Finding Camlann by Sean Pidgeon
This novel is set in Wales, a part of the United Kingdom. Donald Gladstone is an archaeologist studying British history by digging up long buried villages and outposts. He has set a daunting task for himself, to prove or disapprove that the Legendary King Arthur and the mythology of Camelot really existed. That said, this story works on a number of levels. First and foremost in my mind it is a glorious paean to the land, language and culture of Wales.
Second, it is a love triangle between Donald, Julia Llewellyn, and Hugh Mortimer. Julia married Hugh when she was young and impressionable, smitten by the scion of the storied Welsh Mortimers, a prominent family that traces its ancestry far back into the history of Wales. Their marriage which started as a star crossed love affair has fallen on hard times, with Hugh guarding a black secret from his past. Julia happens to run into Donald at a local pub and is instantly entranced by his studies into the Arthurian legends. As events progress, Julia falls further into Donald’s orbit, with Hugh lurking at the ancestral farm seething with jealousy.
Thirdly, this is a well-researched induction into the Arthurian legends and the lore of Camelot. I was pleasantly surprised when reading this book and its many Welsh words how much it reminded me of Tolkien. In fact there is a book out entitled “Tolkien and Wales: Language Literature and Identity” by Carl Phelpstead. Indeed Tolkien himself had done research and writing on the Arthurian milieu. There is a book just published called “The Fall of Arthur” by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien.
The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier
Honor Bright travels from England to Ohio in 1850 with her sister Grace. Grace is engaged to marry Adam Cox, a dry-goods merchant from their hometown and a fellow Quaker. After an arduous journey where Honor is constantly seasick, Grace dies suddenly just before they reach Faithwell, Ohio. Honor is befriended by Belle, an outspoken milliner, who has Honor help sew bonnets. When she reaches Faithwell, Honor must depend on the kindness of strangers, and is very lonely. Even Quaker meeting feels different in Ohio, and her sewing and quilting skills are not as valuable, as applique quilts are preferred to elaborate patchwork. Honor must marry and learn new skills, and finds herself caught up in the Underground Railroad, helping runaway slaves traveling north. Ultimately, Honor must decide what is more important; her principles or her new family.
A Spoonful of Sugar: A Nanny’s Story by Brenda Ashford
Does the title have you picturing Julie Andrews, the singing nanny in The Sound of Music? Try listening to the audiobook; the narrator sounds like her. Brenda Ashford, age 92, looks back at her happy childhood, her very long career as a British nanny, and her training at the famed Norland Institute, whose motto is “love never faileth” and which banned spanking. Brenda learned to love babies when her little brother David was born. Not as quick at book learning as her sister Kathleen, who became a midwife, Brenda was thrilled to be admitted to the Norland Institute in 1939. From learning nursery management, cooking, laundry, storytelling, sewing, and working in a hospital’s children’s ward, the teen received a thorough education. Then war disrupted life, with the students taking care of children evacuated from London’s East End and living on a country estate. All of her evaluations are included, along with tidbits of nanny’s wisdom, a daily schedule at each job, and several recipes for “puddings”. Her first several families are described, with the focus on the day and night nurseries and the children. Her heart is broken along the way, she learns to manage an early daycare, called a war nursery, and to care for and cuddle many, many babies. Her work schedule sounds exhausting, with very little time off. Her relief when electric irons become available is evident. Eventually she finds a family to belong to, and later even cares for their grandbabies when she’s 80! A charming read for Anglophiles.
The Expats: A Novel by Chris Pavone
Kate Moore leaves her State Department job when her techie husband Dexter gets a job offer from a private bank in Luxembourg. Now an expat American, she takes their two young sons, Jake and Ben, to private school, hangs out with the other expat moms, and waits for Dexter to come home from the office or yet another business trip. They do enjoy occasional weekend trips with the boys to other cities in Europe. Kate is bored and lonely, and becomes suspicious of their new American friends, Bill and Julia. Guiltily, Kate contacts a former colleague to make inquiries, and learns that her husband is under suspicion of stealing millions of Euros. Kate has her own secrets: she worked for the CIA, not the State Department, and was an operative in Mexico and Central America until shortly after Jake was born. Will Kate’s or Dexter’s pasts catch up with them, what secrets will be uncovered, and will love or money win the day? A building unease and suspense keep the pages turning, with the reader trying to figure out who’s telling the truth. But underneath is still a couple who love their sons and enjoy living in Europe. The author is a former cookbook editor who spent some time living in Luxembourg with his wife and twin sons, so the settings and scenes of family life ring true. A first novel, Expats was just awarded an Edgar Allan Poe award for best first mystery by an American author.
Red Planet Blues by Robert J. Sawyer
Alex Lomax is the only private detective in New Klondike, a domed town on the Mars frontier. 40 years ago priceless fossils were found nearby, but the explorers’ spacecraft crashed after a prospecting trip. This is a unique combination of noir mystery and science fiction, where humans can transfer their consciousness into an android body. Then they don’t need to eat, and can work in comfort outside the dome. The transfers are also very hard to kill. Alex is approached by an owner of the transfer company to find her missing husband. With a small town, there shouldn’t be that many places to look. The police reluctantly help Alex, but are happy to have him do the detecting. Then it turns out that the diary of one of the prospectors has made it back to Mars with his granddaughter. Can Alex trust her, or the beautiful new writer in residence? There are some exciting scenes outside the dome, where Alex’s life is endangered more than once. Other scenes are in Alex’s favorite bar, where his girlfriend Diana works. Fast-paced and exciting, this book may appeal to readers of noir mysteries. Readalikes include The Disappeared by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, first in the Retrieval Artist mystery series set on the Moon. Another suggestion is A Talent for War, by Jack McDevitt, the first book featuring Alex Benedict, an interstellar antiquities dealer. I’m hoping for more Alex Lomax books from Sawyer, an award-winning science fiction writer.
