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2012 Massachusetts Book Award Winners

Winners of the 2012 Massachusetts Book Awards were announced on Friday!Massachusetts Book Award seal

Fiction
Alice Bliss by Laura Harrington

Nonfiction
Killer Stuff and Tons of Money
by Maureen P. Stanton

Poetry
The Trouble Ball by Martin Espada

Children’s/YA
Chasing the Nightbird by Krista Russell

Visit the Massachusetts Center for the Book for details about the winners and about the 12 Must-Read titles in each category.

Follow Massachusetts Center for the Book (@massbook) on Twitter and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/masscenterforthebook.

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Finding Family, New & Old: So Far Away by Meg Mitchell Moore

Cover image of So Far AwayFor Meg Mitchell Moore‘s second novel, So Far Away, she has created historical diary entries from an Irish immigrant maid’s found notebook, as well as believable contemporary characters ranging in age from 57-year-old archivist Kathleen, to Kathleen’s 30-something friend and coworker Neil, down to 13-year-old Natalie, who travels by bus from her suburban Newburyport home to Boston to visit the Massachusetts Archives in Boston on her own. She brings a crumbling notebook filled with handwriting too spidery for Natalie to read that she found hidden away in her basement – which turns out to be a gripping personal account from a Bridget O’Connell Callaghan (writing in 1975 as an elderly woman) about her position as a young maid just over from Ireland in a Boston doctor’s household.
Natalie (whose parents have separated and haven’t been showing much interest in her life) is investigating her family history for a school project and as a way of escaping bullying classmates who are tormenting her with malicious text messages. Kathleen, living alone with her dog Lucy after losing her teenage daughter years ago, becomes concerned about Natalie, but isn’t sure whether or how to intervene.
The author skillfully brings together several different story lines – historical and contemporary. Readers who liked The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards, A Wedding in December by Anita Shreve, or novels by Laura Moriarty or Joanna Trollope, will also like this moving novel about how easily families can break apart and how hard it can be to create new ones.

So Far Away
Moore, Meg Mitchell
Reagan Arthur (Little, Brown)
May 29, 2012
978-0-316-09769-7
$25.99

Disclosure: I received an advance reading copy of So Far Away from Little, Brown through NetGalley, but plan to purchase my own hardcover copy at an author signing at the Mattapoisett Free Public Library this month. Additional disclosure: I’m friends with the author’s mother-in-law, but I don’t think that influenced the review!

Other opinions of So Far Away (mostly good):
Amused by Books
Coffee and a Book Chick
Devourer of Books
Everyday I Write the Book
Jenn’s Bookshelves

More Speed Dating with Must-Read MassBook Authors, Part 2

Speed dating with the Must Read Massachusetts Authors at the Massachusetts Library Association conference on Wednesday, May 9, was so much fun. Six of the authors whose books have been selected as finalists for Massachusetts Book Awards in one of four categories (Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Children’s/Young Adult) had just 4½ minutes at six different tables crowded with librarians to get each group excited to read their books.

Photo of the six authors

L to R: Laura Harrington, Diana Gordon, Kimberly Marcus, Jef Czekaj, Lawrence Vincent, and Leonard Rosen

Book cover image of All Cry Chaos

Leonard Rosen drew on his academic and nonfiction writing background to write his first literary thriller.

Leonard Rosen‘s experience in teaching writing classes at Bentley University and Harvard University came through as soon as he sat down and hooked the attention of the classroom table with a show-and-tell. “The idea for All Cry Chaos came to me when I was on a flight from Boston to L.A. and looked out the window and saw this,” he said, showing the group a enlarged aerial photograph of ridge lines branching out from a main trunk in a dry desert landscape. Flipping through a succession of photos of hands, bloodshot eyes, trees, and a cabbage leaf (“even my appetizer at dinner”) he explained how he began to notice a similar pattern all over the place. “It made me wonder, ‘Is there a Pattern-maker?’ That is to say, ‘Is there a God?’ And that is the question the character in my book takes on.” His main character, Henri Poincaré, is close to retirement as an Interpol agent when a prominent mathematician/Harvard professor is dramatically murdered at the World Trade Organization meeting in Amsterdam. Poincaré gets drawn into the victim’s complex theories and mathematical discoveries to solve the case.

