Seven Fallen Feathers – Tanya Talaga

Ms. Talaga has written an impeccably researched and powerful story about the deaths of seven Indigenous youths in Thunder Bay from 2000-2011. This is a modern version of the residential school tragedy. Indigenous youth are forced to leave their remote Anishinaabe northern communities due to lack of educational resources so they take High School in Thunder Bay. They lack a supportive social system and experience racism ranging from indifference to overt hostility with violence. This revealing book should be required reading for all Canadians.

Long Bright River – Liz Moore

Mickey is a patrol officer with the Philadelphia Police Department. Her routine patrol activities include searching for her sister Kacey, an addict and sex worker who is missing.  And there is a serial killer preying on young women. Overall a gritty relationship story: there are no completely good guys. Mickey in particular is deeply flawed and makes bad decisions. The plot is seductively delicious with a lot of misdirection. Thanks Amy, for this recommendation.

A Town Called Solace – Mary Lawson

Clara, age 7, lives in Northern Ontario. It is 1972 and Clara has two responsibilities: to keep vigil for her runaway 16-year-old sister and to look after the cat in her neighbour’s house while Mrs. Orchard is in hospital. But then a strange man occupies Mrs. Orchard’s house! Three distinct storylines emerge, each with differing timelines, But this is Clara’s story: fear, love, resilience, a child’s imagination when truth is withheld. Lawson is a literary master; her previous book Crow Lake is equally compelling.

The Kingdom – Jo Nesbo

Nesbo is best known for his Scandinavian-noir crime novels featuring Detective Harry Hole. His new book also concerns crime in Norway but from the point-of-view of the perpetrators. Roy and Carl are brothers living on a mountain top. Roy works in a service station and as the elder brother, he functions as Carl’s keeper, first as children and now as adults. Nesbo’s stories typically address issues like morality, but this book is particularly philosophical. Motives for bad behaviour are explored, casual violence leads to murder. Acceptance of violence is a seemingly casual action. Untypically, romantic relationships occur, and the L-word (love) is used. And complex relationships are complicated by lies, deceit and willful ignorance of certain realities. Simply put, this is one of Nesbo’s best books.

Seven – Farzana Doctor

Sharifa is an Indian American woman living in New York. She accompanies her husband and 7-year-old daughter to India for an 8-month visit to Mumbai. In India, she researches the life of her great-great-grandfather, but increasingly becomes involved in a movement to ban female genital mutilation (khatna) in her Muslim religious community. This is a very strong story of kinship and community, and the damage to women’s bodies in the name of religion.

The Thursday Murder Plot – Richard Osman

Four 70-80-year-old members of an upscale retirement village in SE England meet on Thursdays to discuss unsolved cold cases. The murder of a local developer suddenly affords the the opportunity to apply their talents to a “live” case. Their manipulation of the police to share information is sublime. The writing exhibits wit and intelligence, and the diabolical plot is riddled with red herrings. Thanks Joyce, for this recommendation.

Slow Horses – Mick Herron

When MI 5 intelligence agents screw up, they are banished to a London location known as Slough House, and the disgraced agents are referred to as “slow horses”.  The story is devilishly complex: everyone has ulterior motives, like a Le Carre story. And the Slough House leader”, Jackson Lamb, is a deliciously wicked man with gross personal habits. This is an excellent spy story with 6 more to follow. Thanks Joyce, for this recommendation.

The Water Dancer – Te-Nehisi Coates

A novel examination of slavery in Virginia. Hiram Walker has a mysterious power, so he is recruited for the underground. Overall, a powerful story of families separated by duplicitous acts such as the sale of individuals into slavery, with the resulting conflict between the slavers and enslaved. Harriet Tubman is introduced as someone who shares Hiram’s power. This is Coates’ first novel, and predictably his writing is superb.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek – Kim Michelle Richardson

The setting is rural Kentucky in 1936. Cussy (aka Bluet) has a rare genetic condition that produces blue skin (met-hemoglobinemia). Without marriage prospects (by choice), Cussy joins the Pack Horse Library Project, delivering books to remote desperately poor hill communities. The transformative power of books and literacy is offset by shocking prejudice against “coloreds” and some crushing poverty. So be warned, readers will shed some tears. Thanks Joyce, for this recommendation.