Forty-four books were recently selected to the longlist for consideration for the 2014 Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction. That list has now been narrowed to six strong finalists representing the best in fiction and nonfiction published last year.
The fiction finalists include Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, focusing on a Nigerian immigrant’s experience in America; Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat, a series of beautifully written interconnected stories set in a small fishing town in Haiti; and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, a magnetic story told from the point of view of a smart 13-year-old coping with extreme circumstances and upheaval.
Nonfiction finalists are On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand-Year History by Nicholas A. Basbanes, a history of one of civilization’s staples; Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink, a remarkable account of Hurricane Katrina and what happened at Memorial Hospital before, during and after the storm; and finally, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism dissects the complex relationship between Presidents Taft and Roosevelt and their roles in the Progressive movement.
The Carnegie Medals were established in 2012 to recognize the best books for adult readers published in the United States in the previous year. These awards honor the 19th-century American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in recognition of his deep belief in the power of books and learning to change the world. The award is supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and administered by the American Library Association (ALA). These are the first single book awards for adults given by the American Library Association and reflect the insight and expertise of library professionals. Librarian and NPR commentator Nancy Pearl serves as chair of the selection committee. The winners will be announced in June with the winning authors receiving a medal and a $5,000 cash award.
The Mangle Street Murders is the first in the Gower Street Detective series by M. R. C. Kasasian. London before the turn of the century could be a dismal place. Luckily, London has personal detective Sidney Grice. Grice is pompous, arrogant, irascible and overly fond of drinking a perfectly brewed cup of tea. He will take anyone’s case for a price. March Middleton has lost her immediate family and is sent to live with Sidney Grice as his ward. March is kinder and gentler than the great detective and is keen on getting involved in his cases. When a woman of limited means comes to Sidney’s office to hire him to clear the name of her son-in-law, Sidney and March find themselves with a curious mystery that becomes more complicated at every turn. Sidney is unwilling to allow a woman to take part in an investigation, but March holds fast and quickly begins to assist with the case. Will March’s kind demeanor be able to withstand the arrogance held by Sidney Grice?
Grice is an even ruder version of the famous Sherlock Holmes, and Kasasian pokes fun at the famous detective with this similar character. March becomes the female Watson and, as the story is told through her narrative, she holds her own as an interesting and compelling character. The mystery itself is well thought out and complex enough to keep any mystery lover guessing. Kasasian is good at detailing life in 1880s London, and readers who enjoy a mystery rich in historical detail will not be disappointed.
Lisa Scottoline’s new novel, Keep Quiet, is a tension-filled thriller that will also spark great conversation at your next book club meeting. In an attempt to repair his strained relationship with his teenage son Ryan, Jake Whitmore reluctantly agrees to let Ryan drive home, despite the fact that it’s late and Ryan has a restricted learner’s permit. While Ryan is driving, he hits a pedestrian, and Jake finds himself forced to make a difficult choice to protect his son from the life-altering consequences of a moment of distraction. When they are blackmailed by a witness, their secret begins to unravel. Jake desperately tries to protect his family from the fall-out of the accident as the situation careens out of control. Like William Landay’s Defending Jacob, the story hinges on a parent’s love for his son and how far he will go to protect his child.
Scottoline recently agreed to answer some questions for Between the Covers readers. She shares more about her inspiration and demystifies her writing process.
Can you tell us a little about what inspired you to write Keep Quiet?
Many authors are inspired by what-if questions, and that’s what inspired this book. I live in the suburbs, and like everybody else, I drive around way too much and there's always one street that I drive down that has a blind curve, which drives me crazy. Sometimes I grumble that somebody should fix this, but most of the time I worry that if I turn the corner I could hit somebody if I'm not careful, [or my daughter could]. And there you have it!
One of the central questions in the novel is how far a parent will go to keep his child safe. What is it about that idea that makes it so compelling?
I'm a single mother, and being a parent is the most important and best part of my life, even in a life as blessed as mine. I adore my daughter Francesca. Raising her has always been a question of trying to strike a balance between letting her find her own wings, but at the same time being a loving and responsible parent, which can often mean protecting her–perhaps too much. This theme is the beating heart of Keep Quiet. I love it as a theme because it's a question that every parent has no matter what the age of their child. It's the kind of question that keeps moms, like me, up at night, so I knew it would make for a compelling novel.