Cover image of book Nightly, at the Institute of the Possible

D.M. Gordon’s book is from Hedgerow Press, a new poetry imprint from Levellers Press in Western Mass.

Somewhat sadly, Diana Gordon, whose second collection of poetry has the intriguing title Nightly, at the Institute of the Possible, had to endure a moment of awkward silence when she sat down and asked the group at the table: “Do you like to read poetry?” When no one answered, however, she smoothly segued into the relationship of authors and librarians (“Writers need libraries and libraries need writers.”) and read a short poem from her book. She suggested offering poetry readings at the library where people would read and discuss other people’s poems, not just share their own poetry, and that librarians would not have to be poetry experts to facilitate a group like this. She herself facilitates a weekly poetry discussion group at the Forbes Library in Northampton.

Photo of Jef Czekaj

Jef Czekaj of Somerville explaining how he came to write and illustrate  the children’s book, A Call for a New Alphabet.

Jef Czekaj is a cartoonist, children’s book author/illustrator, and a D.J. He uses his real name for his writing and illustrating (“Czekaj” is pronounced CHECK-eye,) but D.J.s under a pseudonym. His Must-Read children’s picture book, A Call for a New Alphabet, is about an exasperated letter X. Jef took the confessional approach at our table, announcing straightaway, “I was a linguistics major, and when I graduated, I realized I couldn’t do anything with my linguistics degree.” Luckily, he found an artistic niche that also allows him to use his fondness for language. His books Hip and Hop, Don’t Stop!, Cat Secrets, and The Circulatory Story were all Junior Library Guild selections.

See the previous post, More Speed Dating with Must-Read MassBook Authors, Part One, for the speed-dating skinny on Kimberly Marcus, author of the YA novel Exposed; L.M. Vincent, author of the quirky microhistory In Search of Motif No. 1; and Laura Harrington, author of Alice Bliss.

All six of the Must-Read authors were friendly and engaging to talk with, and all were open to a second date, i.e. being invited to libraries to speak. The full list of Must Read authors will be posted by the Massachusetts Center for the Book, and all Massachusetts libraries will be receiving a copy of the poster showing all of the Must Read titles.

Photo of Must-Read Books Banner 2012

Must-Read Books selected by Massachusetts Book Awards judges

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More Speed Dating with Must-Read MassBook Authors, Part 1

Authors wait as they are introduced

Authors appear a little nervous waiting for their first table assignments.

Speed Dating with the Authors sponsored by the Massachusetts Center for the Book was a big hit for the second year in a row, with over a hundred attendees on the opening day of the Massachusetts Library Association conference. Twelve finalists for Massachusetts Book Awards have been selected as Must Reads in each of four categories – Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Children’s/Young Adult. Six intrepid Must-Read authors agreed to take part in matchmaking with a roomful of librarians eagerly looking for their newest favorite book. All of the authors were great sports about being rotated around the six packed tables to talk about their books, their writing process, and themselves.

Photo of Kimberly Marcus

Author Kimberly Marcus drew on her knowledge as a clinical social worker to write Exposed, her first YA novel.

The action of Kimberly Marcus‘s first young adult novel, Exposed, set in Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard, begins when 16-year-old Liz – a gifted photographer – learns that her brother is accused of raping her best friend. How did she come to write the entire novel in free verse? A friend suggested writing a scene she was stuck on as a poem to get unstuck. That advice helped her get unstuck, and later on, it helped again. That’s when she realized “the idea of snapshots and verse really worked” and she wrote the whole book that way. Kimberly Marcus has also written a children’s picture book, Scritch-Scratch A Perfect Match. A North Dartmouth resident, she lives near the beach and has set Exposed in a fictional town on the Cape.

