Stella Leventoyannis Harvey

2016 Summer Book Recommendations – Part 1

“We shouldn’t teach great books: we should teach a love of reading.” B.F. Skinner

Each year at this time I provide you with some of my book recommendations. As I write this, the sun is warming my back as I sit at my desk. Fluffy white clouds roll over the mountains. Summer has arrived. There’s no better time to discover a good book.

Here are my fiction recommendations:

Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis. The 2015 Scotia Giller Prize winning novel about dogs who are given human intelligence by the Gods, Hermes and Apollo. A wonderful study of character, it is painful in many ways and cynical, but well written and thought provoking.

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg. On the night before her daughter’s wedding, June Reid loses her daughter, her daughter’s fiancé, her ex-husband, and boyfriend in a tragic house fire. Grief stricken, June drives across the country to Washington and the facts around the fire unfold. Beautifully told from different points of view. I enjoyed how the story skirts between the present and the past.

The Blackhouse by Peter May. Part of the Lewis mystery trilogy the novel centers around a murder on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland, a desolate place where Detective Fin MacLeod was raised and now must return to solve a murder. Focuses as much on strong character development as it does on plot.

The Lesser Blessed by Richard Van Camp. Follows the exploits of Larry Sole, a First Nations teen in a northern community. A fire that killed his father impacts his memory and his relationships. This is the 20th anniversary release of the novel. It is raw portrayal of life in remote northern communities.

The Night Stages by Jane Urquhart. Three characters, three stories that only come together as their lives intersect. At it’s core is a mural that one character contemplates as she sits in the Gander airport wondering where she goes from here. I loved the unfolding of Tam, Niall, Kieran, and Kenneth’s stories. I loved Gerry-Ann, her unconditional love for Kieran and his damaged family. I loved the landscape the beautiful, beautiful descriptions, and the compassionate hand by which the author unfolds the complicated love and competitiveness of siblings.

The Heaviness of Things That Float by Jennifer Manuel. Just days from retirement as a nurse on a northern reserve, Bernadette is thrown into a desperate search for Chase Charlie, a man she has always treated as a son. The novel explores the issue of whether outsiders can ever be fully accepted in First Nations communities. Beautiful descriptions of place. I loved the insight into the foibles of being human.

The Little Red Chairs by Edna O’Brien. A self-help healer comes into a small Irish village and woos the town especially, childless, unhappy Fidelma. When the healer is discovered to be a wanted war criminal, the village turns on Fidelma. Through Fidelma and Dr. Vlad and all the other characters in this novel, we are able to see inside the world of those who persecute and those who flee persecution.

Chronicler of the Winds by Henning Mankell. A baker in a port city in Africa finds a street kid who has been shot. Neilo asks the baker to take him to the roof of a building. He doesn’t want to go to a hospital. On the roof, he tells the story of his life. There are street kids and child soldiers all over the world. This is the story of just one. In telling it, the author opens our eyes and hearts to the plight of all others.

Going Down Swinging by Billie Livingston. The novel is told from the perspective of an alcoholic mother, Eileen and her eight-year-old daughter, Grace who strive to stay together. The book has a number of official looking social service forms and reports throughout. It’s an interesting juxtaposition. In the characters we see and feel the love they share. They don’t want to be separated. And yet, a social worker’s job is to protect. The question remains, what further harm is done when a child is taken away from her mother?

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. I’ve already written a full review of this novel in a former blog, but it has to make this list in case you missed the review. The question at the heart of the novel: is it possible to outrun childhood trauma? Can a person achieve more than he had ever hoped to and still believe the lies he was told about himself and the abuse he withstood as a child? The answer is complicated. I would highly recommend this novel, but given the subject matter and its 800 plus pages, it is not for the faint of heart. Be forewarned.

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