Klara and the Sun – Kazuo Ishiguro

Ishiguro has been recognized as a great writer by receiving the Nobel Prize for literature. This new book is simply brilliant, in part because of a unique point-of-view. The narrator Klara is an Artificial Friend (AF, aka robot), with acute powers of observing and learning. She is acquired by Josie and must learn about friendship and the nuances of human behaviour: love, loneliness, sacrifice, what it means to be human. Klara is an AF/AI with empathy, to serve as a companion, to prevent Josie’s loneliness. Empathy is not achieved by programming but rather by machine learning. Overall, this is a compelling story about relationships; Klara has a special relationship with the sun (she is solar powered) which she logically tries to apply to humans. And typically (recall Never Let Me Go), Ishiguro introduces a single word in the text that is not explained for 200 pages, creating a mystery. Fantastic book, highly recommended. Finally, this is a very nice companion book to Machines Like Us by Ian McEwan.

Devolution – Max Brooks

Brooks wrote the very excellent World War Z (skip the 2013 Brad Pitt movie). In this new book, Greenloop is a high-tech enclave that is completely isolated by a Mount Rainier volcanic eruption. What follows is a survivalist story that is complicated enormously by an attacking Sasquatch/Bigfoot tribe. The horror of discovering this predatory danger is revealed slowly but inexorably, Stephen King-like. Some of the survival instincts reminded me of Lord of the Flies. Be warned: there is graphic bloody violence. Overall a compelling story, a nice companion to The Centaur’s Wife.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek – Kim Michelle Richardson

The setting is rural Kentucky in 1936. Cussy (aka Bluet) has a rare genetic condition that produces blue skin (met-hemoglobinemia). Without marriage prospects (by choice), Cussy joins the Pack Horse Library Project, delivering books to remote desperately poor hill communities. The transformative power of books and literacy is offset by shocking prejudice against “coloreds” and some crushing poverty. So be warned, readers will shed some tears. Thanks Joyce, for this recommendation.

Good Omens – Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

The angel Aziriphale and demon Crowley are viewing the oncoming Armageddon with trepidation as they both enjoy England despite their contrasting missions. Also, Crowley has “misplaced” the Anti-Christ (spawn of the devil) who will reign triumphant after the apocalypse. The four horsemen of the apocalypse are bikers as added colour. In short, this is a wildly imaginative story; in particular, the author’s capture perfectly the mannerisms of 11-year-old children. This is a gem; thanks, Elliott, for this recommendation.

Piranesi – Suzanna Clarke

Ms. Clarke previously wrote the highly acclaimed Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell (2004). In this new book, Piranesi lives in a house with infinite rooms and corridors lined with statues, a house that is a labyrinth, a massive world with its internal weather. Only one other person seems to live in this house, The Other. When evidence of other people emerges, Piranesi questions his strange hypnotic reality. This is a fantastic tour-de-force of storytelling: a mystery and adventure, meditations on feeling lost and being found. This book is a treasure of imagination.

The Eighth Life – Nino Haratischvili

This remarkable book needs two initial comments. First, the e-book version is 1904 pages (the longest book I have every read), so any reader needs to commit to a substantial amount of time for reading. And second, there are some unspeakable acts of brutal violence and cruelty. Given these comments, the story is compelling, and the writing is excellent. At its core, this is a relationship book covering five generations and about 100 years of history for a family living in Georgia, initially part of the Soviet Union. There are fractious family relationships, some vicious acts. Intense feelings, fear and self-loathing dominate some characters. And an important context is the rise and fall of the Soviet Union. The greatness of this book is in the psychological point of view. Can the cause(s) of misfortune be identified? Are motives ever truly understood or explained? A fantastic read, highly recommended; thanks, Renee, for bringing this book to my attention.

The City We Became – NK Jemisin

A very imaginative example of speculative fiction about the soul of cities, specifically New York which is protected by five avatars in the five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island. The personalities of the avatars reflect the borough characteristics. But there is conflict, a city takeover by malevolent forces! Highly entertaining with extraordinary visual scenes. Thanks Amy for this recommendation.

Metropolis – Philip Kerr

Another sublime Bernie Gunther crime thriller. The plot is intricate with vivid characters, and Kerr’s books always have superb context. In this book, it is Berlin in 1928 so lingering effects of WWI and the rise of facism are all key features of difficult Berlin life. Gunther is a republican meaning neither a socialist or fascist so he has to navigate complex and dangerous social politics. And there is much moral philosophy about the origins of crime and the role of police. Regretfully Kerr died in 2018 so this will be the last of his writing

Exit West – Mohsin Hamid

This is a very satisfying novel. First, the literary style is intriguing: long sentences with lots of commas and yet reading is smooth. Second, the subject matter is very topical; a dystopian future that begins in a localized fashion with two young lovers in an unspecified Middle Eastern location. Escalating conflict leads them to escape through doors that are portals to distant locations (London, Mykonos). Their future becomes uncertain in new lands that are overwhelmed by the arrival of increasing numbers of refugees/migrants like themselves. How do relationships survive when tested repeatedly – highly recommended.