‘Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead’ by Olga Tokarczuk (translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones)

Just the title alone of this one is worth the price of admission! Bonus points for you if you know where the quote comes from…ok, I’ll save you the trouble of looking it up. It’s from the English poet and printmaker William Blake, a book called “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” which is a series of texts written in imitation of biblical prophecy but expressing Blake’s own intensely personal revolutionary beliefs.

Translated from Polish, Blake features prominently in this novel which is basically a weird philosophical genre defying literary whodunit. It also includes some dark feminist comedy and mini-essays on vegetarianism. It won the Nobel Prize in Literature (2018) and was shortlisted for the 2019 International Booker Prize. It’s a bit of a quirky read, probably not for everyone, but I really enjoyed it. The ending has a nice twist and is well executed (pardon the pun) but also made perfect sense upon reflection. That’s all I’m saying.

Janina Duszejko dabbles in astrology and lives in a remote area where she oversees a number of summer homes. She is wonderfully eccentric and self-sufficient but suffers from some (never quite defined) ailments that become quite serious at times. People are named according to their qualities: Bigfoot, Oddball, Dizzy, etc. As always, the Guardian has a wonderful extended review: click here.

I also loved this creative and animated review by a fan which contains no spoilers and is a lovely introduction to the book:

Happy New Year Fellow Travelers!

Reading is time traveling, armchair touring, education, relaxation, curiosity, escape, comfort, imagination…and much much more…fill in whatever describes your reading life.

It’s not a competition, not about how many, what genres, how fast, whether to reread or not, old books, new books, hard copy or audio listening…it’s about reading by yourself or out loud to others, using Libby, buying hard covers, patiently waiting for holds, sharing stories, chewing on board books, hoarding books, weeding books, going to book clubs….there are as many ways to enjoy books as there are readers. And all are unique. One of my favourite things to do is peruse bookshelves in people’s homes. Book collections are diverse and distinct, revealing so much about their owners.

This year we bought a small RV that carries us to places both unfamiliar and familiar. When we are on the road we are at turns surprised, entertained, bored, compelled, confused, engrossed, distracted, intrigued, at peace, amazed by beauty, saddened by decay, happy with brilliant sunshine, or wondering about some looming clouds…a bit like the reading life…it’s a journey and always an adventure!

Thanks for another year of traveling together. Looking forward to seeing you on the trail in 2020!

‘Things You Save in a Fire’ by Katherine Center

This author is a great pick if you are in the mood for an easy romance with some good suspense and decent values thrown in. Romance isn’t my usual genre, but I found it grand for a busy holiday time. The other novel of hers I’ve read called How to Walk Away, was about hope and finding joy in dark circumstances, and this one focuses on forgiveness. It was on the 2019 Goodreads Best Choice Awards List for Romance. There are many lists in different categories for each year on Goodreads, which are really helpful!!

As the only female firefighter in her Texas firehouse, Cassie Hanwell is excellent at dealing with other people’s tragedies. But she never anticipated that her estranged and ailing mother would ask her move to Boston. The tough, old-school Boston firehouse is as different from Cassie’s old job as it could possibly be. Hazing, a lack of funding, and poor facilities mean that the firemen aren’t exactly thrilled to have a “lady” on the crew, even one as competent and smart as Cassie. Only the infatuation-inspiring rookie doesn’t seem to mind having Cassie around. Her old captain gave her some advice: don’t date firefighters. Will she jeopardise her place in a career where she’s worked so hard to be taken seriously?

‘The Family Upstairs’ by Lisa Jewell

Soon after her twenty-fifth birthday, Libby Jones returns home from work to find the letter she’s been waiting for her entire life. She rips it open with one driving thought: I am finally going to know who I am. She soon learns not only the identity of her birth parents, but also that she is the sole inheritor of their abandoned mansion on the banks of the Thames in London’s fashionable Chelsea neighborhood, worth millions.

Everything in Libby’s life is about to change. But what she can’t possibly know is that others have been waiting for this day as well–and she is on a collision course to meet them. Twenty-five years ago, police were called to 16 Cheyne Walk with reports of a baby crying. When they arrived, they found a healthy ten-month-old happily cooing in her crib in the bedroom. Downstairs in the kitchen lay three dead bodies, all dressed in black, next to a hastily scrawled note. And the four other children reported to live at Cheyne Walk were gone. There are dark secrets in this house that will slowly be revealed.

