Indians On Vacation – Thomas King

Bird and Mimi are travelling in Europe in an attempt to re-trace the journey of Mimi’s long-lost Uncle. What follows is a complex mix of humour and wit with poignant introspective events. The backstory emerges in alternating chapters. This is a completely satisfying look at two people’s relationship that is stressed by travel.

Miracle Creek – Angie Kim

Simply put, this is a great book. On one level, it is a court room thriller – a woman is accused of killing two people, one of whom is her severely autistic son. There is an immigrant family from Korea who experience subtle racism: forced charity, politely understanding actions. There are the relationships between parents and children with all the range of emotions from love to anger. And there is the legal drama of shifting suspicions, compounded by secrets and lies, unintended consequences of (good) people’s mistakes. White lies are defined as answers that are technically untrue but serve a greater good. Just brilliant storytelling.

Braiding Sweetgrass – Robin Wall Kimmerer

The author balances science with Indigenous knowledge in this fantastic book. There is much biology and botany together with the wisdom of mother nature and ecology. There are achingly beautiful musings on motherhood which extend to our relationship with mother nature, that mother nature is a wise teacher. The indigenous focus is, in part, on how to retain language with important lessons in sustainability. Plus who doesn’t want to read about migrating salamanders. Overall, a very uplifting book; thanks Joyce, for this recommendation.

The Jane Austen Society – Natalie Jenner

Given my predilection for angst-filled introspective relationship books, it is always a delight to read something entirely different. It is England in the 1940s: a disparate group of 8 people create a local Jane Austen society to preserve Austen’s home and legacy. Much debate ensues about favourite Austen characters (Emma versus Elizabeth Bennett). And delightfully the relationships between some of the 8 society members plays out like an Austen plot. In short, a thoroughly charming book.

How a Woman Becomes a Lake – Marjorie Celona

A beautifully written story set in a small town in Washington state in 1986, a mystery about a missing person. Celona’s description of flawed family relationships is harrowing; guilt, shame, grief, and blame are all factors. The merciless weight of carrying secrets and the ongoing cost of keeping these secrets are dominant themes. And there is an intriguing treatment of an after-death perspective. Highly recommended.

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.

Polar Vortex – Shani Mootoo

This is a superb introspective relationship story. Priya and Alexandra have a six-year marriage that is disrupted by the impending visit of Prakash, a long-time friend of Priya’s. What are Prakash’s motives for this visit? Why has Priya been withholding information on the significance of this friendship from Alex? And why can memories between friends be so selectively remembered and interpreted? A bit gloomy but overall an excellent read (on the Giller long-list).

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.