Top Five

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.

Pull of the stars

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.

The searcher

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.)

Cerulean sea

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






Top Five: Best of My Spring Reading 2020

Saturday is the summer solstice . . . so it's time for me to wrap up my spring reading with a Top Five books list.

I read a lot during the last 3 months! I had made a serendipitous pick-up at my library the day before it closed for the pandemic, so I had a fresh stack of 7 books to read. Plus there were audiobook downloads and ebook loans and books from my own library to keep me occupied. Truly an embarrassment of riches!

Here we go . . . with the Top Five: Best of My Spring Reading 2020 list:


I was reading this extraordinary book, Aperiogon by Colum McCann, just as the pandemic shutdowns were beginning. This book will stay with me forever! Not because of my timing (although I will probably always have a link in my brain between this book and the world falling apart all around me) but because it may be the best book I've ever read. It is a brilliant, layered portrait of friendship, grief, and moving forward under the most challenging of circumstances. It is . . . moving, powerful, poignant -- and unlike any other book I have read.  I highly, highly recommend this one (and especially the audiobook version, where it is a special treat to hear it read by the author).


I have read most of Anne Enright's books over the years, but somehow missed reading her 2007 Man Booker Prize winning entry The Gathering. It may not have been the best book to read during the early days of the pandemic, but there it was . . . in my library pile. The Gathering is a beautiful book of characters and feelings, and probably won’t appeal to those craving action. That said, it is a gorgeous and very precise look at the workings of one woman’s mind loosed by tragedy and reflection; a redemption story of family love and memory, beautifully written and tenderly told. I recommend this one especially for readers who enjoy contemporary Irish literature.


The Far Field by new author Madhuri Vijay was another book in my pandemic library pile. I really enjoyed this one -- a beautiful and compelling read about good intentions gone bad. It builds slowly . . . until, suddenly, you realize you just can’t put it down. The writing is lovely -- clean and crisp, with wonderful descriptions of the setting; the characters are well-developed and believable. I’ll look forward to more books from this new author. Highly recommended.


I debated leaving this book, Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner, off my Top Five list . . . because it is a re-read for me. But then I decided I liked it too much to leave it off! Last fall I read The Topeka School . . . which reminded me how much I love Ben Lerner’s writing. I decided then that I would re-read his Leaving the Atocha Station and 10:04 over the summer, just to immerse myself in Lerner’s words again. (I guess you could say that Ben Lerner is my literary “crush” . . .) I was a bit apprehensive about re-reading. Frequently I regret re-reading books I really loved the first time around because they just don’t stand up to the test of time for me. Not to worry, though. I enjoyed Leaving the Atocha Station as much (maybe even more) with a second read. I highly recommend this one, knowing that it won’t be to everyone’s taste. But for my friends who appreciate words and how they can be formed (more than plot) . . . well, this is a book for them!


And now I have the series of books that got me through the pandemic spring: all four installments of the Cormoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowlings). While they aren't perfect, they are certainly entertaining! I was surprised and delighted with the series -- perfect for my mood during the early pandemic, stay-at-home days. I enjoyed the developing characters of Cormoran and Robin, and found the murder storyline to be entertaining and engaging. Excellent storytelling -- and I especially enjoyed the  fabulous narration by Robert Glenister. I'm ready for a break from these books now (until a new installment comes out later this summer), but I highly recommend them for your summer reading. (Note: These are not "cozy" mysteries. If you're squeamish, there is some gruesomeness and gore. . .)


How about you?
What books would make it to your Top Five list of spring 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 other Top Five lists by clicking the links below:

Top Five: Best of My Winter Reading 2020

Top Five: Best of My Fall Reading 2019

Top Five: Best of My Summer Reading 2019


Top Five: Best of My Summer Reading

Recently, Tom and I watched High Fidelity . . . again.  It's one of our favorite movies, and we've watched it many, MANY times over the years.  (There are very few movies I can watch over and over again.  High Fidelity is one of them.  If you haven't seen it - or haven't seen it in a while - I highly recommend it.)  In the movie, the main character - Rob (played by John Cusack) - owns a record store and is working through a recent breakup with his longtime girlfriend, Laura.  Rob summarizes pretty much everything in his life with Top Five lists.

Thus . . . my inspiration for today.  
Top Five:  Best of My Summer Reading


I started my summer reading in a strong way, with Normal People by Sally Rooney.  Now I know this one won't be for everyone, but if you like spare, witty writing and well-done character studies (but . . . not a whole lot of action), this one might be for you.  I loved it, and found it to be heartbreaking and authentic.


Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips is a compelling story told in a unique style -- spreading different characters’ voices and points of view across a 12-month period of time. I very much enjoyed the structure and style of this book – it reads like a brilliant, interconnected short story collection (think There There, Winesburg, OH, Olive Kitteridge, or Reservoir 13).  If you like that kind of structure, this might be a great book for you, too.


During the summer, I tend to pick at least one book to re-read --  AND I also read at least one big, sprawling epic.  Beach Music by Pat Conroy checked both those boxes for me!  I initially read Beach Music back in 1995 when it first came out.  I remember lugging the beast of a hardback around with me when my kids were very young . . . Anyway.  Re-reading it this summer did not disappoint.  I was, once again, moved to tears by this sweeping tale of forgiveness and reconciliation set in Rome and the South Carolina Lowcountry. (And if you haven't read Pat Conroy, you really ought give one of his books a try.)


I really don't know how to describe Lanny by Max Porter . . . except to say it may be one of the most perfect books I've ever read. It's compact, completely unique, creative, mystical and so engaging that I sat and read it in one sitting.  (Which is not that hard to do, as it is pretty short.)  There is just . . . a lot going on under the surface in this one.  If you liked the "experimental" style of Lincoln in the Bardo, you might enjoy Lanny, too.  (And I recommend reading the actual book instead of listening -- because the physical book is a visual treat and adds to to overall effect of the story.)


I just managed to squeak in reading Inland by Téa Obreht over Labor Day weekend, so I ended my summer reading on a high note.  This one was rather a slow burn for me, and it did take a fair amount of attention while reading.  Totally worth it though!  There are two storylines that spiral in seemingly disconnected ways throughout the novel. . . until they DO connect in a most magical way, creating a wholly satisfying ending.  Give it a try (especially if you liked Téa Obreht's previous novel, The Tiger's Wife) -- but you might want to keep a glass of water nearby for sipping-while-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.


How about you?
What books would make it to your Top Five list of summer reading?