Lisa Jewell is a great go-to for a creepy domestic thriller–a mindless, absorbing page turner that offers just the right amount of creepy and evil. This is her latest but it wasn’t her best. I did like the premise and the first half, then it fizzled. I found it a bit hard to keep track of the characters, there were not enough twists and turns, and the ending was weak.

‘The Testaments’ by Margaret Atwood

Here’s something I never thought I would say: “Just read a really fun page-turner by Margaret Atwood!” 🙂

Sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, The Testaments is a testament to Atwood and perhaps a swan song of her lifelong career. It is narrated by Aunt Lydia, a character from the previous novel; Agnes, a young woman living in Gilead; and Daisy, a young woman living in Canada. Atwood was asked to write another instalment about the chilling Republic of Gilead and remarkably she did, in her twilight years, while caring for a partner living with dementia who has since passed away. That is remarkable.

Though I must admit to finding some of her earlier works unapproachable and perhaps too literarily lofty for me, this one was something for anyone and everyone to enjoy. I do wonder if some of her die-hard fans will be disappointed. Although the subject matter is as sobering as ever when it comes to Gilead, it has a lighthearted feel to it. The Testaments  has already won an award and I’m sure it is flying off of the shelves this Christmas. Indeed I purchased it for one of my family members, but stealthily flew through it first before wrapping it up! I also really enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek humour, especially around Canada and Canadians. I think Atwood had a lot of fun with this one. Way to go Margaret! As always, the Guardian has the best extended review: click here.

‘I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death’ by Maggie O’Farrell

“The best way out is always through.” Robert Frost

But O’Farrell says, oh well, if you can’t go through you can always go around! 🙂 I’ve read one novel by this author, now I want to read more. There were things in her life that she would clearly have gone around, but had to go through and now they have been revealed.

What a unique memoir. It is so astonishing, so elegant and beautifully described, and yet so terrible all at once.  Somehow she makes these seventeen stories chilling and eloquent at the same time. In the audio version, Daisy Donovan captures and conveys the vulnerability and strength of the author. O’Farrell knows how to tell a story and Donovan knows how to read it. I hesitate giving this five stars, only because some of it may be triggering for those who have experienced similar trauma. People will need to talk about this after reading it, so it’s perfect for book clubs.

We are never closer to life than when we brush up against the possibility of death.  There was the childhood illness that left her bedridden for a year, from which she was not expected to survive. A teenage yearning to escape that nearly ended in disaster. An encounter with a disturbed man on a remote path. Her heartbreaking struggle with fertility and miscarriage. Scary near accidents. And, most terrifying of all, an ongoing, daily struggle to protect her daughter — for whom this book was written — from a condition that leaves her unimaginably vulnerable to life’s myriad dangers. Seventeen discrete encounters with Maggie at different ages, in different locations, reveal a whole life in a series of tense, visceral snapshots. The message is simple. Life is precious.

Here’s an excellent review in the Guardian: “I’ve revealed the secrets I’ve spent my life hiding.”

‘This Tender Land’ by William Kent Krueger

What a wonderful feeling, to be in the hands of a gifted storyteller. Captivating, redemptive, moving…when I started this book I found it instantly compelling and wonderfully paced and it kept a grip on me all the way to the satisfying ending. An ending full of the peace that comes, not from everything working out as planned, but from embracing the journey, wherever the river goes. From the acclaimed author of Ordinary Grace, comes another epic adventure, with the feel of a classic.

The flyfleaf summarizes it best:
“In the summer of 1932, on the banks of Minnesota’s Gilead River, the Lincoln Indian Training School is a pitiless place where Native American children, forcibly separated from their parents, are sent to be educated. Is is also home to Odie O’Bannion, a lively orphan boy whose exploits constantly earn him the superintendent’s wrath. Odie and his brother, Albert, are the only white faces among the hundreds of Native American children at the school.

After committing a terrible crime, Odie and Albert are forced to flee for their lives along with their best friend, Mose, a mute young man of Sioux heritage. Out of pity, they also take with them a brokenhearted little girl named Emmy. Together, they steal away in a canoe, heading for the mighty Mississippi in search of a place to call home.”

This trusted and acclaimed author of Ordinary Grace has done it again–crafted a novel with unforgettable fictional characters set against historical truths in desperate times. Another amazing tale of compassion, courage, self-discovery and hard-won wisdom. But there is a lightness also, a marvellous mystical quality that speaks to the soul.