Mexican Gothic – Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Mexico 1950: Noemi goes to see her cousin Catalina who is living in a creepy old mansion called the High Place. The story has a slow beginning but then accelerates to become a true gothic thriller. Can a house have a malevolent purpose, to possess humans? What will humans sacrifice for immortality?  Can you distinguish a dream from a hallucination? Small spoiler alert: readers of this thoroughly creepy book will never again view mushrooms as innocuous things!

A Large Petal of the Sea – Isabel Allende

Allende’s latest historical fiction novel follows two young Spanish people as they flee the Spanish Civil War in 1938. Roser is a pregnant widow; Victor is the brother of her deceased lover. Their flight to the French border is harrowing. Eventually they are chosen by the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda to immigrate to Chile but must be married to qualify for the journey. Thus, a long caring relationship is initiated in a new country. A replay of the Spanish Civil War conflict is encountered by the military overthrow of the Allende government in 1973, another battle between freedom and repression. After a 12-year exile in Venezuela, Roser and Victor return to Chile which is their true home. This is an epic story told with Allende’s typical lucidity.

Magic for Liars – Sarah Gailey

This imaginative story takes place at the Osthorne Academy for Young Mages, aka a magic school. The writing is delightful with similes like: “mist was draped across the school grounds like a headache clinging to the temple of a mildly concussed and half-hungover private investigator”. A teacher has been killed at the school. Imagine how difficult it is to be a non-magic PI attempting to uncover a murder mystery when magic is used to confuse, confound and deflect. Very entertaining – thanks Amy for this recommendation.

The Eighth Life – Nino Haratischvili

This remarkable book needs two initial comments. First, the e-book version is 1904 pages (the longest book I have every read), so any reader needs to commit to a substantial amount of time for reading. And second, there are some unspeakable acts of brutal violence and cruelty. Given these comments, the story is compelling, and the writing is excellent. At its core, this is a relationship book covering five generations and about 100 years of history for a family living in Georgia, initially part of the Soviet Union. There are fractious family relationships, some vicious acts. Intense feelings, fear and self-loathing dominate some characters. And an important context is the rise and fall of the Soviet Union. The greatness of this book is in the psychological point of view. Can the cause(s) of misfortune be identified? Are motives ever truly understood or explained? A fantastic read, highly recommended; thanks, Renee, for bringing this book to my attention.

Polar Vortex – Shani Mootoo

This is a superb introspective relationship story. Priya and Alexandra have a six-year marriage that is disrupted by the impending visit of Prakash, a long-time friend of Priya’s. What are Prakash’s motives for this visit? Why has Priya been withholding information on the significance of this friendship from Alex? And why can memories between friends be so selectively remembered and interpreted? A bit gloomy but overall an excellent read (on the Giller long-list).

The City We Became – NK Jemisin

A very imaginative example of speculative fiction about the soul of cities, specifically New York which is protected by five avatars in the five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island. The personalities of the avatars reflect the borough characteristics. But there is conflict, a city takeover by malevolent forces! Highly entertaining with extraordinary visual scenes. Thanks Amy for this recommendation.

Metropolis – Philip Kerr

Another sublime Bernie Gunther crime thriller. The plot is intricate with vivid characters, and Kerr’s books always have superb context. In this book, it is Berlin in 1928 so lingering effects of WWI and the rise of facism are all key features of difficult Berlin life. Gunther is a republican meaning neither a socialist or fascist so he has to navigate complex and dangerous social politics. And there is much moral philosophy about the origins of crime and the role of police. Regretfully Kerr died in 2018 so this will be the last of his writing

Five Little Indians – Michelle Good

A graphic and powerful story of five indigernous children who have experienced Residential Schools, especially the aftermath on their post-school lives. Some tragic endings, some examples of resilience. This book should be assigned reading for those who dismiss the Residential School tragedy and for those who acknowledge hardship but then suggest that “survivors” should just get over it.

Knife – Jo Nesbo

The latest Harry Hole thriller is brilliant, one of his best. Hole’s usual chaotic life is even more nightmarish with binge drinking and blackouts.  A fiendish villain plots to frame Hole for a murder that Harry can’t be sure that he isn’t guilty of. So a diabolical plot with Hole’s behaviour driven by revenge and some very dubious actions. Finally there is a very satisfying enigmatic ending. Overall, an outstanding example of Scandinavian noir crime thrillers.