February Reading Roundup

Happy March! It is still not spring. In fact it’s more winter than ever. The groundhog lied to me. How dare he?!

 

Though it may not be spring yet, spring break is approaching. In a couple weeks, I’m heading down to D.C. to do some preliminary exploring and orientation and mobility orientation and mobility in case a hypothetical job I’ve applied for comes through. I’m probably jinxing it just by planning to go down there, but it’s also probably warmer there than it is here. I’m finally over my various start-of-the-semester illnesses, and I’m starting to get all the emails about ordering regalia and making sure my name is right on my diploma and doing exit counseling for my financial aid. I’ve finished my Intro to Finance Concepts course, so I have five-day weekends for the rest of the semester. Yes, that means I finally updated my book recs page to include my 2018 favorites. And yes, that means you should be getting more posts from me, and not just about the books I’m reading either.

 

Collage of the covers of the nine books I read in February
Covers came from Goodreads

But speaking of the books I’m reading, I read nine in February. My grand total for 2019 is 19, which is kind of cool, right?

 

This was an interesting reading month for me. I definitely went way out of my reading comfort zone with some of these books. I really liked a bunch of them, and some of them were a bit disappointing. These books were mostly fantasy, with a couple historical fiction, one that I can’t categorize, and one contemporary chick lit/women’s fiction (if the categorization on Goodreads is to be believed). As always, these thoughts are as spoiler-free as I can feasibly make them. Let’s dive in.

 

First, I finished Cassandra Clare’s Dark Artifices series. I read the first two books, Lady Midnight and Lord of Shadows, last year, but the third book, Queen of Air and Darkness, just came out last November and I just now got it out of the library. And oh! The feelings! It’s really hard to talk about this without spoiling things from the second book, because so much of what happens in the third book hinges on the ending of the second book (which definitely broke me, btw, what an ending!). Basically, in this book the characters split up and are each trying to deal with the consequences of what happened in different ways. We still have the racist Shadowhunters trying to take over the Clave, and the faeries are still stirring up trouble. There were so many things that I loved about this book, and so many things that drove me up the wall. I think it was too long, the pacing was whacky, and there were too many point of view characters. At this point, I was also kind of over Julian and Emma’s forbidden romance thing. On the other hand, the alternate world they stumble into in the middle of the book is really awesome. And I loved, loved, loved Ty and Kit’s arc, and I am so glad there’s going to be a trilogy about them because I am all over that! On the whole, this book, and this whole trilogy, were not as good as I wanted them to be after The Mortal Instruments, but I still loved the world and the characters, and I’m looking forward to more in the future.

 

Next, I read the third Wren book, Wren’s War by Sherwood Smith. I read the first two books in this series last year. This is another one where it’s hard to explain the plot without spoilers, because a really big thing happens at the beginning of this book and it’s important but knowing it’s coming will wreck the impact for you. And already I might have said too much. Basically though, the evil king who’s been menacing Wren, Tess, Connor, and Tyron (and the whole kingdom) is back, and he has an army. And the foursome have to raise an army of their own and defeat him. And also deal with some messy domestic politics and family squabbles while they’re at it. So much cool stuff happens in this book, and I love these four friends to pieces, especially Wren. My one complaint is that since the four are scattered around doing different things, the book kept jumping around and it was hard to give any of them the time I thought they deserved. But this is a minor complaint, and I still really liked this book. I was ready to dive right into book four after I finished this one, but I’ve been reading these books in Braille, and the fourth book isn’t available. There is an audiobook, but I hate changing formats mid-series. What if I don’t like the narrator? This definitely threw a wrench in my momentum, but I have an Audible credit, so I’m definitely going to pick up the fourth book soon.

 

Meanwhile, I was also reading Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. This was the first time I read this book, and I’m kind of surprised by that, given all the World War II books I’ve read and all the research I did on WWII Italy in particular a few years ago. I really loved this book. I think it’s the first book I’ve read in 2019 that’s going on my book recs page. This book tells the story of a group of U.S. Airforce officers headquartered on a fictional Italian island. It reminded me a lot of Slaughterhouse Five, which I read in college and again last year, because it definitely was a darkly humorous take on the war. But while Slaughterhouse Five is humorous in a somewhat subtle way, Catch-22 was almost a slapstick comedy. It was a wild ride, and it definitely took me a bit to get into the style of this book. At times it was bizzarre and ridiculous, but it gets dark, and the craziness only serves to make the dark more profound and horrific. In short, this was a great book, and if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend.

 

Next up was The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan. I’m going to be honest, I almost put this book down. I did put it down for a bit and then pick it back up again because I have guilt and can’t not finish a book. This is another WWII book, this one about a group of POWs working for the Japanese on the Burmese railroad. The book bounces around in time and place, so it also shows the lives of the prisoners after they’ve been released and are trying to live their lives. For me, basically everything not in the POW camp didn’t work for me. It was just written in this very pretentious style that made me grind my teeth and want to roll my eyes. The parts of the book set in the POW camp, however, were amazing. The writing was stronger. The details were crisp and vivid. I felt like I was there. There’s this one scene where the main character, who’s a doctor, is performing a tricky surgery and it was such a gruesome scene but it was also handled so incredibly. The author’s grandfather was a POW working on the Burmese railroad in World War II, and it’s obvious that the author really wanted to tell that story. It’s an important story, and it’s one that I definitely think needs to be told. I just wish Richard Flanagan had stuck to that and left the other stuff out. This book evoked a lot of strong emotions in me, in case you can’t tell. My feelings were not lukewarm on any of it, but on the other hand, it definitely stuck with me and unsettled me. I think whether you’ll enjoy this book depends a lot on your taste in what you like to read.