Cover image of In Search of Motif No. 1

In Search of Motif No. 1 by L. M. Vincent

L.M. Vincent’s “quirky” new book, In Search of Motif No. 1: The History of a Fish Shack, intrigued librarians with its eye-catching cover art and Rockport theme. Comfortable with an audience, Lawrence Vincent (a multi-talented humorist and playwright, as well as radiologist in a Boston hospital) talked about how he came to write about the iconic Cape Ann shack lost in the Blizzard of ’78 and later rebuilt. “I didn’t even know what a fish shack was when I moved to Massachusetts,” he said, but he became curious about the proliferation of paintings and photographs – good and bad – with the shack as their subject. Researching the “truly fabulous pieces” that came out of the heyday of the artists’ colony there (1920-1946) led him to write the history of the shack, which is, he says, “in many ways, the history of small-town America.”

Blurry photo of Laura Harrington

Alice Bliss, Laura Harrington’s first novel, is getting a lot of buzz.

Laura Harrington, author of Alice Bliss, her first novel, is also a playwright. She made instant friends at the table I was at by sitting down and declaring, “Librarians are my favorite people.” A Gloucester resident and native of Rochester, New York, Laura said that her own family’s history (Her father fought in World War II and her two brothers in Vietnam) led her to write about the war in Iraq. “I want to get people thinking about the war,” she said, “but I hope the book will also get people thinking about a girl. Alice Bliss, centered around a 15-year-old daughter’s relationship with her father, is about the Iraq War but is “really a classic coming-of-age story,” she said. Alice Bliss has also been named a Best Adult Book for Teens by School Library Journal.

All six of the authors were friendly and engaging to talk with, and all were open to a second date, i.e. being invited to libraries to speak. Part Two of this blog post will talk about Jef Czekaj, author/illustrator of A Call for a New Alphabet; D. M. Gordon, author of the poetry collection Nightly, at the Institute of the Possible; and Leonard Rosen’s literary thriller All Cry Chaos.

Photo of Must-Read Books Banner 2012

Must-Read Books selected by Massachusetts Book Awards judges

The full list of Must Read authors will be posted soon by the Massachusetts Center for the Book, and all Massachusetts libraries will be receiving a copy of the beautiful poster that premiered at the Speed Dating with the Must Read Authors yesterday.

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Business as Usual on the Streets of Boston: Hard Knocks by Howie Carr

From conservative Boston Herald columnist and radio personality Howie Carr, this novel of intrigue and corruption in the cramped underworld of Boston crime, politics, and law enforcement – where the three groups frequently bump up against each other or even overlap – isn’t going to win any awards from the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau, but it should appeal to fans of the author’s recent nonfiction books, The Brothers Bulger and Hitman, and to readers looking for local color that has nothing to do with foliage or baseball.
Appropriately enough, the book starts off with a local, low-level gangster getting bumped off, right after involving Jack Reilly in his problem – which then becomes Jack’s problem. Jack Reilly is a disgraced ex-Boston cop and former political bag man (But don’t call him that; he prefers the term “fixer.”) turned shady private investigator, who, though down on his luck, hasn’t yet lost all his connections or used up all of his political capital (i.e. “dirt,”), but with this little problem he’s had dumped in his lap, he’ll be lucky to be alive to worry about being able to pay next month’s rent, alimony, and cable bill.
I kept thinking Howie Carr had to be writing tongue in cheek when he created the character of Jack – the corrupt ex-cop with a warped, but still present code of honor – and the many other characters who continually mourn the passing of the formerly all-white neighborhoods of Boston and spout other bigoted, provincial, and self-serving cliches about the “good old days” that you might hear on Howie Carr’s talk radio show. By the end of the book, though, I decided he probably wasn’t writing tongue in cheek, so that made the book a little less enjoyable and a lot more offensive, given that I’m not a Herald subscriber for a reason.
There is plenty of humor in the other wry asides from Jack Reilly to make any reader or listener chuckle, however, especially jaded readers who think politics and ethics don’t have much in common except their last four letters. Being a Herald columnist, the author gets in quite a few jabs at the competition, The Boston Globe, and also gives Jack an attractive female crime reporter from the Herald to spar with and trade favors with. The book is loaded with references to local landmarks, mostly of the non-tourist variety, and even has a long drive through the South Shore and down Route 18 to Brockton, my current home city!
The audiobook narration is really well done; Peter Berkrot seemed to relish the variety of Boston accents and the mob-inflected growling dialogue, and even throws in an authentic-sounding Irish brogue for Jack’s rosy-cheeked, red-nosed, and faithful politician friend, Slip. I would recommend this book/audiobook to readers/listeners with a tolerance for intolerant characters  looking for a contemporary take on The Friends of Eddie Coyle (by Brockton-born George V. Higgins) or for more crime fiction with Boston settings, like Dennis Lehane‘s Kenzie and Gennaro books. Another recent entry in this field, The Charlestown Connection, by Massachusetts author Tom MacDonald (nominated for a Massachusetts Book Award) has a nicer main character, Dermot Sparhawk, who works in a parish’s food pantry, which I don’t think you would catch Jack Reilly doing!

Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter:

“Reilly Associates,” I said with as much enthusiasm as I could muster.
“Is this Jack Reilly?”
“Speaking.”
“This is Bucky Bennett.” It didn’t ring a bell. “I know your brother.” The bell was ringing now. It was an alarm. “I knew him down in Otisville.” Another federal pen, in upstate New York, inhabited by a lot of Northeast organized-crime types, among them, at one point, my brother.
Marty’s friend spoke softly, but he might have been trying to lull me. “He told me to give you a call sometime.” That was mighty white of good old Martin T. Reilly. “I got a big, big problem, Jack.” Ex-cons often do. “Hello? Are you there?”
“Yes,” I said with a sigh. “I’m here.”
“Jack, you don’t know me, but I heard a lot about you. I heard you used to handle a lot of work for the mayor, the old one, and I know you were a cop, and now you’re on your own.”
That certainly was the CliffsNotes version of the life of Jack Reilly, a man teetering on that fine line between has-been and never-was. I sensed a pitch was imminent.
“I gotta talk to you. They’re looking for me. I gotta screw before they find me.”
“Who’s they?”
A hollow chuckle. “Can I meet you somewhere?”
Some people claim they can smell money. Me, I can smell no money, and I can smell it a mile away. “Pro bono” is just Latin for “deadbeat.” I decided to try to lose the guy.
I asked him, “Have you thought about calling the police?”
Another nervous laugh. “Marty told me you were a funny guy.”
“Look,” I said, staring at the two piles of unpaid bills in front of me. “I’m kinda busy right now.”
“Please, man, I’m desperate. I know what I must sound like, but I got some stuff, I gotta make sure it gets into the hands of the right people or I’m dead. You’re on Shawmut Ave., right? How far are you from Foley’s?”
Oh great. Not only was I not going to get paid, now I was going to have to buy him a drink, in my own place on top of everything else. James Michael Curley used to say that it’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice. That’s excellent advice, I suppose, if you’re running for office, but who exactly was I trying to impress? Still, Bucky wasn’t going to take no for an answer.

Hard Knocks (Audiobook)
Carr, Howie
Berkrot, Peter (Narrator)
AudioGo, 2012
978-1-60998-772-5
9 hrs., 56 min.
8 CDs

Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this audiobook from AudioGO. Listen to an excerpt from the audiobook here.
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2012 Hemingway/PEN & Winship/PEN New England Awards

Books by award winners and finalists on display.

The annual Hemingway Foundation/PEN amd Winship/PEN New England Awards ceremony is the first sign of spring for the literati in New England, according to Tom Putnam, the director of the J.F.K. Presidential Library and Museum and the host of yesterday’s event, to which I tagged along with my mother, who is a member there. (Thanks, Mom!)

Teju Cole, author of Open City, received the 2012 PEN/Hemingway Award for a first book of fiction. Yannick Murphy, author of The Call, received the Laurence L. and Thomas Winship/PEN New England Award for the best work of fiction by a New England author last year.

