Songs for the End of the World by Saleema Nawaz

It’s pretty incredible how prophetic Nawaz ends up being in this novel about a coronavirus that ravages the world. After years of research, the novel was released right at the time the COVID-19 pandemic was declared. But careful research and fantastic timing aside, this novel falls short. I don’t understand the accolades. Nawaz only gives a cursory pass at the characters’ struggles and motivations. Some of them are absolutely ridiculous, like Owen who decides to escape to a sailboat with a woman he barely knows and her child, despite the fact he dislikes children. And the ties between the characters are too neat and predictable.

Gwenamon says: Avoid it given there are only a few decent passages

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Coates tells Hiram Walker’s tale. He was born a slave, with no memory of his mom. His dad is the plantation owner. Hiram’s unique power surfaces when he almost drowns in a nearby river. Although I enjoyed the magic realism, I did find the book’s second half to meander.

Gwenamon says: A decent read

Another Country by James Baldwin

Baldwin writes in vivid, gritty detail about a group of liberal friends living, mainly in NYC, during the early 1970’s. I found the shift of characters at the beginning rather disappointing but forgot about that as I read on. Baldwin writes about sex, gender, power dynamics, friendship, and art. And it’s captivating.

Gwenamon says: All its accolades are justified

The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel

I found it kind of surprising (and amusing) that I was still rooting for Cromwell even though his fate is known. I agree with the critics who feel this book is plodding. Very little action happens: Henry unhappily marries Anne of Cleves, and in retaliation sends Cromwell to the Tower for having been the matchmaker. Cromwell must desperately try to make peace with the beheading that awaits him. At the same time, he also desperately hopes that King Henry will change his mind. Plodding? Yes. But I feel it makes sense to take us on the philosophical, logical, spiritual, historical quest occurring in Cromwell’s mind. I also like the attention Mantel gives to the reasons behind Henry’s ruthless behaviour and how he eventually befriends Anne.

Gwenamon: Too bad that this trilogy is now complete

To Calais, In Ordinary Time by James Meek

Although it took me a long time to get into this novel, I finally got completely hooked. A cast of unlikely characters meet on the road to Calais. The Black Death is also approaching. This novel reminded me of Shakespeare, especially with a play’s performance as part of the plot. But also because of the unique use of language, quirky characters, comedic moments, and looming tragedy.

Gwenamon says: Well worth the effort

My Parents: An Introduction and This Does Not Belong to You by Aleksandar Hemon

In My Parents, Hemon recalls the hardships of the Bosnian war that spurred his parents’ immigration to Canada, and then the incongruities of the new life which they were forced to build. This Does Not Belong to You, is a complementary catch-all of his memories and observations. The writing is compelling and strong, but I think the works would be stronger if they were combined. It felt like hiccuped writing. I had to do the work of stringing his family’s stories together.

Gwenamon says: Good, but unsatisfying

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes

British Alice Wright escapes her life by marrying American Bennett Van Cleve and moving to small-town Kentucky. Soon she realizes that she not only has to deal with her detached husband, but his meddling and overbearing father. Seeking another escape, she joins the Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky, lead by strong-willed, confident Margery. I had never heard of packhorse librarians so I loved learning about them and what they did to get books to people. Those challenges reshape Alice.

Gwenamon says: Very good and very readable

Trust Exercise by Susan Choi


Choi’s novel begins with Sarah and David’s love affair. The writing is as grand as their teenage emotions – maybe even more so because they attend a dramatic arts high school.  Then half way through the book the narrator changes from Sarah to Karen, who was only a peripheral character in the first half. Karen draws attention to Sarah’s storytelling and her facts. As Karen exposes the duality of it all, she plots to expose and redeem her truth. This experimental novel is about writing, relationships, perspective, and presence.

Gwenamon says: Well done