The Magician’s Land – Lev Grossman

The final book of the trilogy comes to a satisfying conclusion. More magical quests on Earth and on Fillory, with reappearance of some characters from books one and two. About 12 years have passed since book 1 and the consequences of doing magic and experiencing great magic has changed the magicians, bringing a world-weary maturity. This series is wonderfully imaginative. However, the 3 books need to be read sequentially; none are stand-alone stories.

Unsheltered – Barbara Kingsolver

Kingsolver previously wrote the marvellous The Poisonwood Bible. Her new book has two story lines, about people who live in the same house in New Jersey: one family in 1874 and a contemporary family in 2012. Both stories involve dealing with hardships. In 2012, the issue is economic instability and insecurity (making me think of some classic Lionel Shriver books). In 1874, a biology teacher is conflicted by the controversy about Darwin versus traditional religion. The way Kingsolver links the alternating family stories is masterful and her knowledge of biology is exceptional. This is a very interesting worthwhile read.

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.

The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted – Robert Hillman

Perhaps predictably, this library book was chosen from the new releases bookshelf entirely based on the brilliant title. The story takes place in rural Australia in the 1960s, with two vivid characters: Tom, a farmer, has been abandoned by his wife,
Rand Hannah, an Auschwitz survivor who has a dream of operating a bookshop in a small town. Theirs is an unlikely romance, a complicated relationship to be sure. The combination of complex issues in a wonderful setting is intoxicating.

The Waiting Hours – Shandi Mitchell

Simply put, this is a fantastic read. The place is contemporary Halifax with three main characters: an ER nurse, a policeman, and a 911 dispatcher. Their lives intersect but obliquely, in a fashion that is never contrived. The backstory lives are complicated, of course, but realistically so. The best part of the book is the feeling of the stories – stress exacerbated by heat and overwork.  By the way, the title refers to the overnight hours of 3-6am when emergency activities are temporarily quiet. Just excellent story-telling.

The Mere Wife – Maria Dahvana Headley

The Mere Wife - Maria Dahvana HeadleyA strange story set in a dystopian future. A feminist story for sure – all the strong characters are women. And thus it is a book about motherhood but in a completely novel and somewhat bizarre fashion: two mothers in an American suburb fight to protect those that they love, so a modern retelling of the literary classic Beowulf with suburban monsters. Sorry to offer such cryptic comments but this is a hard book to categorize and characterize, but excellent speculative fiction.

The Two Of Us – Kathy Page

The Two Of Us - Kathy Page

Last month I raved about Ms. Page’s novel Dear Evelyn. In contrast, this book is composed of very fine short stories. Many of you will know that I typically do not like short stories but Page’s writing makes each story a joy to read.  There is impeccable detail when describing gardens, for example. But the best stories are about relationships. The tension in a meeting with a genetic counsellor is palpable and heart-breaking. Page is a literary treasure.