The Immortalists – Chloe Benjamin

This intriguing novel begins in 1969 when four siblings (13, 11, 9 and 7 years-old) consult a psychic who allegedly tells them individually the day of their death. What follows is a narrative of each sibling that asks a series of questions. What is the nature of belief? Can fate be pre-ordained? What is the line between destiny and choice? Is there a link between reality and illusion? Is there real magic? At its core, this is a family love story even though the siblings appear to be remarkably different, creating complicated complex characters. This is very imaginative story-telling.

Watching You Without Me – Lynn Coady

Karen, recently divorced, returns to her childhood home in Nova Scotia after her mother’s death, to care for her developmentally-disabled sister. Karen is understandably over-whelmed with grief and the difficult care of her sister. Thus she gratefully accepts extra assistance from Trevor, one of her sisters care-givers. So she is susceptible to manipulation and Trevor is a master manipulator. Accordingly, this is a masterful and entirely creepy character study of human frailty.

Speak No Evil – Uzodinma Iweala

Uzodinma IwealaThis remarkable book is about two young people in Washington DC. Niro is a 17-year-old African-American who is graduating from High School and then on to Harvard. But Niro has a painful secret – he is gay, a wicked abomination to his conservative Nigerian parents. Niro’s best friend is Meredith but she is unable to provide Niro with the help and support that he needs. Niro is emotionally lost and conflicted with heartbreaking self-loathing and his relationship with Meredith comes to a tragic ending: powerful storytelling.

Little Sister – Barbara Gowdy

Little Sister - Barbara GowdyGowdy is a masterful writer (Fearless, Falling Angels, The Romantic); she is an under-appreciated Canadian treasure. Little Sister is a fine addition to her collective works, a story about the female psyche and an existential story about entering (not observing but actually entering) another body. There is a grief subplot that is very compelling. Simply put, just excellent writing and story telling.

In The Midst Of Winter – Isabel Allende

In The Midst Of Winter - Isabel AllendeA winter storm in New York brings together three distinctive characters: an American man nearly destroyed by grief and guilt; a Chilean woman survivor of the Allende aftermath in the 1970s; and a young undocumented woman from Guatemala. A fairly simplistic plot device allows the compelling back stories to emerge with Allende’s characteristic story-telling which is evocative. Each of the three characters has experienced tragic and sorrowful events, and yet there is hopefulness in a story contains unexpected romance and love. Allende is a treasure, and this novel is a very worthwhile read.

Hunger – Roxane Gay

Hunger - Roxane GayPreviously, I used the words “brutally honest and uncomfortably candid” to describe Camilla Gibbs’s memoir This Is Happy, and the same descriptors can be applied emphatically to this memoir by Roxane Gay. Gay is subjected to a brutal sexual assault at age 12; she discusses being both a survivor and a victim. There are two dramatic aspects to the aftermath: her silence and her reaction to eating, to become fat and undesirable in order to be safe. Gay vividly describes living in a wildly undisciplined body as she becomes categorized as morbidly obese. The cruelty of public opinion of her appearance (i.e. fat shaming) is tragic. Her own analysis of her psychology is self-loathing. This is a deeply personal memoir that is often disturbing but occasionally comic as she describes how much she hates exercise. An amazing story.

The Historian – Elizabeth Kostova

The Historian - Elizabeth KostovaThis fascinating book has a Dan Brown-like plot (but with much better writing). Academics search for clues to find missing persons and to research Vlad Dracula’s life (is he still living?). This research is conducted in medieval libraries (yay!) with much travel: Oxford, Istanbul, Budapest and Bulgaria. Actions happen in three times: the 1930s, 1950s and 1970s, often with parallel stories so the complex plot with much historical detail requires the full attention of readers. This is a really enjoyable read; thanks Steph, for this recommendation.