Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere - Celeste NgThis is a relationship book, a favourite topic for me. The story describes the relationship between two families in a Cleveland suburb. The key relationships are between the two mothers, and the children. There are secrets and divided loyalties, free living versus a life bound by rules, with a sub-plot of a custody battle that divides the community. Ms. Ng writes like Anne Tyler: deceptively simple writing that is incredibly perceptive – highly recommended, one of my best reads in 2018.

The Invention of Wings – Sue Monk Kidd

The Invention of Wings - Sue Monk KiddSet in Charleston in the early 19th century, this novel tells the story of slavery from two parallel and linked perspectives. One perspective is that of two privileged sisters, Sarah and Angelina Grimke. The sisters are living in a home with slaves and eventually become crusading abolitionists. The other perspective is Hetty/Handful, a house slave in the Grimke home. The stark reality of slavery is presented effectively in terms of slave abuse and cruelty, by a “good” family.  There is also the church justification of slavery and the reality that the “value” of a slave is equivalent to a specific fraction (3/5) of a non-slave. Therefore, although there have been a multitude of books about slavery, this novel offers some new insights.The story also illustrates clearly the limitations of women in a male-dominated society, with an interesting perspective on Quaker philosophy. The author previously wrote the very good The Secret Life Of Bees.

March, Volumes 1-3 – John Lewis, Andre Aydin & Nate Powell

March, Volumes 1-3 - John Lewis, Andre Aydin & NatePowellThese three graphic novels tell the story of Congressman John Lewis, an iconic hero of the American civil rights movement. The narrative is provided by Aydin and the evocative black and white drawings are by Powell. Volume 1 covers Lewis’ youth in rural Alabama, leading to the struggle to de-segregate lunch counters in Nashville. Volumes 2-3 cover the intense period from 1963 (the Birmingham church bombing) to the Selma March and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The controversial politics of the civil rights movement is detailed, especially the rivalries and debates over the extent of non-violence to be utilized by the protestors, and the participation of white protestors. The stark black/white drawings are very striking when illustrating the horrible abuse and violence subjected by the authorities towards the civil rights movement. This is powerful storytelling, and timely.

The Star Side of Bird Hill – Naomi Jackson

The Star Side of Bird Hill - Naomi JacksonThis is a remarkable first novel about 3 generations of women who are both powerful and vulnerable. Two sisters in Brooklyn, Dionne and Phaedra, are sent to Barbados to spend the summer with their grandmother, due to their mother’s deepening depression. There is a predictable cultural clash as the strong-willed grandchildren are confronted with a more traditional society. Life becomes more complicated with their mothers suicidal death. This is  passage near the end of the book when Phaedra thinks about her mother’s death: “This time there was no hope for her mother’s arrival, because Angie was where she would always be now, silent and below the ground. And this had, rather than saddening Phaedra, settled in beside her, the way that the hill’s red dust filmed her white clothes, the way that sand lined her pockets days and weeks after she came home from the beach. It was always there, a reminder of what had come before”.
Powerful story-telling about love and conflict, death and discovery, pain and hope – highly recommended.

The Rules Of Magic – Alice Hoffman

The Rules Of Magic - Alice HoffmanHoffman’s books are very diverse: The Dovekeepers, The Museum Of Extraordinary Things, The Marriage of Opposites and recently, Faithful. Her new book is a prequel to Practical Magic. The central theme is the human cost of magic: a nearly 400 year old curse on the Owen’s family. Accordingly, the current matriarch, Susanna, establishes rules to protect her children. Not surprisingly, her headstrong children test themselves to discover who they are. The context of the book is New York in the 1960s which adds to the air of discovery. The writing is brilliant, describing unforgettable characters and the power of love.

In The Midst Of Winter – Isabel Allende

In The Midst Of Winter - Isabel AllendeA winter storm in New York brings together three distinctive characters: an American man nearly destroyed by grief and guilt; a Chilean woman survivor of the Allende aftermath in the 1970s; and a young undocumented woman from Guatemala. A fairly simplistic plot device allows the compelling back stories to emerge with Allende’s characteristic story-telling which is evocative. Each of the three characters has experienced tragic and sorrowful events, and yet there is hopefulness in a story contains unexpected romance and love. Allende is a treasure, and this novel is a very worthwhile read.

Anything Is Possible – Elizabeth Strout

Anything Is Possible - Elizabeth StroutStrout wrote the incomparable Olive Kitteridge (Pulitzer Prize) and the very fine My Name Is Lucy Barton. This new novel is set in a small town in Illinois, the actual home of Lucy Barton. A series of inter-connected stories have links to Lucy Barton, and Lucy actually visits her brother and sister in one chapter after years away. The stories centre on a series of confessional conversations and introspective remembrances that are compelling and captivating. There is an artful simplicity in Strout’s writing; a story about a B&B encounter is exquisite. Overall, this is a great read.