Category Archives: Fiction

‘The Huntress’ by Kate Quinn

There are number of ‘women in war’ books that I’ve enjoyed: Code Name Verity, The Nightingale, and this author’s other book The Alice Network to name just a few. The Huntress is about war heroes, war criminals, and Nazi hunters. It’s also about journalists and photographers who were crucial participants in the war effort.

I found the book was longer than it needed to be but in the end I think it was well done and I’m glad I stuck with it. It’s not a quick read (until the last 100 pages), but still worth it both as background to the characters in the novel, as well as for historical content. I did learn a lot of new things about WW 2 which is amazing considering how many novels about that time period I’ve read. So kudos to the author for that!

Three narrators take turns telling the story: a battle-haunted British journalist, a feisty female Russian fighter pilot, and a young woman photographer in America who has a very mysterious step-mother who may well be a monster. I don’t consider that a spoiler because with a title like “The Huntress,” a reader would have to be quite dim not to see what was going on early in the novel and that’s ok. With that knowledge the tension builds in the present at the same time as the backstories converge to a thrilling climax.

‘The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared’ by Jonas Jonasson

Alan Karlsson is a Forest Gump-like character who stumbles his way into some fantastic situations. There are two parallel story lines. In the first one, Alan is reluctant about attending his 100th birthday party in the senior’s home, so he jumps out of his window, into the flowerbed, in his slippers, and walks away. Embarking on a very unlikely adventure for a centenarian, this story line was my favourite.

The other storyline are flashbacks to various stages of this 100-year-old man’s life which prove to be hugely interesting because he blunders into situations that are larger-than-life, and accidentally makes some very famous acquaintances. It’s all fiction of course, but his unassuming manner (like Forest Gump) makes it very funny and quirky. And his connections from the past, uncannily get him out of trouble in the present.

Unfortunately the historical and political backstories can be a little tedious, but hang in there because he unwittingly manages to get out of some unbelievable binds because of who and what he knows. Feel free to skim those sections a little, but don’t miss the punchline. What improved my experience with this book was listening to the audio book version, which is read beautifully by acclaimed narrator Steven Crossley (and I could daydream a little through the boring bits without losing the thread). Judging by the reviews, people either really love this farce, or couldn’t even get through it.

What this book did for me, was make me poignantly realise that when I see old folks in a nursing home, there’s so much more there than a frail person pushing a walker–there’s a whole interesting life with amazing stories that will soon be lost. Ask questions, find out more! They’ll be blessed by your interest and you’ll be enriched by their unique perspective.

There is already a movie out with the same name which I look forward to seeing soon.  It was originally written in Swedish and was translated by Rod Bradbury.

‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ by Delia Owens

This tops my list for the best fiction I’ve read this year, and might even make it into my top ten ever.

Kya lives a lonely life near a remote marsh in North Carolina. One by one, everyone in her family has left her to fend for herself which she does with incredible resilience and patient survival.  The very marsh she lives in, with abundant life that she is endlessly curious about and becomes exceptionally knowledgeable in, becomes her emotional and mental sustenance.

Suffering shunning by the townspeople, who label her the “Marsh Girl,” she attends only one day of school in the town, yet lives a life of learning alone in the marsh that she calls home. She is drawn at different times to two young men from town, who are intrigued by her wild beauty, but Kya is terrified of trusting anyone besides herself. When she finally opens up to a new and startling world of relationship–the unthinkable happens–handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, and the locals of Barkley Cove immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl, of murder.

I loved this book because it was so satisfying, well described, and compelling till the very end.  It is tragic yet unsentimental, sensual and mysterious. Kya as a character is one I will never forget. Her strength and resilience are remarkable and her instincts are fascinating.

The author’s early life as a wildlife researcher, and conservationist in Africa, sheds light for me on how she could so well portray the wonder of nature and so effectively capture the sense of isolation one feels in a remote location. She and her husband wrote Cry of the Kalahari and two other books when they were scientists studying and living amongst African wildlife in the Kalahari Desert and later in Zambia. She now lives in Idaho. Where the Crawdads Sing is her first novel. Her life story is hugely interesting: click here.

‘The Wild Robot'(#1) and ‘The Wild Robot Escapes'(#2) by Peter Brown

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Age 7+ but can be read to younger children) This creative story caught my heart and my imagination because it is innovative and heartfelt, but unsentimental. It is such a beautifully written and uniquely illustrated book for young readers; more fable than science fiction. It would be perfect as a ‘read-together’ because it has lots of appeal for adults as well as children. I was riveted myself and wished I was reading it aloud to a grandchild. On a vacation when I finished The Wild Robot, I was so excited when I discovered the sequel was immediately available from Overdrive, so I just kept on reading with The Wild Robot Escapes.

The story opens when Roz, a very special robot, finds herself marooned on a remote island. She is equipped to learn and increase her knowledge (as most AI inventions are), but she finds that in order to survive she will need the help of the animals on the island and that means learning to communicate and live with them in community. It’s a heartwarming and page turning read, full of great values, humour, self-sacrifice, tolerance, love of nature, resilience, and love. This book does not shy away from the realities of painful things in our lives, and indeed the first book ends with a cliff hanger. The sequel picks the story up seamlessly and also introduces another world that Roz needs to adjust to and then figure out how to escape from.

Peter Brown is a nature enthusiast and one day realised that the yearly instinctual activity of animals in the wild had a somewhat robotic aspect. Every year the animals went through the same routines and were almost programmed to do the same activities to survive and thrive. That is what gave him the idea for writing a story about a robot that interacts with animals. There’s a hugely interesting article by the author himself as he talks about the process of writing and illustrating this series: click here.

‘Recursion’ by Blake Crouch

Sci-fi is not my usual go-to but I sought to expand my reading horizons with this genre-bending approachable thriller. I ended up being engaged with most of it and found that fully understanding all of the science was not even necessary. This is more than a page-turner, it gets deeply emotional as well.

Two main characters New York City cop Barry and neuroscientist Helena become involved in creating technology that maps memory and helps to preserve the precious ones. Used for good, being able to re-experience significant moments such as a first kiss or the birth of a child might help humanity or those who experience memory loss. But when the technology does more than they bargained for and ends up landing in the wrong hands, it morphs into something terrifying. As reality shifts and the world begins to crumble, can anyone survive?

I enjoyed the first three quarters of this novel and then became a bit tired of the time travel and replayed stories. This is nothing like Kate Atkinson’s literary novel Life After Life, but there are parallels, and for me Atkinson did a better job of the rewinding. Even so, the book reads like a movie and it wouldn’t surprise me if it shows up on Netflix one day as a series. I would watch it.

‘If You Want to Make God Laugh’ by Bianca Marais

A pregnant teen in dire straits. A disgraced former nun. A wealthy socialite with a drinking problem. Three unique narrators with very different voices tell their stories in this amazing novel set in post-apartheid South Africa. Of course the author soon brings them all together in this highly absorbing and well told tale of friendship, hardship, and survival.

Each woman has a personal crisis to deal with and there are many secrets and twists and turns to keep the reader turning pages. It also speaks gently of the political and social situation in South Africa while nurturing a love for the continent and its people. The author fearlessly tackles tricky topics like racism, identity, sexual violence, motherhood, and belonging.  There are dark realities in this story but they are beautifully tempered with hope and redemption.

Loved this novel and would highly recommend it!! Great book club read! Also enjoyed her earlier novel Hum If You Don’t Know the Words, but I liked this one better.

‘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.