The Road From Coorain – Jill Ker Conway

This is a clear-eyed memoir of growing up in Australia (1935-75) with two exquisite points-of-view. The first is her evocative description of the physical geography of an 18,000-acre sheep station, 500 miles west of Sydney. The bush ethos, the virtue of loneliness and hardship, is a marked feature of her early life, along with the profound isolation (no other children as playmates).The second point-of-view comes after the death of her father and her relocation with her mother to Sydney, where she is introduced to rigid class structures and the minimal role of women in education. This is a masterpiece of place and memory.

Fight Club – Miriam Toews

Another tour-de-fore novel by a wonderful storyteller. A remarkable feature of this book is its literary style which is completely different from Toews’ previous books. This is a story of three generations of women. The principal character is Swiv (age unspecified, as is the origin of her name) who has a pregnant and unstable mother and an eccentric grandmother. The wisdom of the grandmother, namely that you must fight to survive, drives the story. The place is Toronto with an extraordinary and hilarious road trip to Fresno for Swiv and Elvira, her grandmother. This is epic storytelling about unusual family relationships – highly recommended.

Harlem Shuffle – Colson Whitehead

This is a very different book from Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novels The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys. The setting is Harlem in the early 1960s, so a time of change in the racial dynamics of New York City. The principal character, Ray Carney, sells furniture but also occasionally sells or disposes of stolen items. On page 31, it is stated that “Carney was only slightly bent when it came to being crooked”. However, his ne’er-do-well cousin Freddie involves him in some serious criminal activity, so the story is enriched by gangsters, crooked cops and corrupt bankers. Ultimately this is a heist and crime story within the cultural context of Harlem. Overall, brilliant writing, as always. Thanks Amy, for giving me this fantastic book.

Humans of New York City Stories – Brandon Stanton

This is a remarkable book of street photography coupled with brief but insightful narratives from interviews with the subjects. The photos are outstanding but the narratives, the comments, are sometimes astonishingly candid. Comments range from the unbridled optimism of children to introspective insights from adults regarding loneliness and isolation that may include mental illness. This is a riveting book for NY-philes. Thanks Sarah, for giving me this book.

Transcendent Kingdom – Yaa Gyasi

Gifty is a graduate student at Stanford, studying reward-seeking behaviour in mice. She is grieving the overdose death of her brother and the continuing depression of her mother. This is a cerebral story, meaning it takes place in Gifty’s mind as she grapples with tough issues: addiction and depression, grief and love, science and religion.

Amy notes: another book by Yaa Gyasi, who also wrote the excellent Homegoing.

The Hidden Palace – Helene Wecker

A sequel to Ms. Wecker’s fabulous The Golem and the Jinni. Part of the charm of the story is the place, New York City from 1910-15, with tenements and factory fires and a Hebrew orphanage. Characters form the first book (Ahmad, Chava, Sophie) are supplemented by a tempestuous female jinni, Dima, in Syria, and Kreindel, an orphan with her own golem. Relationships are volatile; this is a historical epic story.

Exit – Belinda Bauer

Felix, a 75-year-old widower in SW England, is an Exiter, someone who offers companionship to terminally ill people who have chosen to die by suicide. His role is entirely passive, to lend moral support and then remove the evidence to not distress family and loved ones. But this act of kindness and charity goes off the rails with a terrible mistake when the wrong person dies. But what if this fatal mistake was a set-up to enable a murder? A wondaful treatise on aging with some seriously funny moments.

The Book of Accidents – Chuck Wendig

Nate, Maddie and their 15-year-old son Oliver move to rural Pennsylvania, and strange sinister things begin to happen. What follows is a Stephen King-like gothic thriller, with dark magic, alternate realities, a demon attempting to orchestrate the end of times (aka, the apocalypse). In short, a cracking good story.