Was it a challenge for you to write about this complex father-son relationship?
It was something of a challenge because the main character is a father, not a mother, but I think it's really important for writers to stretch and go out of their comfort zone sometimes. I was extremely close to my late father. I can tell you at any point in the day what he would have been thinking about, so I channeled his good heart and poured that into the character of the great father in this novel.
Will you share a little about your writing process? Do you write every day? Who is your sounding board?
I'm happy to talk about the creative process because I want to demystify it and perhaps encourage others to take a shot at their own writing, whether it's fiction or nonfiction. My personal motto is one that I borrowed from Nike, which is “just do it,” because I don't think you need a degree to become a writer, but in many cases, you just need to overcome your own self-doubts and insecurities. So just do it. That's what I do, for over 20 books now, and over 20 years. I write 2,000 words a day, sometimes I'm lucky enough to finish that by 6 o'clock at night, yet other times I won't finish until midnight. I don't have an outline, I just go with whatever the characters would logically do next. I happen to think that is what gives my novels a fast pace and logical narrative as well as, I hope, being hard to put down!
Some of your fiction readers may not realize that you also co-author the “Chick Wit” column in the Philadelphia Inquirer with your daughter Francesca Serritella. Have a Nice Guilt Trip, the fifth collection of those essays, will be released this summer. What are the best and worst parts of working with your daughter?
I love working with my daughter, and there are no worst parts. It's important to note, however, that I do not edit her in any fashion for those humorous essays, nor does she edit me. We both write about whatever topic we want, which, I think, are topics that relate to women of all ages. Then we put them together in a book. I love it because the reviews of these books are so wonderful, many calling them reminiscent of Erma Bombeck, which is, I think, a huge honor and compliment.
What was the last book that you stayed up late at night to read?
I really enjoyed Delia Ephron's Sister Mother Husband Dog, which is a moving and charming memoir.
An inspiring coming-of-age story about the pursuit of a better life in the United States is the 2014 One Maryland One Book selection. The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande describes her perilous journey of illegally emigrating from one of the poorest states in Mexico to a Los Angeles Latino neighborhood. Read the entire Between the Covers blog review here.
Upon learning of her selection, the Mexican-born author and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist said, “I'm humbled that my immigrant story was chosen to be the springboard for lively conversations on what the American Dream means today.” The Los Angeles Times called her book “the Angela’s Ashes of the modern Mexican immigrant experience.”
Now in its seventh year, the Maryland Humanities Council program brings people from diverse communities together from across the state through a shared reading experience, book-centered discussions and other programming. A calendar of free public events will be available on the MHC website this summer. Last year’s book, King Peggy: An American Secretary, Her Royal Destiny and the Inspiring Story of How She Changed an African Village by Peggielene Bartels, attracted thousands of readers to Maryland’s statewide book club. The 2014 theme is “the American Dream.”
Leila Meacham’s Somerset is a stirring family saga covering 150 years in the lives of the Toliver and Warwick families who are looking to make their way in the newly formed communities in Texas. Simon Toliver is determined to free himself from his South Carolina family and build his dream plantation in Texas. He is forced into a relationship with Jessica Wyndham, whose abolitionist leanings have made her a persona non grata in South Carolina. The two begin a perilous journey that will determine their future. Meacham’s story begins in the antebellum period as the plantation begins to grow and prosper, but threats of war are on the horizon. Simon and Jessica must find a way to protect their homes and families. Meacham creates memorable characters like Jessica’s best friend Tippy, a slave whom Jessica is determined to free.
Meacham wrote this novel as prequel to her first novel, Roses. Roses covers the history of the Somerset plantation from the years 1914 through 1985, introducing readers to the heirs of the Toliver and Warwick fortunes. Somerset begins in 1835 and sets the stage for all that is to come.
