The Personal Librarian – Marie Bennett and Victoria Christopher Murray

This is a fascinating fictionalized story of a real woman, Belle da Costa Greene, who in 1906 became the personal librarian to J. P. Morgan as he built the Pierpoint Morgan Library in New York city. Her expanding role in acquiring rare books, manuscripts and artwork is astonishing. But her prowess came at a deep personal cost; as a light-skinned African American woman, she had to masquerade as a white woman for her entire life. An insightful look at identity and legacy in America.

Astra – Cedar Bowers

This is a very fine relationship book. Astra has had an unconventional childhood on a BC commune, essentially growing up without security or love. This creates a defensive and needy personality, someone who is defined by her relationships. Thus, each chapter is presented from the point-of-view of 10 people who interact with her. Excellent storytelling.

Let Me Tell You What I mean – Joan Didion

First, a confession: the only Didion book I have read is The Year Of Magical Thinking. This short book contains 12 essays, written from 1968-2000. The best essays are the early ones, describing Didion’s initial lack of success which is revealing since she became such an iconic and influential writer. Indeed, her writing is a joy to read. Thanks Amy, for giving me this book.

Sweet Land Stories – E.L Doctorow

Generally, I don’t read short stories because they are … too short to be engaging (with Alice Munro stories a notable exception). This collection of five stories is also an exception: varied narratives with different times and locations, but with remarkable insight into who we are as a people and how we live. Thanks Hilary and Gerry, for the loan.

The Employees – Olga Ravn

This is a fascinating and original story. The Six Thousand spaceship has both a human and humanoid crew. The ship removes strange objects from the planet New Discovery. The story is told as a series of statements, like an HR debrief. Is this part of an investigation? What causes tension among the humanoids? Is this an existential nightmare? Much is left to our imaginations; very entertaining.

A Complicated Kindness – Miriam Toews

A re-read of this brilliant 2004 book reveals themes that feature prominently in her subsequent books: family relationships, especially between sisters, and the cruelty of religious fundamentalism. Nomi is 16 years old and living a stultifying life in a strict Mennonite community characterized by sin, shame, powerlessness, fear, and punishment by silence (shunning). In short, this is a chilling portrayal of adolescent angst in an extreme context, with some inspired comic interludes – a must-read book.

Something To Hide – Elizabeth George

The latest Inspector Lynley book is, as always, a joy to read. Barbara Havers is reasonably well-behaved although considerable attention is given to her appalling diet! Lynley has issues in his personal relationships which reveal much about his personality. This long book (1263 pages as an e-book) has only one murder, so considerable attention is focussed on the context: female genital mutilation in London.

The Map Of Lost Memories – Kim Fay

This excellent first novel is an exciting adventure story. Set in 1925, action takes place in Shanghai, Saigon, and various locations in Cambodia. A disparate group led by a woman, Irene Blum, search for a lost Khmer temple. This is Indiana Jones-style archeology, meaning the objective is temple looting. What elevates this adventure story are discussions about the moral issues of looting and removal of treasures from their home location, and the lingering effects of French colonialism in SE Asia. Descriptions of jungle travel (heat, insects, snakes …) are vivid. Thanks Joyce, for this recommendation.

They Called Us Enemy – George Takei, with Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, and Harmony Becker

A graphic memoir of the Takei’s family incarceration into internment camps with other Japanese Americans from 1942-45. The stark black and white illustrations are particularly effective in showing the injustice of racism applied to innocent families. Indeed, the political rationale for these incarcerations is appalling. This racial injustice also happened in Canada, an important reminder of how mass hysteria can lead to overt racism. Thanks Rhoddy, for this gift.