The Great Alone – Kristen Hannah

The most important character in this novel is Alaska: majestic beauty coupled with destructive danger. Be warned, Alaska can kill with brutal cold dark winters and savage wild animals. The key plot element in this book is the people that Alaska attracts: rugged individuals, survivalists and some crackpots. The Allbright family travels to Alaska in 1974, woefully unprepared for the harshness of life and survival. What follows is an angst-filed drama that sometimes can approach a soap opera story but the context of Alaska overcomes some plot issues.

Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club – Megan Gail Coles

A remarkable first novel that is a Giller finalist. The title page has the following warning: “Contains scenes of sexual, physical and psychological violence”, so reader be warned – this is not an easy read. The book is a gritty unforgiving character study of people in St. John’s Newfoundland, in part during a bitter February blizzard. There are lies and violence and much deception. The main charactes are for the most part completely unhappy. So this is a bleak look at a subset of contemporary society lonely despondent people without much hoe or optimism. I suggest that readers be aware of their own psychological mindset before embarking on this book; it is a rewarding story notwithstanding  these limitations.

The Psychology of Time Travel – Kate Mascarenhas

A sensational first novel for a number of reasons. The important characters are all women. Specifically, four women perfect a time travel procedure; there is no emphasis on technology, the reality of time travel is treated as a matter-of-fact occurrence. Instead, as the title indicates, the story is about the psychological consequences of time travel. Future versions of an individual can co-exist. How do you cope with knowledge about your future self: who you marry, how you die? And finally, the book contains a cracking good mystery. Very entertaining.

The Home for Unwanted Girls – Joanne Goodman

The Home for Unwanted Girls - Joanne GoodmanOne of the things we learned from Heather O’Neill’s very fine The Lonely Hearts Hotel was that Quebec orphanages were tough places. Goodman’s novel reinforces that reality, beginning in 1950. Even worse, the Duplessis Quebec government transferred illegitimate orphans to mental institutions in order to obtain more federal money for institutions. So this is an angst-filled story over 20 years, the mother who was forced to give up her illegitimate daughter and the daughter’s experience in horrible institutions, so be warned.

Hysteria – Elisabeth de Mariaffi

Hysteria - Elizabeth de MariaffiDe Mariaffi was a discovery at the Calgary WordFest in October 2018. This is a very fine mystery because of the context: upper state New York in 1956. There is an early sinister feeling in the book that develops effortlessly. Heike’s husband is very controlling but this was just typical of men in the 1950s. Or is it something more? Or is Heike delusional? The mystery deepens …..

Principles To Live By – David Adams Richards

Principles To Live By - David Adams Richards.jpgRichards has written a number of acclaimed, albeit angst-filled, novels set in the Miramichi region of New Brunswick. This brilliant story is more global, based in New Brunswick but including New York and the genocide in Rwanda. The core of the book is a dogged search for a missing boy by a near-retirement policeman. The quest for truth is confounded by lies, treachery and deceit with some conspiracy aspects as well. A politically complex (and often corrupt) world is outlined in convincing detail. The incredible intuition of the policeman is sometimes hard to believe, but the storytelling is vivid and compelling.

The Historian – Elizabeth Kostova

The Historian - Elizabeth KostovaThis fascinating book has a Dan Brown-like plot (but with much better writing). Academics search for clues to find missing persons and to research Vlad Dracula’s life (is he still living?). This research is conducted in medieval libraries (yay!) with much travel: Oxford, Istanbul, Budapest and Bulgaria. Actions happen in three times: the 1930s, 1950s and 1970s, often with parallel stories so the complex plot with much historical detail requires the full attention of readers. This is a really enjoyable read; thanks Steph, for this recommendation.