Category Archives: Fiction

‘The Alice Network’ by Kate Quinn

In the chaotic aftermath of WW 2, Charlie finds herself unmarried and pregnant, and on the verge of being thrown out by her very proper family. Her mother wants her to go to Switzerland to take care of her Little Problem. Instead Charlie runs away to London where she begins a search for her beloved cousin Rose who has not been heard from since the war. Joining her in the quest, is an unlikely partner. Eve was a spy in WW 1, and though heroic, was also broken in body and spirit. She has her own reasons for being on this quest with Charlie and they are far more sinister. The book alternates between Eve and Charlie’s stories, both riveting, until the stories inevitably converge. It is an enthralling historical fiction that is gripping and features two strong female protagonists. This was a great story about courage and resilience in unbelievably hard times but also had some measures of humour and romance thrown in. I liked that it combined both world wars in the same novel. The espionage aspects reminded me of Code Name Verity which was also a great read. I will be recommending this one widely!

‘The Secret Scripture’ by Sebastian Barry

Now in her hundredth year, Rose McNulty, once the most beautiful girl in County Sligo, Ireland, has spent a lifetime locked up in a mental asylum for reasons which gradually become clear as she tells her story. She has a secret diary and she is interviewed by Dr. Grene who suspects that she was incarcerated for social reasons rather than medical. Rose was an innocent victim of religious and political hatreds during the Irish civil war. It is a tense novel of survival and an epic story of love and betrayal.

This is a magnificent novel for the serious reader. Barry’s writing is beautifully elegant but also energetic and well crafted, suspenseful and historical. There is a movie made from this book by the same name which came out in 2015 with Vanessa Redgrave. I think because Barry’s poetic prose softened the darkness of the subject matter, I found the movie more difficult to watch and even more emotionally devastating. Oddly, in the book I felt the surprise ending was a bit far-fetched but in the movie it was so movingly perfect, that it made me cry.

‘Dead Cold’ by Louise Penny (Three Pines Mystery #2)

Louise Penny’s mystery series set in the tiny Quebec village of Three Pines, features Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. This is the second instalment and though it is not essential to read the books in order, I am doing that, because it has been recommended. The characters do develop throughout the series and being able to follow that is as entertaining as solving the murder mysteries. I enjoyed this one more that the first (Still Life), only because I was returning to this village and to these characters and that familiarity added pleasure to the reading for me. Penny’s website is very beautifully done, has some interesting information about the inspiration for the village and the inspector, and even has a FAQ section. Maybe you love FAQ sections as much as I do!

It’s early days for me with this series. I’m looking forward to more. I’ve heard the series just gets better and better and has met with huge worldwide success. I will share this quote from the author because it demonstrates how her mysteries are a literary cut above in my opinion. As she says herself in the candid interview I’ve included below with CBCs Wendy Mesley, the books are not about murder, they have murder in them.

“My books are about terror. That brooding terror curled deep down inside us. But more than that, more than murder, more than all the rancid emotions and actions, my books are about goodness. And kindness. About choice. About friendship and belonging. And love. Enduring love. If you take only one thing away form any of my books I’d like it to be this: Goodness exists.”

‘No and Me’ by Delphine de Vigan

Parisian teenager Lou has an IQ of 160, OCD tendencies, and a mother who has suffered from depression for years. But Lou is about to change her life–and that of her parents–all because of a school project about homeless teens. While doing research, Lou meets No (short for Nolwenn), a teenage girl living on the streets. As their friendship grows, Lou bravely asks her parents if No can live with them, and is astonished when they agree. No’s presence forces Lou’s family to come to terms with a secret tragedy. But can this shaky, newfound family continue to live together when No’s own past comes back to haunt her?

Translated from French, this young adult novel grew on me. It’s definitely a ‘cross-over’ novel, appealing to adults as well as teens. Though it has a bit of a slow start, it has beautiful and important themes about homelessness, adolescence, friendship, and motherlessness. There are only a few characters but that spareness is what makes it great. Most striking is the juxtaposition between the simplicity of the language and the depth of ideas in the novel. There would be a lot to discuss if a book club read this together. It would be a great book for high schools to use in French class (No et Moi)…easy and engaging for teens to read,  but well written and academic enough.

