Cat’s Eye – Margaret Atwood

Elaine, a middle-aged painter who lives in Vancouver, returns to Toronto (where she grew up) for a retrospective show of her paintings. This causes her to reminisce about her life. The entire book is great but for me, the first 1/3 is perfect. Atwood wonderfully captures the relationships between 8- to 10-year-olds, alternating between friendships and toxic competitions. School with corporal punishments and skipping grades, shopping and shoplifting things at Woolworths. And how children acquire (mis)information in an era when parental communication was non-existent. Another gem.

Lady Oracle – Margaret Atwood

This is another literary prize book with some inspired comic events like joining Brownies as a child. The core of the story is about split identities; Joan was fat as a child and then transforms Ito a slim attractive version of herself. Jean also writes “Costume Gothic” books (aka Harlequin Romances) under a pseudonym. Many examples of this writing are included: Redmond is described as having rapacious lips, thinks that “he’d become tired of the extravagance of his wife Felicia: of her figure that spread like crabgrass, her hair that spread like fire, her mind that spread like pubic lice”! Wow. In contrast to this florid prose, Atwood’s classic phrasings like “the joy of self-righteous recrimination” are a joy to read. Joan even acquires another identity as a serious author of poetry so her personality is split further. And there are ill-fated relationships with men and blackmail. This book is a delightful pleasure to read.

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.

Songs For The End Of The World – Saleema Nawaz

Previously Ms. Nawaz wrote the very fine Bread And Bone.This new novel, researched and written between 2013-2019, is uncannily about a novel coronavirus pandemic, so eerily relevant to today’s world. The storyline involves multiple characters with interacting stories; the pandemic timeline (August-December 2020) is supplemented with some backstory chapters. The key feature is the focus on how humans cope with a pandemic crisis. An attractive aspect of the writing is that it is philosophical rather than sensational. There are graphic descriptions of the worst of times: disintegration of civil society, the irrationality of scapegoating, racial profiling, the exacerbation of co-existing problems like economic inequalities. But there is also the best of times: life goes on, people exhibit resilience. The writing is exceptional, Atwood-like in quality of describing mood when the black cloud of a pandemic lurks everywhere. Highly recommended, especially when we are experiencing our own pandemic crisis. Sarah, thanks for advising me that the e-book was available for purchase now; the paper book will be published in August.

The Gilded Cage – Camilla Lackberg

Faye is a trophy wife living in a gilded cage in Stockholm. When her husband Jack discards her and humiliates her as part of a divorce after 10 years of marriage, Faye dedicates herself to revenge, to destroy Jack’s life. Her skills are a formidable intellects plus a bloody-minded willingness to use sex and violence as manipulative tools. Revenge is nothing other than problem solving after all. This is a provocative and contemporary betrayal and revenge novel in the #MeToo era. Lackberg is a master of Scandinavian psychological suspense thrillers.

Chasing Painted Horses – Drew Hayden Taylor

This short book by an Indigenous author is amazing for many reasons. First there is a mystical element for sure. But mostly the story is notable for describing an emotional state: the moment when 10- and 12-year-old children realize that life can be cruel and unfair; their abrupt loss of innocence is coupled with the realization that their parents and people in authority are powerless to circumvent an injustice. This story will produce tears and at times a heartbreaking sadness so be warned but endure and read this remarkable book.

Dominicana – Angie Cruz

It is the 1960s: Ana is 15 years old and newly married when she moves to New York City with her much older controlling husband. The NY context is the Washington Heights neighbourhood which is colourful and multi-cultural. Ana speaks no English and has no documents so she has a tough life. The 1960s setting in NY is one of the strengths of this story. Thanks Amy, for this recommendation.