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.

The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections – Eva Jurczyk

A rare book collection at a University Library become a vehicle for prestige, resulting in cut-throat politics in academia. And when a rare book goes missing, the plot thickens to become an intriguing mystery. The politics of gender, academic rivalries, suspicions, and the uncomfortable relationship with donors are all described perfectly.

The Last Chance Library – Freya Sampson

Full disclosure: I read any book with “Library” in the title. This book is an unabashedly sentimental and schmaltzy story about a campaign to prevent the closure of a small-town library in England. There is an emphasis on books and literacy, but also on the role of a library as a community location. The plot has many predictable tropes but still …. this is a book for library lovers.

Matrix – Lauren Groff

In the late 12th century, Marie is banished to an English abbey by Eleanor of Aquitaine. Under her leadership, first as prioress and eventually as abbess, the abbey prospers because of Marie’s ambition, pride and yes, arrogance. This is a feminist story, of female creativity, religious ecstasy, and passion.

When We Lost Our Heads – Heather O’Neill

Simply put, this is a wonderful book about compelling and complex women in Montreal at the end of the 19th century. Men in the story are mostly inconsequential, despite some appallingly boorish behaviour. Marie and Sadie are best friends as children, but theirs is a classic love-hate relationship (“Every decent friendship comes with a drop of hatred. But that hatred is like honey in the tea. It makes it addictive”). Marie is spoiled and entitled; Sadie is subversive and dangerous. Ms. O’Neill‘s writing is enchanting with exquisite similes describing disparate worlds: life in a brothel, exploitive factory work (the Squalid Mile). Female relationships are infinitely complex with righteous anger, pettiness and jealousy, and a self-absorbed woman who has no empathy toward other women. Powerful feminist themes abound: the invisibility of marriage, sexual awareness leading to female empowerment. And finally, anticipate a late plot twist and an extraordinary ending. This is O’Neill at her best, a Montreal noir story.

These Precious Days – Ann Patchett

Ms. Patchett is one of my favourite novelists (The Patron Saint of Liars, Bel Canto) but she also writes essays that previously were collected into the wonderful book This is a Story of a Happy Marriage. This is her second book of essays, some published previously in Harpers and the Atlantic. All are insightful glimpses into her life, from childhood to the current time. A favourite for me is the first essay about her three fathers, all different experiences, all with positive and negatives. Her writing is clear, focused, and honest – highly recommended.

(Amy seconds all of this!)

When The Stars Go Dark -Paula McLain

Anna is a police detective who flees San Francisco for Mendocino due to a personal tragedy where she becomes involved in a missing person investigation. What distinguishes this novel from most police procedural stories is the impeccable research. The context for missing persons: fleeing an abusive situation, or an abduction? This is a very fine book, to be expected by the author of The Paris Wife and Circling The Sun.

Forest Green – Kate Pullinger

A story of Art Lunn in different BC locations. His life is defined by a tragic incident at 8 years of age, which he blames himself for the rest of his life. Consequently, he is unable to make commitments to other people, and descends into alcoholism and eventual homelessness, an acute example of how early trauma can initiate a life-long feeling of worthlessness. Actually, the story is less depressing than the above description implies, so worth a read.