Book Recommendations for Spring 2020

I’m currently struggling with my own reading choices right now, so I wanted to share some of my favourite recent titles with you in case you’re feeling the same way. There is quite a range of genres here; diversity in reading material has always been appealing to me. A lot of these titles push the boundaries of novel writing in some way, forcing the reader to get a bit uncomfortable at times – but this is good for you, I promise!

If you would like, please comment with book suggestions at the end of this post.

This post is not sponsored.

Heartbreaker by Claudia Dey

This novel set in an off-the-grid town where a teenage girl, Pony, is trying to figure out why her mom left, how to navigate new love, and how to best rock 1980s fashion. This book is definitely “out there”, with chapters narrated by Pony’s dog, and a sci-fi undertone of blurred ethics and morals. For me, the 80s references, plot twists, and spot-on character development of the teenage girl trying to navigate her strange, small town full of secrets, made this one a page turner. It also showed originality in its narrative structure, and takes risks with the best results. Going to re-read this one soon.

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The Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

This one is for the murder mystery fans, and especially for readers who love a good British crime story (Midsomer Murders, anyone?!). Anthony Horowitz is a prolific author responsible for writing narratives for both screen and print, including the beloved Sherlock that stars Benedict Cumberbatch, and the Alex Rider series for young adults. An esteemed author in his own right, Horowitz writes in the vein of Agatha Christie, and is a master crafter of plot and character. This somewhat epic tome will keep you entertained for hours, as you barrel towards the final reveal. I’ve read this one twice already, and will likely pick it up again!

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Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

This is one of my favourite books of all time. Part historical fiction, part murder mystery, this is based on the true story of Grace Marks, a servant who was accused of killing the head servant and master of the house in small town Ontario in the mid-1800s. The novel moves back and forth between the present day in the story, where Grace is being analyzed by a mental health doctor (a relatively new profession at the time), and the past, with flashbacks of Grace’s life as a newly arrived Irish immigrant who works as a servant in various households.

From tales of innocent (and more serious) superstitions, to the overarching symbolism of quilt making, to the fine details of a simpler life in early Canada, Atwood’s retelling of this story is both intriguing and entertaining. Grace’s guilt in the murder is the central question in the narrative, a question with an ever-changing answer as you make your way through this formidable novel. It looks like the original print cover (left) is no longer available through Indigo, which is a shame!

Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid 

This fictional novel reads like a non-fiction account of singer Daisy Jones and how she came to work with the wildly popular rock band The Six in the 1970s. Taylor Jenkins Reid has achieved a tour de force with the structure of this novel – written as interviews with individual band members that have later been woven together to give various perspectives on events, there is a seamlessness and tension that develops characters and conflict with expertise. At times difficult to read given the self-destructiveness of the main character, I still found this novel very rewarding and entertaining.

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The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

I picked up this novel in the Book Club section of our local library a few years ago. It is the tale of four brothers growing up in Nigeria in the 1990s, and how they accidentally get involved in various controversial and political events, with some unfortunate outcomes. At times it reminded me of A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, another great read, but a challenging one emotionally.

The writing left an impression on me, but it’s been awhile since I read this one, so I’ll insert this summary from Amazon: “Told by nine-year-old Benjamin, the youngest of four brothers, The Fishermen is the Cain and Abel-esque story of a childhood in Nigeria, in the small town of Akure. When their father has to travel to a distant city for work, the brothers take advantage of his absence to skip school and go fishing. At the forbidden nearby river, they meet a madman who persuades the oldest of the boys that he is destined to be killed by one of his siblings. What happens next is an almost mythic event whose impact-both tragic and redemptive-will transcend the lives and imaginations of the book’s characters and readers” (Amazon.ca).

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The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson

I was obsessed with recommending this book after I read it. It is a non-fiction work that follows the true crime story of Edwin Rist, who broke into the British Museum of Natural History and stole hundreds of priceless bird specimens. Some of these birds had been collected by Darwin’s contemporaries under dire circumstances, with no chance of ever being replaced.

With ties to the traditional fly-fishing “flies”, lures made through pain-staking hours of technique and sourcing of rare materials, this is a fascinating story of greed and obsession with perfecting the art of the “fly”. Give this one a chance – I found the first 80 or so pages difficult, but once you’re in, you’re hooked. Not unlike the fish lured by the master fly makers of the 1800s…

Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice 

Written by rising First Nations author Waubgeshig (Wab) Rice, this is a beautiful and devastating novel that leaves an indelible (unsettling) impression after reading it. The story is set in an Indigenous community that survives outside of typical metropolitan life, so when the apocalypse hits and people start moving North to seek food and shelter, chaos ensues in this small community.

Yet, this is a beautifully constructed story about family, love, and coming together as a community to help each other through difficult times. The central character, Evan Whitesky, has such a tenderness for his family and becomes a true leader throughout the story. The main conflict is also a caution to trust your instincts, especially in the face of the unexpected. If you’re feeling sensitive to world events right now, this may not be the read for you.

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Warlight by Michael Ondaatje

I struggled a little with this novel at first, but like many good literary masterpieces, the rewards take time. A post-WWII story set in London, this revolves around two teenagers who are abruptly left behind by their parents, given a vague and unlikely explanation for their move to Singapore.

Forced to grow up too quickly amidst a group of criminals and misfits, the narrative follows the lives of Nathaniel and Rachel, but focuses more on the former. As the story unravels, Nathaniel aims to uncover his parents’ secrets and grapple with an absent mother, even though she has returned to them physically. In typical Ondaatje fashion, the prose reads like poetry, full of moving imagery, extended metaphors, and symbolism to satisfy any literary guru and delight the general reader!

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