Friday, June 8, 2012

Telling the truth

About a month ago, I was sitting in a Marriott ballroom trying to explain to my husband that although he had been so sweet to fly up to Provo just to be with me for the Whitney Awards, and that although I had two finalists in the romance category, and that although I was eligible for three awards that night, he would not be hearing my name called.

I'd read all the books. I knew exactly who would win. I'd known from the minute I hit the halfway point in Carla Kelly's novel Borrowed Light that it would win. And I was right. 

So I've had a month to process the loss. Want to know how I feel about it?

A hundred percent fine. The woman who won the Whitney Award for Best Romance has studied and honed her craft over a couple of decades in the national market. It's obvious when you read Carla Kelly's book that she's got a clear grasp of storytelling, a deep love of history, and she marries those two things here to write an utterly enjoyable novel.

The reality is that my first two novels ever published were chosen as two of five finalists from a crowded field of romance novel nominees. That felt amazing. I admit that the only thing that bummed me out about losing is that I feel like Not My Type is one of the best things I've ever written, so if it didn't win then I'm not sure anything I do in the future will ever have a shot of winning, either.

But here's the thing: I was bummed for about a day. And by "bummed" I mean that I eventually consoled myself with an extra piece of chocolate and that pretty much cured me. It's hard to be bummed when you agree with the outcome of a decision. Borrowed Light deserved the win.

And just so you know, there are at least two dozen people who can tell you I was on record as saying it would win weeks before that awards ceremony ever happened, so this isn't me trying to be a good loser.

However, the whole experience just affirmed for me how much I appreciate what the Whitney Awards does in recognizing great fiction from LDS authors, and specifically for me, LDS fiction, which is sometimes a hard genre for a newcomer to navigate when trying to figure out who to pick up and read. It's not a perfect process: There were a couple of head scratchers, and I think a couple of categories were weaker than they should be, but that's utterly subjective. Who's to say that those books aren't all excellent but I just don't care for the genres, you know? So many of the finalists this year knocked me right out with how good they were.

Anyway, reading books for the Whitneys consumed all, and I do mean ALL, of my reading time from Thanksgiving until the beginning of April. But now I've had two months to pick up books I like all on my own and I'm about ready to make some nominations again for books that I believe deserve consideration in this year's nominating process. 

Which is all to say that I'm fixing to tell you about some good books I read, and that you should check them out. Also, if you've read something great from an LDS author then you can and should nominate them here. It's about a ten second process.

Also, this is a list based purely on what I've been able to get to so far, so no friends of mine better be getting in a snit about not seeing their books. If it's not here, I haven't read it yet, so chill RIGHT NOW.

In the always crowded YA category, here are some great contenders:

Becoming Bayley wins the award, hands-down, for the author who I could not for the life of me figure out why she wasn't published yet. Susan is a dang good writer, and this is a great story that I fully expect to see as a finalist this year in the YA general category. Strong, imperfect, lovable main character. Soccer. First love. Hard choices. Doing the right thing. Being bone-headed sometimes. Learning. Hot soccer guys. Really, what else do you need to know? 
Not going to lie: I don't do scary well. Hate scary books. Hate scary movies. And when Luisa Perkins asked me to blurb this book and I had to read it, I was like, CRAP. Because she's a friend and I couldn't say no, you know? And I'll be honest, I read Dispirited only in broad daylight and usually at the park where nothing could sneak up on me without me seeing it coming. And I can't even really describe this book but I'll say this: it does a great job of being creepy without being terrifying. I didn't have to sleep with my light on, but I thought about it often when I wasn't reading it. So what's it about? Er . . . k, try this: a kid mourning his mother figures out how to slip out of his body and let his spirit roam to find her. And then something awful locks him out of his body. For years. And then there's this new family with a sweet girl. And a mysterious disappearing and reappearing house. And her sense that something isn't right. And she's brave. And . . . all right, I can't explain it. It's an eerie, haunting, awesome read. 

If your 8 to 13-year-old hasn't discovered this series by Julie Wright and Kevin Wasden, let me do you the enormous favor of recommending it to you. My 12-year-old son loves these books and I jumped all over the chance to review this book because it's so FUN. Great illustrations and a wonderful story of kids traveling through space on a quest. I love the plot, the creatures, the adventures, the resourceful kids AND the present, trustworthy, COMPETENT adults who help them (such a rarity in middle grade fiction, it feels like). Seriously, your kid, boy OR girl, will love these books.

And now, for the grownups:
For the grownups, here's another debut author to keep your eye on. Krista writes with so much heart. This novel, like mine, is a bit escapist. But where my books are kind of citrus-y meringues on the dessert spectrum, this book is . . . oh, come on: look at the cover. This book is CHOCOLATE. It's not an airy confection like my work tends to be, but it's not one of those choke-a-horse death-by-chocolate-cake-slices either. This is a premium milk chocolate book. Which is to say it's about a girl (but a grown one) who has some unexpected people drop into her life, like an ex-flame and a wayward sister and a love-her-on-the-spot baby niece, and bad guys--drug-dealing bad guys, no less--and a dad who tried but didn't get it right but maybe he will now. So read this.

