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.
Travel can be a tortuous process. First you plan your itinerary, then you pack (and pack and pack). Eventually you end up with all your belongings at the airport or the train station and your journey begins. Most often, after a few hours you have arrived at your destination with the happy knowledge that your journey is almost at an end. But what if it didn’t end? What if you kept traveling and traveling, across continents and oceans and deserts, until you had made it all the way around the world? In 1889, two women set off to do just that, racing to circumnavigate the globe by steamship and railway in no more than seventy-five days at a time when Jules Verne’s fictional hero could do no better than eighty. Matthew Goodman’s new work, Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World, chronicles both women over the course of their very long trek.
Nellie Bly, a plucky and ambitious newspaperwoman, was surprised but willing when her editor at The World asked her to try to become the fastest person to circle the Earth. Not to be outdone, The Cosmopolitan, a rival newspaper, sent out their own female journalist travelling in the opposite direction on the same day. As they sped on, Bly and Bisland suffered from seasickness, missed connections, and the vicissitudes of the weather. Interest and speculation raced along with them, especially in Bly’s case. All of America and many parts of the world were anxiously counting the minutes and seconds until the day an American girl would become the fastest woman in the world. Goodman’s well-paced and extensively researched story is quietly suspenseful and thoroughly enjoyable. History buffs, travelogue addicts, and narrative nonfiction lovers will find themselves careening through this tale of long-lost American traveling glory.
In One Gorilla: A Counting Book, illustrator Anthony Browne takes the reader through a bevy of primates. A one-time Children’s Laureate of the United Kingdom, Browne draws on his lifelong fascination with gorillas and apes of all sizes. Using his signature strokes and employing the technique of varying dry and wet brushes, each page becomes a lifelike, head-on portrait of the featured creatures. Generous white space keeps the focus on the intense, breathtaking images of monkeys, chimps, and orangutans, among others. Browne reminds us of our own relationship to this group of animals with an arresting self-portrait, followed by a double-paged spread of diverse humans: “All primates. All one family.”
Two-time Caldecott medalist Chris Raschka takes a familiar childhood rite of passage and infuses it with his trademark watercolors in Everyone Can Learn to Ride a Bicycle. Raschka has said that when formulating ideas for his books, he is very influenced by events that took place in his own childhood. In this case, a young girl and her father first go to choose a bike. Then, she haltingly goes through the stages of becoming a proficient rider, helped along with words of encouragement. Readers are urged on by the fluid illustrations that mimic the forward energy of a bike in motion. A final parenthetical grace note after she has finally mastered the skill will bring a smile to every adult reader's face.
Pluto’s Secret, an Icy World’s Tale of Discovery by Margaret A. Weitekamp with David DeVorkin lets the cat out of the bag. Dancing around with its moon and other small worlds on the outer edges of the solar system, it watches as the people on Earth try to figure it out. Discovered in 1930 after years of searching, astronomers thought they had found the ninth planet around the sun. Pluto plays in its orbit, laughing at the astronomers. As more powerful telescopes are developed, scientists realize that Pluto is not only different than the other planets; it’s also not alone in its orbit. In 2006, this discovery led astronomers to vote on a definition of a planet, something which had never been done before. Pluto’s secret is revealed. It is not a planet, but the "first example of something new" --and it’s not the only one. Scientists have discovered an entire band of icy worlds around the sun (called the Kuiper Belt), as well as around other stars. As technology evolves, so does our ability to learn more about the Universe.
This children’s book, put out in association with the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, does an extraordinary job of piquing the reader’s interest in the solar system. Children will enjoy learning that an 11-year-old girl suggested the name for Pluto. Coupled with Diane Kidd’s charming illustrations, the story will entertain readers of all ages. Facts and photographs follow the story and gives those interested more resources. In 2006 NASA launched the New Horizons spacecraft to conduct a flyby study of Pluto and its moon, Charon. It’s halfway there, and should reach Pluto in 2015. Follow its progress here!
