The Rules Of Magic – Alice Hoffman

The Rules Of Magic - Alice HoffmanHoffman’s books are very diverse: The Dovekeepers, The Museum Of Extraordinary Things, The Marriage of Opposites and recently, Faithful. Her new book is a prequel to Practical Magic. The central theme is the human cost of magic: a nearly 400 year old curse on the Owen’s family. Accordingly, the current matriarch, Susanna, establishes rules to protect her children. Not surprisingly, her headstrong children test themselves to discover who they are. The context of the book is New York in the 1960s which adds to the air of discovery. The writing is brilliant, describing unforgettable characters and the power of love.

The Music Shop – Rachel Joyce

The Music Shop - Rachel Joyce.jpgThis is a magical book about the power of music, of listening to music and learning to listen to silence. Frank has a music shop in 1988 with only vinyl records. Part of the charm of this book is the context; Frank’s shop is located on a failing street with other shops closing. He is a “music whisperer”, someone who can choose music that will change someone’s life. And then Frank meets Ilse and his life becomes complicated. The ending will bring you to tears because of the redemptive power of music. Joyce is a spectacular writer; read everything that she writes.

Arcadia – Iain Pears

Arcadia - Iain PearsThis is a wonderfully imaginative novel that represents a superb example of speculative fiction, with both time travel and travel to a parallel universe. The parallel universe is created from a writer’s imagination so there are allusions to CS Lewis, Tolkien and Shakespeare (a central character is a young woman called Rosalind who disguises herself as a boy while living in a forest!). All the characters are memorable and the story telling is complex because of multiple time periods – a very enjoyable read.

The Tea Girl Of Hummingbird Lane – Lisa See

The Tea Girl Of Hummingbird Lane - Lisa SeeAlthough this novel is relatively contemporary (begins in 1988), the focus is on an isolated ethnic minority in China, the Akha hill tribe. Because of isolation, this group follows old traditional ways; the Chinese cultural revolution has almost completely missed these people. Their traditional way of life is described impeccably, and then the halting transition to more modern ways of living. Contemporary identity issues of Chinese children in America adds to the richness of the story telling. This is the best of Lisa See’s novels so far.

Fun Home – Alison Bechdel

Fun Home - Alison BechdelBechdel has constructed a graphic novel that is quite remarkable. A narrative appears above the illustrations which amplify the expressiveness of the drawings. This book is an autobiographical account of growing up in the 1960-70s, in a gothic house lovingly restored by her emotionally-absent father, next to the family-run “fun(eral) home”. Family life is built on secrets, and artifice. Key pivotal life changes occur in 1980, the (suicidal) death of her father and Bechdel’s declaration of being a lesbian. The depth of understanding and insight revealed in this graphic novel is stunning. An expressive story like this will go far to counter-act the frequent dismissal of graphic novels as not having literary merit.

Thanks Karen, for recommending this great book.

Next Year For Sure – Zoey Leigh Peterson

Next Year For Sure - Zoey Leigh PetersonThis is a fantastic book, a remarkable first novel that was long-listed for the Giller, and that, in my opinion, is much better than some of the books on the Giller short list. Full disclosure: this is a relationship book which everyone who reads this blog knows is my favourite topic. The story is about psychological intimacy, a couple that evolves to a consensual three-some and eventually to a four-some. The book is beautifully written with sub-headings like “Questions” and “Answers” and “What Kathryn Wants”. This is a delightful read about complex relationships with a brilliant ending – highly recommended, one of my best reads this year.

Manhattan Beach – Jennifer Egan

Manhattan Beach - Jennifer EganEgan won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel A Visit From The Goon Squad, and this new historical novel is a gem. Set in the depression-era 30s in New York and then in the naval shipyards in Brooklyn during World War II, the details of place and context are impeccable. The human relationships are a rich blend of secrets, lies and desertion, of love and lust. The writing is dramatic – part of the book describes so clearly the claustrophobic and oppressive world of diving which is also liberating. But it is the complex human dynamics the drive the story, with a very satisfying ending. This is a must-read book, in my opinion.