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.

The Star Side of Bird Hill – Naomi Jackson

The Star Side of Bird Hill - Naomi JacksonThis is a remarkable first novel about 3 generations of women who are both powerful and vulnerable. Two sisters in Brooklyn, Dionne and Phaedra, are sent to Barbados to spend the summer with their grandmother, due to their mother’s deepening depression. There is a predictable cultural clash as the strong-willed grandchildren are confronted with a more traditional society. Life becomes more complicated with their mothers suicidal death. This is  passage near the end of the book when Phaedra thinks about her mother’s death: “This time there was no hope for her mother’s arrival, because Angie was where she would always be now, silent and below the ground. And this had, rather than saddening Phaedra, settled in beside her, the way that the hill’s red dust filmed her white clothes, the way that sand lined her pockets days and weeks after she came home from the beach. It was always there, a reminder of what had come before”.
Powerful story-telling about love and conflict, death and discovery, pain and hope – highly recommended.

The Rules Of Magic – Alice Hoffman

The Rules Of Magic - Alice HoffmanHoffman’s books are very diverse: The Dovekeepers, The Museum Of Extraordinary Things, The Marriage of Opposites and recently, Faithful. Her new book is a prequel to Practical Magic. The central theme is the human cost of magic: a nearly 400 year old curse on the Owen’s family. Accordingly, the current matriarch, Susanna, establishes rules to protect her children. Not surprisingly, her headstrong children test themselves to discover who they are. The context of the book is New York in the 1960s which adds to the air of discovery. The writing is brilliant, describing unforgettable characters and the power of love.

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.

Manhattan Beach – Jennifer Egan

Manhattan Beach - Jennifer EganEgan won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel A Visit From The Goon Squad, and this new historical novel is a gem. Set in the depression-era 30s in New York and then in the naval shipyards in Brooklyn during World War II, the details of place and context are impeccable. The human relationships are a rich blend of secrets, lies and desertion, of love and lust. The writing is dramatic – part of the book describes so clearly the claustrophobic and oppressive world of diving which is also liberating. But it is the complex human dynamics the drive the story, with a very satisfying ending. This is a must-read book, in my opinion.

The Ninth Hour – Alice McDermott

The Ninth Hour - Alice McDermottMcDermott is a superb writer, Anne Tyler-like in her precise descriptions of place and emotions. In this new novel, the place is Catholic Brooklyn in the early part of the 20th century, specifically the tenements. Key characters are the Sisters who visit and minister to the poor, elderly and sick, a vocation that is implicit in their Order’s name, the Little Sisters of the Sick Poor. There are two mortal sins that dominate the lives of Annie, a single mother, and her daughter Sally. The first mortal sin is the suicide of the husband/father: ..”he stepped off this grey life – collar and yoke – not for lack of love, but for the utter inability to go on, to climb, once again, out of the depths of a cold February day, a dark and weary afternoon”. Sally performs what she perceives as an act of penance to mitigate a second mortal sin committed by her mother. The actions of the Sisters, the context of working in a laundry with sighs, sounds and smells – everything is described perfectly. Overall, an introspective intelligent book about the limits of love and sacrifice. Also recommended is McDermott’s previous book, After This.