Give Me Your Hand – Megan Abbott

Give Me Your Hand - Megan AbbottThere are two key features in successful mystery thrillers: context and plot. In my opinion, context is often the most informative and dramatic element. This book is about two young women in two time-lines: THEN as high school students, and NOW, as post-doctoral researchers in a University medical research laboratory. Given my own background as a biomedical researcher, clearly the context is novel and appealing, the description of lab smells, the equipment, everything is described perfectly. But this is a book about relationships, in particular a friendship complicated by academic competition. And there are dark secrets: a key phrase repeated in the book is “You don’t have a self until you have a secret”. A key progression from dark secrets are lies and then paralyzing “Crime & Punishment” type guilt. Finally, this is a book about women. Highly recommended. Thanks, Karen, for this book suggestion.

The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore – Kim Fu

The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore - Kim FuPreviously, Ms. Fu wrote the very fine For Today I Am A Boy, and this new book is even better. Five young girls (ages 9-11) are stranded in the woods after an overnight kayaking trip, producing some “Lord Of The Flies” crises. This narrative is interspersed with the subsequent lives of the survivors: how are lives shaped by an early traumatic event? How are friendships tested by cruelties and betrayals? This is evocative writing and is highly recommended.

A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towles

A Gentleman in Moscow - Amor TowlesIn 1922, Count Alexander Roskov, a member of the Russian aristocracy, is declared an enemy of the state and subjected to “house” arrest in the Hotel Metropol. The description of his demeanour and manners is exquisite and impeccable, hardly surprising for an author whose previous book was Rules of Civility. Alexander creates new and changing relationships with individuals who work in the hotel over the next 32 years. The prose illustrates beautifully the importance of virtues like loyalty. The Soviet Union undergoes dramatic change in this post-revolution period, so Alexander has to be adaptable. The most impactful change occurs when he becomes guardian of a 6-year-old little girl. This is a wonderful book with masterful writing, so a joy to read.

Tin Man – Sarah Winman

Tin Man - Sarah WinmanMs. Winman has written two fabulous books: the hilarious When God Was A Rabbit, and the poignant A Year Of Marvellous Ways. Her latest book is entirely different but also brilliant in an understated and quiet fashion. Ellis and Michael have been best friends since they were twelve years old. Eventually Ellis meets and marries Annie which produces an interesting and dynamic 3-way friendship. The story unfolds in non-linear time and because the writing is spare, some attention is required to appreciate the vibrant storytelling. Some key things are left without explanation or detail, which is perfect for a book about love and loss.

Swimming to Elba – Silvia Avallone

Swimming to Elba - Silvia Avallone.jpgThis is an excellent book for two reasons. The first is context: Italy in 2001, specifically a town on the west coast across from Elba, dominated by soul crushing work in a steel factory. The description of drug-fuelled workers in the paralyzing heat of summer is incredible. And the second reason is the author’s description of emotion, particularly in family and friendships. There are breathtakingly horrible husbands/fathers but the key relationship is between two young girls, best friends forever who undertake a remarkable coming -of-age transition at the age of 14. Their actions are both risqué and innocent while navigating the emotional pitfalls of adolescence. Overall, a powerful, gritty and captivating story.

The Burning Girl – Claire Messud

The Burning girl - Claire MessudMessud wrote the very excellent The Woman Upstairs, about the relationships of a mature woman. In this new novel, Messud has turned her perceptive gaze to a coming-of-age story of two girls, best friends since nursery school whose lives begin to diverge in middle school. What does friendship entail? What stories do we create for others and for ourselves? This is a beautifully poignant book.