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 Boy Next Door, Orange Prizes and Reading Ambitions

Back in the spring when the longlist for this year’s Orange Prize came out I was inspired. So many wonderful books, some that I’d heard of and some that I hadn’t. My heart said read then all! My head agreed that it would be wonderful, but that I couldn’t possibly do it before the shortlist came out or even before the award was made.

As of today I’ve read eight of the twenty, I have three more to hand, and I haven’t ruled out reading the lot. Eventually!

But that ambition went on to the back burner when I saw the shortlist for the Orange Award for New Writers. Just three books, and two of them were already on my radar. Now that was do-able!

The first was The Book of Fires by Jane Borodale. It had popped up in my Amazon recommendations, I’d seen it in a few other places and I was ready to pick it up as soon as a copy appeared in the library. When it appeared on the shortlist I placed an order. It proved to be a very readable book, with plenty of twists and turns and an engaging heroine. But there were problems. A few plot holes and some opportunities missed. A promising debut but it didn’t really seem worthy of the shortlist.

And then there was After The Fire, A Still Small Voice by Evie Wyld. The cover caught my eye in the library towards the end of last year, and the title was intriguing. When I first picked it up I wasn’t sure it would be my sort of book, but I read so much praise that I have to give it a try. It was a very accomplished debut, a book more than worthy of all the praise showered upon it, but it didn’t quite click with me I’m afraid.

And finally there was The Boy Next Door by Irene Sabatini – the only shortlisted book I hadn’t heard of before the list came out.

I fell in love with this one and I had planned to post about it on the evening of the award. But I didn’t quite get to it. Then it won, and a celebratory post seemed to be in order. But I was distracted by life, took a blogging break and it didn’t happen.

Until now!

The setting interested me: Zimbabwe shortly after the Act of Settlement and the first free elections, when white minority rule ended and Robert Mugabe came to power. I was young but my best friend had cousins the same age as us in Zimbabwe, and so we followed developments carefully. 

And then the heroine captivated me. In 1978 she was 14, the same age as me and we seemed so much alike. Lindiwe Bishop was quiet, bright but not quite at the top of the class, and she was bookish. She read Sue Barton books, books that I loved but had quite forgotten about. But I would have loved her even without that wonderful reminder.

Lindiwe was of mixed race and she lived with her family in what was previously an all-white suburb of Bulawayo.

Ian McKenzie, the boy next door, was a few years older than Lindiwe and he was white. A different class. And it seems that Ian is trouble. A fire is set at the McKenzie home, and Ian is accused, found guilty and jailed. In time the conviction is overturned and Ian is released, but suspicion still hangs over him.

Lindiwe is warned to steer clear, but she is fascinated by the boy next door and they begin a clandestine relationship.

The story follows that relationship over the next ten years, against the background of the new and changing  Zimbabwe. A relationship complicated by racial tensions, family relationships and secrets, demons from the past. It seems doomed to fail, but I couldn’t help hoping that it would succeed.

It works brilliantly, both the small picture and the big picture. The story of the country and the stories of Lindiwe, Ian and the people around them. I felt for them all, but most of all for Lindiwe as she matured, as her understanding grew, and as she struggled to cope with life’s ups and downs.

I was engaged, moved, and informed by The Boy Next Door.

Definitely a worthy award winner.

Library Loot

Eva is coordinating Library Loot this week.

I’m still trying to be moderate. My own books are calling. Loudly. But three very different books had to come home this week.

First there was the award winning crime novel:

The Darkest Room by Johan Theorin

” It is bitter mid-winter on the Swedish island of Oland, and Katrine and Joakim Westin have moved with their children to the boarded-up manor house at Eel Point. But their remote idyll is soon shattered when Katrine is found drowned off the rocks nearby. As Joakim struggles to keep his sanity in the wake of the tragedy, the old house begins to exert a strange hold over him. Joakim has never been in the least superstitious, but from where are those whispering noises coming? To whom does his daughter call out in the night? And why is the barn door for ever ajar? As the end of the year approaches, and the infamous winter storm moves in across Oland, Joakim begins to fear that the most spine-chilling story he’s heard about Eel Point might indeed be true: that every Christmas the dead return….”

I’m enjoying my journey through the Orange Prize longlist but I wanted a change, to bring home something completely different. And this one caught my eye. Winner of the Glass Key Award for the Best Nordic Crime Novel of the Year. Now there are a lot of great Nordic crime novels around at the moment, so surely to win this must have been pretty good.

Then there was the book of the shortlist for the Orange Award for New Writers that I just had to order:

The Boy Next Door by Irene Sabatini

“As Zimbabwe breaks free of British colonial rule, young Lindiwe Bishop encounters violence at close hand when her white neighbour is murdered. But this is a domestic crime, apparently committed by the woman’s stepson, Ian, although he is released from prison surprisingly quickly. Intrigued, Lindiwe strikes up a covert friendship with the mysterious boy next door, until he abruptly departs for South Africa. Years later, Ian returns to find Lindiwe has been hiding her own secret. It is to bring them closer together, but also test a relationship already contending with racial prejudice and the hostility of Lindiwe’s mother. And as their country slides towards chaos, the couple’s grip on happiness becomes ever more precarious.”

I was curious when I saw this on the shortlist and so I ordered a copy. I’ve only read one chapter in but I’m impressed – Lindiwe is an engaging narrator and the story looks very promising.