 

Next, I read The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton. This was a quick book, which I liked because it was a bit of a breather after some of the longer and heavier books I read earlier in the month (not that this book was particularly light). This is also an older book—a lot of you might have read it before—but it was totally new to me. The Outsiders tells the story of Ponyboy Curtis and his brothers, who live in a poor part of town and are part of a gang of what’s called greasers. The greasers are constantly going head to head with the socs, who are like the rich kids. Ponyboy is proud to be a greaser, to be part of the gang, and to get into fights with the socs. But one night, his friend kills a soc to save Ponyboy’s life, and Ponyboy and his friend have to go on the run. I think the age of this book and the age of the author—she was a teenager when she wrote it—definitely show now. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just is a thing. I also wish I had more of a sense of the setting in this book. There were parts of the book where I had a great feel for where and when we were, and there were parts that could have been any time. But this is still a really good book, and I enjoyed it a lot. The pacing was really strong, so even though it was short, it didn’t feel like it was moving too quickly or like there wasn’t enough plot. I was gripped from start to finish, and I thought the voice was particularly strong. If you haven’t read this yet, it’s definitely one to try.

 

The February selection for my law school book club was Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado, so I picked that up next. This could not have been more different than last month’s book, Girl Made of Stars. This may in fact be the most graphic thing I have read ever, and I mean graphic in every sense of the word. Wow! This is a collection of short stories, many with a speculative or horror twist. There were a few stories that I loved: the first story, which is a retelling of that green ribbon story we all heard as kids; the story about the woman in the writing residency, which may have my favorite line in the whole book; the story about the virus with all the lists; and the story about the women fading. Sorry I can’t remember any titles. A couple of the stories I just did not get at all, like the one with the baby and the SVU one, but the author is just such a good writer that I was willing to go with it. While the subject of a lot of these stories and the graphic quality did not make this book my ideal cup of tea, the writing was just fabulous, and I did in fact enjoy it. And what, you ask, is my favorite line of the book? “Do you ever worry … that you’re the madwoman in the attic?” (I guess I was an English major after all.)

 

After that, I reread Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling. I promise my posts on this year’s HP reread are coming. I’m waiting to finish the series so there isn’t a long gap between posts.

 

Next, I read Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah. I picked this book up because I formed/joined a second book club, this one with the Cambridge chapter of the National Federation of the Blind, and this was the book that was chosen for our inaugural meeting. I wanted so much to love this book, because I just love Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale. But this was not The Nightingale. Firefly Lane follows Tully and Kate through thirty years of friendship, from the time when they’re fourteen. This book started out really strong. I got pulled right in, and I loved the girls and their different home situations and their friendship. But I found the pacing to be weird, and the plot points to be predictable. In almost every instance, I anew what was going to happen before it did. I also felt like we were supposed to be able to sympathize with both girls, and I’m sorry,I didn’t. One of them was clearly wrong all the time. Kristin Hannah is a great writer, and that’s definitely present in this book. And despite everything, I was definitely balling my eyes out at the end, so it packed an emotional punch. I just wanted it to be as good as The Nightingale, and I don’t think it was. Also I really, really want to talk to people about this, and I don’t know if I can make it to the book club meeting where we’re discussing this, so if you’ve read it, hit me up. I have feelings. Also there’s a sequel. Should I read it?

 

And finally, I read The Ocean At the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. This is the first book I’ve read by Neil Gaiman by himself (I read Good Omens back in the summer of 2012 but he co-wrote that). In this book, a man returns to his hometown for a funeral and remembers an incident in his childhood when an opal miner staying with his family committed suicide and brought monsters into the neighborhood, and the boy and his really awesome magical neighbors have to fight off the monsters. That’s the best way I can describe it, and I am in no way doing it justice. This book was yet another one that was definitely outside my reading comfort zone, because it was dark fantasy, bordering on horror, and I don’t normally like that sort of stuff. I’m more into happy adventure time, if you haven’t gathered that yet. This was a deeply odd and deeply creepy book, and it may give me nightmares, but I also loved it. The writing was stellar. The creepiness was just the right level of creepy. It didn’t make sense and it did make sense and the feelings were so vivid and I just loved it. It’s also a pretty short book, so it was easy to take the leap and try something new. I realize I’m not making a ton of sense with my thoughts on this one, but honestly it’s just really hard to describe. But it’s definitely worth a read. Promise.

 

And that’s it for February. I’ll have more coming your way soon, so stay tuned, and in the meantime, let me know if you’ve read any of these books and what you thought of them.

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