The Magician King – Lev Grossman

Book two of the trilogy, the continued adventures of Quentin and colleagues: more travel in a quest to locate five magical keys. Part of this travel is on Earth, using portals that are created precisely with Google Street View! And there are deliciously old-fashioned sea trips in Fillory. Much of the book has metaphysical tones. Where does magic come from? Are there all-powerful secret magicians (aka Gods; I was reminded of the Old Gods in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods)? Finally, there are wonderful character names like Pouncy Silverkitten – what’s not to love!

Unsheltered – Barbara Kingsolver

Kingsolver previously wrote the marvellous The Poisonwood Bible. Her new book has two story lines, about people who live in the same house in New Jersey: one family in 1874 and a contemporary family in 2012. Both stories involve dealing with hardships. In 2012, the issue is economic instability and insecurity (making me think of some classic Lionel Shriver books). In 1874, a biology teacher is conflicted by the controversy about Darwin versus traditional religion. The way Kingsolver links the alternating family stories is masterful and her knowledge of biology is exceptional. This is a very interesting worthwhile read.

Our Souls At Night – Kent Haruf

This is a short but meaningful book about two widowed people in their 70s who are willing to take a risk, to start a relationship based on gentle companionship. The storytelling has a wonderful authentic simplicity: “they ate a supper of macaroni and cheese casserole and iceberg lettuce with Thousand Island dressing and canned green beans and bread and butter and iced tea from an old heavy glass pitcher and there was Neapolitan ice cream for dessert”.  They key feature in this book is the recognition that relationships, at any age, are complicated but especially for older people in the 70s and yet they have the courage to try, to see what happens.Thanks Karen, for this recommendation.

The Waiting Hours – Shandi Mitchell

Simply put, this is a fantastic read. The place is contemporary Halifax with three main characters: an ER nurse, a policeman, and a 911 dispatcher. Their lives intersect but obliquely, in a fashion that is never contrived. The backstory lives are complicated, of course, but realistically so. The best part of the book is the feeling of the stories – stress exacerbated by heat and overwork.  By the way, the title refers to the overnight hours of 3-6am when emergency activities are temporarily quiet. Just excellent story-telling.

The Two Of Us – Kathy Page

The Two Of Us - Kathy Page

Last month I raved about Ms. Page’s novel Dear Evelyn. In contrast, this book is composed of very fine short stories. Many of you will know that I typically do not like short stories but Page’s writing makes each story a joy to read.  There is impeccable detail when describing gardens, for example. But the best stories are about relationships. The tension in a meeting with a genetic counsellor is palpable and heart-breaking. Page is a literary treasure.

In A House Of Lies – Ian Rankin

In A House Of Lies - Ian RankinAfter more than 20 Inspector Rebus books, the stories are as good as ever. This most recent book has a Rankin characteristic, a complex plot with two cold cases. A dazzling feature of the Rebus stories is that lies, deceit and corruption are pretty evenly divided between the police and the criminals. These Rebus stories are also becoming more philosophical as he ages and deals with the medical and moral consequences of a mis-spent life. Very entertaining.

Priestdaddy – Patricia Lockwood

Priestdaddy - Patricia LockwoodThe author leaves her Mid-Western home at age 19 to be married but after 12 years, financial constraints forces her and her husband to return to the parental home. This gives her the opportunity to remember an unconventional upbringing: a flamboyant and charismatic guitar-playing father usually (un)dressed in only his underwear, who, by the way, is a Catholic Priest with a wife and 5 children (how can that be, you may ask?); and a long-suffering over-protective mother. There are some eye-popping childhood experiences like attending an anti-abortion rally at a very young age. Ms. Lockwood also takes this opportunity for reflection, producing a memoir that is often comic but also poignant. And for a published poet, her writing is wonderful such as this description of a church space: “The ceiling is low and the lights flicker fluorescently and emit an insect whine. The whole place smells like where coffee goes to die”. Highly recommended; thanks to Sarah’s friend Elizabeth for this recommendation.