And, finally, there’s the book that caught my eye on the new books shelf:

Diamond Star Halo by Tiffany Murray

“Halo Llewelyn’s prayers begin, Dear God and Otis Redding, because she lives at Rockfarm, a rural recording studio where the sound of tractors and Stratocasters battle. One midsummer night an American band called Tequila arrives in a beautiful silver bus, and when they and that summer are gone, they leave behind an equally beautiful baby boy; they leave Fred. Fred is everybody’s favourite, a golden child, and Halo adores him. By seventeen his ambition has propelled him out into the word and into the stardom that was always his destiny. Yet up on stage, being screamed at by hundred of teenage girls and boys, Fred will always turn his spotlight on Halo in the crowd. That’s the problem with falling in love with your charismatic almost-brother: it can never be a secret. In the end, the whole world has to know.”

This looked so different that, although I wasn’t sure it was going to be my sort of book, I had to pick it up. I’m still not sure but when I saw the quote “Cider With Rosie with an impeccable soundtrack” from Mark Radcliffe on the cover I knew that I had to give it a try. And it’s published by Portobello Books, which is a very good sign.

*****

Have you read any of these? What did you think? Which are you curious to know more about?

And what did you find in the library this week?

Orange Prize: New Writers Award Shortlist for 2010

I’m still working my way through a pile of books that interested me from the Orange Prize longlist that called me, but I was still on alert for the shortlist for the new writers award. It’s thrown up some interesting books over the years.

This years list is diverse and potentially very interesting.

*****

First there’s the book that was considered a contender for the Orange Prize. I haven’t read it, but I felt the shockwaves when it wasn’t even longlisted:

After The Fire, a Still Small Voice by Evie Wyld

“After the breakdown of a turbulent relationship, Frank moves from Canberra to a shack on the east coast once owned by his grandparents. He wants to put his violent past and bad memories of his father behind him. In this small coastal community, he tries to reinvent himself as someone capable of regular conversation and cordial relations. He even starts to make friends, including a precocious eight year old named Sal. But it is not that easy for him to let go of the past. Leon is the child of European immigrants to Australia, living in Sydney. His father loves Australia for becoming their home when their own country turned hostile during the Second World War. His mother is not so comforted by suburban life in a cake shop. As Leon grows up in the 50s and 60s, his watches as his parents’ lives are broken after his father volunteers to fight in the Korean War. Leon himself goes from working in the shop, sculpting sugar dolls for the tops of wedding cakes, to killing young men as a conscripted machine-gunner in Vietnam. In the fall out from the war, Leon thinks he might be able to make a new life with his woman, make a baby, live by the sea in a small shack. But something watches from the cold shade of the teeming bush. Set in eastern Australia with its dark trees and blinding light, this is a story of fathers and sons, their wars and the things they will never know about each other. It is about the things men cannot say out loud and the taut silence that fills up the empty space.

I have heard so much praise for this book and it’s author. It’s been on my library pile for a while now, and to be honest the opening isn’t grabbing me, but I suspect it may be one of those books where a little perseverance really pays dividends. So I will give it some serious attention very soon.

*****

Then, there’s the book that I’d heard of but really hadn’t considered a possibility.

The Book of Fires by Jane Borodale

“Brought up in rural Sussex, seventeen-year-old Agnes Trussel is carrying an unwanted child. Taking advantage of the death of her elderly neighbour, Agnes steals her savings and runs away to London. On her way she encounters the intriguing Lettice Talbot who promises that she will help Agnes upon their arrival. But Agnes soon becomes lost in the dark, labyrinthine city. She ends up at the household of John Blacklock, laconic firework-maker, becoming his first female assistant. The months pass and it becomes increasingly difficult for Agnes to conceal her secret. Soon she meets Cornelius Soul, seller of gunpowder, and hatches a plan which could save her from ruin. Yet why does John Blacklock so vehemently disapprove of Mr Soul? And what exactly is he keeping from her? Could the housekeeper, Mrs Blight, with her thirst for accounts of hangings, suspect her crime or condition?”

I have read about this book, and I wasn’t disinterested but nor did I feel compelled to track down a copy. Possibly because I’ve already done historical fireworks with Christie Dickerson’s The Firemaster’s Mistress. But it’s been shortlisted from a strong field, so maybe I should give it a try.

*****

And finally there’s the book I hadn’t heard of until I saw it on the list:

The Boy Next Door by Irene Sabatini

“As Zimbabwe breaks free of British colonial rule, young Lindiwe Bishop encounters violence at close hand when her white neighbour is murdered. But this is a domestic crime, apparently committed by the woman’s stepson, Ian, although he is released from prison surprisingly quickly. Intrigued, Lindiwe strikes up a covert friendship with the mysterious boy next door, until he abruptly departs for South Africa. Years later, Ian returns to find Lindiwe has been hiding her own secret. It is to bring them closer together, but also test a relationship already contending with racial prejudice and the hostility of Lindiwe’s mother. And as their country slides towards chaos, the couple’s grip on happiness becomes ever more precarious.”

This and “A Still Small Voice…” have brought an international flavour to this list that was sadly absent from the longlist for the main prize. I know nothing, but I’m curious.

*****

I can’t really evaluate the list, because I haven’t read any of the books and a couple of the others I thought were contenders I have yet to read.

But I’m thinking that after the prizes are done and dusted maybe I’ll put together my own list of great recent novels by women that weren’t mentioned …

But tell me, what do you think of the list?

Can you recommend – or not – any of the books?

The award will be made on 9th June.