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The Best in LDS Fiction–The Whitney Finalists

By Hildie Westenhaver

I’ve been busy reading the Whitney finalists, but sadly, not writing much about them this year. The Whitney Awards Gala is this Saturday, though, and I’m really excited to find out who wins. I did not finish all the categories this year (Romance divided into two categories, Contemporary and Historical, making a total of 45 books to …

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2015 Whitney Awards: Mystery/Suspense

By Shelah Miner

When you read a Traci Hunter Abramson mystery, you have to know going into it that the main guy in the story and the main girl in the story will fall in love. I’m not sure that romantic mystery is a genre, but if it were, Abramson would be one of its foremost practitioners. In Failsafe, Charlotte Martin and her father are working on their farm in rural Virginia. They may seem to be simple farmers, but in reality they are NSA computer specialists, and one night, someone comes in and murders Charlotte’s father and his assistant, but not before the initiate the failsafe lockdown on the program. Charlotte barely escapes with her life, takes on an assumed name, and runs (literally) across the Virginia countryside, ending up at the home of Jake Bradford, a New York hotshot writer who is wrapping up loose ends at his family farm after the untimely death of his parents. Jake takes Charlotte in, then hires her to watch his grandmother, and she uses the time to try to figure out how she’s going to get away from the bad guys who are pursuing her, since she’s the only one who can access the computer system. Failsafe is suspenseful, and a nice break from Abramson’s Saint Squad series. The romance feels a little forced, and Abramson’s attempt to give Jake a second identity doesn’t really work, but if you’re just interested in a quick read that sucks you in, this one does the trick.

Ordinarily, I am a huge fan of Anne Perry’s mysteries. She’s one of the few authors in the category who is consistently published by a mainstream publishing house (Ballantine), and her books (all historical mysteries) tend to have a darker, more violent feel to them than other books in the category. Because of this, they generally don’t win Whitney Awards, but I usually end up voting for them. Not so this year. The Angel Court Affair is the 30th of 30 books (so far) in the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt mysteries, set in the Victorian Era. In this particular book, a charismatic religious speaker, Sofia Delacruz, goes missing after giving a speech in London, and Pitt, his team of detectives, and assorted relatives have to find her. Delacruz herself is fascinating as a character– LDS readers will recognize someone akin to Joseph Smith giving the King Follett Sermon in her speech, but the book as a whole didn’t come together for me. For one thing, Perry seems to be taking liberties with the timeline– some characters (the daughter) are aging faster than they should be while others (like Charlotte’s aunt, who should be in her nineties) seem to have Benjamin Button disease. One thing I noticed about the book is that while Pitt’s role seems to be only to find Delacruz alive, the collateral damage (and high body count) doesn’t seem to matter otherwise. There are some pretty violent scenes in The Angel Court Affair, and I pegged the bad guy pretty early on.

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2015 Whitney Awards: General Fiction

By Shelah Miner

In 2014, Stacy Lynn Carroll was a Whitney Finalist in the General category with her novel, My Name is Bryan, based on her father-in-law’s experiences as a  spinal cord injury survivor. This year, she’s back with another finalist, Shattered Hearts, which is based on her family’s experience with pornography addiction. Shattered Hearts opens with Sarah Dunkin discovering that her husband has been dealing with work- and family-related pressures by looking at pornography online. She’s devastated and throws him out of the house, and book follows the couple over the course of the next year as they work to repair their relationship. Carroll treats pornography as a serious addiction, and humanizes both the men and women whose lives are affected by it. It takes a lot of guts to write about a subject with so much potential to shame, and I give Carroll a lot of props for that. The writing, at times, can be somewhat didactic, but I think that Shattered Hearts could be a huge comfort to someone going through a similar situation, and it was an eye-opener for me.

Chris Pendragon is a young history professor from Gonzaga, on a summer holiday in Wales, when he witnesses a devastating car accident and something strange happens when he and an elderly man try to save a young girl. Somehow, the girl is healed, and Chris seems to be responsible for her healing. The elderly man reveals that his powers as a healer have been transferred to Chris, and Chris is suddenly more powerful, more vulnerable, and more reluctant than he has ever been in his life. The Healer is a book about the power of spirituality, not from a Mormon perspective, but in some ways it doesn’t surprise me that a Mormon wrote the book. Luke calls Chris a “lapsed Methodist” (teaching at a Catholic school?), yet one critic I read notes that he does the things religious people do (like praying on his knees each night). All in all, the book has a nice blend of a quickly moving, compelling plot and mystical/spiritual elements. It felt somewhat like The DaVinci Code in that respect, and I expect that Luke will revisit Chris Pendragon in future tales– The Healer is a story that is just beginning to be told.

