Still Life – Sarah Winman

Ms. Winman writes inspired novels (When God Was a Rabbit, A Year of Marvellous Ways, Tin Man). Her new book is a love letter to Florence and to Italian life in general. There is love of art, great food and wine, and love between humans with all its complications. The lives of diverse English people are detailed beautifully over 35 years, from 1944-2009. There are some remarkably eccentric characters that constitute an extended family. This is a “must read” book.

Amy adds: one of my favourites of the year so far – she’s a favourite author.

All Adults Here – Emma Straub

This charming book is about complex family relationships – the good, bad and ugly. Astrid has three children and three grandchildren, and lives in the Hudson Valley in New York state. Astrid is somewhat closed and flinty: “She believed pets were useful only in teaching young children about death. She knew this was an unpopular opinion”. This multi-generational story is about delayed adolescence with some persistent poor decision making, but also about love and resilience. Finally, there are some inspired comic situations – highly recommended.

The Patron Saint of Liars – Ann Patchett

A re-read of Ms. Patchett’s first novel published 30 years ago was just so satisfying. When Rose learns she is pregnant, she flees a loveless marriage in California for St. Elizabeth’s Home for Unwed Mothers in Kentucky. The important context to this story is time, the 60s-70s. Rose is mysterious, someone who does exactly what she wants. A key element in this wonderful book are complex mother-daughter relationships. Highly recommended.

Matrix – Lauren Groff

In the late 12th century, Marie is banished to an English abbey by Eleanor of Aquitaine. Under her leadership, first as prioress and eventually as abbess, the abbey prospers because of Marie’s ambition, pride and yes, arrogance. This is a feminist story, of female creativity, religious ecstasy, and passion.

The Sentence – Louise Erdrich

This fabulous book follows one year (November 2019 – November 2020) in the life of Tookie, an Indigenous woman working in a small independent bookstore in Minneapolis. And importantly, the bookstore is haunted! In addition, there is the trauma of the pandemic and George Floyd’s murder. So, a year of living dangerously – highly recommended.

When The Stars Go Dark -Paula McLain

Anna is a police detective who flees San Francisco for Mendocino due to a personal tragedy where she becomes involved in a missing person investigation. What distinguishes this novel from most police procedural stories is the impeccable research. The context for missing persons: fleeing an abusive situation, or an abduction? This is a very fine book, to be expected by the author of The Paris Wife and Circling The Sun.

Beautiful World, Where Are You – Sally Rooney

Ms. Rooney’s new book is about four 30-year-olds: Alice and Eileen, Simon and Felix. Although older than the teenagers in Normal People, these adults are no more successful in their relationships. Despite deep friendships and yes, love, they can be frustratingly emotionally distant, deflecting a question with a question as the rejoinder. Overall, a fabulous examination of the modern world. Desire is complicated with delusion; perceptions of happiness are clouded by anxiety and uncertainty. A brilliant book – highly recommended.

The Spectacular – Zoe Whittall

A “spectacular” new book from the author of the acclaimed The Best Kind Of People. This is a book about family relationships, mainly female relationships: erratic behaviour and complicated decisions. At its core, the issue between three generations of women is motherhood with emotions ranging (often) between elation and love, to paralyzing fear. Thanks Sarah, for this book which is highly recommended.

So Much Life Left Over – Louis De Bernieres

Daniel Pitt is a WWI flying ace who struggles to fid purpose after surviving the war – what to do with life inexplicably left over. His story from 1925-45 includes Ceylon, England, France and Germany. His marriage to Rosie slowly disintegrates, and Rosie acquires a remarkably mean-spirited persona. And there are Rosie’s three sisters, each strong individual characters. The story evolves in short chapters with different points-of-view. Overall, a compelling story of complex relationships in post-war and pre-war contexts.

Amy adds: Louis De Bernieres also wrote The Dust that Falls from Dreams, and the excellent Captain Corelli’s Mandolin