The Ministry of Utmost Happiness – Arundhati Roy

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness - Arundhati RoyA sweeping saga of India, mostly in contemporary times (1984-2014). Part of the book is set in Delhi but much takes place in Kashmir (topical given today’s political events). Ms. Roy’s writing is exceptional; impeccable detail means that the reader can feel the sensations of noise, heat, pollution and misery, violence and ethnic cleansing. Her vivid writing captures the chaotic complexity of India. And the main characters are women.

Grief Cottage – Gail Godwin

Grief Cottage - Gail GodwinSometimes a book can provide a perfect reading experience, a confluence of literary merit and also the receptivity of the reader. Godwin’s book was a perfect read for me. Marcus, an 11 year-old boy, has to live with his Great Aunt after the accidental death of his mother. His Great Aunt is a stranger, a painter who lives on a beach in South Carolina. Given the circumstances and his inherent inclinations, Marcus is wildly self-absorbed and introspective despite his young age. His journey through the summer, largely left to his own devices, is remarkable, both compelling and profound. This is a great read, see also Godwin’s previous book Flora.

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.

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic – Emily Crow Barker

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic - Emily Crow BarkerThis is really excellent speculative fiction. Nora, an English graduate student, inadvertently crosses a portal into another remarkably different world, a world that is less technologically advanced but with MAGIC. This is an imaginative story of a truly different world. And we learn the difference between a wizard and a magician and how to distinguish real magic, with Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice having a prominent role in the story. Very entertaining.

Hysteria – Elisabeth de Mariaffi

Hysteria - Elizabeth de MariaffiDe Mariaffi was a discovery at the Calgary WordFest in October 2018. This is a very fine mystery because of the context: upper state New York in 1956. There is an early sinister feeling in the book that develops effortlessly. Heike’s husband is very controlling but this was just typical of men in the 1950s. Or is it something more? Or is Heike delusional? The mystery deepens …..

Machine Without Horses – Helen Humphreys

Machine Without Horses - Helen HumphreysHumphreys is a great writer (Nocturne, The Evening Chorus, The Lost Garden). Her new book is fascinating because the first half is a personal account of her writing process: start with an idea, in this case an obituary of a reclusive Scottish woman who was a renowned salmon-fly dresser. Humphreys describes the essential questions: What is the story? Whose Story is it? How are you going to tell the story? The second half of the book is the imagined life of the Scottish woman; very entertaining.