Several book awards have been announced recently. Here is an up-to-date list of the winners of a wide variety of book awards. More awards will be announced soon; I’ll update this list this summer. Brenda
Award Winning Fiction and Non-Fiction, 2012-2013
Christian Fiction Awards
Christy Awards, 2012
Contemporary: Tatlock, Ann. Promises to Keep.
Contemporary Romance: Kendig, Ronie. Wolfsbane.
Contemporary Series: Clark, Mindy Stars & Leslie Gould. The Amish Midwife.
Historical: Austin, Lynn. Wonderland Creek.
Historical Romance: Klassen, Julie. The Maid of Fairbourne Hall.
Suspense: James, Steven. The Queen.
Visionary: Stengle, Ann Elisabeth. Veiled Rose.
First Novel: Yttrup, Ginny. Words.
Bram Stoker Awards, 2011
Best Novel: McKinney, Joe. Flesh Eaters.
Best First Novel: Bird, Allyson. Isis Unbound.
Carnegie Medal, 2012: Enright, Anne. The Forgotten Waltz.
Man Booker Prize, 2012: Mantel, Hilary. Bring Up the Bodies.
National Book Award for Fiction, 2012: Erdrich, Louise. The Round House.
National Book Award for Non-Fiction, 2012: Boo, Katherine. Behind the Beautiful Forevers.
Nobel Prize for Literature, 2012: Mo Yan
Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, 2013: Johnson, Adam. The Orphan Master’s Son.
Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction, 2013: Kings, Gilbert. Devil in the Grove
(for more Pulitzer awards, visit the Pulitzer website.)
Women’s Prize for Fiction, 2012: Miller, Madeline. The Song of Achilles.
Agatha Awards, 2012
Best Novel: Penny, Louise. The Beautiful Mystery.
Best First Novel: Boyer, Susan M. Lowcountry Boil.
Anthony Awards, 2012
Best Novel: Penny, Louise. A Trick of the Light.
Best First Novel: Henry, Sara. Learning to Swim.
Best Paperback Original: Hyzy, Julie. Buffalo West Wing.
Edgar Allan Poe Awards, 2013
Best Novel: Lehane, Dennis. Live by Night.
Best First Novel: Pavone, Chris. The Expats.
Best Paperback Original: Winters, Ben H. The Last Policeman.
Best Fact Crime: French, Paul. Midnight in Peking.
Rita Awards, 2012
Best First Book: Jones, Darynda. First Grave on the Right.
Contemporary Series Romance: Morgan, Sarah. Doukakis’s Apprentice.
Contemporary Series Romance: Suspense/Adventure: Dees, Cindy. Soldier’s Last Stand.
Contemporary Single Title Romance: Lowe, Fiona. Boomerang Bride.
Historical Romance: Bourne, Joanna. The Black Hawk.
Inspirational Romance: Miller, Serena. The Measure of Katie Calloway.
Novel with Strong Romantic Elements: O’Neal, Barbara. How To Bake a Perfect Life.
Paranormal Romance: Harrison, Thea. Dragon Bound .
Regency Historical Romance: Dare, Tessa. A Night to Surrender.
Romance Novella: Linden, Caroline. I Love the Earl.
Romantic Suspense: Robb, J.D. New York To Dallas.
Science Fiction & Fantasy Awards
Arthur C. Clarke Award, 2013
Beckett, Chris. Dark Eden.
Hugo Awards, 2012
Novel: Walton, Jo. Among Others.
Novella: Johnson, Kij. “The Man Who Bridged the Mist”, in Asimov’s, Sept./Oct. 2011.
Novelette: Anders, Charlie Jane. “Six Months, Three Days”, on Tor.com.
Best Short Story: Liu, Ken. “The Paper Menagerie”, in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, March/April 2011.
John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, 2012: E. Lily Yu.
Nebula Awards, 2011
Novel: Walton, Jo. Among Others.
Novella: Johnson, Kij. “The Man Who Bridged the Mist,” in Asimov’s Science Fiction, October/November 2011.
Novelette: Ryman, Geoff “What We Found,” in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, September/October 2011.
World Fantasy Award, 2012
Novel: Tidhar, Lavie. Osama.
Novella: Parker, K.J. “A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong” in Subterranean Press, Winter 2011.
Spur Awards, 2012
Best Western Long Novel. Harrigan, Stephen. Remember Ben Clayton.
Best Original Paperback Novel: Boggs, Johnny. West Texas Kill.
Best Western Short Novel: Boggs, Johnny. Legacy of a Lawman.
Best First Novel: Mims, Meg. Double Crossing.
The Rook by Daniel O’Malley
This is a supernatural thriller, and quite fun to read. It’s the first in a series about the Checquy, a secret British spy agency staffed with people with a variety of supernatural abilities or unique physical characteristics, along with normal assistants. The opening sets the tone: Myfanwy Thomas (she pronounces it Miffany) finds herself in a park in London, surrounded by bodies wearing latex gloves, and with no memory. Her former self has left her a letter, however, giving her two options and a safe hideout. Clearly there is a traitor within the Checquy agency. The reader and Myfanwy learn that she is an executive with a desk job at the agency, but is occasionally called on to oversee the Checquy response to supernatural emergencies, such as a building covered with purple fungus that has swallowed the first team sent to investigate screams from inside. Her normal assistant Ingrid is invaluable as Myfanwy tries to get up to speed on her job while looking for the traitor. Lots of action and suspense, along with humor, plenty of eccentric characters, and unique settings including a boarding school for supernaturally gifted children make for a page-turner. I can’t wait to see what O’Malley, a first novelist from Australia, comes up with next. For more information and a video book trailer, visit his website.