Category Archives: Fiction

‘Mr Doubler Begins Again’ by Seni Glaister

This book is about potatoes, gin, and friendship…Seldom have I rooted so enthusiastically for a character in a book. Doubler is a potato farmer extraordinaire, happy enough going about his routines on Mirth Farm and sharing his lunch everyday with his housekeeper Mrs Millwood, until she is taken seriously ill, and his neighbour threatens to take his land. Despite suffering betrayals very close to home, he is spurred by loneliness and self-preservation to gain new confidence as he steps far into uncharted and uncomfortable territory.

An amusing and charming old-fashioned tale full of surprises, quirky characters, and fresh dialogue, it reminded me of The Unlikely Pilgrimmage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, so if you liked that, you’ll love this. Though a little slow at times, if you are a patient reader who enjoys sinking into a gentle and charming story that is well-told, this is a book for you.

‘The Mother-in-Law’ by Sally Hepworth

When you choose a life partner, the other members of the family come along as free gifts! 🙂 Of course the ‘mother-in-law’ is the classic fraught relationship so it’s no surprise that in this entertaining little whodunit it is she who ends up dead!

Playing on family dynamics, and full of twists and turns, this is a clever summer beach read with a surprisingly perfect and ‘more-profound-than-I expected’ ending which I did not see coming.

‘The Colors of All the Cattle’ by Alexander McCall Smith

By the 19th instalment, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency crew is well known to fans of the series. But I must say Sandy Smith is a master at giving background for possible new readers without making it boring for the regulars. I also noticed how certain characters are changing and growing–Charlie, who now works for both Mr. JLB Matekoni as well as Mma Ramotswe, is growing and maturing into a fine young man, which is something Mma Makutsi sure never expected!

A magazine article sparks a discussion about personal responsibility and social change and Mma Ramotswe is compelled to accept a challenge to run for city council, even though she has no desire or inclination towards a political position. Charlie is in love with a totally unsuitable woman, and not for the reasons you might think, and that old nemesis of Mma Makutsi’s (Violet Sephoto) shows up in a very likely and predictable spot!

Oh no! Just as I thought I was all caught up with this series, now I discover the 20th instalment on his website! The title is To the Land of Long Lost Friends and my library already has it on order. I do believe this author continues to write books faster than I can read them…

‘A Place for Us’ by Fatima Farheen Mirza

“A stunning novel about love, compassion, cruelty, and forgiveness–the very things that make families what they are.”

A Place for Us unfolds the lives of an Indian-American Muslim family, gathered together in their Californian hometown to celebrate the eldest daughter, Hadia’s, wedding – a match of love rather than tradition. It is here, on this momentous day, that Amar, the youngest of the siblings, reunites with his family for the first time in three years. Rafiq and Layla must now contend with the choices and betrayals that led to their son’s estrangement – the reckoning of parents who strove to pass on their cultures and traditions to their children; and of children who in turn struggle to balance authenticity in themselves with loyalty to the home they came from.”

As much as a I love a twisting page-turner, this book reminded me that it’s also nice to read a thoughtful compelling family mystery at a more relaxed pace. As the narrative switches back and forth between various voices, depth of character and insight into relationship are achieved in a beautiful way. Transplanted culture can be difficult and complicated and I found the latter part of the novel very poignant when the father honestly shares his perspective on how things might have been different. The smallest decisions can lead to the deepest betrayals. Mirza deals deftly, hopefully, and gracefully with delicate subjects like guilt, misunderstanding, regret, and loss.

Mirza is a graduate of the prestigious Iowa Writer’s Workshop which is a common denominator in many of the authors that I have enjoyed and was championed by Sarah Jessica Parker, another one of the celebrities who are endorsing books (others include Reese Witherspoon and of course Oprah). This book does have a slower pace and may not be for everyone, but I found it held my interest, was definitely moving, and was a joy to read. Here is an interview with the author that highlights the author’s maturity beyond her years:

‘The River’ by Peter Heller

This is the kind of gem that I love to discover–a literary suspense novel. It’s a gripping tale of friendship, whitewater, starvation, and brutality. The writing is beautiful and the pace is unrelenting. I couldn’t put the book down and ‘lived’ on the river while I was reading it. It will appeal to a wide range of readers but especially to those who love to canoe and camp!

Wynn and Jack are best friends from college. They are well versed in wilderness survival but they are about to be tested in ways they never could have imagined. What begins as a dream paddle on a remote river in the Canadian north, turns into a nightmare when forest fires threaten and they are overtaken by a sinister mystery. Shrouded by fog in their canoe on the river, the pair overhear a couple on the bank engaged in a heated argument. The next day they see the man alone in the canoe, and there is no sign of the woman.

‘The Last Romantics’ by Tara Conklin

This novel has good reviews and has been recommended as ‘ambitious’ and ‘absorbing’ but I must be an outlier on this, because I was disappointed. Even though I usually like sinking into family sagas, I found the drama bland and the characters two-dimensional. The author didn’t make me care about the characters or their dilemmas at all.

The story line is roughly this: three sisters and a brother are single-parented by a mother who is not coping. For three years the mother is emotionally and physically absent, clinically depressed, and rarely emerges from her bedroom.This is referred to in the book as The Pause. The children are pretty much left to fend for themselves during this time, and these parts were actually some of the best scenes in the book with their trips to the pond and their antics with friends. But when The Pause becomes pivotal and defining for the siblings as adults later on, it all fell apart for me and got really boring. It reminded me of the The Nest, which was also one I was in the minority by not liking.

‘The Great Alone’ by Kristin Hannah

From the author of The Nightingale, comes a spellbinding novel set in Alaska, inspired by the author’s own experiences.

Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier. Thirteen-year-old Leni, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if it means following him into the unknown. At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources. But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves.

A compulsively readable, powerful novel of survival, love, beauty, brokenness, and redemption. The pace of this novel is unrelenting, with multiple twists and turns, and much of the time you feel you can cut the tension with a knife. The harshly unforgiving yet breathtaking beauty of Alaska are cinematic, and the exploration of human frailty and resilience are riveting. I’d be surprised if this isn’t made into a movie.