Today is the vernal equinox (hello, spring!). So you know what that means around here, don’t you?
It’s time for me to share my . . .
BUT FIRST . . . just a quick reminder. Tomorrow (Tuesday, March 21) is our Read With Us discussion day for The Shipping News. Bonny and Carole and I will be sharing discussion questions on our blogs, and then, in the evening at 7pm (Eastern time), we’ll be gathering to talk about the book on Zoom. If you’ve read the book – or watched the movie – please join us for our blog or Zoom discussion! All are welcome to join in. We actually discuss the book — and we have a lot of fun, too.
If you plan to join the Zoom, please leave a comment or send me an email (see the sidebar for an email link). I’ll be sending out the Zoom invites later this afternoon.
And now, back to my Top Five post.
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 winter (the link listed for each book will take you to a published review of the book, not an Amazon link):
First up, I have my winter-favorite, Fresh Water for Flowers by Valérie Perrin. What a lovely, delicate book this is! I loved Violette’s story, so tenderly told and beautifully written (and beautifully translated, as well). It’s a story of love, loss, grief, and resurrection, yes – but, bottom line, it’s a story of caretaking . . . of being a good steward, a good friend, a lover of nature . . . of building a family. I was completely immersed in the story right from the start, and loved the way it . . . spooled out over time, criss-crossing and circling back for a gradual reveal that was both deeply satisfying and heartfelt. Fresh Water for Flowers is multi-layered, with perfect pacing, endearing characters and a beautifully rendered setting. (If you’ve read and enjoyed Still Life by Sarah Winman, you might like this book, too. It’s got a similar vibe.) (I gave this book 5 stars, and I recommend it all the time.)
Next up, I’ve got Fight Night by Miriam Toews. I really loved this story! It’s filled with love and hope and . . . fight! (All the fights . . . the fight to live, the fight to grieve, the fight to love, the fight for dignity. All. The. Fights.) Miriam Towes is simply . . . a master. She writes compelling stories with deep hooks and characters who can do all the heavy lifting. Her dialogue sparkles. Her pacing is perfect. Her emotional impact is deep. And, of course, there is humor. (I love a book that can make me laugh and cry on the same page.) Fight Night is a delight! (I gave this book 5 stars.)
Then, there’s this quarter’s Read With Us selection The Shipping News by Annie Proulx. I’m sure you’ve heard quite enough about The Shipping News from me at this point, but . . . it’s a good one. I have read this one at least 4 times since 1993 (it’s tied with A Prayer for Owen Meany for my most-read book as an adult), and I still find something new to love about it every time I read it. It’s fabulous! Really fabulous. Quirky characters, sharp writing, incredible location, and the second best Christmas Pageant in fiction (the winner, of course, being the Christmas Pageant in A Prayer for Owen Meany). If you’ve never read it, give it a try. You’re in for a treat! (I’ve given this one 5 stars . . . over and over and over.)
Next, I’ve got The Queen of Dirt Island by Donal Ryan. (I was so eager to read this one, I ordered it straight from the UK on it’s release date there. I don’t do that very often.) I’m a huge Donal Ryan fan. He creates such lovely prose – poetic and lyrical – while still keeping everything crisp and spare. His dialogue is fantastic, too! In The Queen of Dirt Island, Donal Ryan employs sharp, short chapters (each is only 2 pages long; they’re more like vignettes, really) to give us quick little glimpses into the lives of his characters. These vignettes work well to forward the story in a natural time progression over the life of the titular character’s daughter, Saorise. The pacing is good, the character development excellent. It’s a beautiful novel all around — highly satisfying, self-contained, subtle, and just a joy to read. (I gave this one 4 stars.)
And then, just sneaking in at the buzzer, I’ve got Birnam Wood, the brand new novel by Eleanor Catton. Oh, my. I’m still kinda catching my breath after this one. What a ride! This novel is billed as an “eco-thriller” and once it gets rolling (which does take a while, by the way), it is a total Thrill-O-Rama. Great writing, an intricate plot, and characters that just . . . keep evolving . . . all worked to keep me on the edge of my seat. I will admit, the beginning is slow and a bit dense. But in retrospect, I think that slow start was rather brilliant. Y’know . . . kind of like the beginning of a roller coaster ride. Once you get to the top, it’s a thrill-ride all the way to the end. (I gave this one 4 stars.)
And . . . there you have it! My Top Five Books from winter 2023.
How about you?
What books would make it onto YOUR Top Five list for winter?
If you want to see what I’m reading now, or if you’d like to check out my recent reviews on Goodreads, just check out the sidebar on my home page. You can find me here on Goodreads.
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 here.
