Tilly and the Crazy Eights – Monique Gray Smith

Tilly and the Crazy Eights - Monique Gray SmithSmith’s first book about Tilly (Tilly: A story of Hope and Resilience) was largely about recovery from addictions. This second book has Tilly driving eight Indigenous elders from Canada to a pow-wow in Albuquerque. Along the way, each of the elders has a bucket-list destination. There is both laughter and tears in this unashamedly sentimental book with significant insights into Indigenous spirituality. The spectre of residential school abuse looms in the background of some of the elders, but the story is mainly about resilience.

 

Amy notes; we saw her speak at the Vancouver Writers Fest.

Beartown – Fredrik Backman

Beartown - Fredrik BackmanSimply put, this is a superb book. The setting is universal, a small forest town in decline, where all the town’s hopes and aspirations are placed on the 17-year old shoulders of the boy’s hockey team. Importantly, the story is so much more than sports competition, the emotions of winning and losing. In fact, winning in hockey is the benchmark for success of the entire town; in essence, the future of the town depends on winning at hockey so the stakes are incredibly high. And  then a sexual assault tears the town apart. The book explores with great insight many key relationships: coach and team, teammates pledging unwavering loyalty, husbands and wives and their children. It is unexpected to have a discussion on sorrow and longing but the book is rich in philosophical musings. Backman also uses foreshadowing very effectively. Highly highly recommended.

Give Me Your Hand – Megan Abbott

Give Me Your Hand - Megan AbbottThere are two key features in successful mystery thrillers: context and plot. In my opinion, context is often the most informative and dramatic element. This book is about two young women in two time-lines: THEN as high school students, and NOW, as post-doctoral researchers in a University medical research laboratory. Given my own background as a biomedical researcher, clearly the context is novel and appealing, the description of lab smells, the equipment, everything is described perfectly. But this is a book about relationships, in particular a friendship complicated by academic competition. And there are dark secrets: a key phrase repeated in the book is “You don’t have a self until you have a secret”. A key progression from dark secrets are lies and then paralyzing “Crime & Punishment” type guilt. Finally, this is a book about women. Highly recommended. Thanks, Karen, for this book suggestion.

An Ocean of Minutes – Thea Lim

An Ocean of Minutes - Thea LimThis Giller short-listed first novel is fabulous. The setting is 1980. To obtain medical treatment for her partner who has been stricken with a virulent flu, Polly agrees to time travel 12 years into the future to work for the TimeRaiser Corporation to rebuild America. So this is debt bondage, a form of indentured labour. The issue of time is considered in two ways: more time for her partner and time in the sense of memory. Will Polly be reunited with her partner Frank in 12 years, when he will have aged and she will not? The future is decidedly dystopian and so this book successfully melds several genres: what will you do to survive a pandemic, the dislocating effects of time travel forward and the return to your home, social issues of income inequality, the power of memory and the complexity of enduring love. This is just excellent story-telling.

Songs For The Cold Of Heart – Eric Dupont

Songs For The Cold Of Heart - Eric DupontThis Giller short-listed book by a Quebec author is hard to describe. It is epic story-telling told with great detail, so there is much content about many many topics. Sometimes I wished that some of the content had been edited out as this is a very long book. Part of the book takes place in Quebec and it is very French-Canadian, with complex family dynamics, wicked nuns, etc. The last half takes place in Berlin and Rome, albeit with characters that are linked by family to the first part of the book. The Lamontagne family is always surprising; the writing is imaginative and often dark.

There There – Tommy Orange

There There - Tommy OrangeOrange is one of a group of impressive Indigenous authors introduced to me during the Calgary Word Fest. This is a superb first novel with intersecting characters assembling in Oakland for a Pow-wow. These individuals have links to the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes of Oklahoma but their Indian identity is very limited: these are urban Indians. For example, a young boy, Orvil Red Feather, learns pow-wow dancing from YouTube videos. The intersecting multi-generational story-lines can be complicated to follow sometimes because of uncertain or unknown parentage, but the culminating climax is presented powerfully. This is excellent story-telling about identity, violence and recovery, of belonging and un-belonging, loss and hope.

The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore – Kim Fu

The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore - Kim FuPreviously, Ms. Fu wrote the very fine For Today I Am A Boy, and this new book is even better. Five young girls (ages 9-11) are stranded in the woods after an overnight kayaking trip, producing some “Lord Of The Flies” crises. This narrative is interspersed with the subsequent lives of the survivors: how are lives shaped by an early traumatic event? How are friendships tested by cruelties and betrayals? This is evocative writing and is highly recommended.