Good Moms On Paper – Edited by Stacy May Fowles and Jen Sookfong Lee

Twenty essays about motherhood by (obviously) women authors: struggles with work-life balance, feeling fraudulent as both mother and writer, and creative compulsion – powerful themes with insightful thoughts. Essays cover both biological and adoptive parenting, new mothers, and relationships with the essayist’s mother. Heather O’Neill writes “being a single mother working on a novel is like asking a clairvoyant to book a ticket on the Titanic – it’s a bad idea”! Highly recommended.

How To Be Eaten – Marie Adelmann

A very imaginative story: five classic fairy tale characters are imagined as modern New York city women in a trauma support group. For example, Gretel has been abducted and held captive; Ruby has had a traumatic encounter with a wolf. The women shift from being unengaged and judgemental in the group setting to a shared consciousness. A dark, edgy but also wickedly funny story with a great ending.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow – Gabrielle Zevin

Sam and Sadie first meet at ages 11/12 over a shared love of video games. Ten years later, they are creating video games. This is an insightful relationship book: a profound friendship is often complicated by human frailties. Sadie describes herself as “a dervish of selfishness, resentment and insecurity”, clearly significant barriers to having successful relationships. Creative ambitions, disability, success, and failure are all themes.

The Strangers – Katherena Vermette

Like the companion novel The Break, this book begins with a Trigger Warning. The Strangers are a multi-generational Metis family living in Winnipeg: the story focusses on grandmother Margaret, daughter Elsie and children Phoenix and Cedar. Powerful emotions characterize these women: anger, shame in addictions, feeling invisible. Reflecting on sad stories, Margaret concludes (page 316) that “only Indians, Metis … had sorrow built into their bones, who exchanged despair as exclusively as recipes, who had devastation after devastation after dismissal after denial woven into their skin”. Compelling sentiments in the setting of important and necessary stories – a must read for all Canadians.

Circus of Wonders – Elizabeth Macneal

In Victorian England, the circus featured “human curiosities”, aka the freak show. The “performers” are exploited and objectified but also experience fame as someone no longer relegated to the shadows. There is also an interesting back-story of the Crimean War. A richly detailed historical novel, an enthralling slice of Victoriana.

The Good Women of Safe Harbor – Bobbi French

There is much to admire in this first novel. First, it is a female relationship book that deals with gritty subjects: teenage pregnancy, suicide, and medically assisted death. And second, the setting is Newfoundland. Some core values: friendship and forgiveness, the decision to love and be loved.

The Personal Librarian – Marie Bennett and Victoria Christopher Murray

This is a fascinating fictionalized story of a real woman, Belle da Costa Greene, who in 1906 became the personal librarian to J. P. Morgan as he built the Pierpoint Morgan Library in New York city. Her expanding role in acquiring rare books, manuscripts and artwork is astonishing. But her prowess came at a deep personal cost; as a light-skinned African American woman, she had to masquerade as a white woman for her entire life. An insightful look at identity and legacy in America.

The Dictionary of Lost Words – Pip Williams

Full Disclosure: this fabulous book is about two of my favourite things; words and Oxford. The story covers the more than 40-year feat to assemble the Oxford English Dictionary (1886-1928). Words selected for dictionary entry are given context, mainly by white Victorian men. Esme is first brought to the Scriptorium as a young child by her widowed father, a lexicographer. She begins to collect “women’s words”, first those discarded by the male lexicographers and later from conversations with women. And this awareness of the importance of the context for words is influenced by the suffragette movement. A great story – highly recommended but be prepared for some very sad moments.

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.