Watch that ‘Sparrow’ fly: Indie Lit Award winners announced

After a few months of heavy behind-the-scenes action (but not that kind — goodness, me!), I’m pleased to announce the winners of the 2011 Indie Lit Awards have been announced! I was thrilled to serve on the Fiction panel for the second year in a row and loved discussing the merits of our five shortlisted nominees with my lovely fellow panelists.

I know it’s cheesy, but I feel very fortunate to have stumbled across a bookish world where my obsession with the written word is something to really cherish. Where monikers like “geek” are embraced and novels sometimes feel more real to us than “real life.” The friends I’ve made through blogging aren’t “blogging friends” — they’re as much a part of my daily life as those in . . . well, in my daily life. And I feel very lucky to know and work with all of you, sharing in the books you both love and despise. Being on the Fiction panel has been a wonderful experience, and I’m grateful to have been given the opportunity!

That being said, there was a book everyone on the Fiction panel lovingly embraced: Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones, which was one of the most evocative, engrossing and stunning stories I’ve read in a long time. Like last year’s winner, Safe From The Sea by Peter Geye, I don’t know that I would have discovered this story on my own — and that’s what makes the Indie Lit Awards so much fun.

My full review of Silver Sparrow is coming soon, but suffice it to say that Jones’ characters are not easily forgotten — and this is the sort of story that drifts back to you days or months after finishing, like the haunting final line of a song.

2011 Indie Lit Award Winners

Winner: Little Princes by Conor Grennan
Runner-Up: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

Winner: Nina Here Nor There: My Journey Beyond Gender by Nick Krieger
Runner-Up: Huntress by Malinda Lo

Winner: Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
Runner-Up: Dance Lessons by Aine Greaney

Winner: A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny
Runner-Up: Fun and Games by Duane Swierczynski

Winner: Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff
Runner-Up: Berlin 1961 by Frederick Kempe

Winner: Catalina by Laurie Soriano
Runner-Up: What Looks Like an Elephant by Edward Nudelman

Speculative Fiction
Winner: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Runner-Up: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Congratulations to the winners and all nominees, and thanks to the Indie Lit Awards team for another great year!

Indie Lit Awards: What I’m reading now

Like many a good English student, I love assigned reading. I know it’s strange and often gets an eye roll from friends, but the lifelong learner in me enjoys being introduced to books I have to read. Mandatory.

I’m sort of a flippant reader. Since I started write meg! and began reviewing books in a more organized fashion, I think nothing of casting aside stories that just aren’t working for me. I generally give it the 50- or 100-page test: if it hasn’t gripped me by that point, to the donation pile it goes.

I know this isn’t always the best method — and that, if I’d just stick with them, some books would yield fabulous results. Sometimes a book just doesn’t click with me . . . and not because it’s a terrible book. It could be my mood, my emotional state, my general level of boredom. Anything, really.

That’s what makes being a panelist in the Indie Lit Awards so much fun: my reading is all picked out for me. In these blogger-sponsored and blogger-run honors, I’m introduced to a myriad of new-to-me authors as a fiction panelist. While serving last year, I discovered Peter Geye’s Safe From The Sea (reviewed a year ago today!) — and that turned out to be one of the best books I read in 2011. Would I have discovered it without the Indie Lit Awards? Maybe. But I doubt it.

Nominations closed in December, and we have our short list:

2011 Fiction Nominees

Dance Lessons by Aine Greaney (Syracuse University Press)
Cross Currents by John Shors (Penguin Group: NAL Trade)
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (Knopf/Doubleday Publishing Group)
Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill)
The Last Time I Saw Paris by Lynn Sheene (Penguin Group)

Check out the nominees in other categories, too, like biography/memoir, GLBTQ, poetry and more. Feel free to read along as we gobble up these stories, begin lengthy discussions and announce our winners in mid-March.

Any early favorites here? Anything you’re excited to read yourself?

Autumn, contests, awards and more

It’s September! A bright and shiny new month! And the start of fall, my most favorite of all seasons! Though the leaves are still that bright-and-shiny green, I’ve decided to throw caution (and sanity) aside and already whip out my fall wardrobe. According to my sister, today I’m rocking a look that screams “college girl in 1952.”

