Top Five: Best of My Fall Reading 2020
Next Monday is the winter solstice . . . the First Day of Winter, the longest night of the year. As we - officially - make that jump to winter, it's time for me to wrap up my fall reading with a Top Five list. My bookshelf was filled with solid, enjoyable books this fall, along with a few clunkers. I read a couple of mysteries, some fantasy, several books that are appearing on "best of 2020" lists, and more memoirs than usual. Mostly, I read actual book-books (from the library) this fall -- and listened to fewer audiobooks than usual (I've been craving silence). I read a lot of poetry. It's been a season of good reading!
Looking back over the last 3 months of reading, I've put together my Top Five: Best of My Fall Reading 2020 list:
First up is Piranesi by Susanna Clarke -- easily the best book of the season for me. I am very particular about fantasy novels. When they’re good, I really love them. And when they’re not-so-good, I find them incredibly tedious. In fact, I tend to stay away from the genre altogether, I’ve been burned so often. (Looking at you, Starless Sea. ) Anyway. Piranesi is not only good . . . it’s astonishingly good! Susannah Clarke is brilliant. She’s created a mystical world full of statues and hallways and staircases and water . . . and then she dropped in an endearing main character to solve a compelling mystery. The storytelling is excellent in this tightly-paced, perfect fantasy novel. Compelling and oh-so-satisfying.
Next . . . The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue. Although I had been really looking foward to this new one by Emma Donoghue, I put it off for a while . . . because reading a book about a pandemic DURING a pandemic? At first, I just couldn't. But then figured . . . Oh, hell. Why not! Emma Donoghue is a master at developing characters and placing them in historically accurate settings (and small rooms). . . so of course this one works just brilliantly. I actually think there was a benefit to reading it in the midst of the current pandemic . . . plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose and all. I was completely captivated by the exquisite detail of this book -- feeling as if I were right there in the room with Julia, Bridie, and Dr. Lynn (who happens to be an historical figure, by the way, making it even more interesting). Fascinating and compelling, I made quick work of this well-researched book.
Then . . . Monogamy by Sue Miller. This one is really right in my "reading sweet spot": I just love slow burn novels where the characters reveal themselves slowly, gradually . . . until suddenly they feel absolutely real. Sue Miller’s Monogamy is about so much more than . . . monogamy (although there is that). It’s about marriage, of course, and family; what it means to be committed to one another. But it’s also about grief and discovery and the general messiness of life. Beautifully written, and entirely satisfying.
And . . . The Searcher by Tana French. Again, this one is right in my "reading sweet spot": another slow-burn of a read with a deliberate, unhurried pace. As usual with a Tana French novel, the characters are excellently drawn and fully developed -- but in this one, the setting itself may actually be the most important “character” in the book. Moody and a little bit gritty, French explores the challenges of preserving small, rural Irish towns in our rapidly-changing world. With atmospheric writing, memorable characters, a bit of mystery, and maybe the most delightful pub scene ever written . . . I found The Searcher to be a delight. (I listened to the audio version narrated by Roger Clark. His excellent narration really made the novel come to life.)
Last but certainly not least . . . The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune. My daughter recommended this one to me back in September. She told me it would bring me hope -- and she was right! It's charming and delightful, through and through -- and just what I needed to be reading These Days: a happy story filled with hope. Tenderly written, it's got quirky characters, a whimsical setting, and just enough adventure . . . all shot through with gentle life-lessons about friendship, family, empathy, acceptance, and hope. I want to bottle the feelings in the book and carry them with me every day!
How about you?
What books made it to your Top Five list of fall reading?
If you want to see what I'm reading now, or check out my recent reviews on Goodreads, just check out the sidebar here on my blog. You can find me here on Goodreads. And you can read my past Top Five lists by clicking the links below:
Top Five: Best of My Summer Reading 2020
Top Five: Best of My Spring Reading 2020
Top Five: Best of My Winter Reading 2020
Top Five: Best of My Fall Reading 2019
Top Five: Best of My Summer Reading 2019
Looks like it was a very good Fall reading time for you Kym. I always enjoy your reviews. I'm on hold for "The Pull of the Stars" (and have been for months). I've just been enjoying some easy-to-read mysteries that are holding my attention. But, Hamnet just came through on Overdrive, so I've got that to look forward to.
