His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik. If you love the premise of a realistic historic novel of the Napoleonic Wars from the perspective of a former Royal Navy captain now dragon aviator (because this reality includes dragons), you really need to read this book. If the premise makes you raise an eyebrow, you should probably read it anyway, because the story is really excellent. Book 1 of the Temoraire trilogy, it introduces a memorable cast of characters, including the dragon for whom the series is named. I’ve already bought the trilogy; the only question is whether I can pace myself without gobbling them all down this month.
Escape by Carolyn Jessop and Laura Palmer. A memoir that’s both riveting and revolting at the same time, this book reveals life for a woman born and raised in Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), an off-shoot of the Mormon church that permits and celebrates polygamy. Holy smokes, crazy pants, backward, scary! I mean, seriously, this is beyond whacked out. And so many layers of people in power just turning a blind eye or actively enabling abuse. Carolyn Jessop’s story of coming to a new perspective on her religion and finding the courage to fight back then leave the FLDS is fascinating.
Nocturne for a Widow by Amanda deWees. Meant to be a mystery, apparently, but the eyerolly star-crossed I hate you-I hate you-I love you “romance” is really at centre stage in this novel. Every worn-out trope of historical romance – with a dash of the supernatural – is covered here; what could possibly be left for future episodes after this, the first of the Sybil Ingram Victorian Mysteries series? Who’s kidding whom, I’m not planning to find out.
A Match Made in Spell by ReGina Welling and Erin Lynn. This one I enjoyed. Light and fluffy and not pretending to be otherwise, this novel tells the story of assorted witches, four faeries, a half faery, and assorted other magical beings in the human world, which definitely needs some magic. It focuses on Lexi Balefire, a half-witch who, though she hasn’t uncovered any particularly magical abilities yet, does seem to have quite a flair for human match-making. A thoroughly charming (see what I did there?) summer read.
A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami. This read is much less fluffy than the novel above though it does deal in sheep as a symbolic motif. (Knocking the puns out of the park!) Having only read iQ84 by Murakami previously, I honestly wasn’t sure what I was getting into here. While not fluffy, it’s not dense either – rather, it’s a kind of thriller infused with elements of magical realism. The main character coasts along, not the “hero” of his own story, though he is the protagonist. He’s a mediocre man, in his own self-assessment and in appearance and behaviour. The story itself is fascinating, and the relationship Murakami creates between reader and protagonist, and protagonist and other characters, creates an interesting experience for the reader – in addition to the delightful weirdness of the language and plot.
His Bloody Project: Documents Relating to the Case of Roderick Macraeby Graeme MaCrae Burnet. The concept is quite clever and very convincingly executed: the author, when researching his Highland Scots ancestors, supposedly came across a trove of documents. He compiles and organizes them, and ta da, here lies a grim and fascinating record of the murder of a man, his teen daughter and toddler son and the subsequent trial. At the centre is the chilling personal diary of the 17-year-old accused murderer. That it’s all pure fiction makes it a tour de force of imagination and talent.
Touch by Claire North. Imagine that some human spirits or souls or ghosts, call them what you will, are not bound to a single body. By physical skin-to-skin contact, the ghost can leave one body, and its bewildered previous inhabitant – who has no idea where they’ve been or what has been happening to their body – behind, and take control of the next. Fascinating premise. Throughout the novel, stories of the main character’s history were sprinkled here and there almost as if they were being sneaked in. I wondered if the author had stories to tell, while the editor was saying, “More action! More drama!” Well, I wanted the stories. I would really like the author to take another run at this premise, but without the need to make it a shoot ‘em up Hollywood blockbuster-in-waiting. If you haven’t read Claire North before, I would suggest starting with The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August because it is wonderful.
The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher. Oh Carrie… Sigh. Well, this was a melancholy read but only because of the context. I very much enjoyed reading this slice of life from the 19 year old Carrie’s diaries as reflected on by the much-older but never world-weary Carrie 5 nearly decades later. She was a vibrant, wise-ish, wiseass voice, and I don’t think it was her intention – or maybe it was – but I think Harrison Ford was a bit of a tool. So there. #teamcarrie #generalorgana
Poisoned Pages by Lorna Barrett. It’s a cozy about a mystery bookstore owner in a book-themed themed small town who finds herself in the middle of murders that she then takes it upon herself to solve. There’s a cat, a police officer ex-boyfriend, a sister with secrets, and some recipes. A couple of side characters break the mould of usual suspects a bit: ex-hooker/ex-con who works in the book shop and a porn shop owner who starts dating the main character. Huh, right? Did anticipate that. If you like to kick back and just purely relax with a book now and again, this one will fit the bill nicely.
On the pod:
Missing & Murdered: Finding Cleo Season 2 of the CBC Missing & Murdered podcast series focuses on the story of one Cree family's search for their missing sister, Cleo. All six siblings were taken from their home, separated, and adopted out to white families: Cleo to a family in the US. Back in the 1970s, this breaking up of indigenous families was common. It's now called the Sixties Scoop, but most Canadians know very little it nor about the residential school nightmares that traumatized the preceding generations of First Nations peoples. Unlike many, many "cold cases" Cleo's family actually do get the answers they seek in this podcast. They find Cleo. The detective work is quite remarkable. Along the way, we learn about each of the siblings as well.
I've been trying to decrease my ignorance about this incredibly ugly seam of Canadian reality. (My family's history in Canada goes back to the 1680s, which I used to be purely proud of. Now my feelings are a little more fraught, but hey, it's really not about me.) Stories like Cleo's and others really foreground what I am learning about as current human rights issues - not history. Season 1 of Missing & Murdered focuses on Alberta Williams, a First Nations woman whose murder has not yet been solved, and episodes discuss the residential school history of various family members when relevant. Really fantastic podcast with, not surprisingly, sky-high production values.