Hmmmmm. I tried Fresh Water (audio) and just could not get into it. Perhaps I should try reading as opposed to listening. I have Fight Night on my TBR list since Jane talked about it. I’m in the middle of Queen of Dirt Island and enjoying it a lot. And, Birnam Wood looks interesting! I read another review of that book recently. Finally, I’m looking forward to the Zoom discussion tomorrow (I finished reading The Shipping News over the weekend – fabulous!!).
I do like your quarterly review of books as it serves to remind me of some good books! (This is the fault of my memory, not the books’ faults.) I’ve read all of these except Birnam Wood and it’s on my list after I finish a few pre-publication reviews. I’m looking forward to tomorrow night!
Hi Kym. I always enjoy your quarterly updates. They are a great source of ideas for “next read”.
I’m looking forward to book club tmw night. Thanks.
Well, my TBR list has grown… great reviews, Kym!
My best of First Quarter: I have NOT stopped thinking about Signal Fires. It was just so so so so good!
And I finished a book last night that blew me away, cover to cover… No Two Persons. Oh my. This book. (It will be out in May… you will absolutely love it!)
I finished The Shipping News yesterday. Wow! Very much looking forward to the discussion!
Glad you liked Birnam Wood because I’m finding it very hard to get into. I will keep plowing into it though so I can get to the ‘ride’ part. I do like the characters a lot but so far (maybe 15% in?) they haven’t done a lot.
First, yes, please include me in the Zoom link list. I just realized yesterday that A. my book group time has shifted (a group I teach), and B. I could listen to the audiobook while I knit, and C. I DO still have a copy of Shipping News. I remember loving it the first time I read it, so I’m looking forward to it. (and have made a good start).
My best book of this winter was Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles, which I’d put off reading. JUST loved it. I also enjoyed the Marriage Portrait.
I enjoyed Still Life, which I’m pretty sure I read on your recommendation, so I’ll have to check out Water for Flowers. I read Fight Night not long after I read Women Talking. Miriam Toews cuts to the bone.
My reading goal this year is to read Toni Morrison’s novels and the first three did not disappoint. The Bluest Eye, Sula, and Song of Solomon were all stunning five star reads. I also love The Queen of Dirt Island and my re-read of The Shipping News. I’m sorry to miss the discussion tomorrow, I know it will be a good one!
My reading over the past three months wasn’t nearly as satisfying as yours, but I did have one surprising 5 star: American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell, a fascinating collection of short stories made all the more interesting because they are based in my neck of the woods.
A few 4 stars:
Amy and Isabelle, by Elizabeth Strout
Small Things Like These, by Claire Keegan
Some Luck by Jane Smiley
Fortunately I had as many 3 star reads as 1s/DNFs and 2s combined.
I think I’m going to have to reread Fresh Water for Flowers with my eyes one of these days. I really did love the story, but I got so annoyingly distracted by the narrator’s mispronunciations in the audiobook that it really took away some of my enjoyment.
Favorite reads of the winter? Well, looking just at the books I’ve finished since the start of the new year, I’d say my top five are two Louise Erdrich rereads (The Sentence and The Night Watchman), A World of Curiosities, The Tsar of Love and Techno, and Signal Fires.
I’ve got to say, I was surprised to see Birnam Wood, but I’m glad it turned out to be so wonderful. I’ve added Fight Night to my TBR list. Thanks for your excellent and thorough reviews.
I love these posts Kym – thank you! and woohoo to see Birnham Wood on your list. I’ll be picking up my copy when we’re in Thomasville next month (The Bookshelf is my favorite local bookstore) and plan to have decks cleared to start it then. My favorite winter first-reads were Tomorrow, Tomorrow, & Tomorrow, Housekeeping, and The Bone People … and I loved re-reading The Sentence, The Night Watchman, The Luminaries, and Little Women.
I know … that’s seven!
You write good reviews and I enjoy hearing what you have to say about each one. I’m a big fan of Shipping News (read 4 times). I can’t wait to dive into Birnam Woods ASAP! Three of my winter favorites are Not Without Laughter by Langston Hughes, Cassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Baker, and The Sleeping Car Porter by Suzette Mayr. I have others you’ve read on my TBR and just haven’t gotten them read (as yet). Thank for moving them up my list.
l listened to Fight Night and really enjoyed it. I ordered a used copy of Fresh Water for Flowers and am looking forward to reading it. I do enjoy your reviews so thank you for posting them. My top books this winter season would be: Poet Warrior by Joy Harjo, The Night Watchman by L. Erdrich, Winter Morning Walks by Ted Kooser, and The Master Butchers Singing Club by Erdrich.