Exit – Belinda Bauer

Felix, a 75-year-old widower in SW England, is an Exiter, someone who offers companionship to terminally ill people who have chosen to die by suicide. His role is entirely passive, to lend moral support and then remove the evidence to not distress family and loved ones. But this act of kindness and charity goes off the rails with a terrible mistake when the wrong person dies. But what if this fatal mistake was a set-up to enable a murder? A wondaful treatise on aging with some seriously funny moments.

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 Trouble with Goats and Sheep – Joanna Cannon

It is an extraordinarily hot summer in England in 1976, and someone has gone missing from a suburban avenue. Two 10-year-old girls, Grace and Tilly,  begin a dual search for the missing person and for God (based on a misunderstanding of a Vicar’s sermon). Secrets emerge about a tragic event 10 years previous – is this linked to the disappearance? This is an evocative coming-of-age story that is also about a community in need of absolution. Cannon’s writing is wonderfully descriptive: “carpet the colour of cough syrup”. Overall, a moving and perceptive story – highly recommended. Thanks Joyce, for telling me about this book.

Machines Like Us – Ian McEwan

McEwan has created an alternative 1982 London in which Britain loses the Falklands War and PM Thatcher is defeated by Tony Benn. Most significantly, Sir Alan Turing achieves an artificial intelligence breakthrough resulting in the creation of humanoid robots; prototypes are named Adam and Eve. Charlie purchases an Adam and together with his girlfriend Miranda, Adam’s personality (mind) is personalized. What follows is a fascinating 3-way relationship story. With machine learning, what makes us human? This provocative and enthralling story is one of McEwan’s best.

Little Women – Louisa M. Alcott

Everyone seems to e familiar with the March sisters from multiple movies and TV series, but I had never read the original novel published in 1909.  Part 1 was read from an old book inscribed as being the “Property of Maisie Bentley 1913”, purchased in Bristol I think. Part of the charm in reading this very old book was inclusion of 8 full-page colour illustrations. Part 2 was read as a library e-book. Alcott’s writing is necessarily old-fashioned with emphasis on morals and some authorial homilies. These characters are so indelible and well-loved that it was a treat to read the original words.

Educated – Tara Westover

This is a remarkable memoir where reality is stranger than fiction. The author was raised in the mountains of Utah. Her parents were survivalists and totally suspicious of government so she had no birth certificate and does not go to school. To say that she was home-schooled is rather generous; her learning is self-directed and spotty. Tara is the youngest of 5 children. Her life is complicated by a controlling father and a brother who bullies her both psychologically and physically. The second half of the book details her escape to university, first to Brigham Young University and then to Cambridge England. This is a compelling story of remarkable resilience but at great cost. The contradictions of memory are also a feature of a memoir that is so deeply emotional. Final comment: Westover’s parents make the parents in Jeanette Wall’s The Glass Castle seem wonderful by comparison! Thanks Erin and Amy, for this recommendation.

Stranger Diaries – Ely Griffiths

This is a very satisfying mystery/thriller. Who would have a motive to murder an English teacher at a high school in the south of England? And then kill another teacher? All the major characters in the story are women: a mother & daughter and the investigating detective who is a single gay woman of colour. The “bad guy” is, as typical in this genre, someone who no reader will ever anticipate, making for a fun read.

Everything Under – Daisy Johnson

Everything Under - Daisy Johnson.jpgThis is a really excellent novel set in contemporary England. The core of the story is a complicated mother-daughter relationship but it is much more: the use of a private language and a river creature and supplemental characters. The timeline is an interesting feature of the story telling. Johnson’s writing reminds me of Sarah Winman, so high praise.