Songs For The Cold Of Heart – Eric Dupont

Songs For The Cold Of Heart - Eric DupontThis Giller short-listed book by a Quebec author is hard to describe. It is epic story-telling told with great detail, so there is much content about many many topics. Sometimes I wished that some of the content had been edited out as this is a very long book. Part of the book takes place in Quebec and it is very French-Canadian, with complex family dynamics, wicked nuns, etc. The last half takes place in Berlin and Rome, albeit with characters that are linked by family to the first part of the book. The Lamontagne family is always surprising; the writing is imaginative and often dark.

There There – Tommy Orange

There There - Tommy OrangeOrange is one of a group of impressive Indigenous authors introduced to me during the Calgary Word Fest. This is a superb first novel with intersecting characters assembling in Oakland for a Pow-wow. These individuals have links to the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes of Oklahoma but their Indian identity is very limited: these are urban Indians. For example, a young boy, Orvil Red Feather, learns pow-wow dancing from YouTube videos. The intersecting multi-generational story-lines can be complicated to follow sometimes because of uncertain or unknown parentage, but the culminating climax is presented powerfully. This is excellent story-telling about identity, violence and recovery, of belonging and un-belonging, loss and hope.

The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore – Kim Fu

The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore - Kim FuPreviously, Ms. Fu wrote the very fine For Today I Am A Boy, and this new book is even better. Five young girls (ages 9-11) are stranded in the woods after an overnight kayaking trip, producing some “Lord Of The Flies” crises. This narrative is interspersed with the subsequent lives of the survivors: how are lives shaped by an early traumatic event? How are friendships tested by cruelties and betrayals? This is evocative writing and is highly recommended.

Lethal White – Robert Galbraith (pseudonym for JK Rowling)

Lethal White - Robert GalbraithThe fourth Cormoran Strike book has a complex plot and, as in previous books, the evolving relationship between Cormoran and his associate Robin is central to the story. In many ways, this is a superb procedural book: how are clues discovered and interpreted? The procedural emphasis is reminiscent of Michael Connelly’s detective Harry Bosch. But the real joy in this Galbraith book is how Cormoran and Robin interact, how ideas and theories are discussed and debated (much like Inspector Lynley and Havers in the E. George mysteries). Both characters are completely dissimilar and have some significant human frailties that are often endearing. Finally the choice of certain words requires the use of a dictionary, a delicious practise that I find completely satisfying. Violence is minimal; this is an excellent book about plot and motive.

Women Talking – Miriam Toews

Women Talking - Miriam ToewsA fictionalized account of a true story, that women in a strict Mennonite community in Bolivia were repeatedly sexually assaulted while drugged, by men in their own community. The women are having introspective existential conversations: to stay (and fight) or leave? They also discuss moral issues of faith and forgiveness. The only periodic male point-of-view is the transcriptionist who is translating their conversations into English and who occasionally offers comment. The context is a conservative patriarchal society where women have no rights. They want safety for their children, the ability to practise their faith and to think for themselves. Powerful writing.

Stray City – Chelsey Johnson

Stray City - Chelsey JohnsonThis book was a chance discovery at the library, so was read without expectations. Therefore the pleasure of reading a very fine first novel was palpable. Andrea leaves a strict childhood in Nebraska to be immersed in Portland’s lesbian life. A bad breakup results in a brief hookup with a man, and a pregnancy results. Much of the book details the difficulty of relationships, in particular the idealized fantasy of a relationship. There are funny parts and sad portions but the core of the book is about the family that we choose, for an excellent story.

Heart Berries, A Memoir – Terese Marie Mailhot

Heart Berries, A Memoir - Terese Marie MailhotAn ongoing quest to read more indigenous authors can be complicated because there can be a vast gap in the ability of a non-Indigenous reader to grasp meaning. This book by Ms. Mailhot produced an uncomfortable feeling because of her raw and uncompromising writing. The narrative unfolds as a stream-of-consciousness confession of many difficulties: foster care, parenthood and removal of children, substance abuse, complicated and often destructive relationships, mental illness, suicidal ideation … the list goes on. Although short in terms of pages (132), this book is thought-provoking and intense, and is best read in short segments (like poetry). Highly recommended but be warned that this is a tough read.