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?

The Conjoined – Jen Sookfong Lee

The Conjoined - Jen Sookfong LeeWhat if you are cleaning the basement of your family home after the death of your mother, and you find the bodies of two foster-children in a basement freezer who went missing 28 years ago? This is an intriguing book that examines family secrets and the social welfare system. Some of the ideas reminded me of Zoe Whitall’s book The Best Kind Of People where suspicion is directed to “good” people. What is the cost of bringing foster children into a home for all concerned? Highly recommended.

The Break – Katherine Vermette

The Break - Katherine VermetteIt is inexplicable to me that The Break was the first book eliminated from the Canada Reads 2017 competition. Admittedly this is a tough book to read, and the first in my experience that has on the cover page: “TRIGGER WARNING: This book is about recovering and healing from violence. Contains scenes of sexual and physical violence, and depictions of vicarious trauma”. This is a timely book about Indigenous women survivors, specifically 4 generations of women survivors who are flawed and damaged. This is a sisterhood book about resiliency – powerful storytelling but take the trigger warning seriously.

Wolf Winter; The Midnight Sun – Cecilia Ekback

I read these two books back-to-back so my comments will be combined. My friend Hilary introduced me to this author, described as a master of Nordic Noir. The best aspect of these two books is time and place. Both books are set in Northern Sweden where Norway and Finland converge. WW takes place in 1717; MS takes place in the same location 140 years later, in 1856. Living in this isolated setting is exacerbated by weather: bitter winter cold in WW and insomnia for one key character in MS due to continuous summer sunlight. In both books, murders are committed and solved by amateurs, the inhabitants (settlers) in WW or visitors in MS. The chief protagonist in WW is Maija, a woman with two children struggling to survive in the absence of her husband. Both books, but especially WW, have a mystical element (the old religion, aka witchcraft) from the wandering Lapp inhabitants of the region (now Sami). Both books are highly recommended.

 

Barkskins – Annie Proulx

Barkskins - Annie ProulxThis is a sweeping Michener-like novel that spans over 300 years, with two family trees at the back of the book to keep track of multiple characters. The novel begins with two men from France who go to New France (Quebec) in 1693 to make a new life in the new world. Their lives diverge remarkably. Charles Duquet/Duke is driven by greed and opportunity to establish a huge and prosperous timber empire; Rene Set marries an indigenous woman so his story takes a very different path. Exploitation of forests is a major theme, not just in North America; the story also extends to China and New Zealand (the giant kauri trees). The book has a satisfying ecological message at the end – overall, a very good read.