All Things Consoled – Elizabeth Hay

All Things Consoled - Elizabeth HayThis book is subtitled “A Daughter’s Memoir”, and chronicles the last years of her parent’s lives after relocating from their home to London to a seniors residence in Ottawa. Ms. Hay’s wonderful prose describes her aged mother: “her loose skin hung off her like silken parchment … (her) bare arms were as pitiable as a ballerinas”.  The decline in the health of her parents is described in depressing and brutally honest detail, proving once again that growing old is not for sissies. Ms. Hay’s relationships with her parents (and her siblings) is examined thoughtfully, carefully and critically, in particular her often fraught relationship with her tempestuous father. This is very fine writing, introspective and compelling.

Transcription – Kate Atkinson

Transcription - Kate AtkinsonMs. Atkinson has written an attractive spy thriller and mystery, set in 1940 and 1951. Given Atkinson’s past books, then it is no surprise that the story unfolds in a non-linear format. Juliet is recruited to MI5, and the resulting story is very English with regular tea providing comfort and solace to characters named Peregrine and Prendergast. Much like George Smiley in the legendary Le Carre novels, people in Atkinson’s story appear normal and ordinary, but nothing will be as it seems. This is a very entertaining book with some well-timed plot twists.

Lethal White – Robert Galbraith (pseudonym for JK Rowling)

Lethal White - Robert GalbraithThe fourth Cormoran Strike book has a complex plot and, as in previous books, the evolving relationship between Cormoran and his associate Robin is central to the story. In many ways, this is a superb procedural book: how are clues discovered and interpreted? The procedural emphasis is reminiscent of Michael Connelly’s detective Harry Bosch. But the real joy in this Galbraith book is how Cormoran and Robin interact, how ideas and theories are discussed and debated (much like Inspector Lynley and Havers in the E. George mysteries). Both characters are completely dissimilar and have some significant human frailties that are often endearing. Finally the choice of certain words requires the use of a dictionary, a delicious practise that I find completely satisfying. Violence is minimal; this is an excellent book about plot and motive.

Women Talking – Miriam Toews

Women Talking - Miriam ToewsA fictionalized account of a true story, that women in a strict Mennonite community in Bolivia were repeatedly sexually assaulted while drugged, by men in their own community. The women are having introspective existential conversations: to stay (and fight) or leave? They also discuss moral issues of faith and forgiveness. The only periodic male point-of-view is the transcriptionist who is translating their conversations into English and who occasionally offers comment. The context is a conservative patriarchal society where women have no rights. They want safety for their children, the ability to practise their faith and to think for themselves. Powerful writing.

Stray City – Chelsey Johnson

Stray City - Chelsey JohnsonThis book was a chance discovery at the library, so was read without expectations. Therefore the pleasure of reading a very fine first novel was palpable. Andrea leaves a strict childhood in Nebraska to be immersed in Portland’s lesbian life. A bad breakup results in a brief hookup with a man, and a pregnancy results. Much of the book details the difficulty of relationships, in particular the idealized fantasy of a relationship. There are funny parts and sad portions but the core of the book is about the family that we choose, for an excellent story.

The Good People – Hannah Kent

The Good People - Hannah KentThis is Ms. Kent’s second novel; her first was the excellent Burial Rites. Her two books have two characteristics: they are about women, and feature impeccable historical research. The Good People takes place in Ireland in 1825-26. The story is about the conflict between folklore and the emerging modern world of religion and law. The practice of folk knowledge to counter-act the actions of evil fairies leads to superstition, and gossip become malicious. All the characters are rich and compelling: an old crone, a grieving widow, a young maid, and an afflicted child thought to be a changeling. The story is both bleak and beautiful; highly recommended.

Heart Berries, A Memoir – Terese Marie Mailhot

Heart Berries, A Memoir - Terese Marie MailhotAn ongoing quest to read more indigenous authors can be complicated because there can be a vast gap in the ability of a non-Indigenous reader to grasp meaning. This book by Ms. Mailhot produced an uncomfortable feeling because of her raw and uncompromising writing. The narrative unfolds as a stream-of-consciousness confession of many difficulties: foster care, parenthood and removal of children, substance abuse, complicated and often destructive relationships, mental illness, suicidal ideation … the list goes on. Although short in terms of pages (132), this book is thought-provoking and intense, and is best read in short segments (like poetry). Highly recommended but be warned that this is a tough read.