M. R. Carey, The Girl with All the Gifts (Orbit, 2015)
The unofficial queen of our book group is a tiny Californian with a loud voice and a taste for musicals. Her friend is a quiet wine connoisseur who appreciates thoughtful novels. Neither of them likes science fiction, much less dystopian fiction. Neither one of them would ever binge-watch Orphan Black. However, they’re with me on this novel.
That’s because The Girl with All the Gifts is inspired. It lays aside the tired old tropes of mutants versus humans, letting the reader gradually gain insight into the situation. Carey deftly handles different characters, letting us experience the world through their eyes. I was pleased the ending was not a set up for a series. It surprised me, and yet, it seemed inevitable in retrospect. Was the right choice made? Read it and give some thought to that yourself.—GM
Marie Macpherson, The Second Blast of the Trumpet (Knox Robinson, 2016)
John Knox, just released from enslavement on a French galley, is frothing at the mouth to return to Scotland, where he plans to argue for the Reformed Faith despite opposition from the authorities. Sir David Lindsay, a friend of Knox’s guardian and a closer relation than Knox knows, intercepts him en route and hauls him off to London on a grand scheme of his own.
And we’re off on a journey into English, Scottish, and Swiss politics, romance and family discord. Knox, so often dismissed as a man who banned Christmas celebrations, here emerges as the prickly but fully human and complex center of a rich and fascinating cast of characters.—CPL
Liza Perrat, The Silent Kookaburra (Triskele Books, 2016)
It’s the summer of 1973, and eleven-year-old Tanya understands that all is not well with her family. Her baby sister cries nonstop, her mother has sunk into depression following yet another miscarriage, and her father spends far too much time at the pub. Taking refuge in food makes her the target of her school’s mean girls, yet she does her best to hold it together. But when a mysterious uncle barges into her life, the fabric concealing the family’s secrets gradually unravels, and Tanya finds herself in the midst of a crisis that soon leads to murder.
It’s a delight to watch an author grow into her talent. I admire Perrat’s historical fiction, especially Blood Rose Angel (a previous BWL pick), but here she really comes into her own. In moving closer to the present and to her own Australian background, she produces a riveting tale of human frailty and deceit that kept me enthralled even as I dreaded what might happen next.—CPL
Anna Reid, The Shaman’s Coat: A Native History of Siberia (Walker, 2003)
British journalist and Russian historian Anna Reid traveled across Siberia after the Soviet Union’s breakup to report on Russia’s indigenous peoples, about whom little was widely known or understood beyond their shamanistic traditions. Through riveting anecdotes touching on 400 years of Russian encroachment, she describes individuals in ten distinct groups living between the Urals and the Pacific Ocean with empathy and humor. Of particular interest are the people of Sakhalin Island, once a battlefield between Russia and Japan but today host to American oilmen working offshore under the aegis of Exxon-Mobil. Parallels are hauntingly evident with the treatment of indigenous people of other continents. I recommend The Shaman’s Coat not just because it is timely in the light of America’s and Russia’s changing relationship, but because Reid has produced a masterful, sensitive travelogue.—AA