Book Awards: A Challenge Completed

I was delighted this morning when I discovered that Paperboy by Christopher Fowler had won the inaugral Green Carnation Prize.

It’s a lovely book more than worthy of prizes and attention.

And it brought me up to the total of ten books read and written about that I needed to complete the Book Awards IV Reading Challenge.

I’ve been rather lackadaisical in my approach to reading challenges this year. Signing up and making book lists was lovely, but I’ve read the books that called and they weren’t always the books on the lists or books that fitted the challenges I’d signed up for.

I’ll wind up a few more before the year ends, but a few I’m afraid have fallen by the wayside. I’m not going to name names, I’m just going to say that I mean no disrespect to the hosts and that I do appreciate all of the thought and hard work that they put in.

But back to the one I have finished – here are the books:

  1.  The Tin-kin by Eleanor Thom (Saltire First Novel Award) 
  2.  The Well and the Mine by Gin Phillips (Barnes & Noble Discover Prize)
  3. Paperboy by Christopher Fowler (Green Carnation)
  4. Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen (SIBA Book Award)
  5. Haweswater by Sarah Hall (Commonwealth Writers’ Award)
  6. Echoes From The Dead by Johan Theorin (CWA New Blood Dagger)
  7. After The Fire, a Still Small Voice by Evie Wyld (John Llewelyn Rhys Prize)
  8. I Coriander by Sally Gardner (Nestlé Smarties Book Award)
  9. The Boy Next Door by Irene Sabatini (Orange Award for New Writers)
  10. Just Like Tomorrow by Faïza Guène (Scott Moncrieff Prize)

Some I picked from prize lists, some I read and they just happened to have awards and, maybe best of all, two I read and loved and then they won awards.

And now I’m off to read my final book for another challenge …

The Well and The Mine by Gin Phillips

“After she threw the baby in, nobody believed me for the longest time. But I kept hearing that splash.”

It’s a striking opening, and it offers a mystery, but this book holds so much more. It’s a wonderful evocation of a period, a community and one family.

The story is set in a small town in Alabama during the depression of the early 1930s. And it is the family that brings that time and place to life.

Albert Moore is a miner. A good man, hard-working, and respected and loved by his peers. His wife, Leta, works equally hard at home, tending her children, her home and her vegetable garden. Times are hard and the family is poor, but, thanks to Albert and Leta’s efforts they are better off than many of their neighbours.

They have a young son, Jack, and two daughters. Virgie is the elder of the two, still a child but very nearly a woman, and she is beginning to see the world though different eyes. And Tess in nine-years old; very bright but definitely a child.

It is Tess, sitting on the porch, who sees a woman throwing a baby into the well. She and Virgie set out to uncover the identity of  the mystery woman, visiting and talking to friends and neighbours.

That builds a picture of the community. They see very different lives, greater poverty, and other children whose parents are unable to put enough food on the table.

And as the narration moves between the five members of the family a bigger picture emerges. Of the family, of the community, and of the times.

Such a story, with five narrators, could have been a mess. There were moments when I found the shifting times and perspectives difficult, but otherwise this book works beautifully. The drama is quiet, the details are lovely, and a vivid and very human story of good people coping in difficult times emerges.

The mystery isn’t the main focus, but it does provide a firm framework for the bigger story. And it is solved. Not with a big drama, but with a terribly sad human story – and that was exactly right.

I was drawn in, I cared, and I had to keep turning the pages.

A lovely, and accomplished, debut novel.

Library Loot

Marg is coordinating Library Loot this week.

I really am trying to be moderate – my ticket is close to capacity -but there were three books that just had to come home this week:

Even The Dogs by Jon McGregor

 “They break down the door at the end of December and carry his body away. On a still and frozen day between Christmas and New Year, a man’s body is found lying in his ruined flat. Found, and then taken away, examined, investigated and cremated. As the state begins its detailed, dispassionate inquest, the man embarks on his last journey through a world he has not ventured into, alive, for years. In his wake, a series of fractured narratives emerge from squats and alleyways across the city: the short and stark story of the man, and of his friends who look on from the shadows, keeping vigil as the hours pass, paying their own particular homage. As they watch, their stories unfurl layer by layer; stories of lives fallen through the cracks, hopes flaring and dying, love overwhelmed by a stronger need, and the havoc wrought by drugs, distress and the disregard of the wider world.”

Not my usual sort of book, but I’ve loved Jon McGregor’s earlier novels and this has had so much praise that I just had to pick it up.

The Well and the Mine by Gin Phillips

“In 1931 Carbon Hill, a small Alabama coal-mining town, nine-year-old Tess Moore watches from the darkness of her back porch as a strange woman lifts the cover off the family well and tosses a baby in without a word. It is the height of the Depression; while Tess’s father, Albert, performs backbreaking and dangerous work at the mine, her mother, Leta, makes do without meat on her table. But the family are luckier than most; the food they can grow on their plot of land has so far saved them from the crippling poverty and near-starvation that besets their neighbours. As Tess tries to unravel the mystery of the woman at the well, a portrait emerges of a family and a community struggling to survive the darkest of times.”

This went on my mental list when I read about it in a few places at the end of last year. This week it appeared.

The Still Point by Amy Sackville

“At the turn of the twentieth century, Arctic explorer Edward Mackley sets out to reach the North Pole and vanishes into the icy landscape without a trace. He leaves behind a young wife, Emily, who awaits his return for decades, her dreams and devotion gradually freezing into rigid widowhood. A hundred years later, on a sweltering mid-summer’s day, Edward’s great-grand-niece Julia moves through the old family house, attempting to impose some order on the clutter of inherited belongings and memories from that ill-fated expedition, and taking care to ignore the deepening cracks within her own marriage. But as afternoon turns into evening, Julia makes a discovery that splinters her long-held image of Edward and Emily’s romance, and her husband Simon faces a precipitous choice that will decide the future of their relationship.”

The cover is the loveliest I have seen for some time, and the story sounds wonderful. I really couldn’t have left this one behind.

Have you read any of these? What did you think? Which book should I go for next? And which are you curious to know more about?

And what did you find in the library this week?