Yesterday was the summer solstice — so you know what that means around here, don’t you?
It’s time for me to share my . . .
Each quarter, right around the solstice or equinox, I think back on the books I’ve read over the previous 3 months, and I choose my top five. So, here goes: my Top Five Books from this past spring (the link listed for each book will take you to a published review of the book – where available – or some other kind of link if not):
I hate to do this to you, but 3 of my top five spring reads are . . . copies of books I read in advance of their publication dates. Which means you can’t actually read them right now (sorry), but you can mark your calendars and await their availability.
And. That’s where I begin . . . with a pre-publication book that kinda knocked my socks off — Absolution by Alice McDermott . Now Alice McDermott is one of my favorite authors, so I was eager to have the opportunity to read an advance copy of her newest novel. As usual, McDermott hits it out of the park! I found Absolution to be quietly compelling with exquisite writing and characters that leap from the page – all in a completely unexpected and surprising setting. The pacing is excellent. At its heart, Absolution is a story of altruism – of “doing good” – in all its many and varied forms. So often, acts of altruism are performed to assuage the “guilt” or obligation of the giver, rather than to match the true needs and desires of the recipient – and Absolution demonstrates that . . . masterfully. (I gave this one 5 stars.)
Watch for this one, my friends! It will be published in early November.
Next up I’ve got another pre-publication novel – and another winner – Happiness Falls, by Angie Kim. I found this one to be propulsive, riveting, and utterly fascinating reading. It’s a family drama featuring . . . well . . . everything you could want in a novel: strong characters with believable voices, a fascinating storyline, and a pace that keeps you turning the pages. I was in awe of the way the author “unspooled” her story, revealing tantalizing little “tidbits” in nearly every chapter! This well-researched story about family dynamics delves into the way we live and the things we do to protect the people we love. Ultimately, this novel may challenge your assumptions, test your beliefs, and teach you a thing or two. I was fascinated – and I couldn’t put it down. (I gave this one 5 stars.)
This one will be out in late August, so you won’t have to wait too long to check it out for yourself.
Next – you guessed it – another pre-publication novel . . . Tom Lake by Ann Patchett. I have long been a fan of Ann Patchett’s writing (in fact, in my wildest daydreams, she is my neighbor and good friend), so I was thrilled to receive a pre-publication copy of her newest novel. Tom Lake is a gentle, engaging story that unfolds slowly in dual timelines that jump back and forth easily and seamlessly – never missing a beat. Ann Patchett has always been a master at family and relationship dynamics, and Tom Lake is no exception. The characters here are beautifully crafted, and their relationships with each other are natural and believable. In Tom Lake, Ann Patchett creates a wonderful sense of time and place. I was easily drawn into the scenes she creates, feeling like I could take a seat at the kitchen table, climb a ladder in the cherry orchard, or gather on the dock of the lake. As a Michigander, I can attest to the summer-in-northern-lower-Michigan feeling Patchett creates in Tom Lake. It was a pleasure to read a book set practically in my backyard! I enjoyed reading a book featuring a woman looking back on her personal “decision tree” of life with satisfaction and peace. Lara’s story – the details she shared with her daughters and the details she kept for herself – rang very true for me. This is another winner from Ann Patchett – and it just makes me wish all the harder that we really were neighbors, and that I truly was her friend. (I gave this one 5 stars.)
You won’t have to wait too long to read Tom Lake . . . it’s due out the first week in August.
Next up, I’ve got You Could Make This Place Beautiful by poet Maggie Smith. (This was not a pre-pub read; it was published earlier this spring.) I read a lot of memoirs. I also read a lot of poetry (including everything Maggie Smith has published). I was eager to read You Could Make This Place Beautiful, but . . . I also had a bit of trepidation . . . because I didn’t really want to read a rehash of her divorce. Oh, how could I ever have doubted Maggie Smith!!! This is a beautiful, beautiful book. I ate it up. It was tender and true and raw and powerful. Absolutely compelling. Maggie Smith . . . such a wonder! She turned her own private heartbreaking, life-shaking experience . . . into something universal and relatable and human; something for all of us. Only a poet can do that. This one is magical. (I gave this one 5 stars.)
Last, I’ve got Wild and Precious: A Celebration of Mary Oliver from Audible Audio and Pushkin Industries. I’m so happy to have stumbled upon this lovely . . . I’m not sure what to call it, exactly. I mean, it’s not an actual book, and it’s much more than a podcast. I think I’ll go with . . . a made-for-audio extravaganza! Anyway. What a delightful deep-dive into Mary Oliver’s life, sprinkled with personal anecdotes from people who knew her, and – best of all – Mary, herself, reading her poems. As a longtime Mary Oliver fan, I loved this listen. It would also be a perfect introduction for those not already familiar with MO’s poetry. I loved listening to it as I worked in my garden this spring. (I gave this one 5 stars.)
And . . . there you have it! My Top Five Books from spring 2023.*
How about you?
What books would make it onto YOUR Top Five list for the last 3 months?
*I had a hard time choosing my top five reads from this spring. I don’t usually read that many 5-star books all in one quarter, so I feel like I should at least mention my other 5-star books from spring: Trespasses (Louise Kennedy), Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland (Patrick Radden Keefe), and Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted (Suleika Jaouad). The links will take you to my Goodreads reviews, should you want to learn more about them.
If you’re looking for my previous Top Five lists, I’ve moved them. Now you can find them in my Field Notes (just click in from the menu bar at the top or bottom of any page) — or click the link.