If you like mysteries, then you need to discover Josi Kilpack's Sadie Hoffmiller series if you haven't already. My mother-in-law loves them. But so do a bunch of my friends around here. And Banana Split takes Sadie on a hard emotional journey where your heart breaks for her. It's a different flavor than her other Sadie stories, but in my opinion--and I'm right about this, btw--it's Josi's best work in the series. And that's saying something because the rest of the series is great.

There's a growing list of books I haven't read but already suspect will be finalists this year too. And I'll get to them, believe me. Obviously, I focused in this post on releases this year from LDS publishers. I'll have to do a future one about stuff I'll be reading in the next two months that's non-LDS fiction by LDS writers. I imagine you're going to want to keep an eye out for work from authors like Jolene Perry and Jennifer Shaw Wolf and Kristine Tate.


Susan said...

I. Love. You.

I've been wanting to read Dispirited but wasn't sure if it was too creepy. I'll be getting that one. I've heard so much good stuff about it.

Danyelle Ferguson said...

Great recommendations. And honestly, I totally thought you had the Whitneys in the bag. I LOVED The List and Not My Type. They're both in my top 10 2011 books read - and I read a heck of a lot of books every year!

Becca said...

Good post. Good suggestions. Good heart-opening. You're just good, apparently.

Stephanie Black said...

Melanie, you are awesome, and huge congrats on having BOTH your books as Whitney finalists!

Barbaloot said...

I love that I was in the middle of reading Not My Type (for the second and a half time) when I pulled your blog up. And I love even more that you specifically mentioned it while I was reading it.

I wrote down some of your suggestions, and I can't wait for more stuff from you:)

Mary De Bastos said...

I think you should have won.

I read Borrowed Light. I liked it. I didn't love it. But, I liked it. Carla Kelly has been at the romance game for decades though. She's a pro.

Also, how can you compare historical and contemporary romance? Romance is romance I guess, but there is a very different feeling to those styles. I find it hard that they were in the same category.

I'm a total fan of yours! I love your books and can't wait for what is next.

Jolene Perry said...

Awww... thanks for the shout-out!!

I'm SO excited to read Auten's book.
SO excited.
It's the first thing I'm going to buy when Mike get paid next... on the 13th. Ahem.
ANYhoo - I love it when author/writer/reader people I trust do lists of books like this.

And creepy?
I LOVE creepy. That one's going on my kindle on the 13th as well...

Thanks for the recs!

Jolene Perry said...

ALSO - I rec your books to EVERYONE without hesitation. LDS, not LDS, doesn't matter. They're fun and fabulous, and I love them.

Not My Type - that scene, near his apartment when he kisses her and is like - you need to figure out what you want... ah! LOVE that.

I also think it's some of your best kissing scenes ;-D
OK. NOW I'm done hogging your comments.

Donna K. Weaver said...

I heard so many great things about those books.

I'm glad both of your books were nominated. I loved them so much.

Julie Wright said...

Thanks for the awesome shout out. I loved both your books and honestly was surprised you didn't win because I expected you would. My husband listened to the audios of your books and even HE liked them . . . and he's a GUY. You rock . . . just sayin

Cathy said...

I have to agree with Becoming Bayley, that book was just amazing! But I have loved every one of your books as well. Totally thought you would win! said...

Great post, Melanie. Congrats on your two Whitney finalists. And I agree, the Whitneys are a wonderful tool. I don't get around to reading as much fiction as I'd like, so when I do pick up a fun book, I want it to be good. Knowing the author has a Whitney finalist under his or her belt is a big deciding factor for me.

Krista said...

Oh, this makes me smile. I'll be smiling for a while. Great list of books, Mel, you big-hearted gorgeous, shoe-loving woman.

Luisa Perkins said...

Thank you SO MUCH. I feel so honored to be in such awesome company. You're the best.

And you WILL win. SOON.

Sheila said...

Fabulous post! I do have to admit I really thought that one of your books was going to win the Whitney! I loved Not my Type and felt it had the best storyline. I love the Whitney Awards and I am so grateful it is out there. There are so many wonderful LDS authors out there that are finally receiving the recognition they deserve. Please keep writing fabulous stories!!

Rachelle said...

You are awesome and I totally get what you're saying, but I love all of your books and I think your writing is incredible. So don't think that you can't produce something better, that's what being a writer is all about--crossing the finish line and looking back and saying, "Next time I'm moving the finish line up to this point."

Thanks for the recs on great books!

Enjoy Birth said...

Why don't they have a non-fiction section? Do you know of any non-fiction LDS book awards?

You should be honored and I love all your books! :)

Kazzy said...

I've only read Dispirited out of these books, but I thought it was pretty cool. Thanks for the recommendations.

Lara said...

I read Becoming Bayley on your recommendation on FB. I was sick that day and so I downloaded it and I really liked it!

I'll have to look into the others.