Devolution – Max Brooks

Brooks wrote the very excellent World War Z (skip the 2013 Brad Pitt movie). In this new book, Greenloop is a high-tech enclave that is completely isolated by a Mount Rainier volcanic eruption. What follows is a survivalist story that is complicated enormously by an attacking Sasquatch/Bigfoot tribe. The horror of discovering this predatory danger is revealed slowly but inexorably, Stephen King-like. Some of the survival instincts reminded me of Lord of the Flies. Be warned: there is graphic bloody violence. Overall a compelling story, a nice companion to The Centaur’s Wife.

The Midnight Bargain – C L Polk

This imaginative book is in the speculative fiction/fantasy genre. What is novel is the context: a narrative about class and entitlement, and especially gender politics, takes place in the 1800s Regency era in England! Beatrice has a dilemma, to make a very difficult choice between two very different outcomes. First, to be chosen for a bride in a ceremony that is somewhat akin to the Bachelorette; her duty to her family is to secure an advantageous marriage because of family debt. But second is her strong desire to learn magic. These two options are mutually exclusive, thus the dilemma. Magic mainly consists of summoning spirits, for example a good luck spirit. So, this is a romantic fantasy novel about a young woman who must balance her desire to become a great magician against her family duty: a very entertaining book that is a Canada Reads contender.

The Library At Mount Char – Scott Hawkins

This is a wildly imaginative speculative fiction story. Carolyn is a “librarian” in a library that contains all the secrets of the universe. However, she is like no ordinary librarian; her agenda is complex and difficult to describe. The story is complicated to enter and impossible to predict. So, imagine gods and monsters, much bloody violence but occasional hilarious sections. Reading this book reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. In short, a very original epic fantasy about cruelty that is also a thriller.

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.

The Midnight Library – Matt Haig

Simply put, this is a brilliant imaginative book. Nora’s life at age 35 is consumed by regrets. She wishes to die but between life and death is a library where books provide opportunities to choose a different life, essentially portals to parallel existences. But a good choice may not produce a desired outcome. The story is deeply philosophical, about not only choices but how expectations drive decisions.

The City We Became – NK Jemisin

A very imaginative example of speculative fiction about the soul of cities, specifically New York which is protected by five avatars in the five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island. The personalities of the avatars reflect the borough characteristics. But there is conflict, a city takeover by malevolent forces! Highly entertaining with extraordinary visual scenes. Thanks Amy for this recommendation.

Exit West – Mohsin Hamid

This is a very satisfying novel. First, the literary style is intriguing: long sentences with lots of commas and yet reading is smooth. Second, the subject matter is very topical; a dystopian future that begins in a localized fashion with two young lovers in an unspecified Middle Eastern location. Escalating conflict leads them to escape through doors that are portals to distant locations (London, Mykonos). Their future becomes uncertain in new lands that are overwhelmed by the arrival of increasing numbers of refugees/migrants like themselves. How do relationships survive when tested repeatedly – highly recommended.

Labyrinth of the Spirits – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Labyrinth is the 4th and final book in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series. Context (time and place) is an important feature of Ruiz’ books and this is especially true of Labyrinth: Barcelona is presented as an eerie Gothic wonderland and 1959 features nefarious political and criminal activities. (And at 800 pages, there is lots of space for context!). Labyrinth features the enigmatic Alicia Gris as an investigator tasked with a missing person case, leading to much intrigue as secrets are revealed. And there is some shocking violence. This is a haunting story – highly recommended.

The Sword in the Stone – T. H. White

This is the first book of White’s magnificent 4-book collection entitled the Once And Future King, an epic retelling of King Arthur legends. In this first book, the young Arthur (nicknamed Wart) is tutored by Merlyn so much magic is involved. Lessons frequently involve Wart’s transformation into different animals: fish, birds, a badger, etc. There are also some gut-busting hilarious illustrations of the difficulties of jousting. Imaginative writing is coupled with impressive knowledge of natural history (how to fly, how to swim) makes this an enchanting read.

 

Amy adds: still laughing at the jousting descriptions!