My Life With Bob – Pamela Paul.

My Life With Bob - Pamela PaulSometimes a book can provide a perfect reading experience, usually due to both content and timing, and this book is a wonderful example such a sublime event. Ms. Paul is Editor of the New York Times Book Review. This fantastic book is an autobiographical recounting of her love of reading. The “Bob” in the title is an acronym for “Book of Books”, a journal that lists every book (title and author) the she has read since 1988. A wonderful aspect of this book are the references to her philosophy of reading, and her motivations for choosing to read particular books at specific periods in her life: childhood, young adult, while travelling in France and SE Asia, and finally re-reading books to her children. This is just an exceptional book about the joy of reading.

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The Star Side of Bird Hill – Naomi Jackson

The Star Side of Bird Hill - Naomi JacksonThis is a remarkable first novel about 3 generations of women who are both powerful and vulnerable. Two sisters in Brooklyn, Dionne and Phaedra, are sent to Barbados to spend the summer with their grandmother, due to their mother’s deepening depression. There is a predictable cultural clash as the strong-willed grandchildren are confronted with a more traditional society. Life becomes more complicated with their mothers suicidal death. This is  passage near the end of the book when Phaedra thinks about her mother’s death: “This time there was no hope for her mother’s arrival, because Angie was where she would always be now, silent and below the ground. And this had, rather than saddening Phaedra, settled in beside her, the way that the hill’s red dust filmed her white clothes, the way that sand lined her pockets days and weeks after she came home from the beach. It was always there, a reminder of what had come before”.
Powerful story-telling about love and conflict, death and discovery, pain and hope – highly recommended.

The Rules Of Magic – Alice Hoffman

The Rules Of Magic - Alice HoffmanHoffman’s books are very diverse: The Dovekeepers, The Museum Of Extraordinary Things, The Marriage of Opposites and recently, Faithful. Her new book is a prequel to Practical Magic. The central theme is the human cost of magic: a nearly 400 year old curse on the Owen’s family. Accordingly, the current matriarch, Susanna, establishes rules to protect her children. Not surprisingly, her headstrong children test themselves to discover who they are. The context of the book is New York in the 1960s which adds to the air of discovery. The writing is brilliant, describing unforgettable characters and the power of love.

Difficult Women – Roxane Gay

Difficult Women - Roxane GayThis is a book of previously published short stories. As a collective book, the story-telling becomes even more powerful. Gay’s writing is both compelling and disturbing. The situations she describes are amazingly diverse: raunchy and dangerous with some awesomely poor decision-making. There are situations of danger, physical and sexual abuse. So be warned: this is a book with impact.

The Music Shop – Rachel Joyce

The Music Shop - Rachel Joyce.jpgThis is a magical book about the power of music, of listening to music and learning to listen to silence. Frank has a music shop in 1988 with only vinyl records. Part of the charm of this book is the context; Frank’s shop is located on a failing street with other shops closing. He is a “music whisperer”, someone who can choose music that will change someone’s life. And then Frank meets Ilse and his life becomes complicated. The ending will bring you to tears because of the redemptive power of music. Joyce is a spectacular writer; read everything that she writes.

Future Home Of The Living God – Louise Erdrich

Future Home Of The Living God - Louise ErdrichErdrich has written an intriguing dystopian story set in the near future. The precipitating cause is biological but vague, a sort of reverse-evolution. Lack of information is critical, and so the book’s focus is on one pregnant woman. In other words, the story is not so much about the cause of the collapse of society but rather the implications for one person. I was reminded of Cormac McCarthy’s brilliant book The Road, where we never learn about the catastrophic event, just the aftermath. Erdrich is a wonderful story teller. This book has a significant Indigenous focus, albeit less than LaRose. Overall, this is an original dystopian thriller – highly recommended.

In The Midst Of Winter – Isabel Allende

In The Midst Of Winter - Isabel AllendeA winter storm in New York brings together three distinctive characters: an American man nearly destroyed by grief and guilt; a Chilean woman survivor of the Allende aftermath in the 1970s; and a young undocumented woman from Guatemala. A fairly simplistic plot device allows the compelling back stories to emerge with Allende’s characteristic story-telling which is evocative. Each of the three characters has experienced tragic and sorrowful events, and yet there is hopefulness in a story contains unexpected romance and love. Allende is a treasure, and this novel is a very worthwhile read.