The Happy Booker-Alternative Book Award

BookshelfMy friend and blogging buddy, author Catherine McNamara (if you haven’t seen my author interview with Catherine, take a look here), has nominated me to create a list for the Happy Booker-Alternative Book Award.

I follow the Booker prize each year – here are the nominations for 2013, but I like the idea of a populist approach to an award, so I’m pleased to take this challenge and name five books I’d love to see on the list for the Happy Booker-Alternative Book Award.

It’s also a great way to nominate others and see what their suggestions are … thereby giving me plenty of ideas as the summer reading season grows near. Since I’m never really up on the latest releases, I’ve chosen to select contemporary books that I’ve read recently, but which aren’t necessarily 2012-2013 releases.

Maybe it’s because I’m outnumbered at home. Maybe it’s because I work in a  male-dominated field. But since I write women’s fiction and find myself gravitating heavily towards women authors, I’ve also decided to stick with all women authors in  my selection. Call it reverse gender discrimination. Guilty as charged! : )

Tana French, The LikenessTana French, The Likeness – Tana French is responsible for keeping me up late reading far, far too many nights, and I’m generally not even a reader of psychological thrillers/suspense. French is an Irish writer, with a background in theatre – and it shows in her writing. Her character development is masterly and the interest as a reader goes far beyond the actual case being solved. I read French’s first novel, In the Woods, and enjoyed it so much that I was curious to read The Likeness, which covers one of the investigators from the first novel. Cassie Maddox has left murder investigations to cover domestic violence, but her uncanny resemblance to a murdered woman who assumed the false identity Cassie once used when working undercover reels her back to her old squad. Soon Cassie is assuming the murder victim’s identity, and infiltrating the student home in which she lived. The story develops slowly, in an almost meandering fashion, but I grew fascinated by how quickly Cassie eases into the murdered woman’s life and the longing she develops to transform the undercover role into real life. A beautifully written, mesmerizing book. I look forward to reading more of French’s work.

Sue Miller, The Good MotherSue Miller, The Good MotherI always enjoy Sue Miller’s books, but this – her first book – is by far and away my favorite of the books I’ve read by her. Her protagonist,  Anna Dunlop, is a  young, recently divorced wife, and mother to four-year-old Molly. Anna is passive and emotionally removed in her life, career choices, and romantic relationships, although she is a warm and loving mother to her young daughter. Having such an emotionally distant protagonist written in the first person made me wonder how a reader would be drawn into her story, and yet I was drawn in almost immediately. Sue Miller has such a talent for digging deep into the psychology of her characters and their relationships and allowing that information to accumulate slowly, chapter by chapter. Anna’s carefully constructed world is threatened when she begins a relationship with Leo, who allows her to feel passionate and sexual for the first time. Their love affair also serves as the springboard for charges that she is an unfit mother and the slow, painful unraveling of the life she has worked so hard to construct for herself.  A beautifully written book. Other Sue Miller books I’ve loved are The Senator’s Wife, While I Was Gone, and The Lake Shore Limited

The Paris Wife, Paula McLainPaula McLain, The Paris Wife – “Though I often looked for one, I finally had to admit there could be no cure for Paris.” Even the opening line managed to draw me in to this story.  I’ve never been a big Hemingway fan, even if I’ve read most of his novels, and I’m even less interested in the blustery persona of his later years. But this novel helped to ‘humanize’ him for me in his earlier years, before his success. I loved that this historical novel is told from the perspective of Hadley Richardson, Hemingway’s first wife and their early, ‘bohemian’ years in Paris. I loved Hadley’s voice, and seeing Paris of the 1920s, including the jealousies, rivalries, and betrayals of the Lost Generation, through her eyes. I adored Hadley’s voice – the pragmatic, practical first wife of the young Ernest Hemingway, who stays essentially the same, while her husband, who once laughed at the affectations and arrogance of his fellow, ex-pat writers in Paris, soon succumbs to the seductions of fame.

