The Child – Fiona Barton

The Child - Fiona BartonBarton’s very successful debut novel, The Widow, was going to be a tough act to follow, and admittedly The Child is not as good. However, there are some very strong aspects to this second novel. Once again, this is a well-written psychological thriller/mystery. What is the relationship between skeletal remains of a child found in a construction site with a child abduction case from the 1970s? Also this is a story almost entirely about women including Kate, the intrepid reporter from The Widow. Male characters other than the plodding police are either inconsequential or sleaze balls. And finally, one of the female characters has incredibly poor parenting skills, setting up the engrossing question – what will she say/do next? Overall, this is a book that becomes hard to put down.

Sailor Girl – Sheree-Lee Olson

Sailor Girl - Sheree-Lee OlsonSometimes a story can capture time and place perfectly, and this book is a prime example of that success. The time is 1981; the place is a Great Lakes steamship. And Kate is a rebellious 19 year-old: too much drinking, too much casual sex in a very sexist environment. Her reckless lifestyle has an incredible intensity that is intoxicating. A very good read.

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.

Hag-Seed – Margaret Atwood

Hag-Seed - Margaret AtwoodThe Hogarth Shakespeare project enlists accomplished authors to retell Shakespeare classics (e.g. Hamlet retold by Gillian Flynn, Macbeth retold by Jo Nesbo). Hag-Seed is Atwood’s version ofThe Tempest, and it is exceptional. First, there is Atwood’s sublime prose: “The door clicks and he walks into the warmth and that unique smell. Unfresh paint, faint mildew, unloved food eaten in boredom, and the smell of dejection, the shoulders slumping down, the head bowed, the body caving in upon itself”.  This wonderful passage describes a prison, hence the evocative phrasing. And second, Atwood’s plot emphasizes a delicious revenge. So the book is great fun, with a detailed exposition of the enigmatic parts of the Tempest at the end of the book.

Lilith’s Brood – Octavia E. Butler

Lilith_s Brood - Octavia E. ButlerThis is a trilogy, comprised of Dawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago. Earth has had an apocalyptic world war, and the few remaining humans have been “rescued” by aliens and kept in stasis for hundreds of years. What follows is a brilliant description of the human instinct for violence, and the complexity of feelings when humans encounter the aliens for the first time. Lilith is utilized to choose humans to be re-animated, and so there is the strong psychology of humans learning about aliens and distrusting Lilith’s role. The aliens have breath-taking powers or healing, aka resurrection, but have their own agenda. The human-alien relationships are an imaginative form of symbiosis with genetic sharing in offspring. Thus there is yet another interesting new relationships, that of parents and offspring. Butler wrote these books almost 30 years ago, so she anticipated and described genetic engineering very accurately. She also wrote the great Kindred which is in the archives of this blog. Thanks Amy, for sharing this imaginative and compelling book.

The Nest – Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

The Nest - Cynthia D_Aprix SweeneyThis is an entertaining story about a dysfunctional family, the Plumb siblings (Johnathan Franzen territory). The core character is the oldest, Leo, a prodigal brother who is charming but dishonest and deceitful. The plot has a number of surprising turns to make this a very enjoyable read. Leo’s siblings are variably desperate and entitled and conniving. This is another amazing first novel that is highly recommended.

Ruby – Cynthia Bond

Ruby - Cynthia BondThis is a tough read because of disturbing content. Set in an all-Black community in East Texas in the 1950-70s, there is blatant racism, violence and tremendous cruelty. Well-written but be warned … This doesn’t sound like much of a recommendation but in this new era of increasing intolerance, it is worthwhile, I think, to try and learn from historical precedent and ask the question: are we really moving forward?