The Tea Girl Of Hummingbird Lane – Lisa See

The Tea Girl Of Hummingbird Lane - Lisa SeeAlthough this novel is relatively contemporary (begins in 1988), the focus is on an isolated ethnic minority in China, the Akha hill tribe. Because of isolation, this group follows old traditional ways; the Chinese cultural revolution has almost completely missed these people. Their traditional way of life is described impeccably, and then the halting transition to more modern ways of living. Contemporary identity issues of Chinese children in America adds to the richness of the story telling. This is the best of Lisa See’s novels so far.

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Transit – Rachel Cusk

Transit - Rachel CuskThis is a fascinating book. The central character is never named: she is an author, divorced with two sons, and renovating a new home in London. Almost nothing else is revealed in the book. She listens carefully to conversations and sometimes asks cogent questions so we learn much about the speaker but nothing about the listener. Many conversations are wonderfully philosophical. The writing is elegant: “Amanda has a youthful appearance on which the patina of age was clumsily applied, as if rather than growing older, she had merely been carelessly handled like a crumpled photograph of a child.” There is also a wonderful description of authors attending a literary festival. This book (Giller short-listed) is much better than her previous book Outline (also a Giller finalist in 2015).

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.

Anything Is Possible – Elizabeth Strout

Anything Is Possible - Elizabeth StroutStrout wrote the incomparable Olive Kitteridge (Pulitzer Prize) and the very fine My Name Is Lucy Barton. This new novel is set in a small town in Illinois, the actual home of Lucy Barton. A series of inter-connected stories have links to Lucy Barton, and Lucy actually visits her brother and sister in one chapter after years away. The stories centre on a series of confessional conversations and introspective remembrances that are compelling and captivating. There is an artful simplicity in Strout’s writing; a story about a B&B encounter is exquisite. Overall, this is a great read.

Next Year For Sure – Zoey Leigh Peterson

Next Year For Sure - Zoey Leigh PetersonThis is a fantastic book, a remarkable first novel that was long-listed for the Giller, and that, in my opinion, is much better than some of the books on the Giller short list. Full disclosure: this is a relationship book which everyone who reads this blog knows is my favourite topic. The story is about psychological intimacy, a couple that evolves to a consensual three-some and eventually to a four-some. The book is beautifully written with sub-headings like “Questions” and “Answers” and “What Kathryn Wants”. This is a delightful read about complex relationships with a brilliant ending – highly recommended, one of my best reads this year.

Bellvue Square – Michael Redhill

Bellvue Square - Michael RedhillThis is an imaginative book set in and around Toronto’s Kensington Market. The core of the book examines an existential question: is a doppelgänger real or a figment of imagination? How can a hallucinatory state be distinguished from reality? Redhill has written a darkly comedic and thoughtful book that justifiably has been placed on the Giller short list.

The Burning Girl – Claire Messud

The Burning girl - Claire MessudMessud wrote the very excellent The Woman Upstairs, about the relationships of a mature woman. In this new novel, Messud has turned her perceptive gaze to a coming-of-age story of two girls, best friends since nursery school whose lives begin to diverge in middle school. What does friendship entail? What stories do we create for others and for ourselves? This is a beautifully poignant book.