Patrick Hemingway reading Ernest Hemingway's work.

Each year to open the ceremony, Patrick Hemingway, sole surviving son of Ernest Hemingway and literary executor, reads something from his father’s writing. He remarked that he wasn’t sure what to read to complement Open City, a book about a doctor in his last year of training in psychiatry, but decided to read selections from his father’s notes about people he knew, as they sounded a lot like clinical observations a psychiatrist might make!

Teju Cole, courtesy photo

My photo of Teju Cole didn’t come out, so I’m borrowing a courtesy photo. A Nigerian-American, he joked that his winning the award might be seen as a Nigerian email scam “gone horribly right” and added that he was glad that Patrick Hemingway liked his book because he’d heard “Patrick Hemingway doesn’t bullsh*t.” He read an excerpt from close to the end of Open City, a scene set in Central Park with parachutists come out of a clear blue spring sky to land in the park, reminding the narrator of a memory from his childhood of saving another child’s life.

Finalists for the Hemingway/PEN Award, Amy Waldman (The Submission) and Stephanie Powell Watts (We Are Taking Only What We Need) also received awards.

Author Yannick Murphy, publisher photo

Yannick (pronounced Yah-NEEK) Murphy turned out to be a woman, which was a surprise to me, because from the name I had assumed the author was male. (My photo of her didn’t come out either.) She joked that she came home to her house in Vermont in a bitchy mood the day the call about her winning the Winship/PEN New England Award came in, so her husband and son revealed the surprise that she would soon be getting a call about this honor and the awards ceremony would be April 1st in Boston. Instead of cheering her up, they had to argue her out of the idea that they were playing an early April Fool’s Day joke on her! The Call is a novel formatted as if it were the daily records of a rural New England veterinarian. Her reading was a little dry, making me think how much better a professional audiobook narrator would do at bringing out the humor and the subtleties of the text, but the premise of the book sounds intriguing.

Nonfiction prize winner Mitchell Zuckoff (Lost in Shangri-La) and poetry prize winner Elizabeth Willis (Address) also received 2012 Laurence L. and Thomas Winship/PEN New England Awards.

Andre Dubus III, author of a memoir, Townie, and the novel House of Sand and Fog among others books, gave the keynote address, introduced by Marianne Leone. He gave an entertaining and informative speech about Ernest Hemingway’s place in literature that made me want to read The Sun Also Rises again, even though I went off Hemingway years ago. His students at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell must love him for his vibrant presence and obvious love of literature (or else hate him for making them turn off their phones and all other digital gadgets in the classroom!)

You can see a list of past Hemingway/PEN award winners here and past Winship/PEN award winners here. If you want to feel as if you were there with me and my mom, or want to check the accuracy of my account (Writing this, I am relying almost entirely on memory, which isn’t good) the webcast will be available on the JFK Library site soon.

And, yes, I bought a book!

Mementos: Open City and the event program

YA Book Wins Both Morris and Printz Awards for 2012

http://www.johncoreywhaley.com/books/Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley is the winner of both the 2012 William C. Morris Award (for young adult book by first-time author) and Michael L. Printz Award (for excellence in literature written for young adults). John Corey Whaley has got to be one very happy author! Where Things Come Back was published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing.
Four 2012 Printz Honor books were also named: Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey, The Returning by Christine Hinwood, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, and Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket).
Susan Cooper is this year’s winner of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults. A well-deserved honor! (And apparently she has recently moved back to Massachusetts, so we can once again claim this English native and Oxford graduate as a Massachusetts author.) As an adult, I really enjoyed reading Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising sequence aloud to my kids, especially as I remembered reading it myself back in the 70s or so. All five books in The Dark Is Rising sequence are excellent examples of quality fantasy written for young adults that adult readers can also enjoy without a qualm. I haven’t kept up with the rest of Susan Cooper’s work, except for The Boggart (also excellent) but her later books have also received high praise.
Winners of all of the 2012 American Library Association media awards were announced this morning in Dallas at the annual Midwinter Meeting. See today’s press release for the complete list of all winners.

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