Good Moms On Paper – Edited by Stacy May Fowles and Jen Sookfong Lee

Twenty essays about motherhood by (obviously) women authors: struggles with work-life balance, feeling fraudulent as both mother and writer, and creative compulsion – powerful themes with insightful thoughts. Essays cover both biological and adoptive parenting, new mothers, and relationships with the essayist’s mother. Heather O’Neill writes “being a single mother working on a novel is like asking a clairvoyant to book a ticket on the Titanic – it’s a bad idea”! Highly recommended.

Silverview – John Le Carre

This is Le Carre’s 26th and final novel; he died on 2020-12-12. The story is a reflection on the disillusionment of spies in a fragmented intelligence service. As always, the prose is elegant: “the Avon clan .. was united, not in the secrets they shared, but in the secrets they kept from one another”. Overall, an insightful glimpse into the lonely, secret world of spies by a masterful author.

How To Be Eaten – Marie Adelmann

A very imaginative story: five classic fairy tale characters are imagined as modern New York city women in a trauma support group. For example, Gretel has been abducted and held captive; Ruby has had a traumatic encounter with a wolf. The women shift from being unengaged and judgemental in the group setting to a shared consciousness. A dark, edgy but also wickedly funny story with a great ending.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow – Gabrielle Zevin

Sam and Sadie first meet at ages 11/12 over a shared love of video games. Ten years later, they are creating video games. This is an insightful relationship book: a profound friendship is often complicated by human frailties. Sadie describes herself as “a dervish of selfishness, resentment and insecurity”, clearly significant barriers to having successful relationships. Creative ambitions, disability, success, and failure are all themes.

The Strangers – Katherena Vermette

Like the companion novel The Break, this book begins with a Trigger Warning. The Strangers are a multi-generational Metis family living in Winnipeg: the story focusses on grandmother Margaret, daughter Elsie and children Phoenix and Cedar. Powerful emotions characterize these women: anger, shame in addictions, feeling invisible. Reflecting on sad stories, Margaret concludes (page 316) that “only Indians, Metis … had sorrow built into their bones, who exchanged despair as exclusively as recipes, who had devastation after devastation after dismissal after denial woven into their skin”. Compelling sentiments in the setting of important and necessary stories – a must read for all Canadians.

Fifty-Four Pigs – Philipp Schott

Mystery-crime stories are influenced markedly by context (time and place) and the “amateur sleuth” (think Miss Marple and Jessica Fletcher) is a special genre. This intriguing first novel is about a crime-solving veterinarian in Manitoba who uses logic and his dog Pippin’s remarkable nose to investigate when a swine barn explodes, revealing a murder victim. Totally charming.

Circus of Wonders – Elizabeth Macneal

In Victorian England, the circus featured “human curiosities”, aka the freak show. The “performers” are exploited and objectified but also experience fame as someone no longer relegated to the shadows. There is also an interesting back-story of the Crimean War. A richly detailed historical novel, an enthralling slice of Victoriana.

The Good Women of Safe Harbor – Bobbi French

There is much to admire in this first novel. First, it is a female relationship book that deals with gritty subjects: teenage pregnancy, suicide, and medically assisted death. And second, the setting is Newfoundland. Some core values: friendship and forgiveness, the decision to love and be loved.