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.

The Enchanted – Rene Denfeld

The Enchanted - Rene DenfeldThis short book give a powerful and disturbing view of a prison in contemporary times. The two key external characters are unnamed: The Lady, a death penalty investigator hired by lawyers to evaluate evidence regarding death row prisoners; and the Fallen Priest.  There is also a death row inmate, also unnamed until the final pages of the book, who watches and listens. And a prison society that is revealed as corrupt and deadly. So be warned, this is a tough read but memorable for good and bad reasons.

The Archeologists – Hal Niedzviecki

The Archeologists - Hal NiedzvieckiThis imaginative book is hard to describe. The story is NOT about professional archeologists at an excavation. Instead the story follows six very different individuals whose lives intersect when bones are (apparently) discovered at the edge of a river which is to be transformed into an expressway. Planning issues (think of Jane Jacobs) are described along with environmental and Indigenous issues. The characters are portrayed vividly, especially the obnoxious and wildly irresponsible Tim. This is a great read.

The Custodian of Paradise – Wayne Johnston

The Custodian of Paradise - Wayne JohnstonJohnston previously wrote The Colony of Unrequited Dreams about Newfoundland and Joey Smallwood. This new novel is a companion story and is much better because the central character, Sheilagh Fielding (a minor character in the earlier Smallwood book) is a fabulous creation; she has a clever mind, a caustic wit and a legendary sarcastic tongue. This is a Newfoundland story from 1916 – 1943, with a New York interlude. Fielding has a knack for controversies, for courting disaster; she is, in other words, a powerful person. There is also a creepy character in the shadows known only as The Provider. Excellent storytelling; thanks Kathryn for this recommendation.

Sleep – Nino Ricci

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Ricci is a fine Canadian writer (the excellent Lives Of The Saints). In this novel, David is a life-long jerk whose bad behaviour is exacerbated by a sleep disorder. David has addictive self-destructive impulses so his life is an endless series of bad choices. There is a fascinating excursion into an obsession with guns. So powerful story-telling.

Purity – Jonathan Franzen

purity-jonathan-franzenFranzen writes about dysfunctional relationships (The Corrections) and this new book is no exception, the most dysfunctional being the marriage of Tom and Annabel. Indeed, there are NO normal simple relationships which becomes somewhat tiring. On the plus side, the story has more depth than his previous novels in part because of multiple locations. So not a must read but a challenging and interesting read. In fact, this is my favourite Franzen book but this recommendation is almost reluctant.