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Favorite Winter Reads of 2024

Cindy Burnett
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Dixon, Descending by Karen Outen

Dixon, Descending by Karen Outen features brothers who attempt to become the first Black Americans to summit Mt. Everest. 

Here in Houston, winter seems to be over as we are experiencing temperatures in the 70s and 80s already. The warmer weather has me reflecting on what books I loved that came out when the weather was cooler. Here are four that are well worth reading:

Before We Say Goodbye by Toshikazu Kawaguchi (speculative fiction) – Have you ever wanted to travel back in time to try and revisit some person or event in your life? In a quiet back alley in Tokyo, Café Funiculi Funicula allows customers to do just that – take a trip into the past. But strict rules exist: the present will not change, the customer cannot leave the chair that allows the travel, each traveler must return in the time it takes for their coffee to get cold, and more. In Before We Say Goodbye, four new visitors arrive at the café to travel back in time. These moving and thought-provoking stories will have you re-evaluating some of your own encounters and relationships as well as pondering what would you change if you could travel back in time. While this is the fourth installment in this series, each one can be easily read as a standalone since the primary focus is the new customers and their journeys.

Dixon, Descending by Karen Outen (fiction) – Dixon Bryant was deemed the “good” brother from an early age, and his parents relied on him to be a role model for his charismatic older brother Nate. But when Nate suggests they jointly attempt to become the first Black Americans to summit Mt. Everest, Dixon cannot refuse his brother, even though their family and friends disapprove. During the climb, the weight of their decision to tackle Everest weighs Dixon down as Nate develops increasingly serious health complications. After things go horribly awry, Dixon returns home a changed man, constantly replaying his decision to climb the mountain. As he attempts to return to his job (from which he took a semester off to climb Everest), tragedy strikes, and Dixon begins to understand that to deal with the present he must confront his past. Outen’s detailed accounts of climbing Everest are so engrossing, and her depiction of grief and the many different forms it takes and the burdens it creates are compelling and insightful. This is a story I will not soon forget.

Everyone on This Train Is a Suspect by Benjamin Stevenson (mystery/thriller) – This delightful and hilarious book stars Ernest Cunningham who breaks the fourth wall by narrating the story to the reader, constantly inserting his own thoughts and comments into the tale. Looking for material for his second book, Ernest participates as an author in the 50th Australian Mystery Writers Society festival, which takes place on the Ghan, a train traveling through the Australian desert. Soon after the trip begins, one of the six authors at the conference is murdered, and the other five begin trying to solve the crime while Ernest sees the perfect opportunity for some inspiration for his novel. One of the best parts of the book is the way Ernest engages the reader, offering up “clues” to help solve the murder such as revealing how many times the murderer’s name will be mentioned and periodically stopping to provide a tally for each character as the story progresses. Stevenson incorporates some phenomenal twists and turns as well as so much humor into the story while also bringing the reader along on the journey of trying to put all the clues together along with Ernest. The mystery itself is outstanding, and I highly recommend this one. While this is technically the second in a series, it reads as a standalone, and there is more than enough detail to get readers caught up with the previous story.

The General and Julia by Jon Clinch (historical fiction) – Near the end of his life and battling throat cancer, Ulysses S. Grant struggles to complete his memoirs before he passes away in order to leave his family financially sound. He chronicles his love for his family, his role in the Civil War as well as Lee’s surrender, serving as a twice-elected president, losing his entire fortune to a swindler, and his friendship with Samuel Clemens who ultimately publishes his memoirs. While the focus is clearly on Grant in this tale, the book also serves as a fascinating glimpse into the Civil War and Reconstruction-Era years from a perspective I have not encountered previously. This thought-provoking and stunningly crafted story of Grant’s life and legacy from his own perspective will stay with me for a long time. This is a must-read book for historical fiction fans and history lovers alike, and it was one of my top reads of 2023.

Looking for reads for Spring Break? Find recommendations from Buzz readers here

For more book recommendations and bookish thoughts, see Cindy’s monthly Buzz Reads column, her Thoughts from a Page Podcast or follow @ThoughtsFromaPage on Instagram. Find upcoming Conversations from a Page events here.

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