Banter / Read With Us

FROM THE EDITOR

A big thank you to those who tuned into my April 28  interview with Kate Quinn, the San Diego-based author of our second book club read, The Rose Code. She was bright and engaging and erudite, and didn’t break out in a sweat or keel over despite having just received her second dose of the Moderna vaccine earlier that day. We had a fun “live” moment when her dogs broke out into a chorus of barks and she had to hit the mute button, but she carried on with aplomb and we had a great discussion about all things Rose Code, including how she loves England’s Lake District so much she had to send Mab and Francis there on their honeymoon.  If you missed the interview, you can watch it right here.

 

 

Quinn was an absolute delight, flipping her camera around to show us the writing nook in her office and revealing who she would cast in the TV series now that The Rose Code has been optioned by the same company that made The Imitation Game, a film based on the biography of British mathematician and Enigma code cracker Alan Turing. She initially favoured Irish actor Saorise Ronan as Beth, but after watching The Queen’s Gambit, thinks Anya Taylor-Joy would be the perfect choice. For Mab, she likes Cara Delevigne, in part because of her “fierce eyebrows,” and English actor Holliday Grainger as debutante Osla Kendall.

She explained how she wrote the pre-Royal Wedding sections of the book first (set in 1947), then the war-time story of Bletchley Park (1940-1944), and pieced it all together.

And the big reveal: Quinn not only told us her next book, to be published in 2022, is another historical novel set in the Second World War, but divulged its title – The Diamond Eye – and the main character: Lyudmila Pavlichenko, a female sniper with Russia’s Red Army who was such a sharpshooter that the Germans nicknamed her “Lady Death.”

If you missed my April 22 book club meeting with Mona, Colleen and Beth, you can watch it here:

 

 

Please  check out our runners-up below, all amazing novels in their own right, set everywhere from Venice to the Hailsa community of Kitimaat Village in northern B.C. There are a few alternate dimensions, too.

Now I turn my attention to picking five more books for you to vote on for our third Zed book club pick, with titles revealed in May and our book club discussion and author event in June. Watch this page for updates.

Happy reading!

– Kim Honey

MARK YOUR CALENDAR

MAR
26
>VOTING CLOSES
APR
2
>ANNOUNCEMENT OF BOOK
APR
9
>VIRTUAL AUTHOR EVENT ANNOUNCED
APR
22
>BOOK CLUB DISCUSSION
APR
28
>AUTHOR EVENT WITH KATE QUINN AT 7 P.M. EST

RUNNERS-UP WORTH READING

1Return of the Trickster Eden Robinson

This is the final book in a trilogy by Eden Robinson that began in 2017 with Son of a Trickster, which was short-listed for the Giller Prize, and was followed by Trickster Drift in 2018.

The author helpfully recaps the previous books at the beginning of the third, which opens with teen protagonist Jared Martin waking up, naked and confused, in the basement of his mom’s house. Everyone assumes the previously sober drinker and pot smoker he has fallen off the wagon, but Jared – who has finally realized he is the only one of his father’s 535 children to inherit his special powers – has just come back from mortal combat in another dimension. Now he’s started an all-out war, despite the fact he is the opposite of his father, Wee’git: A kind-hearted, empathetic trickster who, try as he might, can’t mend his dysfunctional family.

The books sparked a short-lived CBC TV series called Trickster, and Son of a Trickster was part of CBC’s 2020 Canada Reads competition, where Canadian actress Kaniehtiio Horn, who said its depiction of Indigenous life was accessible to all readers, championed it.

Robinson, a member of the Heiltsuk and Haisla nations from Kitimaat Village, B.C., draws on Indigenous culture and experience to inform her work, and has explained that Wee’git, the Haisla trickster, is used by adults to teach children protocol. But this transforming troublemaker “teaches people this protocol by breaking all the rules. He is the bad example, the example of what not to do,” she told CBC.

A darkly imaginative work, the book will open discussion on the natural and supernatural worlds, Indigenous culture and mythology, and the stark reality of Haisla life in Kitimaat, warts and all.

2A Town Called Solace Mary Lawson

It’s been almost a decade since Lawson’s breakout debut Crow Lake was published. Her latest book returns to small-town Northern Ontario, this time in 1972, where eight-year-old Clara anxiously awaits the return of her runaway teenage sister from her vantage point at the living-room window. When her elderly neighbour, Mrs. Orchard, goes to hospital for what Clara has been told is a short stay, the girl is tasked with looking after the cat, Moses.

As Clara tries to solve the mystery of her sister’s disappearance, she is dismayed to observe a stranger, Liam, move into Mrs. Orchard’s home. The Toronto resident is unmoored by divorce and unemployment, but as Liam acclimatizes to the town and starts working with a local contractor, the reason why Mrs. Orchard gave him her house and what Liam means to her unfold in a mystery within a mystery.

This is classic Lawson territory, where the town itself is a character and the Canadian Shield is its bedrock. But human foibles are at its heart, and this novel ruminates on family, whether we’re born into one or choose one ourselves, and plumbs the depths of remorse and grief.

3Forgone Russell Banks

A dying filmmaker agrees to a final interview with a CBC crew led by his former protégé, Malcolm, who expects to delve deep into his documentaries on the Vietnam War and cement his own career as “the Ken Burns of the North.” But the former American draft dodger has other plans, namely to reveal “my corruption, my mendacity, my hypocrisy.”

Cancer has riddled Leonard Fyfe’s body and painkillers have addled his mind, so the past melds with the present as Fyfe reveals his own heart of darkness and his distressed wife and the film crew are helpless witnesses. Now in his late seventies, Fyfe has been hiding from himself and the world in his palatial Montreal apartment overlooking Sherbrooke Street in tony Westmount.

He may have exposed duplicity and deceit in his films about the testing of the Agent Orange defoliant on troops and sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, but as his story of betrayal and abandonment flows, neither the reader nor the storyteller can tell what is true and what is a conflation of real and possibly imagined events. Fyfe wants to stop lying, but he is delirious; his past stories still have a veracity that belies the truth. Ultimately, Banks, who is 80 himself, addresses the need for vindication and forgiveness.

4Our Darkest Night Jennifer Robson

The Gown author Jennifer Robson takes us to Venice in 1942 and on to a farm in the Italian countryside where residents of a tiny village are hiding Jews in their homes.

The book is based on a true story: Her husband’s family comes from a village where a Catholic priest relied on parishioners to conceal more than 50 Jewish people in danger of being deported to Nazi work and death camps.

In Our Darkest Night, the same story unfolds from the point of view of Antonina Mazin, the daughter of a Venetian doctor who, after German troops occupy Italy, arranges for his daughter to travel to his friend Father Bernardi’s village with a young man named Nico Gerardi. She is to pretend to be his wife, that way she can hide in plain sight. When she leaves the only home she has ever known, she loses her name – she changes it to a more Gentile-sounding Nina Marzoli  – and her identity.

Work on the family farm is arduous, Nico’s sister Rosa is far from welcoming and Nico leaves for long stretches to help Father Bernardi rescue more people from the Holocaust.

Not only does Nina have to sleep in the same bed as Nico, she must attend Mass and, when a local Nazi official questions her, pretend she was raised in an orphanage. That Nazi officer comes back to haunt both Nina and Nico, and the dramatic events that unfold include murder, a riot and heartbreak, but ultimately the war ends and love triumphs. As Robson said in an interview, the novel reveals “the points of light in the darkness.”