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.

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.

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.

How a Woman Becomes a Lake – Marjorie Celona

A beautifully written story set in a small town in Washington state in 1986, a mystery about a missing person. Celona’s description of flawed family relationships is harrowing; guilt, shame, grief, and blame are all factors. The merciless weight of carrying secrets and the ongoing cost of keeping these secrets are dominant themes. And there is an intriguing treatment of an after-death perspective. Highly recommended.

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.

The Night Watchman – Louise Erdrich

Another very fine Indigenous novel from Ms. Erdrich, this time the Turtle Mountain Indians (North Dakota) in 1953-54 who have to counter a USA Government plan to “emancipate” Indian tribes. In fact, this government plan will terminate all support to Indians and force their relocation to cities with loss of their lands. Much of the story concerns the community response to this existential threat. One of the most attractive aspects of this story is the ordinariness of the community. There is angst, to be sure: poverty, substance abuse, human trafficking. But the story does not dwell on the negatives, but rather on the community action. Who are the leaders? How can their initiatives be financed? And there are ghosts! A very fine read.

City of Girls – Elizabeth Gilbert

In 2010,  a very old woman, Vivian, receives a letter with a question: “If you now feel comfortable telling me what you were to my father?” Thus begins a long remembering of Vivian’s life, starting in New York as a 20-year old in 1940. Vivian is the epitome of white privilege, a delightfully hedonistic person with self-deprecating humour. The description of the NY theatre scene in the 40s is fabulous. Overall a recounting of both strong and toxic female relationships for a completely entertaining story. Thanks Amy.

Redhead by the Side of the Road – Anne Tyler

Full disclosure: I love Anne Tyler’s writing. In this slim novel, she continues her theme of writing about ordinary but quirky people in Baltimore. Micah is a 42-year old man who lives a predictable life, constrained by precise patterns of behaviour. “Sometimes when he was dealing with people he felt like he was operating one of those claw machines on a boardwalk, those shovel things where you tried to scoop up prizes but the controls were too unwieldy and you worked at too great a remove”. Can Micah find happiness? Tyler describes funny and poignant situations with introspective wisdom.