Since its launch in 1996, the London-based Orange Prize has recognized the achievements of women authors around the world. Organized partly in response to a perceived bias weighted towards male-authored books receiving literary awards, this prize is judged by a committee of women, issues long and short lists of book contenders and ends with one grand winner. As it undergoes a change in sponsorship this year, the 2013 prize is known as The Women’s Prize for Fiction.
The 2013 short list was announced on April 16, and includes several titles familiar to Between the Covers readers. Probably the least surprising title to appear on the list is Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies. The second in a planned trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, it focuses on the final year of Anne Boleyn’s life and has been heaped with awards and accolades including the Man Booker Prize and the New York Times’ Top Ten Books of 2012. Previous Orange winner and American author Barbara Kingsolver is also named for her book, Flight Behavior. A financially strapped southern family is ready to sell their land to a strip-mining company until they find an immense roost of migratory butterflies has unexpectedly made their mountain a home. New to the prize scene is author Maria Semple, honored for Where’d You Go, Bernadette? A comically satirical look at Seattle and privilege, wife and mother Bernadette has disappeared and it may be up to her daughter to find her.
Another Orange Prize winner, Zadie Smith, is back on the list for her book NW. Described as a “story of a city,” Smith writes about friends from northwest London and examines their progress, or lack thereof, on the ladder of social climbing and upward mobility. The final short-listers are Life After Life by Britain’s Kate Atkinson and A.M. Homes’ May We Be Forgiven. Garnering glowing reviews, Atkinson’s tale begins in pre-WWI England and is centered around a character who dies repeatedly only to return to live her same life again with the ability to alter her choices. DC native Homes introduces the brothers Silver. First-born George’s life is the definition of success--fame, money, a lovely wife and prep school children; younger Harold is a history professor at a community college who moves in on George’s family when George starts to unravel, triggering a calamitous series of events. The complete long list of nominated books can be found on the Women’s Prize website and the winner will be announced on June 5, 2013.
A fun way to “read” with your emergent reader is to check out a wordless picture book. Take turns telling the story in your own words. Encourage your young reader to add sound effects and dialogue. Try Chalk by Bill Thomson. Three kids go to the park on a rainy day and find a bag of magic chalk. Everything they draw comes to life! How will they cope when a mischievous boy draws a dinosaur? Wonderfully expressive artwork drawn in big, bold color will make it easy for you and your young reader to “write” the story.
You Can’t Take a Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum by Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman is full of action. The story is drawn in pen and ink style with touches of color. A security guard is entrusted to watch a balloon for a young patron. See what happens when the balloon gets loose and he has to chase it around New York. The story takes many twists and turns as the action outside the museum seems to match the artwork inside. Try this one out with your kindergartener (or older child).
In Bow-Wow Bugs a Bug, Mark Newgarden and Megan Montague Cash illustrate a story of a dog that follows a bug around the neighborhood. Using bright, simple illustrations, the authors draw a surprising weird, charming and funny story. The bizarre adventure lends itself to some surreal storytelling which is probably more suited to 1st grade or older. Give it a try with any of your kids and see what develops.
If you have a good time with these, be sure to ask your librarian for more titles or search the catalog for keyword “wordless”.
What young reader can resist a book that answers the question: can cow poop help two friends patch up their friendship?
In Zig and Wikki in The Cow, by Nadja Spiegelman and Trade Loeffler, Zig (an alien) and Wikki (his computer friend) are going about their day when Zig notices his pet fly looks sick. An already jealous Wikki is happy to take the fly back to Earth where they promptly lose their spaceship. Hilarious adventures through a farm’s ecosystem ensue. Will Zig and Wikki find their spaceship? Will their friendship be saved? Will the fly be okay? Interspersed with scientific facts about an ecosystem, the story is a fun read (and just a little bit gross). Zig and Wikki in The Cow is a great book to read with your beginning reader. The pictures are charming, the story is funny and (after a few “ewwws”) your reader will be proud of the science lessons learned. If you enjoy this one, be sure to check out their first adventure Zig and Wikki in Something Ate My Homework.
Three picture books take on one of the first questions that kids have to come to terms with: when is enough enough?
For a while, Davy was an only lamb. He enjoyed the focused attention he received from his parents, until one after another brother arrived on the scene. Before he knew it, there were twelve brothers, all of which wanted to follow in Davy’s hoofsteps, everywhere he went. Matthew Cordell, author and illustrator of Another Brother, uses bright, funny line drawings and successful, subtle ovine humor in this satisfying and surprisingly touching sibling story.
Minerva is the subject of The Unruly Queen, written and illustrated by E.S. Redmond. This is largely a tale of gluttony, as Minerva seems more interested in using as many resources (and exasperated nannies) as she possibly can. However, when her fifty-third nanny finally beats her at her own game, Minerva receives her much needed comeuppance. The rhyming couplets match the art, which is reminiscent of Edward Gorey and Tim Burton.
