February may be a short month that flew by, but I still managed to pack a good amount of reading in! I finished 11 books, bringing my total for the year so far up to 20. Here are some brief thoughts on each of them, with links to full reviews if you’d like to know more.
The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] A former slave is accused of murdering her master and mistress in this richly woven, evocate historical read. Through her phenomenally well-drawn and morally complex heroine, Collins explores the trappings of race, class, gender, and sexuality with nuance, without sacrificing the gripping feel of a page-turner.
10 Minutes 38 Seconds in the Strange World by Elif Shafak
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] At its core, this book explores the power of found family, as a dying woman uses her final moments to recall how and why each of her closest friends came to be in her life. The supporting cast feel like caricatures at times, and the huge shift of pace and tone in the book’s latter half pushes things towards farce. In its quieter moments, where the characters navigate difference, tolerance, and understanding, the book has a real sense of warmth and wisdom.
Frida: The Story of Her Life by Vanna Vinci (translated from the Italian by Kathrine Colfer)
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This graphic memoir of Frida Kahlo offers a particularly insightful look into life with chronic pain, and the transformative power of art. I appreciate that Vinci chose to present Kahlo as the complex being she was, with the playful, free-flowing structure and often surreal art style paying suitable homage to the life and work of one of the greats.
Not Here by Hieu Minh Nguyen
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] The poems in this collection are largely concerned with identity, trauma, the queer immigrant experience, and the painful journey towards acceptance. There are a few absolute gems, but Nguyen’s poetic voice and array of styles didn’t always click with me, sadly.
The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] Full review to come for BookBrowse in March.
A Burden Shared by Jo Walton
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This Tor short has a very striking concept, exploring the idea that pain transference would allow us to literally shoulder the burden of someone else’s suffering. With impressive brevity, Walton comments on the selflessness and the folly of such an act, and its moral and medical complexities. I felt it ended rather abruptly, and though it certainly left me thinking, I would have liked a little more emotional development for the characters.
Long Bright River by Liz Moore
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] A police officer determines to find her missing, drug addicted sister before she can fall victim to the killer targeting similarly vulnerable women in this intense and nuanced read. Despite its heft and considerably slower pace, the book retains the thrilling quality of a great mystery-thriller. Where the author really excels, however, is her extensive look at the reality of the opioid crisis and institutionalised inequality.
In the Tall Grass by Stephen King & Joe Hill
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] Adult siblings Cal and Becky quickly regret their decision to help a lost child calling to them from a field of impossibly tall grass when they stumble into a real-life nightmare. As disorientating for the reader as it is for the characters, King and Hill do a great job of creating tension and unease. Driven more by its concept and atmosphere, however, it felt more like stumbling between a series of horrifying tableaus than following a cohesively developed narrative.
In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This account of Machado’s experiences within an abusive same-sex relationship is painfully honest, beautifully written, and stylistically pioneering. By boldly challenging several social taboos head-on, she attempts to place the queer victims of domestic abuse within the literary canon from which they have been routinely excluded. Her use of structure and perspective enriches the reading experience, making this as eye-opening and anxiety-inducing as it is readable.
Wisdom from a Humble Jellyfish by Rani Shah
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This book encourages us to take inspiration from nature, by streamlining our lives and prioritising our own health and well-being. A few self-care ideas were very tenuously linked to their animal counterparts, but I enjoyed the warm, gentle feel of the book throughout. I also very much enjoyed it for the plethora of fun, fascinating facts about nature, and the concluding message about the importance of safeguarding the planet for the benefit of us all.
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] O’Farrell’s fictionalised account of the relationship between Shakespeare and his wife, and the untimely loss of their son, does an excellent job of breathing life and emotion into a lesser-discussed part of The Bard’s history. Initially laboured prose, unnecessary nonlinearity, pacing issues, and a denouement that doesn’t quite land somehow didn’t stop me from enjoying the time I spent with this novel; its evocation of grief and handling of its characters more than enough to hold interest.
There we have it! Looking back, this was a very strong reading month with lots of excellent reads, but my favourites were The Mercies and The Confessions of Frannie Langton. What was your favourite read in February?