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.

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.

Magic Lessons – Alice Hoffman

This enchanting prequel to Practical Magic and The Rules of Magic takes place in the late 1600s as Maria Owens travels from England to Curacao and then to Salem, Massachusetts, and New York city. Her practice of witchcraft, the “Nameless Art”, follows a complex course from healing to the quest for love and yes, even revenge. Very rich characters with vivid imagery – highly recommended.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue – V. E. Schwab

Ms. Schwab wrote the fabulous Shades of Magic trilogy and this new book is also a tour-de-force entry in the genre of speculative fiction. In 1714, Adeline (Addie) makes a Faustian deal with a devil (an old god of darkness) to avoid the tedium of an arranged marriage, asking for “time, a chance to live and be free”.  She is granted immortality, but with a curse: that everyone who meets her then forgets her instantly, making her invisible. For 300 years, she struggles to leave her mark in the world. Then in 2014, she enters a bookstore in New York and the bookstore worker says “I remember you” because she stole a book the previous day! This is a sweeping fantasy: a love story that explores the differences between needs and wants, art and inspiration. The final setting of New York City with a central role of a bookstore is, of course, very attractive. Highly recommended.

Love – Roddy Doyle

Two near 60-year-old men meet in Dublin pubs to reminisce, so this is the epitome of a “guy” book. Early in the book it is stated: “There is a reason why men do not talk about their feelings. It’s not just that it is difficult, or embarrassing. It’s almost impossible. The words aren’t really there.” And yet, Joe wants to share a secret; Davy listens and withholds a personal secret. What follows is an inarticulate but profound examination of friendship, memories, and mortality, and love in many forms. This is Doyle at his best.

Butter Honey Pig bread – Francesca Ekwuyasi

A superb relationship book set mostly in Nigeria with some Canadian content. The memorable characters: a mother with an uneasy existence with the spirit world, and her twin daughters. The twins exhibit a special closeness but also a requirement for space away from each other, especially after a childhood trauma to one of the twins. And one of the daughters has an apparition to consult with and offer comment. An interesting feature of the story is that the context is Nigeria of privilege. There is lots of Nigerian cooking too. From the Giller long-list.

The Starless Sea – Erin Morgenstern

What if you found an old mis-shelved fiction book in a University Library that contains an incident from your own life, described in perfect detail? This is the beginning of this wildly inventive novel and it gets better! Doors are painted on surfaces that become portals to an underground maze of tunnels and rooms filled with books/stories. Characters in reality interact with characters from stories, and time is very flexible. But this magical place is under attack and great quests ensue. Morgenstern’s writing is wonderfully imaginative; previously she wrote the fabulous The Night Circus (2011). Both books are must reads.

 

Amy adds; it’s a love letter to storytelling, and it gripped my heart.

Normal People – Sally Rooney

This is a superbly-written relationship book. The story covers four years in the lives of Connell and Marianne, one year at high school in the west of Ireland followed by University at Trinity College in Dublin. Rooney’s writing illustrates perfectly that relationships are complicated even between two people with undeniable chemistry, complications by miscommunication and misperception of feelings. There is also emotional paralysis by expectations of inadequacy and not belonging. Connell and Marianne are very different people from different backgrounds, resulting in feelings of isolation and disconnection. This is a great book, better than her first book Conversations With Friends.

An American Wife – Tayari Jones

An American Wife - Tayari JonesMs. Jones has written a superb relationship book. Celestial and Roy are newlyweds but Roy is wrongfully imprisoned and so goes to jail for 5 years. In Roy’s absence, Celestial’s relationship with Andre, a lifelong friend, is strengthened. So this is about a 3-way relationship with one of the participants, Roy, absent in prison for much of the story. The resolution to this complicated story is breathtaking.