Holiday Recommendations: Day Five

The last of our Holiday Recommendations is here: three books we loved from 2018 which will make wonderful last-minute gift options for your nearest and dearest. Happy Holidays from us to you, and to the lucky person who receives a book from you this season!

Margot’s Pick: Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (Grove/Atlantic, 9780802128256)

Perfect for: readers interested in Japanese culture

The English-language debut of one of Japan’s most talented contemporary writers, selling over 650,000 copies there, Convenience Store Woman is the story of thirty-six-year-old Tokyo resident Keiko Furukura. Keiko has never fit in, neither with her family nor at school, but when at the age of eighteen she begins working at the Hiromachi branch of Smile Mart, she finds peace and purpose in her life. In the store, unlike anywhere else, she understands the rules of social interaction – many are laid out line by line in the store’s manual – and she does her best to copy the dress, mannerisms, and speech of her colleagues, playing the part of a “normal” person excellently, more or less. Managers come and go, but Keiko stays at the store for eighteen years. It’s almost hard to tell where the store ends and she begins. Keiko is very happy, but the people close to her, from her family to her coworkers, increasingly pressure her to find a husband and start a proper career, prompting her to take desperate action… 

Convenience Store Woman gives a voice to an unusual character in Japanese society that doesn’t often get to be heard. It brilliantly depicts an unusual psyche and a world hidden from view in an ironic and sharp-eyed look at contemporary work culture and the pressures to conform.

Bronte’s Pick: A Winter’s Promise by Christelle Dabos (Europa Editions, 9781609454838)

Perfect for: lovers of YA fantasy

Lose yourself in the fantastic world of the arks and in the company of unforgettable characters in this French runaway hit, Christelle Dabos’ The Mirror Visitor quartet. Plain-spoken, headstrong Ophelia cares little about appearances. Her ability to read the past of objects is unmatched in all of Anima and, what’s more, she possesses the ability to travel through mirrors, a skill passed down to her from previous generations. Her idyllic life is disrupted, however, when she is promised in marriage to Thorn, a taciturn and influential member of a distant clan. Ophelia must leave all she knows behind and follow her fiancé to Citaceleste, the capital of a cold, icy ark known as the Pole, where danger lurks around every corner and nobody can be trusted. There, in the presence of her inscrutable future husband, Ophelia slowly realizes that she is a pawn in a political game that will have far-reaching ramifications not only for her but for her entire world.

With political intrigue, Game of Thrones-level familial rivalries, exciting forms of magic,  and a Darcy-esque love interest, A Winter’s Promise is the introduction to a rich new universe. With the next instalment in the series on the horizon, now is a great time to jump in!

Michael’s pick: The Shepherd’s Hut by Tim Winton (Pan Macmillan, 9781509863853)

Perfect for: fans of Australian fiction

The novel opens on a bleak family setting, Jaxie’s mother has died of cancer and his abusive father is a drunken terror. Jaxie dreams of escaping this living hell with his fifteen year old cousin, Lee. Tim Winton is a master storyteller, whose novels have won numerous awards and twice been finalists for the Booker. Winton is resolutely blue-collar, like the characters depicted in his novels, donating prize money earned from his writing to environmental causes.

Set is the barren regions of West Australia, Jaxie’s life is upended when fortune strikes. His father dies when the truck he is working on drops from its jack and crushes him. Jaxie discovers the body and panics, thinking he will be blamed for his father’s death. The neighbours and local police have turned a blind eye to the beatings and abuse Jaxie has endured, and it’s no secret that Jaxie wished his old man dead. With a stolen car, rifle, ammunition, and a few provisions from home, Jaxie sets off across the badlands of West Australia. The setup is exhilarating, and compelling, as the reader is taken on a ride through the rugged wilds and salt flats of Australia’s outback. Food, water, and keeping hidden are Jaxie’s goals, and when he encounters the old man Finton MacGillis, their secrets and quests for survival link them as unlikely conspirators. The old man is a disgraced priest whose banishment to this wasteland is really a prison term imposed by the church. The truth eludes both Finton and Jaxie, until their hideout is discovered by drug dealers, and Jaxie must run again.

The Shepherd’s Hut is written in an Australian vernacular that is easily interpreted, and helps the reader visualize the barren landscape and harsh surroundings of life in the wilds of Australia. Jaxie endures these challenges and lives to dream of reuniting with his cousin Lee, far from the abuse and trauma of his recent and distant past.

 

Happy Holidays from Michael, Margot, and Bronte!

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