Alice Munro continues to demonstrate her mastery of the short-story form in Dear Life: Stories, another collection of probing, compassionate, beautifully crafted narratives. Many of the book’s 14 pieces take place in rural Ontario, where the author grew up. All of them exhibit the quiet power and luminous prose that are Munro’s trademarks. In the World War II-era “Train,” a soldier jumps from the train that’s carrying him home, an act that sends his life in an unexpected direction. “Amundsen” features a cold-hearted doctor who romances a young teacher and then rejects her—a textbook case of seduction and abandonment that leaves a permanent mark on the woman. The book includes four closely linked pieces that are somewhat autobiographical, giving readers a fascinating glimpse into the author’s past. Munro, who recently turned 82, is still at the top of her game. As this deeply satisfying collection shows, she’s an expert when it comes to laying bare human motives and emotions.

J.K. Rowling scores again with The Casual Vacancy, her first book aimed at adult readers. Set in a fictional parish called Pagford, the novel examines the manners and morals of the town’s inhabitants. The death of kind-hearted Barry Fairbrother results in an open seat on the parish council that becomes a source of conflict in the community. Council leader Howard Mollison hopes to redistrict the Fields, Pagford’s low-income, drug-infested sector—an idea Fairbrother opposed prior to his demise. An election for the empty seat is soon slated, with Mollison’s lawyer son, Miles, vying for the position. After controversial postings attributed to Fairbrother’s ghost appear on the council’s website, tensions rise. This compelling book features a broad cast of characters—heroin users, prostitutes, well-to-do parents—and touches upon a number of social issues, including poverty and class conflict. While Rowling has proven time and again that she’s queen of the fantasy genre, she demonstrates here that she’s also a skillful practitioner of modern literary fiction.

Me Before You is a heartbreaking novel that readers won’t soon forget. Raised in a tiny English town, Louisa Clark doesn’t have big plans for the future—until she meets a quadriplegic named Will Traynor. Will, a former playboy, athlete and adrenaline junky, was hit by a motorbike and now spends his days in a wheelchair. Louisa is hired by his mother to look after him and lift his flagging spirits. Despite her patient’s abrasive, slightly mocking nature, Louisa is drawn to Will. The two develop an affection for one another, but their prospects for happiness are darkened by a plan Will is harboring for the future. Louisa’s attempts to rekindle his passion for daily experience cause her to re-evaluate her own life, and she finds herself growing in ways she never thought possible. Jojo Moyes, a skillful novelist, eschews sentimentality in this poignant tale. She writes about the couple’s relationship in a style that’s clear and unembellished. This is a singular love story that will resonate with readers and provide excellent material for book group discussions.

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