An unnamed magpie has what we would refer to as hoarding tendencies, in More, written by I.C. Springman and illustrated by Brian Lies. Acrylic and colored pencil drawings of the magpie, mice, and objects star in this timeless fable that mirrors present-day issues of materialism. A field mouse offers the magpie the gift of a marble, but after collecting many more items, its nest becomes overwhelmed by many other found objects. After a catastrophic incident, the field mice help the magpie determine just what matters, and what is enough.
Miracles and foundering souls aside, Francesca Kay's new novel, The Translation of the Bones, is not a religious story, nor does it answer big questions about faith and God. Rather, it considers why people believe what they do and the inextricable connection between love, sorrow, and solace. The story is centered on the Church of the Sacred Heart in Battersea, in urban South London, where a mentally fragile young volunteer, Mary-Margaret O'Reilly, mistakes a bad blow to the head for a personal message from Christ. When word of a bleeding statue spreads, the spectacle becomes an embarrassment to those connected to the church and its spiritually exhausted parish priest.
Kay limits plot development in favor of richly developed characters whose commonality is the church and aching motherhood. There is Stella, the lovely cabinet official's wife and flower arranger, whose youngest boy is at boarding school; and Alice, the church housekeeper whose son is in Afghanistan. Both are awaiting the return of their sons. There is also Fidelma, the obese, housebound mother of Mary-Margaret, whose childhood memories still haunt her. Whether or not a miracle has occurred becomes unimportant and unexplored as Kay's characters carry on with distracted lives until tragedy eventually unifies everyone and unhinging loss challenges the nature of belief.
The author's first novel, An Equal Stillness, won Britain's Orange Award for New Writers in 2009. Her new slim novel omits chapters and speech marks, but it doesn't matter. The story shifts seamlessly between different points of view with language, so lovely at times that it invites the occasional sigh, and the knowledge that passion, whether prompted by religious mania or devotion to loved ones is a complex emotion that human beings will forever be trying to define.
The improbable history of the sinking of the Titanic is legendary. The “unsinkable” ship’s maiden voyage was favored with the advantages of an experienced captain, a capable crew, and peerlessly clear weather. She had every probability of reaching her destination unscathed. Yet despite the clear night and the watchful lookout, a looming, unseen colossus was destined to sink her. Of course, even the smallest twist in the kaleidoscope may produce chaos. It is on this premise, embodied by the mysterious, anachronistic presence of a pair of 21st century night vision binoculars, that author David Kowalski launches his epic exploration of “what if?” What if the Titanic hadn’t struck the iceberg? Or, what if she had, but on a different side? Who lives that night, who dies and how - these subtle changes will reshape history as we know it in breathtakingly plausible ways. That is, unless one man’s profound sacrifice in 2012 can reset the Titanic on its original date with destiny.
At just under 750 narrative pages, The Company of the Dead is a tome to be sure, yet not a page in its composition is superfluous to its intricately-woven plot and character development. Throughout the story, Kowalski demonstrates compulsive attention to historical detail and lyrical language. These elements serve to draw the reader ever further into the author’s ambitious yet startlingly realistic vision of a world reshaped and on the edge of the apocalypse.
The Company of the Dead is broadly recommended for readers of any genre who are prepared to invest time in an absorbing adventure. Technically a secret rather than an alternate history, The Company of the Dead nevertheless plays on the same “what if?” element characteristic of so many alternate history titles. It will therefore strike a particular chord with devotees of alternate history and historical fiction. Readers beguiled by alternate histories involving familiar historic figures and locations may also enjoy Orson Scott Card’s Alvin Maker series as well as a smorgasbord of series and standalone titles by Harry Turtledove.
Bestselling Regency romance author Sarah MacLean’s new Rules of Scoundrels quartet will follow the four charming rogues who own the Fallen Angel gambling club. Each has fallen from society after a scandal but will find love strong enough to redeem him. The series is off to a great start with A Rogue by Any Other Name.
MacLean’s first scoundrel is the Marquess of Bourne who gambled away his inheritance when he was 19 years old. The scandal left him penniless and exiled from society, but he has built a new life and fortune for himself as one of the owners of the most notorious gambling hell in London. The only thing that he hasn’t regained is Falconwell, his ancestral estate. When he finds that Falconwell is now part of the dowry of his childhood neighbor Penelope Marbury, Bourne traps her into marrying him. Penelope has always loved her childhood friend Michael (now Bourne) but the man she has married bears little resemblance to him. Bourne doesn’t expect marriage to change his life, but Penelope is not at all the woman Bourne expected her to be. In the end, he has to choose between the revenge that he always wanted and the life he never knew that he could have.