The American Library Association has announced the shortlists for the second annual Carnegie Medal. Named after business magnate and renowned Gilded Age philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who provided a portion of his considerable wealth to the building and promotion of libraries nationwide, these two medals honor the best of the previous year in adult fiction and nonfiction categories. The three nominees in the fiction category are all heavy-hitters: Richard Ford, for Canada, his sprawling novel set both in the wilderness of Montana and north of the border starting in the 1950s; Louise Erdrich's The Round House, a novel that touches on moral and legal issues set in the Ojibwe community, which has already won the National Book Award; and This Is How You Lose Her, a collection of short stories examining the world of relationships, by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz.
The nonfiction shortlist also features three strong candidates: The Mansion of Happiness: a History of Life and Death, by Jill Lepore, which takes on the methods we use to examine the big questions of what our mortal time means; National Book Award-winner Timothy Egan for his biography Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis, the portraitist of so many Native Americans; and David Quammen's Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, which investigates the zoonotic microbes that move from animals to humans, such as rabies and ebola. The winners for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction will be announced in Chicago on June 30 at the American Library Association annual conference.
Bridget Zinn’s Poison is an entertaining teen fantasy novel about Kyra, a sixteen year-old potions master who is on the run after attempting to kill the princess. Before her failed assassination attempt, readers learn that Kyra ran away from home as a child, and discovered not only was she gifted at making potions, but she also had the power to see the future, which she has since kept as a closely guarded secret. Thanks to her skill at potion brewing, Kyra is hired by the Queen to teach Princess Ariana the art of cosmetic potions, and the two become instant friends. They remain friends for years, until Kyra has a vision of Ariana bringing ruin upon the kingdom. Kyra sees it as her duty to save the kingdom by killing her best friend.
When Kyra’s usual steady shot misses, she must run from the royal army, as she continues to search for a way to stop ruin from befalling the kingdom. She enlists the help of Rosie, a magic pig, to sniff out the princess’s hiding place, hoping her shot won’t miss a second time. As she and Rosie journey across the countryside, trying to find the princess, they meet a young man, Fred. Fred joins Kyra and Rosie as they travel, though he has no idea who Kyra is, or that she’s trying to kill the Princess. As they move through the kingdom, Kyra and Fred run into witches and other fantastical beings and creatures, making their journey all the more difficult. Despite her best efforts, Kyra begins to fall for Fred, almost distracting her from her mission. A mix of fantasy, romance, and adventure, readers will enjoy following Kyra as she tries to save the kingdom in Poison.
Fantasy fans have much to celebrate when Joe Abercrombie releases a new book and they will not be disappointed with his latest novel, Red Country. Leave it up to Abercrombie to pull off a successful mash-up of a fantasy and a western. Red Country is fun, bloody and action-packed. His latest will be celebrated by the most ardent Abercrombie fans and is sure to create a new fanbase to add to his legion. While Red Country is a stand- alone novel, fans will recognize several characters from this First Law series. At the center of Red Country is Shy South, a tough-as-nails heroine who is seeking vengeance. Her home has been burned, her brother and sister stolen. She sets off to rescue her siblings and is accompanied by Lamb, her timid stepfather who seems to have a mysterious past.
Red Country has everything Abercrombie fans have come to expect: deeply-flawed characters, bloody action, realistic dialogue and lots of black humor. Added to this, the novel also succeeds as a Western, complete with frontier towns, a gold rush, a few duels and more than a few ghosts. Abercrombie is often compared to George R.R. Martin of Game of Thrones fame. He now stands on his own as one of the freshest, most unique voices in fantasy. Together with his First Law trilogy, Red Country is a perfect introduction to readers who have not yet tried Abercrombie’s version of fantasy. Highly recommended for fans of George R.R. Martin and Patrick Rothfuss.
Taiye Selasi’s debut novel, Ghana Must Go, begins with an end. Sai family patriarch Kweku lies in the dewy grass before dawn, slowly dying in his garden amidst a riot of African color and beauty. Get up, call for help, the reader wants to shout at this Hopkins-educated physician; instead, Kweku passively waits for his heart to stop beating.