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2014 Whitney Awards: Middle Grade Finalists

By Shelah Miner

I feel fortunate to be the one writing about the Middle Grade Whitney finalists, because there’s not a bad book in the bunch– all five were delightful and interesting in their own (quite varied) ways. Here’s the recap: Marion Jensen’s Almost Super is the kind of book that epitomizes a middle grade novel for me. …

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2014 Whitney Awards: Romance Finalists

By Shelah Miner

When I first started reading books for the Whitney Awards about half a decade ago, I was enthusiastic about the general fiction books and the young adult books (that’s back in the old days when there was a single YA category). I had a healthy respect for speculative fiction, and a degree of scorn for the romances. Yeah, I was one of those people who thought she was too serious a reader to enjoy romance novels. However, over the last few years, my attitude has changed. Once I understood the form of the genre and was willing to go with it rather than buck its conventions, I started to enjoy the category more and more. In fact, “reading the romance” (also the title of a fascinating book by Janice Radway) has become one of the things I look forward to most with each Whitney cycle. This year was no different, and here’s why.

This year there are three “historical romances” among the finalists, and two contemporary romances. For the last three years, historical romances have taken the prize, and they seem to be enjoying a heyday at the moment. This might be because Mormon authors and Mormon readers generally want to read “clean” books, and historical romances, which often feature aristocratic or highborn characters, tend to follow old-fashioned courting rituals, and there’s no expectation that sex and swearing will be part of the book, even if the characters aren’t Mormon (by the way, only one of the five finalists features overtly Mormon characters this year). 

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2014 Whitney Awards: Mystery/Thriller Finalists

By Linda Hoffman Kimball

Blood on the Water: A William Monk Novel by Anne Perry (Ballantine, Sept. 2014)

The setting for Blood on the Water, is, like the other books in the William Monk series, Victorian London. When a pleasure boat full of partyers explodes on the Thames, taking nearly 200 people to their deaths, William Monk assumes that, as commander of the River Police, he will have to investigate this disaster. To his surprise and disappointment, the case is handed instead to the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police who quickly labels the event a crime and captures, tries and sentences the ne’r-do-well Egyptian Habib Beshara to death. When Monk proves that Beshara was elsewhere at the time of the blast, the case – now in shambles – is handed to Monk.

With the assistance of his brilliant wife Hester and long-time friend Rathbone, Monk endeavors to sort out the complexities of the disaster. Was it in some way connected to the construction of the Suez Canal, certain to be a boon to wealthy British shipping companies? Was the explosion intended to senselessly kill innocent people or were they collateral damage in an effort to murder one specific person? How and when was the bomb planted and by whom? Was there a motive or was this the work of a madman?

International intrigue seems afoot. Monk’s investigations are stonewalled by the rich and powerful. In the confusion and complexities of his inquiries Monk senses he may be the next victim.

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2012 Whitney Finalist Wrap Up

By Shelah Miner

This weekend authors, editors, publishers, bloggers, and their fans will convene at the Provo Marriott for the announcement of the 2012 Whitney Awards. Which means that, for me at least, my work is done for another nine months. Despite the trip to China, the two toddlers demanding my days and the four bigger kids demanding my evenings, I somehow managed to finish all forty books. The Whitney reading always falls during the Academy Awards, and I’ll admit that sometimes I’m a little jealous of those judges– they can just watch movies! But this year, I was really impressed by the quality of the finalists, and now that I’m four years into this endeavor, I can definitely see progress in the work that is being chosen as finalists. So congratulations to all of the authors– you are doing great work.

At Segullah we love reading the Whitney books. In fact, it’s one of my favorite things we do all year, and I love the conversations that come from the reading. We were lucky to have a great group of readers this year. Rosalyn and I read all forty books. Emily M read most of them. Jessie read the 25 adult books and blogged about them at the AML blog. Sandra read the Historicals, Kellie read Mystery/Suspense, Blue read the Romances and whatever else I had lying around when she came over, and Sharlee read the Middle Grade books. In the spirit of a wrap up, here are my thoughts (and a whole bunch of Rosalyn’s) about the books nominated in all eleven categories:

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