LaRose – Louise Erdrich

LaRose - Louise ErdrichThis is a fantastic Indigenous novel, set in North Dakota in 1999. There is a powerful start to the story, a tragedy on page 2. What follows is an attempted reparation, guilt and paralyzing grief; a long-standing grudge which leads to revenge; and a gradual reconciliation. The story shifts back and forth in time, and has a mystical element. There is, amidst all this angst, a delightful plainness, a simplicity that engages and delights. For example, there is a transcendent passage about a volleyball game that captures the psychology of young adolescents perfectly! Although this is a multi-generational story, it is the children who are the most complex characters, particularly in circumstances where they are forced to be mature beyond their years (similar to Glass Castle). This book is wonderful storytelling.

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This Is Happy – Camilla Gibb

This Is Happy - Camilla Gibb .jpgCamilla Gibb is a very fine novelist (Sweetness In The Belly, for example). This remarkable book is a memoir that is brutally honest and uncomfortably candid. There are heartbreaking descriptions of loneliness and alienation leading to profound depression and suicide attempts, of feelings that she does not deserve happiness. Single motherhood provides an incredible challenge. The adage that “it takes a village to raise a child” is proven true as single mother Gibb constructs a unique extended family to help her care for her daughter: this is a compelling story.

Indian Horse – Richard Wagamese

Indian Horse - Richard Wagamese.jpgThis is the second time that I have read this book (previously in May 2013) and the story is even better the second read. Saul Indian Horse is a victim of a 1960s scoop and suffers the horrors of a Catholic residential school (truly a cultural genocide). A redemptive time with hockey (beautiful descriptions of the game, of vision to see plays unfolding) is terminated by racism, and there is a late reveal of a brutal betrayal. But Saul becomes a survivor, not a victim. Wagamese was one of Canada’s best Indigenous writers and this is a must-read book.

The Tiger In The smoke – Margery Allingham

The Tiger In The smoke - Margery AllinghamThis is a wonderful book, written in 1952 describing events in London in 1949 so the dense toxic London fog is a prominent feature. The writing is fabulous with words like lugubrious (full of sadness or sorrow). Although this book is identified as a Mr Campion Mystery, there is little emphasis on the police. Instead the psychology of different individuals (criminal and non-criminal) is described in detail: what is goodness and what is evil. This is a totally fun read; thanks Amy*!

 

*Amy says: “Erin and I picked it up in one of those wee community library houses on the way to the Folk Festival – sheer luck that it was good!”

Moonglow – Michael Chabon

Moonglow - Michael ChabonChabon has written many imaginative novels: The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, Telegraph Avenue, etc. Moonglow is a fictionalized memoir, ostensibly based on his grandfather’s life. The writing is superb: his grandfather’s experiences in WWII and a lifelong interest in rocketry; a poignant story of his grandmother’s mental illness. A powerful aspect of the story telling is the consequences of keeping secrets and telling lies. This is an excellent read; thanks Renee, for this recommendation.

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.