Our Souls At Night – Kent Haruf

This is a short but meaningful book about two widowed people in their 70s who are willing to take a risk, to start a relationship based on gentle companionship. The storytelling has a wonderful authentic simplicity: “they ate a supper of macaroni and cheese casserole and iceberg lettuce with Thousand Island dressing and canned green beans and bread and butter and iced tea from an old heavy glass pitcher and there was Neapolitan ice cream for dessert”.  They key feature in this book is the recognition that relationships, at any age, are complicated but especially for older people in the 70s and yet they have the courage to try, to see what happens.Thanks Karen, for this recommendation.

Priestdaddy – Patricia Lockwood

Priestdaddy - Patricia LockwoodThe author leaves her Mid-Western home at age 19 to be married but after 12 years, financial constraints forces her and her husband to return to the parental home. This gives her the opportunity to remember an unconventional upbringing: a flamboyant and charismatic guitar-playing father usually (un)dressed in only his underwear, who, by the way, is a Catholic Priest with a wife and 5 children (how can that be, you may ask?); and a long-suffering over-protective mother. There are some eye-popping childhood experiences like attending an anti-abortion rally at a very young age. Ms. Lockwood also takes this opportunity for reflection, producing a memoir that is often comic but also poignant. And for a published poet, her writing is wonderful such as this description of a church space: “The ceiling is low and the lights flicker fluorescently and emit an insect whine. The whole place smells like where coffee goes to die”. Highly recommended; thanks to Sarah’s friend Elizabeth for this recommendation.

Ragged Company – Richard Wagamese

Ragged Company - Richard WagameseThis wonderful book, published in 2008, is one of Wagamese’s best. The story centres on four homeless people, two of which are Indigenous. Their street life is altered dramatically when they accidentally find a winning lottery ticket for $13.5 million: talk about “and now for something entirely different”! ‘The evocative story line weaves between the altered present and their backstories. This book has a wider scope than Wagamese’s other fine books which mainly focus on indigenous characters. The development of trust when they were homeless and how their life is altered after the lottery win makes this a story of family, how families can (and can’t) cope with stress due to altered circumstances. And spoiler alert: the ending will bring you to tears. Thanks Katharine, for this recommendation.

The Power – Naomi Alderman

The Power - Naomi AldermanThis is an excellent example of speculative fiction. Imagine if young women acquire/discover a new physical power, an electrical discharge so by touch they can inflict agonizing pain and even death. This is the ultimate manifestation of girl power! Now imagine the impact of this fierce new female power on religion, politics and crime. This book takes us on an imaginative journey into an alternate reality with many elements that resonate in today’s world. Thanks to Chris/Amy for this recommendation.

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos – Dominic Smith

A fascinating book set in three time periods: 1630s in Holland, 1958 in New York, and 2000 in Sydney. The story divulges impeccable information on art and art forgery, provided in the context of a mystery of how an original painting and its forged copy come to be reunited. Thanks Amy for giving me this book.

Give Me Your Hand – Megan Abbott

Give Me Your Hand - Megan AbbottThere are two key features in successful mystery thrillers: context and plot. In my opinion, context is often the most informative and dramatic element. This book is about two young women in two time-lines: THEN as high school students, and NOW, as post-doctoral researchers in a University medical research laboratory. Given my own background as a biomedical researcher, clearly the context is novel and appealing, the description of lab smells, the equipment, everything is described perfectly. But this is a book about relationships, in particular a friendship complicated by academic competition. And there are dark secrets: a key phrase repeated in the book is “You don’t have a self until you have a secret”. A key progression from dark secrets are lies and then paralyzing “Crime & Punishment” type guilt. Finally, this is a book about women. Highly recommended. Thanks, Karen, for this book suggestion.

Day of the Dead – Nicci French

Day of the Dead - Nicci FrenchThis is the 8th and final book in the Dr. Frieda Klein series, and so provides a powerful climax with respect to Klein’s arch-nemesis, the serial killer Dean Reeve. Klein remains an enigmatic figure, for sure. Radical plot changes occur to make this a very satisfying read. I look forward to what this husband/wife team write in the future. Thanks Joyce, for your original recommendation of this series and for your enthusiastic thumbs-up for this last book.