Rabbit Foot Bill – Helen Humphreys

It is 1947 in a small town in Saskatchewan. Leonard is a young boy who befriends a reclusive man known as Rabbit Foot Bill. Bill commits a sudden act of violence and is sent to prison. Twelve years later, Leonard is a recently graduated doctor of psychiatry. His first job is at the Weyburn Mental Hospital where he encounters Bill again. What follows is a strange obsession that ends badly. This book explores the frailty and resilience of the human mind, and the elusive relationship between truth and fiction. The story also reveals the abysmal treatment of mental illness in the 1950s with use of LSD by both the doctors and patients. Humphreys is an under-appreciated literary goddess, with previous gems like The Evening Chorus, The Lost Garden and Nocturne.

The Library At Mount Char – Scott Hawkins

This is a wildly imaginative speculative fiction story. Carolyn is a “librarian” in a library that contains all the secrets of the universe. However, she is like no ordinary librarian; her agenda is complex and difficult to describe. The story is complicated to enter and impossible to predict. So, imagine gods and monsters, much bloody violence but occasional hilarious sections. Reading this book reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. In short, a very original epic fantasy about cruelty that is also a thriller.

Indians On Vacation – Thomas King

Bird and Mimi are travelling in Europe in an attempt to re-trace the journey of Mimi’s long-lost Uncle. What follows is a complex mix of humour and wit with poignant introspective events. The backstory emerges in alternating chapters. This is a completely satisfying look at two people’s relationship that is stressed by travel.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue – V. E. Schwab

Ms. Schwab wrote the fabulous Shades of Magic trilogy and this new book is also a tour-de-force entry in the genre of speculative fiction. In 1714, Adeline (Addie) makes a Faustian deal with a devil (an old god of darkness) to avoid the tedium of an arranged marriage, asking for “time, a chance to live and be free”.  She is granted immortality, but with a curse: that everyone who meets her then forgets her instantly, making her invisible. For 300 years, she struggles to leave her mark in the world. Then in 2014, she enters a bookstore in New York and the bookstore worker says “I remember you” because she stole a book the previous day! This is a sweeping fantasy: a love story that explores the differences between needs and wants, art and inspiration. The final setting of New York City with a central role of a bookstore is, of course, very attractive. Highly recommended.

Miracle Creek – Angie Kim

Simply put, this is a great book. On one level, it is a court room thriller – a woman is accused of killing two people, one of whom is her severely autistic son. There is an immigrant family from Korea who experience subtle racism: forced charity, politely understanding actions. There are the relationships between parents and children with all the range of emotions from love to anger. And there is the legal drama of shifting suspicions, compounded by secrets and lies, unintended consequences of (good) people’s mistakes. White lies are defined as answers that are technically untrue but serve a greater good. Just brilliant storytelling.

Braiding Sweetgrass – Robin Wall Kimmerer

The author balances science with Indigenous knowledge in this fantastic book. There is much biology and botany together with the wisdom of mother nature and ecology. There are achingly beautiful musings on motherhood which extend to our relationship with mother nature, that mother nature is a wise teacher. The indigenous focus is, in part, on how to retain language with important lessons in sustainability. Plus who doesn’t want to read about migrating salamanders. Overall, a very uplifting book; thanks Joyce, for this recommendation.

Hench – Natalie Zina Walschots

This is an imaginative example of speculative fiction. Imagine a comic book world of super-heroes and dastardly villains. Even villains need administrative help, so Anna is recruited from a temp agency. When Anna is injured as collateral damage in an out-of-control encounter with a super-hero, she develops a righteous anger toward this super-hero (Supercollider). Consequently, she devotes her energy and talents to the downfall of this super-hero (and others) by working for a super-villain. A very interesting take on office politics follows; justice and the nature of heroism are also topics. And how can you not love a story with a villain called Quantum Entanglement! Thanks Amy, for giving me this book.

Amy Notes: It was on the staff recommendations shelf one of my local bookstores; Book Warehouse. Three cheers for independent bookstores staffed by booklovers.

Love – Roddy Doyle

Two near 60-year-old men meet in Dublin pubs to reminisce, so this is the epitome of a “guy” book. Early in the book it is stated: “There is a reason why men do not talk about their feelings. It’s not just that it is difficult, or embarrassing. It’s almost impossible. The words aren’t really there.” And yet, Joe wants to share a secret; Davy listens and withholds a personal secret. What follows is an inarticulate but profound examination of friendship, memories, and mortality, and love in many forms. This is Doyle at his best.

Butter Honey Pig bread – Francesca Ekwuyasi

A superb relationship book set mostly in Nigeria with some Canadian content. The memorable characters: a mother with an uneasy existence with the spirit world, and her twin daughters. The twins exhibit a special closeness but also a requirement for space away from each other, especially after a childhood trauma to one of the twins. And one of the daughters has an apparition to consult with and offer comment. An interesting feature of the story is that the context is Nigeria of privilege. There is lots of Nigerian cooking too. From the Giller long-list.