Fun Home – Alison Bechdel

Fun Home - Alison BechdelBechdel has constructed a graphic novel that is quite remarkable. A narrative appears above the illustrations which amplify the expressiveness of the drawings. This book is an autobiographical account of growing up in the 1960-70s, in a gothic house lovingly restored by her emotionally-absent father, next to the family-run “fun(eral) home”. Family life is built on secrets, and artifice. Key pivotal life changes occur in 1980, the (suicidal) death of her father and Bechdel’s declaration of being a lesbian. The depth of understanding and insight revealed in this graphic novel is stunning. An expressive story like this will go far to counter-act the frequent dismissal of graphic novels as not having literary merit.

Thanks Karen, for recommending this great book.

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Manhattan Beach – Jennifer Egan

Manhattan Beach - Jennifer EganEgan won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel A Visit From The Goon Squad, and this new historical novel is a gem. Set in the depression-era 30s in New York and then in the naval shipyards in Brooklyn during World War II, the details of place and context are impeccable. The human relationships are a rich blend of secrets, lies and desertion, of love and lust. The writing is dramatic – part of the book describes so clearly the claustrophobic and oppressive world of diving which is also liberating. But it is the complex human dynamics the drive the story, with a very satisfying ending. This is a must-read book, in my opinion.

The Historian – Elizabeth Kostova

The Historian - Elizabeth KostovaThis fascinating book has a Dan Brown-like plot (but with much better writing). Academics search for clues to find missing persons and to research Vlad Dracula’s life (is he still living?). This research is conducted in medieval libraries (yay!) with much travel: Oxford, Istanbul, Budapest and Bulgaria. Actions happen in three times: the 1930s, 1950s and 1970s, often with parallel stories so the complex plot with much historical detail requires the full attention of readers. This is a really enjoyable read; thanks Steph, for this recommendation.

The Golem and the Jinni – Helene Wecker

The Golem and the Jinni - Helene WeckerA second recommendation from Steph, so thanks again. This book is another example of a remarkable first novel, notable both for its imagination and context. A golem is created from clay and brought to life by her master who then promptly dies, leaving her adrift in New York. A jinni is accidentally released from a copper container. Much of this book is about alienation – how to fit into a human population. And the context is glorious: New York in 1899 with detailed descriptions of Little Syria and the Jewish enclave with some fantastic trips to Central Park. And yes, there is a wicked villain! This is a very entertaining book.

Moonglow – Michael Chabon

Moonglow - Michael ChabonChabon has written many imaginative novels: The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, Telegraph Avenue, etc. Moonglow is a fictionalized memoir, ostensibly based on his grandfather’s life. The writing is superb: his grandfather’s experiences in WWII and a lifelong interest in rocketry; a poignant story of his grandmother’s mental illness. A powerful aspect of the story telling is the consequences of keeping secrets and telling lies. This is an excellent read; thanks Renee, for this recommendation.

Into The Water – Paula Hawkins

Into The Water - Paula HawkinsThe huge success of The Girl On The Train meant high expectations for Hawkins’ next book, and Into The Water delivers, in my opinion, another well written mystery/thriller. The setting is Northern England, a town with a drowning pool where too many women have drowned over many centuries, usually under mysterious circumstances. Many standard issues are present: lies and deceit and memories that are selective. The key relationship is between two estranged sisters – how did this estrangement begin and how did it evolve? The outcome, aka big reveal, is tantalizing and completely surprising. A thoroughly enjoyable read.

The Past – Tessa Hadley

The Past Tessa HadleyThis is a perfect introspective story of family relationships in the present and past. There are secrets, things that are observed but not spoken of. The point of view of the children is most extraordinary – what they observe and what they keep secret. This is a very English story with some surprises – overall a very fine read.