The Lincoln Highway – Amor Towles

Simply put, this is a great book. Set in 1954 in Nebraska, the story covers only 10 days. The main characters are all kids: three are 18, one is 8 years old but surprisingly is the most clever and mature individual. A trip on the Lincoln Highway to New York is not straight forward, involving both a car and freight trains. Importantly, there are unexpected plot twists, all described with impeccable detail. The characters and themes are richly imagined – this is a must-read book.

Shrines of Gaiety – Kate Atkinson

It is 1926 in London and Nellie Coker is the formidable owner of multiple nightclubs. Of course, success breeds envy and creates numerous enemies for Nellie and her 6 children, and crime is rampant. Ms. Atkinson’s writing, as always, is sublime: words (iconolatry), phrases (wore her bereavement with triumph rather than sorrow), and droll asides and magnificent metaphors. Overall, a delightful read about (mostly) bad people – highly recommended.

The Winners – Fredrik Backman

This fabulous and long (670 pages) book concludes a trilogy: previous books were Beartown and Us Against You. Backman’s writing is both heart-warming and heart-wrenching. Two remote forest towns (in Sweden but could be Canada) are intense rivals in hockey and politics. There are two funerals, impending violence and intimidation, and a ferocious summer storm. Backman’s writing is often philosophical: what it means to experience fear, for example. Be warned, the story is very emotional with complicated relationships, especially within families; expect to experience extreme sadness (and tears) when confronting loyalty, friendship and loss.

The Woman In The Library – Sulari Gentill

The structure of this mystery/thriller is very intriguing. Hannah is writing a novel about 4 strangers who meet in a reading room in the Boston Public Library, and then hear a scream from a woman is later found murdered. One of the characters is writing about these events, so this is a book about someone writing a book about the same mystery. Is one of the 4 the murderer? A delicious plot with a slow reveal of information – very impressive.

Our Missing Hearts – Celeste Ng

Imagine a dystopian America dominated by the Preserving American Culture and Traditions (PACT) act. Particular negative attention is directed at persons of Asian origin so Bird’s Chinese American mother disappears to protect her son. Now 3 years later, he receives a cryptic message and embarks on a quest to find her in a world of surveillance and suspicion. What is remarkable in this topical story is the importance of words and stories, and libraries and librarians. Highly recommended.

Babel – R. F.Kuang

This is an imaginative work of historical and speculative fiction. The context is all important: Oxford in the 1830s where scholars (professors and students) work in the Royal Institute of Translation, in an academic tower known as Babel. Is there power in words, in etymology? Words lost in translation can be added to silver bars to create magic: protective wards and the casting of spells. Academics can also serve colonialism; can change ever occur peaceably, or does profound change encompass the necessity of violence? What is striking in this book is the role of indecision and questionable motives. Highly recommended.

We Measure the Earth With Our Bodies – Tsering Yangzom Lama

This very impressive debut novel is Giller short-listed. Two sisters, Lhamo and Tenkyi, flee the Chinese invasion of Tibet to resurface in Nepal in the 1960s. Fifty years later, Lhamo’s daughter Dolma is living in Toronto with Tenkyi. This is a beautifully written book about female relationships, a truly epic story of displacement and survival, exile and loss.

This Is How We Love – Lisa Moore

Ms. Moore is a very fine writer (February, Caught) but this is her best book to date. A multi-generational story set in St. John’s creates a superb relationship book, of mothers mostly and children who are loved, neglected, lost and re-found. What makes a family? Do we ever really choose who we love? Warning: there is violence, a stabbing. And much of the story takes place in a legendary winter storm, a snow-mageddon! Overall: a rich tapestry of the sacrifice, pain and joy of loving, for tour-de-force storytelling.

The Mermaid Of Black Conch – Monique Roffey

Aycayia was once an indigenous Taino woman in the Caribbean. What curse transformed her into a mermaid? If she is captured, will she re-transform into a woman? What will be her fate? How are the island lives changed by this phenomenon? This is a great story, no surprise since it is a Heather O’Neill recommendation.