The Good Women of Safe Harbor – Bobbi French

There is much to admire in this first novel. First, it is a female relationship book that deals with gritty subjects: teenage pregnancy, suicide, and medically assisted death. And second, the setting is Newfoundland. Some core values: friendship and forgiveness, the decision to love and be loved.

The Paradox Hotel – Rob Hart

A fascinating speculative-fiction story: the time is 2072 and the place: The Einstein Intercontinental Time-Port and associated Paradox Hotel. Yes, there is time travel for tourists, to visit, for example, Ancient Egypt or the Triassic Period. January Cole works for the Time Enforcement Agency providing hotel security and she has an extraordinary caustic and acerbic personality. The story is really about the nature of time, but also grief and memory. And there are murders, dinosaurs and maybe ghosts: a thrilling read.

My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry – Fredrik Backman

Elsa is a precocious almost 8-year-old who is perceived as different and thus bullied at school. Thankfully, she has a very close relationship with her 77-year-old grandmother who tells her mythical stories about the Land-of-Almost-Awake. When Elsa’s grandmother dies, Elsa receives a series of apology letters that she is directed to deliver, and so Elsa learns about her grandmother’s incredible back story. This is a brilliant book about life and death, with inspired comic moments and deeply sentimental sad situations, so both laughs and tears abound.

The Book of Form and Emptiness – Ruth Ozeki

This brilliant new book by the author of A Tale For The Time Being is wildly imaginative, and thus hard to describe. Benny is a teenager who hears voices; his mother Annabelle is a hoarder. Both are grieving the death of their father/husband. Most key events take place in a public library, and books have a consciousness that allow them to narrate the story. Events are chaotic and often perplexing. What is reality, especially with grief and PTSD? What is the price of imagination? Highly recommended.

Apeirogon – Colum McCann

Simply put – this is a remarkable book, one that must be read slowly and savoured. First, a definition: an apeirogon is a shape with a countably infinite number of sides. Thus, a perfect title for a book addressing the complex many-faceted Israel-Palestine situation. Bassam is Palestinian; his daughter Abir was killed by a rubber bullet fired by an Israeli border guard. Rami is Israeli; his daughter Smadar was killed by Palestinian suicide bombers. They separately deal with perceptions of revenge and justice, and the many versions of truth. And unexpectedly, they become friends. Their stories unfold in a non-linear manner with incredible detail. Overall, a breathtaking narrative that merges fact with imagination, violence and grief.

Hamnet and Judith – Maggie O-Farrell

It is the late 16th century. Agnes marries a Latin tutor and they have three children, Susanna and twins Hamnet and Judith. The death of one of the twins produces intense grief, so readers be warned that the final 100 pages of this historical novel are extraordinarily sad, culminating in the writing of Hamlet by the Latin tutor, aka William Shakespeare.

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.

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.

Five Little Indians – Michelle Good

A graphic and powerful story of five indigernous children who have experienced Residential Schools, especially the aftermath on their post-school lives. Some tragic endings, some examples of resilience. This book should be assigned reading for those who dismiss the Residential School tragedy and for those who acknowledge hardship but then suggest that “survivors” should just get over it.