I’m stingy when it comes to giving books five stars; looking back on my Goodreads record for 2015, for example, barely ten per cent of books made the grade. Interestingly, it averaged out to about one a month in 2015 – and I’m apparently right on track to hit that quota in 2016. For today’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted, as ever, by the Broke and the Bookish), I present four books that truly knocked my socks off in the last three months.
Minister Without Portfolio by Michael Winter
You might be sick of hearing me rave about this book by now, but it’s just so, so good. I had high hopes it would go far in this year’s Canada Reads and was devastated when it was knocked out in the first round. But some of the reasons it was kicked out so quickly are the reasons why I loved it so much; on the surface, Minister Without Portfolio is a simple story – one man, a series of tragedies, a house and a life that literally and figuratively require rebuilding. But still waters run deep; Henry’s story is personal, imperfect, and totally intimate. Winter shows us the beauty of putting one foot in front of the other and refusing to give up, which goes hand in hand with a stark and lyrical portrait of maritime life. Full review here.
Bear by Marian Engel
This short book is often ridiculed for its racy covers – and the old joke that you can’t get much more Canadian than a romance novel involving a tryst between a librarian and a bear. On the other hand, this novel is about so much more – the weight and lasting ramifications of history, the exhaustion of finding yourself powerless, the exploration and exultation of female sexuality set in the starkly empty Ontario wilderness. It’s written beautifully – short and sweet and entirely worthy. Full review here.
Outline by Rachel Cusk
This is one of the most interestingly structured novels I’ve read in a long time – but not in a flashy, House of Leaves sort of way. Instead, Cusk presents us with a protagonist in shadowy profile – a fairly ordinary woman and writer who remains largely a mystery. She is described and revealed only by a series of conversations – with strangers, friends, and students. As they reveal their lives, passions, and woes, we see them reflected briefly back in the life of the narrator. It’s a subtle slice of life.
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
This novel’s been popping up on best-of lists for months and months – and while that generally makes me wary, I can confirm this one is well worth it. Groff masterfully constructs a novel in three pieces: a portrait of a husband, a portrait of a husband and wife, a portrait of a wife. How does a person change – or remain the same – when placed in close contrast to another? How does love change a person? Marriage? Grief? It’s a gripping examination.
How about you? What have been your five-star reads so far this year? Or maybe you’ve read one of my picks but disagree with the verdict? Leave your thoughts in the comments!