The Lincoln Highway – Amor Towles

Simply put, this is a great book. Set in 1954 in Nebraska, the story covers only 10 days. The main characters are all kids: three are 18, one is 8 years old but surprisingly is the most clever and mature individual. A trip on the Lincoln Highway to New York is not straight forward, involving both a car and freight trains. Importantly, there are unexpected plot twists, all described with impeccable detail. The characters and themes are richly imagined – this is a must-read book.

Shrines of Gaiety – Kate Atkinson

It is 1926 in London and Nellie Coker is the formidable owner of multiple nightclubs. Of course, success breeds envy and creates numerous enemies for Nellie and her 6 children, and crime is rampant. Ms. Atkinson’s writing, as always, is sublime: words (iconolatry), phrases (wore her bereavement with triumph rather than sorrow), and droll asides and magnificent metaphors. Overall, a delightful read about (mostly) bad people – highly recommended.

The Winners – Fredrik Backman

This fabulous and long (670 pages) book concludes a trilogy: previous books were Beartown and Us Against You. Backman’s writing is both heart-warming and heart-wrenching. Two remote forest towns (in Sweden but could be Canada) are intense rivals in hockey and politics. There are two funerals, impending violence and intimidation, and a ferocious summer storm. Backman’s writing is often philosophical: what it means to experience fear, for example. Be warned, the story is very emotional with complicated relationships, especially within families; expect to experience extreme sadness (and tears) when confronting loyalty, friendship and loss.

The Woman In The Library – Sulari Gentill

The structure of this mystery/thriller is very intriguing. Hannah is writing a novel about 4 strangers who meet in a reading room in the Boston Public Library, and then hear a scream from a woman is later found murdered. One of the characters is writing about these events, so this is a book about someone writing a book about the same mystery. Is one of the 4 the murderer? A delicious plot with a slow reveal of information – very impressive.

The Atlas Six – Olivie Blake

Six powerful magicians are recruited to the secret Alexandrian Society and given the unique opportunity to become even more powerful. What is fascinating in this truly imaginative book is not what they can do, but their personalities and psychologies. They are willing to compete for a place in the Society (only 5/6 will “graduate”) so there is suspicion and meanness but also fear and apprehension. Think ambition in a magical library. What is the cost of their actions? The book’s subtitle is “Knowledge is carnage”, after all. Highly recommended.

The Atlas Paradox – Olivie Blake

The sequel to the Atlas Six. Five magicians, now members of the secretive Alexandrian Society, continue to study and learn. Can the library archives be sentient if some knowledge is withheld? As magicians become even more powerful, can they become gods? The price of power requires a choice, to pick a side. The intersection of dreams and time becomes an important factor in the apparent disappearance of one of the magicians. Overall, a very compelling story.

Our Missing Hearts – Celeste Ng

Imagine a dystopian America dominated by the Preserving American Culture and Traditions (PACT) act. Particular negative attention is directed at persons of Asian origin so Bird’s Chinese American mother disappears to protect her son. Now 3 years later, he receives a cryptic message and embarks on a quest to find her in a world of surveillance and suspicion. What is remarkable in this topical story is the importance of words and stories, and libraries and librarians. Highly recommended.

Babel – R. F.Kuang

This is an imaginative work of historical and speculative fiction. The context is all important: Oxford in the 1830s where scholars (professors and students) work in the Royal Institute of Translation, in an academic tower known as Babel. Is there power in words, in etymology? Words lost in translation can be added to silver bars to create magic: protective wards and the casting of spells. Academics can also serve colonialism; can change ever occur peaceably, or does profound change encompass the necessity of violence? What is striking in this book is the role of indecision and questionable motives. Highly recommended.

Cloud Cuckoo Land – Anthony Doerr

Simply put – this is a great book, highly imaginative with a clever storyline and beautiful writing. Imagine three timelines: the past (15th century Constantinople), present (a library in Idaho), and future (an interstellar spaceship). These three timelines are linked by an ancient Greek tale about Aethon by Diogenes. The result is a soaring story about children who find resilience. A final positive comment: this book reminded me of the best of David Mitchell (The Bone Clocks), which is high praise.