Akin – Emma Donoghue

An odd couple makes a trip to Nice France. Noah is a 79-year-old recently-widowed childless retired University professor; Michael is his 11-year-old great-nephew who Noah has never met. Their wildly disparate backgrounds create both considerable conflict and humour as they investigate a series of World War II photographs from Noah’s mother. This is a wondrously written story of love, loss and family.

In Search of the Perfect Singing Flamingo – Claire Tacon

This delightful novel is about complicated family relationships. Henry and Kath have two grown daughters; Starr is the oldest and is special-needs (Williams Syndrome). Part of the story recounts a disastrous road trip by Henry, Starr and Darren (Henry’s co-worker) to a ComicCon convention in Chicago. How can a father get the correct balance between being protective, to hold on tighter, to hold off the future, with the absolute need to let go? In parts the story is hilarious but also poignant and at times heart-breaking. Henry can be frustratingly hapless at times, full of contradictions. All the characters have rich complex personalities, proving that life is messy and complicated: a very fine read. Thanks Amy, for this recommendation.

Autopsy of a Boring Wife – Marie-Renee Lavoie

Simply put, this is a marvellous read. Diane is a married mother of three grown children whose life is over-turned when her husband leaves her for a younger woman. What is brilliant in the story-telling is the raw emotions, the biting anger displayed by Diane in encounters with her mother-in-law and her husbands new partner are priceless.

Empire of Wild – Cherie Dimaline

Brilliant story-telling about a Metis woman’s search for her husband, a quest complicated by the sinister presence of a rogarou, a man/dog monster. And there is a travelling missionary tent show using the historical role of religious conversion to steal land and resources from Indigenous people. Finally, the book becomes a flat-out thriller. Very strong writing, better than The Marrow Thieves.

The Rosie Result – Graeme Simsion

The concluding book of the Don Tillman Trilogy finds Don, Rosie and their 11-year old son Hudson relocating to Melbourne. Hudson’s school observes some social troubles and requests an autism assessment. This stimulates Don’s formidable problem-solving abilities, the Hudson Project, to aid Hudson in acquiring skills to fit in. The story addresses important questions: is labelling useful in terms of identity; should people on the autism spectrum adjust their behaviour and thinking to match neuro-typical norms? And there is bullying and a confrontation with an anti-vaxxer parent. Overall, a compelling read, with humour and psychological insight into the complexity of human behaviour. Highly recommended.

Five Wives – Joan Thomas

Ms. Thomas is an undiscovered treasure, a Canadian writer living in Winnipeg. In fact, her writing reminds me of Carol Shields (high praise). This book takes place in 1956. Five evangelist men heed a call from God to become missionaries in Ecuador, to convert a reclusive war-like tribe, the Waroani. There is an absolute belief in the righteousness of their divine calling and that God will protect them. In reality, all five men are killed quickly after contact with the Waorani. Much of the perspective in this story of martyrdom is from the viewpoint of the accompanying wives, their willingness to travel to Ecuador with a complex mix of enthusiasm and fear and then how they cope in the aftermath with understandable disillusionment but with an acceptance of fate. There is also a fascinating character, Rachel who is the unmarried sister of one of the missionary men. Thomas’ writing is insightful and her prose is beautiful.

Olive Again – Elizabeth Strout

This is a sublime sequel to Ms. Strout’s exquisite Pulitzer Prize-winning Olive Kitteredge.  Olive remains a somewhat difficult, direct, honest but unfiltered and often irascible character. Her relationship with her second husband, her son from her first marriage, and the townspeople in a seaside town in Maine are, not surprisingly, complicated but entertaining. The stories show a delightful ordinariness of people. And finally, the book has a powerful treatise on ageing and (the lack of) self-awareness. A superb read.