Leila Meacham is a new heavy hitter in the family saga, and Somerset is no exception. Grand and sweeping, it is full of tidbits of Texas history and rich with compelling characters that bring plenty of drama, action and romance. Teresa DeBerry reads the novel on the audio recording with such an authentic Texan drawl that the reader will be transported directly to the antebellum south. Fans of Belva Plain or Barbara Taylor Bradford are sure to find something to love in this novel.
Easter Quillby is a caregiver despite her tender age of 12. She takes care of her little sister Ruby as well as her pill-addicted mother, who mostly wanders around in a fog when she’s not passed out. Brady Weller is a disgraced ex-police detective who works for his ex-brother-in-law installing home security systems. Mostly alienated from his ex-wife and daughter, Weller volunteers as a court-appointed guardian ad litem. Finally, meet Pruitt: He’s a bodybuilding, former minor league baseball player recently released from prison, and he’s also a facially disfigured psychotic contract killer. (Is there any other kind?) Easter, Brady and Pruitt take turns narrating author Wiley Cash’s new novel, This Dark Road to Mercy.
Easter and Ruby end up in a children’s group home after their mother dies from an overdose. Weller is assigned to look after the girls’ interests. Easter’s master plan for life, which is college and a career as an FBI agent all the while raising her sister, is at risk when she overhears her foster mother discussing the sisters’ maternal grandparents’ plan to move the girls to Alaska to live with them. When Wade, the girls’ sad sack estranged father, himself a washed-out pitcher, shows up in the middle of the night toting a gym bag filled with ill-gotten gains, Easter impulsively grabs her sister and they take off with not-so-dear-old Dad ... only to find that Weller, Pruitt and the FBI are all in hot pursuit.
Set against the backdrop of the 1998 Sammy Sosa/Mark McGwire race to break Roger Maris’ home run record, Cash explores the unbreakable ties of family and the sins from the past, just as he did in his first novel, A Land More Kind Than Home. Easter’s voice is especially engaging as she tells her story with a clear-eyed realism. This Dark Road to Mercy will leave the reader rooting for the Quillby sisters and hoping for a grand slam ending.
“Give me your tired, your poor…” beckons the Statue of Liberty, its words a siren call to immigrants with an implied promise of the American Dream. The idea is that, in the United States, anyone can succeed through hard work regardless of the circumstances of their birth and background. But is the deck stacked? Amy Chua and her husband, Jed Rubenfeld, analyze this notion in their new book, The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America.
Chua and Rubenfeld are not looking at what makes individuals succeed but rather the overall success of cultural groups defined by religion, ethnicity or country of origin. Chua is no stranger to evaluating success; her previous book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, examines the child-rearing customs of Asian immigrants, which are at great odds with western notions of parenting but often result in astoundingly high-achieving children. In The Triple Package, the authors review at least eight distinct and seemingly disparate groups that have attained great and disproportionate financial success. Successful groups studied include Mormons, Nigerians, Persians and Cubans. The three traits shared by all the groups are a collective belief in their own group superiority, a contradictory feeling of insecurity resulting in the need to prove oneself and a well-regulated impulse control. Group members influenced by this trait trifecta are well equipped to run – and win – in the rat race.
Chua’s Tiger Mother attracted critics appalled by Chua’s mothering techniques, and The Triple Package is drawing controversy for what some readers see as the espousal of alarmingly elitist social theory. Chua and Rubenfeld do acknowledge a darker side to the package that can feature anxiety, depression and bigotry. The Triple Package provides an alternative slant on achievement in America.
Baltimore’s Elizabeth “Betsy” Patterson Bonaparte was known as the most beautiful woman in the United States. Jerome Bonaparte, Napoleon Bonaparte’s younger brother, was more interested in women than war games. The pair fell madly in love, and in so doing, changed their destinies and affected international diplomacy. Carol Berkin shares the story of this remarkable woman in Wondrous Beauty: The Life and Adventures of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte.