MacLean has an extraordinary ability to create characters who readers love, and she injects a modern sense of humor into her historical setting. Old letters between Penelope and Bourne open each chapter, giving their relationship history and depth. The epilogue of A Rogue by Any Other Name has a tease of the next novel, and it will definitely leave readers wanting more. Readers new to Sarah MacLean should also try her Love by Numbers series, where Penelope makes her first appearance.
The End of the Wasp Season is the latest novel by Denise Mina and the second featuring Detective Inspector Alex Morrow. Morrow was introduced in the novel Still Midnight, in which she was trying to solve an attack on a family while wrestling demons of her own. In the current novel, Morrow is heavily pregnant with twins and trying to unravel the mysterious death of a woman who was thrown down a flight of stairs and stomped on. As in the previous novel, Morrow is also dealing with sexism within the police bureau and trying to ensure that male officers treat the victim with respect.
Morrow is a complex character. She is methodical, organized, and truly desires justice for the victims. She finds herself in an uncomfortable situation when she runs into an old school friend named Kay whose previous employment was caring for the victim’s mother. Morrow wants to reconnect with her, but realizes that Kay and members of her family may be suspects in the crime. Kay is still living in semi-poverty and has a strong mistrust for the police. Morrow represents all the things that Kay dislikes.
The novel is set in Glasgow, Scotland and Mina really creates a strong city atmosphere. For a reader that prefers audio editions, the work is read by Jane MacFarlane who has a delightful Glaswegian accent that lends to the enjoyment of hearing the novel. Mina describes police procedures in realistic detail, from evidence collection to suspect interrogation. But the greatest strength in her novels is her insight into the psychology of the main characters. The story is as much about those who commit the crime as those who solve them. The reader gets caught up in the story and it becomes impossible to stop reading. Both Still Midnight and The End of the Wasp Season are wonderful novels and Detective Alex Morrow is a character every reader should discover.
Heft by Liz Moore is a confessional novel about loneliness, human fragility and hope. From the very beginning, Arthur Opp confides, “the first thing you must know about me is that I am colossally fat.” By his estimation, he probably weighs between 500-600 pounds and has not left his home in Brooklyn since September 11, 2001. He has no contact with family or friends. If he needs anything from the outside world, he simply orders it online.
Out of the blue, former student Charlene calls Arthur to find out if he might consider tutoring her teenage son, Kel. Although Charlene was Arthur’s student over twenty years ago, he still thinks of her often. For him, Charlene represents a life that might have been. Meanwhile, Charlene is a struggling single mom raising her son in Yonkers. Wanting more for Kel, she has managed to get him into a better school in an affluent neighborhood nearby by working at the school as a secretary. Kel is a gifted athlete and is interested in pursuing a career in baseball. Charlene is concerned that he’s more interested in sports than in his academic future. A firm believer in higher education, she hopes Arthur Opp may be able to help. Readers will stay up way too late, temporarily neglect chores and relationships just to see how this story unfolds.
Heft is a heartfelt novel that never crosses into sappy sentimentalism. With Moore’s keen attention to detail, deeply compelling story and all too human characters, Heft is destined to land on many of the “Best Of” lists this year. Adult and teen readers who enjoy coming of age stories should not miss out on this lovely book.
Ten-year-old August Pullman (Auggie to family and friends) sees himself as a pretty ordinary kid. Or at least, a pretty ordinary kid with a most extraordinary face. You see, August’s face is the result of a most improbable genetic lottery, a one-in-a-million ticket called mandibulofacial dysostosis which, despite countless corrective surgeries, has gifted August with the kind of face that causes children to run screaming and even the kindest adults to avert their eyes.
However ordinary August might feel on the inside, at first – and second – glance the world has always seen a freak, or at best, a gut-wrenchingly pitiable boy. As his sister’s childhood friend Miranda puts it, “…the universe was not kind to Auggie Pullman.” Yet, as the story unfolds over his first year of middle school, August’s teachers and his classmates will learn that August’s face really is the least extraordinary thing about him.
First time author R.J. Palacio brings August and the other characters of Wonder to life with tremendous poignancy, realism and a supersized measure of practical humor. The perspectives of many characters are sampled and distilled into a comprehensive experience of what it means to be different, to love (and sometimes resent) someone who is different, and what extraordinary beauty can be seen beyond the peephole. Palacio’s characters and situations are deftly constructed, startlingly realistic, and likely to resonate with anyone who’s ever been there, whether as the awkward student on the first day of middle school, the parent or sibling of a child whom the world sees as different, or the “normal” kids and adults who must face their own internal concoction of fear, politeness, meanness, and most importantly, kindness when confronted with someone who is different.
Ultimately, this is more than a story about fitting in and more than a caution against judging a book by its cover – though Wonder certainly encompasses both of these messages. It’s a story about the beautiful, the ordinary, and the unseen ways in which an unkind universe still takes care of all its birds.