Selasi’s title refers to the forced expulsion of Ghanaians from neighboring Nigeria as well as to the distinctive, cheap carryall bags in which they stuffed their belongings. Dr. Kweku Sai is from Ghana and his wife Fola is Nigerian. They meet in Pennsylvania where he is completing surgical training and she is in law school. They marry, have four intelligent and driven children, move to Boston, and continue to rack up professional and personal accomplishments. The Sai family epitomizes immigrant success until one unjust and cataclysmic event causes the foundation of the family to crumble and collapse. Written in three sections, “Gone,” “Going,” and lastly “Go,” Selasi allows her characters to reveal the insecurities which enabled their family bonds to stretch, break, and perhaps reform. Recollections, some of which are poignant and others shocking, are integral to understanding each of the family members.
This is a story of Africa and of America, of third world attainment and stellar achievements by anyone’s first world standards, and of a family unraveled and lives destroyed. It is a story of putting one foot in front of the other when one foot is in Africa and the other foot stateside. It is a story of leaving and of rebuilding. With its image-rich prose, acidic observations, and perceptive take on family relationships, Ghana Must Go is also very much a story to enjoy.
Jennifer McMahon’s latest novel, The One I Left Behind, begins in 1985. Reggie is thirteen years old and a murderer is terrorizing her hometown of Brighton Falls, Connecticut. The serial killer, nicknamed Neptune by the local police and press, is kidnapping and murdering women, leaving their bodies to be found by local police days later. The fourth and final victim is Reggie’s mother Vera. Unlike the other three women, Vera’s body is never found. For years the case is left unsolved, leaving Reggie with no closure.
Twenty five years later in 2010, a woman is found at a homeless shelter and identified as Vera. Vera’s reappearance forces Reggie to face emotions she hasn’t dealt with in years. At the same time, it reopens the unsolved Neptune murder cases, and creates new questions—why was Vera allowed to live, and where has she been all these years? Reggie brings her ailing mother back to their hometown to stay somewhere familiar in hopes that it will make her more comfortable. As the residents of Brighton Falls learn that Vera is alive and in town, the desire to learn the identity of Neptune is renewed. When another woman is kidnapped, Reggie realizes that Neptune has returned and takes matters into her own hands, investigating the murders and new disappearance on her own.
Switching back and forth between Reggie’s childhood, the present, and excerpts from a book about the Neptune serial killer, The One I Left Behind gives readers multiple sides to this mystery, taking readers along for Reggie’s search for the truth about her mother’s disappearance. The One I Left Behind is a thrilling mystery that readers won’t be able to put down.
Elizabeth Strout is adept at creating flawed, ordinary characters mired in a changing, unforgiving world, and instilling in them traits that all can recognize. In her latest novel, The Burgess Boys, the highly regarded writer returns to a small town in Maine with an observant, tragic-comic story of a family as burdened by its past as it is overwhelmed by its messy present. Clearly, navigating life and the human condition is never easy.
For Jim and Bob Burgess it is also complicated by family ties. Both New York attorneys, the middle-aged brothers fled long ago from down-on-its-luck Shirley Falls, where now Somali immigrants are changing the face of their hometown. Their divorced sister, Susan, has remained. When her lonely teenage son, Zach, is accused of a hate crime involving a Somali mosque, the brothers reluctantly return to Shirley Falls to obviate the legal crisis. It's hard to tell who is under more stress: the Mainers and immigrants who fret over what Zach's crime means for the community they now share, or the Burgess siblings who continue to define themselves by past demons. Jim, a celebrated defense lawyer with a big house and pretty wife, is revered by his siblings despite acting like a jerk to his younger brother. Nice guy Bob, who works for Legal Aid, drinks way too much. Scarring everyone is a long buried family tragedy that continues to ooze close to the surface.
Strout, whose last novel was the Pulitzer Prize-winning Olive Kitteridge, has again drawn with polished prose emotionally untidy characters whose seemingly unremarkable lives yield the hallmark of human character. With a reflective tone and pitch-perfect dialogue, Strout's fluid storytelling yields a simple, yet difficult message: connections matter.