Once again, this month I only read Whitney finalists except for one book for my book club. I read all the finalists in the adult fiction categories and I'm curious to see how the awards turn out this year.
Tres Leches Cupcakes by Josi Kilpack
I have really enjoyed reading Kilpack's culinary mysteries. Sadie is a fun character and Kilpack's writing is polished and engaging, making these the perfect books to curl up and escape with for a few hours. I didn't like this one as much as Banana Split because I felt like the mystery wasn't very clear for most of the book and I felt like Sadie didn't have a very clearly defined character arc.
Code Word by Traci Hunter Abramson
The Saint Squad books by Abramson are also great for a fun little escape for a few hours. The writing isn't unique in any way and I could guess the plot of this book from the first few pages, but it wasn't a bad read at all.
Deadly Undertakings by Gregg Luke
The best I can say about this book is that the writing is much more polished than Luke's book last year and there weren't so many distracting typos and factual errors. The protagonists were also much more realistic and interesting, but the villain was just as over-the-top and ridiculous as his last book. I find it distracting that most of the book seems like a fairly realistic mystery, up until you get to a villain who is so outlandish in his methods and behavior that he seems like he should be on a cartoon.
Dancing on Broken Glass by Ka Hancock
This book was one of my favorites out of all the Whitney finalists I read. It's also published by a national publisher and only contains a little bit of LDS content that is somewhat tangential to the story. The plot will probably turn a lot of people off because it is so maudlin, but I thought Hancock managed to pull it off pretty well. This is not a simplistic book with easy answers for the characters and the reader. Both her main characters are complex and very human, and the setting and supporting characters were equally compelling.
A Night on Moon Hill by Tanya Parker Mills
I was really impressed by all the general fiction finalists this year. This was another book that showcased complex writing, sympathetic characters, and interesting questions throughout the plot. The ending felt a little out of tone with the rest of the book; it felt as though the author had to add some extra conflict into the story instead of the resolution arising out of the events portrayed in the book. I can see how some people might not like this book because it deals with some difficult issues, and the main character is a woman who most likely has Asperger's Syndrome and is not every sympathetic or easy to relate too.
The Rent Collector by Camron Wright
This is the book I thought I wasn't going to like. On the surface it seemed like it was just going to be another inspirational novel, where the plot and characters were derivative stereotypes that exist only to advance a particular agenda. I was also wary of the use of poverty-stricken characters from a third-world country in a moralistic novel--the stereotype of wise, happy people living in poverty needs to be banished forever. I also didn't like the first-person narration because it felt a little unnatural and veered a little too close to telling rather than showing. However, after a while I became really lost in the story and found myself enjoying this book despite my hang-ups. I took a step back and viewed it more as a fable or allegory and really liked it a lot. I particularly liked the way the author wove in literature and history throughout the book.
The Hollow City by Dan Wells
I don't normally read very much speculative fiction, and this book was pretty weird, especially as it got to the end. I also thought the concept was better than the execution; the story felt oddly anticlimactic and seemed to drag in places--I think the unreliable narrator was almost too unreliable at times. However, compared to all the other books in the category this was the most well-written and the most readable so it was easy to vote for it as my favorite.
Flight from Blithmore by Jacob Gowans
This book was not bad, but it was also not very good. Mostly it was boring; the main characters all blended together a bit and the 'hero' of the story didn't ever act very heroic. Unfortunately there are quite a few other epic fantasy series to compare something like this to, and compared to any of them this book doesn't come close.
Earthbound by Theresa Sneed
This book has the dubious distinction of being my least-favorite of all the finalists. In fact, I had to resist the temptation to throw it against the wall instead of finishing it. First of all, it creates a vision of the pre-earth spirit world as more or less a giant high school where everyone is obsessed with sports, relationships, clothes, and class. Second, the protagonist was just plain irritating. She was attracted to one guy, who was obviously a good guy, but every time he tried to talk to her she just pushed him away or acted like she didn't want him. Then, when the other guy came along that she didn't like and who was obviously the bad guy, she completely went along with whatever he wanted. For the entire book--she never seemed to change or grow or mature in anyway. Plus the writing really felt very derivative of Twilight, right down to the crazy ball game.
The Penitent by C. David Belt
This was another book that I just wanted to throw away instead of reading. First of all, the narrative voice was confusing and difficult to read. Also, the world-building was confusing as well and the actions and motivations of the characters were difficult to understand.
City of the Saints by D.J. Butler
Steampunk is not something I have read a lot of or had much interest in, but I really had a good time reading this book. I have a feeling that not many people will like this one, based on the language, the violence, and the irreverent look at certain people from Church history, but I thought it was fun.
The Solace of Leaving Early by Haven Kimmel
This was my only non-Whitney book this month since we read this for my book club. It is the kind of book that grows on you slowly; I think I want to read it again some time now that I know how it ends so I can focus more on the writing instead of just the plot.