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Looking for a good book to read this holiday season or for the winter ahead? The Gazette's book reviewers offer their top picks from the more than 100 books they read this year. Here, in no particular order, are their top picks:
'Early Warning” and 'Golden Age”
by Jane Smiley
This year saw the publication of the second and third volumes of Smiley's Last Hundred Years Trilogy (following last fall's 'Some Luck”). Each chapter recounts a single year from 1920 to 2019, taking Smiley's fictional family, the Langdons, into the near future. Smiley's reputation as a major author was secure long before the publication of these books. Nevertheless, the trilogy stands as a brilliant achievement.
'Music for Wartime”
by Rebecca Makkai
Makkai's story collection is filled with beauty and heartbreak, surprise and wonder, guilt and innocence. Composed over 13 years, the stories complement one another perfectly, linked not by characters or plot but by theme and craft. Makkai has a gift for revealing an essential detail at the ideal moment, often changing the reader's understanding of a tale quite late in the telling.
'A Reunion of Ghosts”
by Judith Claire Mitchell
In Mitchell's novel, three middle-aged sisters decide to take their own lives on Dec. 31, 1999. In the run-up to the fateful date, they write a book-length suicide note, written in a perfectly rendered communal voice, explaining their family's troubled and troubling history. Mitchell, a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, has accomplished an impressive structural, aesthetic and narrative feat.
'The Dead Lands”
by Benjamin Percy
Percy relates the journey of Lewis and Clark. It's a familiar story, but Percy offers a twist: his Lewis and Clark leave a St. Louis walled off from the world and under despotic rule to venture into a post-apocalyptic America. It's a bold idea, and Percy carries it off with aplomb, crafting a gripping adventure story set in the future but haunted by the past.
'Welcome to Braggsville”
by T. Geronimo Johnson
Johnson, an Iowa Writers' Workshop alum, blends voices, adopts and discards academic tropes, invokes the dead and challenges the reader to decode the text. He constructs a dazzling social satire that takes aim at the intractable absurdities that underpin institutions, communities and our individual approaches to the world. The novel is an indictment, calling for a hard look at assumptions, biases and affectations.
'The Turner House”
by Angela Flournoy
A beautifully written novel about 13 siblings coming to consensus about the fate of their aging mother's home. A modern classic.
by Rebecca Hunt
The story of two Antarctic expeditions to Everland Island - one in 1913, one a hundred years later. Everything goes wrong on each voyage, but because of hubris, fate and nostalgia, the truth of each expedition remains unknown to the outside world. Or does it?
'Vano and Niko”
by Erlom Akhvlediani
A collection of extraordinary tales by one of Georgia's most treasured poets. Visually and imaginatively stimulating stories of, say, an 11-sided mouse, take charming, and surprisingly philosophical, turns.
'She Weeps Each Time You're Born”
by Quan Barry
Rabbit, a Vietnamese girl born under miraculous and cruel circumstances in 1972, takes readers through a gripping war story filled with magical realism.
'Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War”
by Susan Southard
Meticulously researched, Southard's book follows the lives of five bombing survivors for 70 years, charting their catastrophic injuries, emotional and physical struggles and resilience.
'The 52 Lists Project: A Year of Weekly Journaling Inspiration”
by Moorea Seal
This is a beautiful book for those who love journaling and list making, are looking for inspiration, or are wanting to start the new year making memories. This journal has a full year's worth of weekly prompts to help you reflect on past memories and remind you of the joy and beauty in your life.
'Pipsie, Nature Detective: The Disappearing Caterpillar”
by Rick DeDonato
This delightful children's picture book shares a love of nature while teaching about the magic of the caterpillar's life cycle. The vivid illustrations and sweet characters will encourage your child to explore nature in their own backyard.
by Alexandra Burt
This story was a thrilling roller coaster of emotions that left me guessing all the way until the end. It's subject matter highlights the dangers of postpartum depression and left me thinking about the characters months later.
'The Same Sky”
by Amanda Eyre Ward
No matter what your opinions are about illegal immigration, this book will leave an imprint on your heart. I read this in January and I'm still talking about it and telling people to read it.
'Sweet Forgiveness” by Lori Nelson Spielman
Holding a grudge is a heavy burden but it can be even more difficult to let it go. Often, offering someone forgiveness also means asking for forgiveness yourself. This story of long-held secrets may just encourage you to release some of your own burdens.