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.

Find You First – Linwood Barclay

Miles Cookson is a tech billionaire who at age 42 receives the devastating diagnosis of Huntington’s Disease. This prompts a search for 9 children he “fathered” as a sperm donor 20 years previously. But these potential heirs are disappearing without a trace! This is vintage Barclay with impossible-to-predict plot twists: very entertaining.

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.