Burial Rites – Hannah Kent

Burial Rites - Hannah KentA young Australian woman was on a Rotary Exchange to Iceland, where she discovered a story of Agnes who was beheaded in 1828 for alleged murders. This was the last execution in Iceland. The story is all context, life in Iceland in the early 19th century and the place of an independent woman, with issues of poverty and religion. HK was a participant in a Vancouver Word Fest session on archival research about 2 1/2 years ago that I attended. She talked about the issue of cultural appropriation, for example. This is an excellent debut novel, and my enjoyment was enhanced by the fact that I read this book in Iceland!

Making History – Stephen Fry

Making History - Stephen FryWhat if you had access to a “Temporal Imaging Machine” and could send a male contraceptive back in time to a village in Austria in June 1888, to prevent the birth of Adolf Hitler? This would be a good outcome, right? What could go wrong? This inventive novel shows that the Law of Unintended Consequences is diabolically operative and so history should not be tampered with. Thanks Amy for this recommendation. Although sometimes Fry’s writing is too cute, this is a very entertaining book.

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.

 

The Dust That Falls From Dreams – Louis de Bernieres

The Dust That Falls From Dreams - Louis de BernieresDe Bernieres wrote the delightful Corelli’s Mandolin, and his latest book is also excellent. The setting is Britain in 1914. The horror of WWI, the mud and stink and brutal death, is described vividly. Also, very precise details of flying are detailed. But this is a book about relationships within the McCosh family, in particular the 4 sisters. At times, the book is a tender love story that also touches on grief and religion. The relationships are often complicated: a sister loves someone who does not love her in return, and vice versa. There is some wry humour, particularly the class-conscious matriarch Mrs. McCosh who should be played by Maggie Smith if this story is ever adapted for film or theatre. Overall, a very entertaining story.

Serial Monogamy – Kate Taylor

Serial Monogamy - Kate TaylorThis is a new author for me, from the CBC Books winter reading list (thank goodness for CBC’s literary interest). This is an excellent book about relationships, my favourite topic. The central character is a wife/mother/author who writes a serialized fictional account of a long-standing affair that Charles Dickens had with Nellie, a young woman. This seems an unlikely focus for a novel but the writing is flawless with some time wrinkles that sometimes makes the reading complicated but very enjoyable.

Harmless Like You – Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

harmless-like-you-rowan-hisayo-buchananThere is much to love about literary festivals, but one distinct pleasure is the chance encounter with a new author. Buchanan is such a bonus from the Calgary Wordfest. This is a remarkable first novel with two parallel time lines: NY from 1968-83 and contemporary 2016. Profound sadness pervades Yuki’s story in NY as an abandoned 16 year-old and her subsequent struggle to do art. She then abandons her son when he is 2 years old to live in Berlin as a struggling performance artist. The contemporary story line is about her adult son Jay who has remarkable insecurities. Mother and son are finally reunited and the confrontation/reconciliation is both beautiful and painful. This is an excellent read, exploring the thin line between attachment and abandonment, love and pain, sacrifice and selfishness, with an impressive maturity. This is an author to follow in the future.

The Witches of New York – Ami McKay

the-witches-of-new-york-ami-mckayThis book takes place in 1880 New York, with Moth from The Virgin Cure as one of the central characters. Witches abound in New York, along with ghosts and spirits. The practise of witchcraft is mostly folk magic. The story-telling is excellent, with some peril of course for the sisterhood. And there is an alienist. Will there be another sequel?