Magic Lessons – Alice Hoffman

This enchanting prequel to Practical Magic and The Rules of Magic takes place in the late 1600s as Maria Owens travels from England to Curacao and then to Salem, Massachusetts, and New York city. Her practice of witchcraft, the “Nameless Art”, follows a complex course from healing to the quest for love and yes, even revenge. Very rich characters with vivid imagery – highly recommended.

Ivy – Katherine Coville

Ah, it is such a pleasure to read a children’s illustrated book. Ivy lives with her Grandmother Meg who is an animal healer: domestic and wild animals and yes, magic creatures like a griffin and dragons. This practice causes some town conflict and tensions, but all is resolved when a troll attack is repulsed. A happy ending with a celebration of inclusivity and acceptance of diversity, just what is needed in an anxious world.

Gutter Child – Jael Richardson

 A fierce debut novel about a contemporary dystopian world. consisting of the privileged Mainland and the suppressed Gutter world. The history is one of colonialism and exploitation which produces a society rife with injustices. Gutter children are born with an original sin, a debt to society that must be repaid. Elimina is a young 15-year-old Gutter child who has been raised in the Mainland as a social experiment. Her story is one of resilience, to choose a future and defy a system that is patriarchal and controlling. A very powerful story – highly recommended.

The Crash Palace – Andrew Wedderburn

Audrey is a young woman who loves to drive. Much of this story describes in detail an extended road trip with four aging ex-punk rockers, to gigs in mostly empty dive bars throughout BC and Alberta. Wedderburn’s writing is wonderfully descriptive: the physical geography, the smells and sounds of the bars. There are many recognizable locations in Calgary and Camore. And with a character called the Skinny Cowboy, what’s not to love! Thanks Sarah, for giving me this delightful book.

And This Is The Cure – Annette Lapointe

Allison is a nearly 40-year-old public radio pop culture journalist. Her past life has been messy and complicated: escaping a deeply conservative family, teenage rebellion epitomized by membership in a riot girrrrl punk band and issues with mental illness. Her current somewhat stable life is upended when her ex-husband is murdered; consequently, Allison takes on the guardianship of her angry 11-year-old daughter. Needless to say, she is unprepared for parenting. This is a brilliant novel about unresolved baggage and healing, with precise descriptions of Winnipeg and Toronto life. Both funny and poignant, a great read.

Amy notes; I am sure I didn’t get all the Canadiana inside jokes, but I got enough to appreciate their presence! Propulsive read.

Trace Elements – Donna Leon

Another fabulous account of Commissario Brunetti’s exploits in Venice. Leon’s stories have recurring themes: a leisurely pace to a single investigation; very little death, in this case a single ambiguous apparent accident; no violence; little technology other than the formidable computer skills of Signorina Elletra. The unrelenting heat and humidity of a Venetian summer is described graphically. But at the core, Brunetti is an observer of human behaviour. And thus, he is acutely aware of moral dilemmas, as expressed eloquently at the end of the book: “Brunetti was both accuser and accused. He had to decide which crime to punish, which to ignore, and choose the greater criminal”.

Amy notes: There are always good meals in her books, and Brunetti reads thoughtfully, which often provides perspective on the mystery

Piranesi – Suzanna Clarke

Ms. Clarke previously wrote the highly acclaimed Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell (2004). In this new book, Piranesi lives in a house with infinite rooms and corridors lined with statues, a house that is a labyrinth, a massive world with its internal weather. Only one other person seems to live in this house, The Other. When evidence of other people emerges, Piranesi questions his strange hypnotic reality. This is a fantastic tour-de-force of storytelling: a mystery and adventure, meditations on feeling lost and being found. This book is a treasure of imagination.

If Sylvie Had Nine Lives – Leona Theis

Sylvia’s life from 1974-2014 is told as 9 separate lives, entirely separate stories with different husbands, activities, children. Sylvia emerges as a flawed but appealing woman. Her stories illustrate the impact of decisions that have profoundly different reverberations and impacts. Each chapter presents a new Sylvia who is very entertaining and often surprising. This was an excellent first read in 2021.

Anxious People – Fredrik Backman

Backman is a terrific storyteller (Beartown, A Man Called Ove). His new book starts with a failed bank robbery in Sweden which progresses to a hostage situation. What follows is a comic masterpiece with poignant moments. There are laugh-out loud passages, mostly describing idiotic behaviour (not just the hapless bank robber but also by the anxious hostages). There are philosophical chapters with comic insights like “swans can be passive-aggressive bastards”, followed by musings on fear and failure so both humorous and compassionate writing. Highly recommended.