A Town Called Solace – Mary Lawson

Clara, age 7, lives in Northern Ontario. It is 1972 and Clara has two responsibilities: to keep vigil for her runaway 16-year-old sister and to look after the cat in her neighbour’s house while Mrs. Orchard is in hospital. But then a strange man occupies Mrs. Orchard’s house! Three distinct storylines emerge, each with differing timelines, But this is Clara’s story: fear, love, resilience, a child’s imagination when truth is withheld. Lawson is a literary master; her previous book Crow Lake is equally compelling.

The Kingdom – Jo Nesbo

Nesbo is best known for his Scandinavian-noir crime novels featuring Detective Harry Hole. His new book also concerns crime in Norway but from the point-of-view of the perpetrators. Roy and Carl are brothers living on a mountain top. Roy works in a service station and as the elder brother, he functions as Carl’s keeper, first as children and now as adults. Nesbo’s stories typically address issues like morality, but this book is particularly philosophical. Motives for bad behaviour are explored, casual violence leads to murder. Acceptance of violence is a seemingly casual action. Untypically, romantic relationships occur, and the L-word (love) is used. And complex relationships are complicated by lies, deceit and willful ignorance of certain realities. Simply put, this is one of Nesbo’s best books.

The Centaur’s Wife – Amanda Leduc

Heather has just given birth to twin daughters when a meteor shower destroys much of the world. So, on one hand, this is a post-apocalyptic survival story. How do you cope: with optimism (if we work together, we will survive) or pessimism (we are going to starve and die)? But there is a second key element in this book, that the nearby mountain has supernatural power, ground magic, and yes, that centaurs exist on the mountain. Fairy tales are interspersed with a stark realty. This is a compelling fable for our uncertain time.

The Water Dancer – Te-Nehisi Coates

A novel examination of slavery in Virginia. Hiram Walker has a mysterious power, so he is recruited for the underground. Overall, a powerful story of families separated by duplicitous acts such as the sale of individuals into slavery, with the resulting conflict between the slavers and enslaved. Harriet Tubman is introduced as someone who shares Hiram’s power. This is Coates’ first novel, and predictably his writing is superb.

And This Is The Cure – Annette Lapointe

Allison is a nearly 40-year-old public radio pop culture journalist. Her past life has been messy and complicated: escaping a deeply conservative family, teenage rebellion epitomized by membership in a riot girrrrl punk band and issues with mental illness. Her current somewhat stable life is upended when her ex-husband is murdered; consequently, Allison takes on the guardianship of her angry 11-year-old daughter. Needless to say, she is unprepared for parenting. This is a brilliant novel about unresolved baggage and healing, with precise descriptions of Winnipeg and Toronto life. Both funny and poignant, a great read.

Amy notes; I am sure I didn’t get all the Canadiana inside jokes, but I got enough to appreciate their presence! Propulsive read.

If Sylvie Had Nine Lives – Leona Theis

Sylvia’s life from 1974-2014 is told as 9 separate lives, entirely separate stories with different husbands, activities, children. Sylvia emerges as a flawed but appealing woman. Her stories illustrate the impact of decisions that have profoundly different reverberations and impacts. Each chapter presents a new Sylvia who is very entertaining and often surprising. This was an excellent first read in 2021.

The Association of Small Bombs – Keran Mahajan

In 1996, a terrorist bomb explodes in a Delhi market. The story that emerges is about the aftermath for the victims and the activists and terrorists. Thus, it is the psychological aftermath: the cost to survivors, the motivation of terrorists. The ripple effects of this 1996 bomb expand to a subsequent bomb in 2003. This is a very strong story with beautiful writing set in the compelling chaos of India.

The Library At Mount Char – Scott Hawkins

This is a wildly imaginative speculative fiction story. Carolyn is a “librarian” in a library that contains all the secrets of the universe. However, she is like no ordinary librarian; her agenda is complex and difficult to describe. The story is complicated to enter and impossible to predict. So, imagine gods and monsters, much bloody violence but occasional hilarious sections. Reading this book reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. In short, a very original epic fantasy about cruelty that is also a thriller.

Butter Honey Pig bread – Francesca Ekwuyasi

A superb relationship book set mostly in Nigeria with some Canadian content. The memorable characters: a mother with an uneasy existence with the spirit world, and her twin daughters. The twins exhibit a special closeness but also a requirement for space away from each other, especially after a childhood trauma to one of the twins. And one of the daughters has an apparition to consult with and offer comment. An interesting feature of the story is that the context is Nigeria of privilege. There is lots of Nigerian cooking too. From the Giller long-list.