With Covid-19 vaccines being administered, our lives are slowly returning to some semblance of normal. If your normal includes reading, here are some suggestions for novels to add to your summer TBR pile. Above: photo Doreen Yakabuski
A Funny Kind of Paradise by Jo Owens This book should be at the top of everyone’s to-read pile. After a stroke, Frannie has become a resident of an extended care facility. Though she has physical limitations, she has no cognitive impairment. She has nothing to do but listen and think, whereas in the past she never stopped to really do either. Her observations of what is happening around her and her reflections on her past lead her to life-changing insights. The author, a Canadian, has worked as a health care aide for 20 years so her portrayal of life in an extended care facility is very realistic.
A Killer in King’s Cove by Iona Whishaw Those who enjoy cozy mysteries should check out the Lane Winslow series set just after World War II. There are eight books in total. I’ve read the first three, and they keep getting better as the author hits her stride; I intend to read more of the series this summer. Begin with A Killer in King’s Cove which introduces Lane, the amateur sleuth who always manages to uncover clues, and the various, sometimes quirky, residents of a village in interior B.C. These characters appear in subsequent books (Death in a Darkening Mist and An Old, Cold Grave) and relationships are further developed, so I’d certainly advise reading the books in chronological order. References to historical events like the internment of Japanese-Canadians and the treatment of Doukhobors and British Home Children are a satisfying added dimension. What is better than finding a new mystery series to devour? Finding a Canadian mystery series!
Darkness by David Adams Richards If you prefer books with thematic depth, this one is highly recommended. Orville MacDurmot is accused of murder but then dies a violent death. His sister asks John Delano, a family friend, to investigate his death and the murder charges. The book is John’s recounting of what he learned about Orville’s life: how a bullied child became renowned in his field but was then suspected of murder. This multi-layered book illustrates the consequences of judging others on the basis of appearance, background, and gossip.
The Good Father by Wayne Grady This is another Canadian novel with an in-depth development of theme. After her parents divorce, Daphne feels abandoned by her father Harry, and her life spirals out of control; a crisis brings them together physically, but the two struggle to bridge their emotional gap. Including the perspectives of both Daphne and Harry, the author provides a detailed examination of a troubled father-daughter relationship. This book had particular appeal to me because it is set in a fictional town “on the Madawaska River, between Ottawa and Peterborough” and makes references to “the Madawaska Valley accent” and “Madawaska Grunge” and mentions Pembroke and Foymount. (As a point of interest, Wayne Grady is married to Merilyn Simonds who wrote a novel, The Holding, set on the Opeongo Road “in the northern reaches of the Madawaska”; one of the characters marries a Polish girl and moves to Golden Lake.)
The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi For those who want an exotic locale, this novel will immerse the reader in Indian culture. Escaping an abusive arranged marriage, Lakshmi becomes a henna artist for upper caste women. She works hard to establish a business and reputation, but the arrival of her high-spirited 13-year-old sister upends all she has strived to build. The novel has a fast-paced plot and engaging characters. As an added bonus to those who enjoy this book, a sequel, The Secret Keeper of Jaipur, is scheduled for release on June 22; it focuses on Malik, the clever street urchin who serves as Lakshmi’s assistant in The Henna Artist.
The Willow Wren by Philipp Schott Readers who like historical fiction might consider this fictionalized memoir which provides an interesting perspective of World War II, that of a German child living through the war and its aftermath. That child is Ludwig and his father is a senior Nazi leader. The young boy becomes increasingly responsible for helping his family survive, especially during the Russian occupation in what would become East Germany. The book, covering Ludwig’s life between 6 and 15 years of age, is based on the experiences of the author’s father.
The Spoon Stealer by Lesley Crewe If you want a charming, feel-good read, The Spoon Stealer might take your fancy. The protagonist, 74-year-old Emmeline Darling, lives in a small English town with Vera, her companion dog with whom she has regular conversations. To her surprise, since she is estranged from her family, Emmeline inherits the family farm in Nova Scotia. She decides to make a trip, and it’s a visit that changes many lives. Though the novel touches on some serious topics, there is considerable humour.
Complete reviews of all these books can be found on my blog at https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.com/.