That’s My Baby – Frances Itani

Ms. Itani has written two superb books about an Ontario community coping with the aftermath of WWI, Deafening (2003) and Tell (2011). This story is about Hanova who learns in 1958 on her 18th birthday that she was adopted as a child. Itani’s exquisite writing is subtle and expressive: the beauty of ordinariness (much like Carole Shields and Alice Munro). Her description of a trip to a dance hall is perfect. Hanora’s life during WWII and her subsequent considerable success as a writer is a major focus of the book, along with her quest for information about her birth parents. Itani’s impeccable writing covers diverse topics like art and music; she is a national literary treasure.

Akin – Emma Donoghue

An odd couple makes a trip to Nice France. Noah is a 79-year-old recently-widowed childless retired University professor; Michael is his 11-year-old great-nephew who Noah has never met. Their wildly disparate backgrounds create both considerable conflict and humour as they investigate a series of World War II photographs from Noah’s mother. This is a wondrously written story of love, loss and family.

Big Island,Small – Maureen St. Clair

Big Island,Small - Maureen St. ClairThis is a relationship story of two women with shared Canadian (Big Island) and Caribbean (Little Island, Grenada) backgrounds. The relationship is complex and complicated; there are some cases of persistent poor choices even though the person is conscious of this reality. Secrets and personal history are revealed slowly. This is excellent writing which deservedly won an award for social justice literature.

Beartown – Fredrik Backman

Beartown - Fredrik BackmanSimply put, this is a superb book. The setting is universal, a small forest town in decline, where all the town’s hopes and aspirations are placed on the 17-year old shoulders of the boy’s hockey team. Importantly, the story is so much more than sports competition, the emotions of winning and losing. In fact, winning in hockey is the benchmark for success of the entire town; in essence, the future of the town depends on winning at hockey so the stakes are incredibly high. And  then a sexual assault tears the town apart. The book explores with great insight many key relationships: coach and team, teammates pledging unwavering loyalty, husbands and wives and their children. It is unexpected to have a discussion on sorrow and longing but the book is rich in philosophical musings. Backman also uses foreshadowing very effectively. Highly highly recommended.

Give Me Your Hand – Megan Abbott

Give Me Your Hand - Megan AbbottThere are two key features in successful mystery thrillers: context and plot. In my opinion, context is often the most informative and dramatic element. This book is about two young women in two time-lines: THEN as high school students, and NOW, as post-doctoral researchers in a University medical research laboratory. Given my own background as a biomedical researcher, clearly the context is novel and appealing, the description of lab smells, the equipment, everything is described perfectly. But this is a book about relationships, in particular a friendship complicated by academic competition. And there are dark secrets: a key phrase repeated in the book is “You don’t have a self until you have a secret”. A key progression from dark secrets are lies and then paralyzing “Crime & Punishment” type guilt. Finally, this is a book about women. Highly recommended. Thanks, Karen, for this book suggestion.

Transcription – Kate Atkinson

Transcription - Kate AtkinsonMs. Atkinson has written an attractive spy thriller and mystery, set in 1940 and 1951. Given Atkinson’s past books, then it is no surprise that the story unfolds in a non-linear format. Juliet is recruited to MI5, and the resulting story is very English with regular tea providing comfort and solace to characters named Peregrine and Prendergast. Much like George Smiley in the legendary Le Carre novels, people in Atkinson’s story appear normal and ordinary, but nothing will be as it seems. This is a very entertaining book with some well-timed plot twists.

The Only Cafe – Linden MacIntyre

The Only cafe - Linden MacIntyre.jpgThis is a superb book, a mystery in the John LeCarre mold. Secrets abound: What will someone do to survive in a genocidal war? Was do we really know about a father when he goes missing? The setting is contemporary Toronto with topical issues like Jihadist recruitment. The back-story is the tragic conflict in Lebanon from 1976-83=2. Unanswered questions are rampant – this is just great writing, in part about journalism: can the truth ever be revealed.