Book picks as published in the Dec. 11, 2019 St. Albert Gazette. For more great reads, check here.
Celestial bodies : a novel
By Jokha Alharthi
In the village of al-Awafi, in Oman, two families are joined by marriage: Mayya, the eldest of three sisters, marries Abdallah, son of a wealthy merchant, after suffering her first heartbreak. The first ever novel originally written in Arabic to win the Man Booker International Prize, and the first book by a female Omani author to be translated into English.
10 Minutes 38 seconds in this strange world : a novel
By Elif Shafak
Our brains stay active for ten minutes after our heart stops beating. For Tequila Leila, each minute brings with it a new memory – growing up with her father and his two wives in a grand old house in a quiet Turkish town; running away to Istanbul to escape an unwelcome marriage. Each memory reminds Leila of the five friends she met along the way – the friends who are now desperately trying to find her.
Agatha Christie published this book in 1938. But the story is timeless. Other than a brief mention of events in another part of the world, one could easily assume that this was a contemporary novel.
Simeon Lee, the patriarch of a family of four, insists that each of his children come home for Christmas. But don’t think that he plans on playing “happy families”. His intentions are the complete opposite. He does everything to goad each of his children by insulting them and denying their petty grievances and long-held grudges. Before the first Christmas cracker is even pulled, he’s found bludgeoned to death in his locked bedroom.
When the Chief Constable of Middleshire receives a call about the murder, he asks Poirot, who is spending Christmas with him, to come along while he investigates. Poirot’s ability to stand back, observe and listen is his forte. It’s not his “little grey cells” (who aren’t even mentioned), that allow him to understand the “human condition”, but his powers of observation. And it’s always that one word, or gesture, or look that, when observed by Poirot, seals the fate of the murderer.
A more clever mystery you won’t find. There’s a reason that Agatha Christie is known as “The Queen of Crime” and this novel says it all.
Book picks as published in the Dec. 4, 2019 St. Albert Gazette. For more great reads, check here.
Reproduction : a novel
By Ian Williams
Felicia and Edgar meet as their mothers are dying. Felicia, a teen from an island nation, and Edgar, the lazy heir of a wealthy German family, come together only because their mothers share a hospital room. This is a profoundly insightful exploration of the bizarre ways people become bonded that insists that family isn’t a matter of blood. Winner of the 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize.
Trust exercise : a novel
By Susan Choi
In an American suburb in the early 1980s, students at a highly competitive performing arts high school struggle and thrive in a rarified bubble, ambitiously pursuing music, movement, Shakespeare, and, particularly, their acting classes. This novel will incite conversations about fiction and truth, and about friendships and loyalties. Winner of the 2019 National Book Award (US) for Fiction.
Book picks as published in the Nov. 27, 2019 St. Albert Gazette. For more great reads, check here.
Late in the day : a novel
By Tessa Hadley
Alexandr and Christine and Zachary and Lydia have been friends since they first met in their twenties. Thirty years later, Alex and Christine receive a call from a distraught Lydia: Zach is dead. Inconsolable, Lydia moves in with Alex and Christine. But instead of loss bringing them closer, the three of them find over the following months that old entanglements and grievances rise from the past.
Watching you without me : a novel
By Lynn Coady
Karen has come home to Nova Scotia for the first time in a decade to oversee her mother’s funeral and tend to her affairs. Coady delivers a creepy and wholly compelling novel about the complex relationship between mothers and daughters and sisters, women and men, and who to trust and how to trust in a world where the supposedly selfless act of caregiving can camouflage a sinister self-interest.
Saying good-bye to Cleeves’ great character, Jimmy Perez, in Wild Fire, the last book in that series, was difficult so I welcomed the thought that there was a new detective in town with this first book in the Two Rivers series. My excitement was short-lived as I began reading, puzzled at the underdeveloped, wooden characters and a plot that consisted of threads of a story that just didn’t tie together. I felt like I was reading an outline, or at best, a first draft.
Detective Matthew Venn returns to North Devon to attend the funeral of his father. His falling-out with his family is referenced but no substance is given to this estrangement. When a body is found on the beach, and it’s determined to be a murder, Venn is called in to take the case.
Peopled with some of the most distasteful characters that I’ve come across in a long time, the motivation and actions of some of them just doesn’t ring true. Many of the story lines and characters needed extensive fleshing-out in order to come together to create a credibly good mystery. Too bad this wasn’t done before the book went to publication.