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.

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.

Precious Cargo – Craig Davidson

Precious Cargo - Craig DavidsonDavidson usually writes gritty guy-books (e.g. Cataract City) that are fiction. In contrast, this new book is non-fiction, an account of a year spent driving a school bus for five special-needs kids in Calgary. There are some very funny parts, such as the perils of substitute driving a school bus at Halloween, but Davidson takes a thoughtful look at how people with disabilities are viewed by the non-disabled, in school and in society in general. The book also includes an introspective examination of himself as a struggling writer at the time – overall, a very worthwhile read.

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.

 

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.

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.