It’s really just an excuse to wear both my new red cardigan and houndstooth scarf — even in 86-degree weather. In an ideal world, I would look like an extra on “Mad Men” and channel Audrey Hepburn in my daily wardrobe . . . especially if that meant wearing a little extra something from Tiffany daily. But in this world, I’m just a run-of-the-mill writer who hopes she doesn’t look like a crazy vagrant most days. And she can keep her hair from frizzy badly enough to block out the sun, all the better.

I love the fall and seem to write these sorts of posts yearly — updates about life turning a new corner and exciting things that are afoot. On my mind now is the Indie Lit Awards, honors given by literary bloggers to the best of the best in new books out in 2011. I served on the literary fiction panel last year and had the best time — especially since that’s how I discovered Peter Geye’s Safe From The Sea, one of the most powerful novels I’ve read in a long time.

Now in its second season, the Indie Lit Awards are a great way to discover notable books in a variety of genres — and nominations are now open. Think about the books published in 2011 that you’ve devoured whole, then pushed into the hands of every reader in your life. We want the books that blew your mind. That changed everything. Nominate now using a simple form in categories including biography/memoir, GLBTQ, fiction and more. I’m proud to again serve on the fiction panel and look forward to our “reading list” being established from the nominations.

Next up on my list of random Meg thoughts: um, how delicious is Dunkin’ Donuts’ pumpkin spice latte?! It’s out now and sent me tumbling into a delightful sugary rush yesterday afternoon. Starbucks is a bit behind the times this year, not bringing their concoction back until next week, but I’m all right with that. As long as I can get my ridiculous pumpkin fix, I’m happy. (And I promise not to post too much on my pumpkin obsession this year — I think I’ve already got that covered.)

I also wanted to thank everyone for their nominations in this year’s Book Blogger Appreciation Awards, which are happening Sept. 12-16! I’m thrilled to have been long-listed in the Best Written Book Blog and Best Eclectic Book Blog categories and really appreciate the support! I’m looking forward to participating in this year’s festivities — it’s always a great time and a wonderful way to meet new faces in our book blogging community.

In somewhat related news, I recently learned that I did not win the “Jane Austen Made Me Do It” short story contest — and though disappointing, the talent on display in that competition was tremendous. Laurel Ann Nattress, editor of Austenprose, will debut her Austen-inspired anthology Jane Austen Made Me Do It on Oct. 11. Congratulations to Brenna Aubrey, author of “The Love Letter,” for penning the winning short story — and thank you all for your votes and encouragement in February. Writing “Spinning White Hair Gold” was an exciting challenge and I really appreciate having made it to the Top 10! Can’t wait to read the book this fall.

. . . Well, this was an amazing amalgam of material. I’m getting ready to venture north and visit Spencer’s family in New York over Labor Day weekend, and Laurie Notaro’s It Looked Different On The Model will be my eight-hour-car-ride companion! I’m also super pumped for my friend Erin’s wedding on Sept. 10 and am still depriving myself of anything chocolate, carb-heavy — or flavorful. My “diet” has been intense, but that bridesmaid dress is not going to wear itself.

Though it is snug enough to stand on its own.

P.S. Don’t forget to enter my giveaway for Kristine Gasbarre’s How To Love An American Man, one of my favorite reads this year. Krissy and her publisher were kind enough to increase the giveaway to two copies, and I’ve extended the deadline to Tuesday, Sept. 6. Just share your family memories here to be entered.

Book review: ‘Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand’ by Helen Simonson

In Edgecombe St. Mary, England, Major Ernest Pettigrew lives a quiet life surrounded by books, friends and hunting companions. A widower, the Major has filled the world he once shared with Nancy, his beloved wife, with the words of Rudyard Kipling and other classic authors. He’s managed to form a peaceful existence apart from his grown son, Roger — a man who spends more time worrying about careers than tending his relationship with his kind, outgoing American girlfriend.

And then steps in Mrs. Ali.

In the wake of his brother’s death, the Major has floundered with simultaneous feelings of grief, remorse and anger over a gun in Bertie’s possession. Left to the boys by their dying father, the twin guns were intended to be a set — but Ernest, entitled to both as the eldest son, found one of the two given to his younger brother. Bertie’s widow doesn’t have immediate plans to reunite the guns, it seems, and would rather see them sold for a healthy sum than given to the Major. And he won’t stand for it — though it’s not about the guns, he thinks. It’s about more. It’s about a lifetime.

