Amazing Grace – Lesley Crewe

Amazing Grace - Lesley CreweSometimes it is worthwhile to read a cathartic story that makes you cry, and the life of Gloria Fairchild, told in flashbacks, fulfills that occasional need. Grace’s life is an emotional roller-coaster, with desperate lows and transcendent highs. The picturesque setting is rural Cape Breton with some excursions to New York, Toronto and New Brunswick. Thank you Mary, for this recommendation.

Property – Lionel Shriver

Property - Lionel ShriverAs a general rule, I do not read short stories (with a notable exception for the sublime writing of Alice Munro) for a simple and somewhat trivial reason: short stories are too short to engage me. However, Lionel Shriver is a fabulous author (Big Brother, Double Fault, the fantastic We Need To Talk About Kevin…) so I decided to read her first book with ten short stories and two novellas. Shriver is such a keen observer and reporter of human behaviour, and these stories, almost without without exception, are masterful. As is clear from the title, the stories are about the relationships people have with possessions. Her writing is insightful, sometimes hilarious and such a pleasure to read in this format. Highly recommended.

Sing, Unburied, Sing – Jesmyn Ward

Sing, Unburied, Sing - Jesmyn WardMs. Ward previously wrote the excellent Salvage The Bones, and this new book is even better. The setting is Mississippi, a multi-generational family struggling to live, to love and to survive. Past atrocities live on in the form of ghosts. There are indelible portraits in this story: a thirteen year old boy trying to find his place in the world, his mother who is incapable of loving her children, his mixed-race grandparents. Powerful and evocative storytelling.

The Only Cafe – Linden MacIntyre

The Only cafe - Linden MacIntyre.jpgThis is a superb book, a mystery in the John LeCarre mold. Secrets abound: What will someone do to survive in a genocidal war? Was do we really know about a father when he goes missing? The setting is contemporary Toronto with topical issues like Jihadist recruitment. The back-story is the tragic conflict in Lebanon from 1976-83=2. Unanswered questions are rampant – this is just great writing, in part about journalism: can the truth ever be revealed.

The Plague – Kevin Chong

The Plague - Kevin ChongThere is much to admire in this book. First, it is set in Vancouver, particularly the city core, so much is familiar. Second, as is evident from the title, Vancouver experiences an infectious disease disaster but the storyline is novel. Rather than focus on the cause and search for a cure (vaccine), the story is about the aftermath of the plague: how do people cope? There are three distinct points-of-view for coping: a family doctor who experiences directly the expanding disease first hand, and two people who are trapped in Vancouver’s core when a quarantine is put in place: a newspaperman who can’t return to his home in the suburbs, and an American writer on a book tour. Explorations of their behaviours in the face of suffering and futility, together with the psychological stress of quarantine, makes this an excellent read – highly recommended.

 

Amy notes: in 2011, there was a riot in Vancouver after the Canucks lost the final game for the Stanley Cup. The downtown peninsula was closed off by the police; people who had watched the game at friends apartments unable to leave, for example. An inspiration for this downtown quarantine?