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Something Amazing

Top Five: Best of My Winter Reading 2021

As the seasons change (if I say that often enough, it's bound to happen) (isn't it?), one of the things I like to do . . .  is wrap up my previous season's reading with a Top Five list. Looking back over the last 3 months of reading, here's my Top Five: Best of My Winter Reading 2021 list:


First up, I've got A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes. I'd been waiting a long, long time to get my hands on this book (it wasn't released in the US until late January). It was actually on the Women's Prize long list from last year (up against Hamnet) . . . and totally worth the wait. A Thousand Ships is a brilliant retelling of Homer’s The Iliad from the perspective of women - both Trojan and Greek - with a huge cast of characters (goddesses, wives, daughters, muses, Amazons, and priestesses). The writing is clever and playful, yet pulls no punches in describing the true costs of war. The story is not told in linear fashion, but rather in a highly effective series of “mini-stories” with “thematic narrative interludes” sprinkled throughout. Vivid characterization brings these women to life, and I felt connected to each of them, even though several make only brief appearances. (I found the letters from Penelope to be especially delightful. I laughed right out loud!) This is actually a great book to listen to as it is narrated by the author, a famed broadcaster and comedian. Her narration is wonderful.


Next, I've got the fabulous Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi. (This one is on the just-released Women's Prize long list for 2021, by the way.) This is one of the most powerful books I’ve read in quite a while. This novel explores the tension between science and religion, the power of familial love and loyalty, addiction, depression, shame, determination, reflection, and achievement -- all set against the backdrop of racism. The writing is exquisite, and the unfolding narrative just builds and builds through the entire novel. Not one word is wasted or out of place. Transcendent, indeed! And absolutely worth the praise and hype it's received.


Then there's Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar. Okay. I'm going to admit it. This book sounded too heavy to me, and I almost didn't read it. I really did go back and forth about it. . . read . . . don't read . . . read . . . don't read. In the end, I decided to give it a try. And I'm so glad I did -- because this book is simply brilliant. The writing is amazing. The story is poignant, raw, and absolutely compelling. (It is kinda heavy. Just sayin.) It’s fiction . . . but it's so heavily based on the author's autobiographical details that it reads like a memoir. It’s fiction . . . but it's organized like a collection of essays based on the most pressing social issues of our times. It’s fiction . . . but it includes non-fiction topics like finance, the economy, politics, and immigration. It’s fiction . . .  but with a strong historical perspective. It totally defies categorization! All these genres in one book? Sounds like it could never work. But it does. Seamlessly.


Next up . . .  The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi. This one . . . is an achingly beautiful, poignant story of identity, boundaries, grief, and love. The very title of the book is a give-away -- you know where you’re headed before you even open the book. But - oh! - the journey is a surprise, brilliantly executed through a series of “snapshot flashbacks” and the voices of Vivek’s family and friends -- and even Vivek himself. I especially enjoyed the back-and-forth structure of the book. It's powerful and heartbreaking. (This book just makes me . . . sigh . . . every time I think of it again.)


And finally, there's The Cold Millions by Jess Walter. This one is historical fiction -- but good historical fiction! It's a compelling and entertaining look at the free speech demonstrations of 1909 Spokane - events I was only peripherally aware of prior to this reading. Walter gives us a fabulous cast, adeptly mixing fictional and “real” characters (think E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime), while creating that perfect “outpost” feel of a gritty American Northwest in the early 20th-century. The writing is smooth and bright; Walters is just a master at weaving bits of humor through an otherwise tragic slice of history. Bottom line? This is beautifully written historical fiction; a delightful coming-of-age story about loyalty, integrity, honor, social justice, and brotherly love.


How about you?
What books would make it to your Top Five list of winter 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 Fall Reading 2020

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




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Cold MIllions is showing up on a lot of lists. I was just chatting about the Women’s Prize lists with some other readers yesterday and have been stalking my library for a few titles. I have been on a bit of a fiction hiatus lately but I am looking for a good book that will take me away. I always appreciate your lists.

Caffeine Girl

That's some serious reading!
I have not been enjoying fiction recently, so I'm back to history. I'm about 75% of the way through Fantasyland by Kurt Anderson, a history of America that explains that the roots of Trumpism precede the founding of the United States. Fascinating and well-written.


I've read Homeland Elegies and Transcendent Kingdom and added Cold Millions and The Death of Vivek Oji to my TBR list. I'm thinking A Thousand Ships might not be for me. Thanks for the great reviews!


My favorite reads from this winter include: The Warmth of Other Suns, Underland:A Deep Time Journey, Angel of Repose, Fresh Water For Flowers, & The Cold Millions.
I love having too many books to read!


What a great list, Kym - and I have read NONE of them (yet!) I am so intrigued by the Women's Prize Long List (I've read only one of the books) and will for sure make it a point to read the short list once it's announced. I've had an excellent season of reading, too ... not even sure I could narrow it down to five favorites! On the new-to-me list, Sula, Dust Tracks on a Road, Hamnet, and Apeirogon stand out. and I've re-read Their Eyes Were Watching God and Pride & Prejudice ... which I'm delighted were even better this time around.


Kym, as always your reviews are so enjoyable to read. Thank you. It certainly looks (to me) like a heavy list! After a period of time when I just could not get into ANY books, I am thankful to finally be reading again, but find that I am reading what I would term "easy" books. Some are fiction, some are memoirs, some are non-fiction, but none are too heavy. HOWEVER, I'm keeping a list of books that sound so good to me...for later...another time... My two favorite recent books are "Perestroika in Paris" and "The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse." Both include "talking" animals, so I'm sure that says something! LOL


I have read the first two and want to read at least one of the other three soon. I thought A Thousand Ships was phenomenal, probably my favorite book so far this year (I ordered my copy from Blackwell's because I was too impatient to wait for it to come out in the US). I have since lent my copy to my daughter's English and history teacher because they're learning about ancient Greece and reading Greek mythology at the moment, and I thought she'd really like it. When I get it back, it's going to make the rounds in my family. And Penelope's letters were probably my favorite part!

Right now, I'm trying to finish up The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, and it is also excellent.


Just when my reading list seems short, you provide a nice booster shot of things to add to it! I have been wanting to read Transcendent Kingdom, but never got on the wait list at my library. I solved that just now! Thank you as always for your amazing recommendations!


Your Top Five would be close to my top five, but instead of Cold Million I would put Office of Historical Correction or Aftershocks. I love reading your reviews. You put into words the beauty and the impact of the book. I read A Thousand Ships last year because I couldn't wait for its January release date. I would love to listen to it. Thanks for the recommendation.


I would place The Vanishing Half and Wintering in my best winter reading. I do want to read A Thousand Ships. I enjoy audiobooks so maybe I will request the audio version. I might have to brush up on The Illiad. It's been awhile - all right, a long while since I read that in English class.

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