It’s under this tidal wave of feeling that Mrs. Ali waltzes into Major Pettigrew’s life, her presence a soothing balm akin to a mother’s touch. The widowed owner of a local shop, Jasmina Ali — a Pakistani woman who has spent her life in England — rejoices in the work of Kipling as much as the Major, and their unlikely friendship begins to progress over shared cups of tea, leisurely book discussions and rides into town.

Too bad Edgecombe St. Mary doesn’t seem to progress with it.

Helen Simonson’s Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, my second read for the literary fiction category of the Indie Lit Awards, is a quiet novel centering around family, expectation, grief, friendship and late-blossoming love. While the romance between the Major and Mrs. Ali is certainly a central tenet of the plot, the novel seems to vibrate more with stories of loss, duty and expectation than joyful displays of love.

What I enjoyed the most about Simonson’s novel, described as a “comedy of manners” by some, is its distinctly British flare. While Roger dates an American, Sandy, the differences between she and her new British neighbors and boyfriend are very pronounced. The characters in Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand pay careful attention to the differences between residents, not the similarities; a distinct sense of “otherness” plays a large role in the book. Frank Ferguson, an American with Scottish roots and a title to his name, is made to feel like he’ll never be completely accepted in British circles — unless he brings his checkbook; Mrs. Ali’s nephew, Abdul Wahid, is too young, grouchy and Pakistani to be accepted in the village — or as a business owner. But they all wish it could be different.

It’s hard not to fall in love with the Major. He’s polite to a fault; poetic at heart; loyal and true to those closest to him. With a flighty, self-absorbed son like Roger — a man I wanted to punch in the face until the closing pages of the book — the Major certainly has had his hands full. And it’s for that reason that I wanted only the best for him . . . and so, of course, hoped he would find love with Mrs. Ali. No matter what anyone else had to say about it.

Major Pettigrew tackles many Big Issues like racism, the destruction and building-up of the English countryside (always a hot button issue), family dynamics, aging and religion, but it manages to do so in a way that didn’t make me feel like I was reading a sermon or political pamphlet. Simonson doesn’t seem to have an agenda — unless it’s one of tolerance, the overarching message I felt here.

Did I fall as in love with this novel as many other readers have? No. I’ll be honest: at many points, I found it slow. Over the course of a week’s worth of reading, I often found myself having to backtrack to pick the story up again. Many characters came and go at random, and many of the village residents were interchangeable to me. That isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy Major Pettigrew; I did. I just felt bogged down at points, lost in a maze of people and issues that were hard for me to sort through. And sometimes, I found it boring.

Still, for readers who enjoy British fiction and novels of manners, Simonson’s book might be a worthwhile companion for a Sunday afternoon — and is one I would recommend. Though I snorted aloud at some of the Major’s sarcastic comments, I didn’t find this book to be “funny” by any stretch . . . seek it out for a thoughtful, memorable and contemporary look at love, aging and family.

3.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0812981227 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy purchased by Meg

Reading fools for the Indie Lit Awards

If you’re looking for me over the next few weeks, I’ll give you a major clue as to where I’ll be: with my face pressed down into one of five heavy books, making my way through the delicious words of Nicole Krauss, Helen Simonson, Emma Donoghue, Tom McCarthy and Peter Geye.

Yes, friends, it’s time of the inaugural Indie Lit Awards — and I’m sittin’ pretty as one of the judges on the literary fiction panel. As such, I’m spending an inordinate amount of time with five books and working with an awesome crew of folks to determine a winner. And that’ll be a surprise to all of us.

Check out the novels culled from nominations made by independent lit book bloggers (maybe yourself?), and feel free to read along with us. Panelists are all busy reading now, and winners in each category will be announced in February. Look for my personal reviews in coming weeks!

2010 Short List for Literary Fiction

C by Tom McCarthy
Great House by Nicole Krauss
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson
Room by Emma Donoghue
Safe from the Sea by Peter Geye

2010 Shortlist for GLBTQ

Annabel by Kathleen Winter
Jumpstart the World by Catherine Ryan Hyde
Krakow Melt by Daniel Allen Cox
Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan and John Green
Scars by Cheryl Rainfield

2010 Short List for Non-Fiction

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
Let’s Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell
Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
At Home by Bill Bryson

2010 Shortlist for Speculative Fiction

Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness
Kraken by China Mieville
Dante’s Journey by JC Marino
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
The Passage by Justin Cronin