Ivy – Katherine Coville

Ah, it is such a pleasure to read a children’s illustrated book. Ivy lives with her Grandmother Meg who is an animal healer: domestic and wild animals and yes, magic creatures like a griffin and dragons. This practice causes some town conflict and tensions, but all is resolved when a troll attack is repulsed. A happy ending with a celebration of inclusivity and acceptance of diversity, just what is needed in an anxious world.

Gutter Child – Jael Richardson

 A fierce debut novel about a contemporary dystopian world. consisting of the privileged Mainland and the suppressed Gutter world. The history is one of colonialism and exploitation which produces a society rife with injustices. Gutter children are born with an original sin, a debt to society that must be repaid. Elimina is a young 15-year-old Gutter child who has been raised in the Mainland as a social experiment. Her story is one of resilience, to choose a future and defy a system that is patriarchal and controlling. A very powerful story – highly recommended.

Trace Elements – Donna Leon

Another fabulous account of Commissario Brunetti’s exploits in Venice. Leon’s stories have recurring themes: a leisurely pace to a single investigation; very little death, in this case a single ambiguous apparent accident; no violence; little technology other than the formidable computer skills of Signorina Elletra. The unrelenting heat and humidity of a Venetian summer is described graphically. But at the core, Brunetti is an observer of human behaviour. And thus, he is acutely aware of moral dilemmas, as expressed eloquently at the end of the book: “Brunetti was both accuser and accused. He had to decide which crime to punish, which to ignore, and choose the greater criminal”.

Amy notes: There are always good meals in her books, and Brunetti reads thoughtfully, which often provides perspective on the mystery

Piranesi – Suzanna Clarke

Ms. Clarke previously wrote the highly acclaimed Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell (2004). In this new book, Piranesi lives in a house with infinite rooms and corridors lined with statues, a house that is a labyrinth, a massive world with its internal weather. Only one other person seems to live in this house, The Other. When evidence of other people emerges, Piranesi questions his strange hypnotic reality. This is a fantastic tour-de-force of storytelling: a mystery and adventure, meditations on feeling lost and being found. This book is a treasure of imagination.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue – V. E. Schwab

Ms. Schwab wrote the fabulous Shades of Magic trilogy and this new book is also a tour-de-force entry in the genre of speculative fiction. In 1714, Adeline (Addie) makes a Faustian deal with a devil (an old god of darkness) to avoid the tedium of an arranged marriage, asking for “time, a chance to live and be free”.  She is granted immortality, but with a curse: that everyone who meets her then forgets her instantly, making her invisible. For 300 years, she struggles to leave her mark in the world. Then in 2014, she enters a bookstore in New York and the bookstore worker says “I remember you” because she stole a book the previous day! This is a sweeping fantasy: a love story that explores the differences between needs and wants, art and inspiration. The final setting of New York City with a central role of a bookstore is, of course, very attractive. Highly recommended.

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.

The Mothers – Britt Bennett

Ms. Bennet wrote the fabulous The Vanishing Half, so I wanted to read her first book. The Mothers is about 3 teenagers in Oceanside, north of San Diego; there is teenage sex and a pregnancy and an abortion, actions that have consequences over the next 6 years. This is an excellent relationship book about community in contemporary Black America, friendships undermined by secrets, the aftermath of youthful choices. Finally, the title The Mothers refers in part to elderly church women who are a Greek chorus, commenting on events. And also, the title refers to the issue of absent mothers for two of the characters. This is an insightful, thoughtful engaging story – highly recommended.

Ridgerunner – Gil Adamson

This is a beautifully written book set in 1917. After the death of his mother, 12-year-old Jack is delivered to the care of Sister Beatrice while his father, William Moreland, leaves to raise money to support Jack. However, Moreland’s only skill is as a thief; some of his escapades are Butch Cassidy-like. Much of the setting is the Banff-Lake Louise corridor with the World War in the background. The characters are rich, and the depictions of the natural world are breath-taking. Hopefully, this book will be a strong Giller contender. Ms. Adamson previously wrote the well–regarded The Outlander.

The Pull of the Stars – Emma Donoghue

Not surprisingly, this is another superb historical fiction story by Ms. Donoghue, a writer who never fails to entertain. Dublin in 1918 is suffering the ravages of the Spanish flu pandemic. The story follows three women over just 3 days in a small Maternity/Fever ward: a nurse, volunteer, and physician. There is impeccable medical detail. But the dominant theme is hopelessness – an inability to effectively treat influenza patients with an over-arching issue of mistreatment of orphans and children of unwed mothers by Catholic residentials schools/homes. Highly recommended but be prepared for some profound sadness.