Born in Baltimore in 1785, Betsy was the eldest child of William Patterson and Dorcas Spear Patterson. Betsy’s beauty was renowned and coupled with her intelligence, wit and independence, it made her one of the most sought-after women in America. She refused marriage proposals from wealthy, powerful men, writing to her father, "Nature never intended me for obscurity." Her 1803 marriage to Jerome ensured her place in the spotlight and in history. Her father’s opposition to this union paled in comparison to Napoleon’s livid reaction. When the couple traveled from Baltimore to France, Napoleon banned the then-pregnant Betsy from disembarking in any European port. Napoleon also gave Jerome an ultimatum: Stay married to Betsy and get nothing, or marry a woman of Napoleon’s choice and enjoy wealth and power. Jerome ended the marriage in 1805 and was made king of Westphalia.
England welcomed the sensational Betsy with open arms, and it was there that she gave birth to her son and only child. She spent the rest of her life traveling between Baltimore and England and grew to admire the refined English society and despise America’s obsession with commerce. Despite her disdain for her country’s moneymaking mania, she fought for and received a pension from Napoleon that she invested, ultimately amassing a great fortune. Using Betsy’s letters, Berkin goes behind the tabloid-esque story and creates a portrait of an independent woman struggling to find her place in a changing world.
The Maryland Historical Society’s exhibit "Woman of Two Worlds:" Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte and Her Quest for an Imperial Legacy” brings to life the two worlds that Betsy inhabited and showcases her jewels, silver, furniture, paintings and much more, including one of her scandalous gowns.
Ishmael Beah writes as though he is guided by a kaleidoscope of imagery. The old man's hair was not gray; it was the "color of stagnant clouds." Such is the pleasure of reading this Sierra Leone-born author, who recently published his first novel, Radiance of Tomorrow, about the aftermath of civil war in his home country. The book, part fable/part allegory, is really several individuals’ stories set in the village of Imperi. It is about the redemptive nature of those who have suffered heartbreak few can imagine and the human need to renew, rebuild and rejuvenate.
Imperi is a devastated, desolate place since the war. Villagers are now making their way back, past the rows of human skulls that line their path. They bring with them memories. They bring physical scars as well, like those borne by Sila and his two children, whose hands were cut off by a 16-year-old boy soldier now living among them. They crave a return to the old ways, like Bockarie and Benjamin, two teachers at the center of the story who find it difficult to inspire students when conditions are so poor. Fortunately, there are storytellers, like the elder Mama Kadie, whose evening tales swaddle those listening in the tentative celebration of tomorrow. As more villagers return, we learn of their pasts. Insidious corruption from both within and outside of the government complicates matters.
Beah, a former child soldier who wrote about his experiences in A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, was influenced by the tradition of oral storytelling as a young boy. "I bring a lot of that oral tradition to my writing and I try to let it seep into the words." His evocative narrative, conveyed in the third person, borrows from his native Mende as well as other languages. It is lyrical prose that invites readers to slow down and drift into a world Beah knows all too well.
Photographer Rebecca Winter became a feminist icon, celebrated artist and a wealthy woman thanks to her “Kitchen Counter” collection of domestic photographs. In Still Life with Bread Crumbs (also the name of Rebecca’s most famous photograph), Anna Quindlen confronts the challenges involved with aging – financial decline, parental infirmities, career relevance and love.
Rebecca, now 60 years old and long-divorced, is dealing with dwindling finances, supporting her elderly parents and supplementing her grown son’s income. These obligations are coupled with a drastic reduction in income and force her to sublet her cherished Manhattan apartment and rent a small country cabin in a town where everyone soon knows her name. Almost immediately, she is faced with decidedly nonurban issues such as raccoons in the attic and a lack of power outlets. Local roofer Jim Bates offers assistance with her home and also secures her a paying gig photographing birds. When not sitting in a tree stand with Jim, Rebecca embraces the nature around her and slowly feels her creative spark returning.
Quindlen’s nonlinear narrative infuses Rebecca’s tale with a fresh pace as the depth of her story is uncovered layer by layer. Her past has shaped the woman she is today and the reader gets glimpses of key events that had a profound impact on her evolution. In moving to the country, she has physically distanced herself from friends and family and embarks on a soul-searching journey. While she may no longer be the same woman who snapped those famous photographs, she is still vibrant and willing to embrace second chances. Quindlen once again delivers with this beautifully written, insightful novel of one woman embarking on a new phase of life filled with professional rejuvenation and unexpected love.