The Fortunate Brother – Donna Morrissey

The Fortunate Brother - Donna MorrisseyA gritty angst-filled guy book set in West Newfoundland. The context – geography and people- is described perfectly. A father and son are paralyzed by grief, so they retreat and psychologically “run away” into a life of drink and anger. The book then becomes a murder mystery with deception and lies and misunderstandings. Annoying behaviour to be sure but the descriptions of the people in a fishing outport trying, usually badly, to have each other’s back is compelling. This is one of Morrissey’s best books.

The Dust That Falls From Dreams – Louis de Bernieres

The Dust That Falls From Dreams - Louis de BernieresDe Bernieres wrote the delightful Corelli’s Mandolin, and his latest book is also excellent. The setting is Britain in 1914. The horror of WWI, the mud and stink and brutal death, is described vividly. Also, very precise details of flying are detailed. But this is a book about relationships within the McCosh family, in particular the 4 sisters. At times, the book is a tender love story that also touches on grief and religion. The relationships are often complicated: a sister loves someone who does not love her in return, and vice versa. There is some wry humour, particularly the class-conscious matriarch Mrs. McCosh who should be played by Maggie Smith if this story is ever adapted for film or theatre. Overall, a very entertaining story.

Stag’s Leap – Sharon Olds

Stag_s Leap - Sharon OldsI read novels almost exclusively because generally short stories are too short for plot development and context (Alice Munro’s writing is an obvious exception). And because I read quickly, I typically do not read poetry where so much meaning is often attached to a single word. However, a fellow reader (Renee) who I respect greatly told me about Stag’s Leap, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and it is fantastic. The poems tell the story of the ending of the author’s 30-year marriage. The poem “Last Look” will take your breath away and probably make you cry. The poems are an insightful look at loss and resulting invisibility – remarkable emotional poetry.

Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng

everything-i-never-told-you-celeste-ngThe first sentence in this book is just three words: “Lydia is dead”. This beginning and much more in this fine book is reminiscent of The Lovely Bones. Lydia is the 16 year-old daughter of a mixed race American-Chinese family in the 1970s. Her unexplained death causes the family to disintegrate from the pain of uncertainty and grief. The back story unfolds effortlessly – issues of race and identity politics, and the secrets from not speaking their minds. This is a very powerful and compelling book; be prepared for some profound sadness at times.

H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald

Most of you know that I rarely read non-fiction, but this book was a very rewarding excursion into the world of non-fiction literature. MacDonald has written a really excellent book with three interacting themes: (i) the human emotion of grief precipitated by the the death of her father, with a detailed description of her emotional paralysis; (ii) an intense human-bird relationship because she decides to train a goshawk as a coping mechanism; and (iii) an examination of the author TH White who had a tortured life and wrote a book about training a goshawk in the 1930s. (TH White wrote the exceptional novel called The Once And Future King, a book that I rank in the top-ten books that I have read in my entire life). MacDonald’s book is wonderfully introspective about both the psychology of humans and birds, and the physiology of birds in relation to flight. A section of the book about the shared responsibility of hunting and killing is truly remarkable. This is a great read.

The Mountains Can Wait by Sarah Leipciger

The Mountains Can Wait by Sarah LeipcigerThere are two fine elements in this book. First, it is a BC book: Prince George, tree planting, Vancouver Island. The description of the physical environment is excellent. And second, this is a guy book, with a well-described look at male relationships, especially a father-son relationship with communication issues at its core. Overall, a very good read.