not part of the historical record (as far as I’m aware), and for me they seemed to pad the story more than necessary. I’m looking forward to seeing where she goes with this next–there’s a lot of the story left to tell in the remaining books. (Also, I have to give a shout out to my favorite Moses historical fiction, Stone Tables, by Orson Scott Card. If you haven’t read it and you live in Utah County, I’ll loan you my copy. But I want it back.)

I wish all the finalists good luck! Have you read any of them? What did you think?

About Emily Milner

(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.

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