The effects of Lou’s kindness and bravery in inviting No to come and stay is remarkable and has far reaching effects on her family. Along with classmate Lucas, Lou tries to help No build a life away from the streets. However, No’s emotional scars run deep and she pushes Lou’s friendship and trust to the limits. Without revealing the ending, I feel I want to say that I found it sad that No never realized what a huge impact she had on all of the members of Lou’s family, by coming to stay with them. Isn’t it often the case that those who reach out to help are the ones who end up being blessed?

‘The Hummingbird’ by Stephen P. Kiernan

“We live our lives on a whole planet, seeing and learning and going from place to place. But eventually there arrives a time for each of us, when our world becomes smaller: one house, one floor of that house, and near the end, one room, one little room to which our whole gigantic life has been reduced. And when that happens . . . that room becomes sacred. It is the holy, modest place in which we will perform perhaps the hardest task of our life: letting it go.”

This is a story of courage, compassion, and redemption. Deborah Birch, a seasoned hospice nurse has a difficult new patient. And when Nurse Birch is off duty she is not able to get much rest because her husband is suffering from nightmares, anxiety, and rage.

The author weaves together three different threads in this novel: death/dying, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and Pearl Harbour. There are two alternating story lines, one about the Pacific in WW 2, and the other about a hospice care nurse caring for a patient and supporting her husband who just returned from his last deployment.  The author crafts a gentle yet compelling story that is easy to read and beautifully written. I will definitely be reading more by this author who is a graduate of the acclaimed University of Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop and has won many awards for his writing. His latest novel which came out earlier this year is called The Baker’s Secret which is about D-Day from the French perspective. And another one that looks good is The Curiosity which is a thriller about a man frozen in the Arctic for more than a century, who wakes up in the present day.

Kiernan’s writing has a ‘fresh’ feel to me and I really enjoyed it. The season I read it in was especially poignant for me because my sister was dying and I began reading Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. It was meaningful to view the perspective of navigating the decline of old age that Gawande brings and comforting to experience the compassionate care of the hospice nurse in the novel at the same time. Hospice care is such amazing work and I gained even more respect for it in reading this book.

‘Commonwealth’ by Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett is one of my favourite authors but this one was a little disappointing. I loved the writing, Patchet is a master at non-cliché insights, but the crazy blended family was a bit hard to keep track of and I didn’t connect with the characters as much as usual with a Patchett novel. The novel was enjoyable enough, it just didn’t grab my attention as well as Bel Canto or State of Wonder did. It did have one of the best opening lines of a book ever…”“The christening party took a turn when Albert Cousins arrived with gin.” I read an interview with Patchett about this book and she gave one of the best definitions of fiction I’ve ever heard: “None of it happened, and all of it’s true.” From the same interview, she said that her father was dying and actually passed away while she was writing this novel, and as I reflect on that, the parts in the story when Franny’s father was dying were the most poignant and most beautifully written–now that makes sense.

“One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.

Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond that is based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows up between them.”

‘The Walk’ by Richard Paul Evans

Wow. Loved this book. Gobbled it up on the weekend and am heading for the library to pick up the next episodes in the season,….oops, I mean books in the series; there are five all together, this is the first, but they are quick reads. This is not hugely literary fiction, but very relaxing reading…like watching a TV series on Netflix. My plan is to “binge read” through the upcoming camping trip!

I love unsentimental pilgrimage adventures. It’s such a brilliantly simple premise for a novel and always so full of promise. If you liked Rachel Joyce’s Harold Fry or Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, or anything by Bill Bryson, you’ll love this one.

Alan Christoffersen has just lost the love of his life, his wife McKale. As if that weren’t enough, he also has lost his ad agency, his business partner, his house, his cars…everything really. On a whim (and as an alternative to swallowing two bottles of his wife’s left over pills) he decides the thing to do is to walk to Key West, Florida which is the furthest possible point from where he lives in Seattle, Washington. He packs up and sets off. This book has short snappy chapters. It is inspirational, humorous, and uplifting, despite the serious reasons for the journey. Feel free to walk along!

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