Maine, J. Courtney Sullivan

J. Courtney Sullivan, MaineI discovered J. Courtney Sullivan recently, with this book. I then went back to read her first book, Commencement, the story of four friends at Smith College, which I also enjoyed. Maine, however, is the story which remains with me. I loved this multi-narrator, multi-generational story of the Irish-American  Kelleher family of Boston and the summers they spend in a coastal home they own in Maine. Sullivan does a wonderful job of getting into the heads of these four very different women, all tied together by family and little else. Each chapter is narrated by one of the four main characters, and I felt fully invested in their stories, particularly those of the rigid family matriarch, Alice, and the family ‘martyr’, daughter-in-law Ann Marie. Beautifully written, with well developed characters, this is a multi-layered book. I look forward to reading more of Sullivan’s work.

Mazzantini, Non si salva da soloMargaret Mazzantini, Nessuno si salva da solo I read lots in Italian, and I try to keep up – not always successfully – with popular Italian writers, so it’s only fair that I include one here. I discovered the works of  the Italian/Irish writer (who writes in Italian), Margaret Mazzantini several years ago, with the excellent Non ti muovere, which was also made into a movie starring and directed by Mazzantini’s actor husband, Sergio Castellito. Mazzantini is also trained as an actress, and it shows in her excellent characterizations and  psychological development of her characters. Having worked a lot with Bosnia during the war years, I expected to like Venuto al mondo, her novel set in Italy and Sarajevo before, during, and after the siege, but the book left me disappointed and I haven’t gone to see the movie. That’s why I was so pleased to read and enjoy Mazzantini’s next book, Nessuno si salva da solo, the story of Delia and Gaetano, a recently separated Roman couple in their mid-thirties. The book takes place in a single evening, when Delia and Gaetano go to dinner to discuss arrangements, but the book spans their lives, their love, their aspirations and disappointments and the dissolution of their marriage. This is beautifully written, slowly revealing the cracks in their relationship as we progress through the evening.

Now for five other bloggers I’ll invite to tell us their favorite books. Recommend away – spring is in the air and beach reading is fast approaching!:

Julia Hones

Grace Tierney

Janet Koops


Word by word


  1. Catherine on March 29, 2013 at 7:45 am

    Great list and lots of new authors for my summer book pile. I love the first line of ‘The Paris Wife’ and might go for that first – my Paris fascination is still simmering. Good on you for reading in Italian – I’m far too lazy!

    • kimberlysullivan on March 29, 2013 at 10:52 am

      Agreed, Catherine. The author had me with that first line on Paris. You might like the Mazzantini – it reads quickly. Reading modern Italian I like – can’t claim to read Dante in the original or anything. I’d probably understand about 10 %. : )

  2. Julia on March 30, 2013 at 2:02 am

    Interesting list, Kimberly. I will be reading some of those books, for sure. You wrote intriguing reviews, thanks. I love books that delve into the complexity of human relationships. And thanks for nominating me…

    • kimberlysullivan on March 30, 2013 at 7:21 am

      Thanks, Julia! Look forward to seeing yours, too. I’m always looking for new spring/summer reading, and it seems we’re finally there. : )

  3. Celeste on March 31, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    Ciao, Kimberly, I’ll do it soon. Buona Pasqua!
    ps. I can’t wait to read “The Paris Wife”.

    • kimberlysullivan on March 31, 2013 at 8:26 pm

      Buona Pasqua anche a te, Celeste!I’m sure you’ll enjoy ‘the Paris Wife.’

  4. […] unusual word this week because Kimberly Sullivan has asked me to create my nomination list for the Happy Booker – the alternative book award. […]

  5. wordfoolery on April 3, 2013 at 6:52 pm

    Hi Kimberly, I’ve finally cut my list to just five – you can see it at Thanks again for the nomination! Grace

  6. Five Favourite Fiction Reads | Word by Word on April 13, 2013 at 3:56 pm

    […] a Bostonian writer living in Rome, also nominated me in the Happy Booker Alternative Book Award and since she’s stretched the rules to choose outside the 2012-2013 year, I’m going to […]

    • kimberlysullivan on April 15, 2013 at 7:47 am

      Dying to see your list, Clare! Over to take a look right now.

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