Posted by: Vera | 12/16/2020 at 08:56 AM
Just when I get my holds list under control, you got and recommend a bunch of good books! I am always glad to hear good reviews, though, and as I haven't read any of these yet but have heard of all of them, I'm especially happy to hear you enjoyed them.
I'd have to look back and see what else would make the list, but undoubtedly Hamnet was my favorite read this fall. I enjoyed it so much that I ordered a hardback copy from Blackwells!
Posted by: Sarah | 12/16/2020 at 09:31 AM
I've dithered about reading Piranesi, but you've convinced me! The Pull of the Stars was average for me, but I did appreciate the historical details, and while I only gave Monogamy three stars, I do agree that Annie felt real by the end. I think my favorite books of this fall were Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey and The Queen's Gambit. (I've read it twice!)
Posted by: Bonny | 12/16/2020 at 10:07 AM
I concur on the 3 I have read: Monogamy, Cerulean Sea, and Pull of the Stars. I'm not a big fan of fantasy (although I loved Starless Sea and do not know what your problem is LOL) so I'm not sure about Piranesi but I did put it on hold along with The Searcher.
Posted by: Carole | 12/16/2020 at 11:17 AM
Sadly, I didn't read much this fall and the few books I did weren't very satisfying.
I finished The Dutch House, which I read because it takes place where I grew up.
Two James Herriott books --- over and over and over with his hand up a cow's backside. This is a series that does not stand the test of time.
And that's about it ................I just bought The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop by Fannie Flagg and I think Monogamy has to go on my to-be-read list.
Posted by: Dee | 12/16/2020 at 11:32 AM
I have read two of these (Monogamy, The Searcher) and agree with you. Have Piranesi and Cerulean Sea in the queue, and will get the Emma D. book on your recommendation. Thanks!
Posted by: kim in oregon | 12/16/2020 at 11:43 AM
This fall three of my favorites were non-fiction! Here are my five favs: Hamnet, Dorothy Day: Dissenting Voice of the American Century, Memorial Drive, Love Is The Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times, and, The House In the Cerulean Sea .
Posted by: Debbie | 12/16/2020 at 02:22 PM
Hamnet will sit as my #1 of the fall for certain. I just downloaded The House in the Cerulean Sea today and am hoping it keeps me company during the snow storm tomorrow. I also enjoyed William Kent Krueger's This Tender Land. Thanks for the reviews Kym - I've got a couple of those on hold at the moment! Doug reads Tana French...I've got to give her a try too!
Posted by: Patty | 12/16/2020 at 03:19 PM
Like your picks.
My fall read was the comic book of cats and Needed the laughs
Posted by: kathy b | 12/17/2020 at 12:17 AM
I'm glad to see The Searcher listed as a favorite. I'm working on it right now and finding it a bit of a bore at the beginning. With this recommendation, I'll keep going on it. Thanks.
Posted by: Tammy | 12/17/2020 at 07:30 AM
I've only read two on your list: Piranesi and The Searcher. Piranesi was brilliant. I will be rereading it in the future as it was complex (without being difficult), interesting and endearing. I loved the characters! The Searcher had the same themes as all of French's novels. Ireland and her tough times always grabs me by the heart and this book was no exception. I need to pick up a couple more from your list!
Posted by: Margene | 12/17/2020 at 10:31 AM
I'm reading The House in the Cerulean Sea right now, with all the rest, except for Piranesi, in my queue at the library. They've changed how they manage e-book holds, and I love it- books become available, and you can just put them off for a week or two, but stay at the top of the list. It's genius.
I just finished a book I think you'd love. Valentine, by Elizabeth Wetmore. It's mostly about the aftermath of a sexual assault, set around Odessa, TX in 1976. The book tells the story of different women involved. It's gritty, and upsetting, but also hopeful. One of the best books I've read in a while. Very good and a great pleasure.
Off to add Piranesi to my list!
Posted by: Pam | 12/18/2020 at 10:42 AM
Love these lists, Kym - thank you! I'm seeing Piranisi start to show up more and more on my social media. Your short description makes me think I'll love it, too!
Posted by: Mary | 12/21/2020 at 05:27 PM