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It might have been cold and miserable for much of this month, but the books have been HOT!🔥 In fact, there were so many February books I loved that this month you’re getting a double shot of favorites, six instead of the usual three. You might notice that two are similar…both mythology retellings, but what can I say? They were equally wonderful! Let’s hope March books are just as good, but that’s a high bar.
As always, for ALL my reviews delivered close to publication, you can follow me on Instagram. And now, in order of publication…
My Thoughts: 𝗦𝗧𝗘𝗔𝗟𝗜𝗡𝗚 by Margaret Verble was not always an easy book to read. Not because it wasn’t well written, because it certainly was, but because the life of its young protagonist, Kit Crockett, was so difficult, so unfair. In it, Kit is secretly recording her own story from a “Christian” boarding school where she was sent when it was deemed her Cherokee relatives weren’t fit to care for her. It’s the 1950’s when such decisions were the norm.
Kit’s storytelling rings clear and fully embodies the intelligent voice of a 12-year old girl who’s already seen more in life than many adults. She lost her mother at 7, deeply loves her father, but he’s so deep in his own grief that he has little left for her. When a new woman moves in a house down the road, Kit is fascinated, quickly ingratiates herself and the two become friends. What might have been simple becomes complex and Kit’s life is fully upended.
I thought 𝘚𝘵𝘦𝘢𝘭𝘪𝘯𝘨 was a wonderful character-driven novel and I truly loved the voice of Kit. My heart also broke for her, as will any reader’s. I don’t usually do warnings, but want to be clear that Kit faces situations no girl should ever have to endure. Those parts were tough, but I also loved her resilience and determination to live the life she wanted to live and not the one forced on her by those who called themselves Christians. This was an excellent, thought-provoking coming-of-age story. Grade: B+
Thanks to Mariner Books for an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest thoughts.
My Thoughts: If you’re a fan of mythology retellings, you’re going to love 𝗦𝗧𝗢𝗡𝗘 𝗕𝗟𝗜𝗡𝗗 by Natalie Haynes. Obviously, I fall into that category and recently had the pleasure of listening to this book. That’s the main thing I want to talk about here. Sure, I can tell you a little about the story. It’s about Medusa, how she came to be, how she gained a head of snakes, and how she lost her head. True mythology fans might already know all that, though I’d forgotten much of it. It does help to recall a few basic Greek mythology relationships, but it’s not essential. Now, let’s get to the two things that made this book so amazing.
First, the writing was sensational. It was tender, irreverent, satirical, and down right funny. I had not expected that and it was a pure pleasure. That pleasure was ratcheted way up by the audiobook’s narrator. 🎧 Guess who it was? 𝗡𝗮𝘁𝗮𝗹𝗶𝗲 𝗛𝗮𝘆𝗻𝗲𝘀, herself! I’m always nervous when an author narrates their own book because, let’s be honest, some are terrible! NOT THE CASE with Haynes. She was brilliant. Who better to know exactly the emotion coming off of a character than its author. I don’t think anyone else could have done it as well. The sniping, the jealousies, the insecurities, the hubris of the gods and mortals all came through beautifully. There were scenes between Athene, Hermes, and Perseus that had me laughing out loud. Bravo, Natalie Haynes! Grade: A
Thanks to Harper Audio and Harper Books for advanced copies of this book in exchange for my honest thoughts.
My Thoughts: The wait is over! After almost five long years Rebecca Makkai has a new book, 𝗜 𝗛𝗔𝗩𝗘 𝗦𝗢𝗠𝗘 𝗤𝗨𝗘𝗦𝗧𝗜𝗢𝗡𝗦 𝗙𝗢𝗥 𝗬𝗢𝗨. Since finishing 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘎𝘳𝘦𝘢𝘵 𝘉𝘦𝘭𝘪𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘳𝘴 (my review) in 2018, I’ve been eagerly awaiting her next novel and Makkai did not disappoint. My favorite type of authors are those who can deliver book after book that is unique, well told, and thoughtfully considered. This is Makkai.
𝘐 𝘏𝘢𝘷𝘦 𝘚𝘰𝘮𝘦 𝘘𝘶𝘦𝘴𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯𝘴 𝘧𝘰𝘳 𝘠𝘰𝘶 is a big story with a lot going on making it hard to describe. You can read the synopsis for yourself; instead, I’m going to tell you why I liked it so much.
- It’s a great genre mashup: literary suspense, coming-of-age, a campus novel – all of which I loved.
- Its main character, Bodie Kane, was incredibly well-developed, with a rich backstory, a life of growth, and a compelling, intense personality.
- Though not exactly a dual timeline story, it did dip back into the past over and over, as Bodie and others re-examined a murder that had happened on campus while Bodie was a student.
- Makkai used elements of now (#MeToo, cancel culture, the pandemic), but none overwhelmed the story.
- Finally, the suspense element always kept me on my toes, first leaning one way then another and another. It was so smartly done, I never once needed to roll my eyes.
If you’re looking for a thriller, this isn’t it, but if you like a great story wrapped in a mystery I think you’re going to love this one! Grade: A-
Thanks to Viking Books for an ARC and beautiful finished copy of this book in exchange for my honest thoughts.
My Thoughts: I don’t know what it is about mythology retellings, but they are definitely one of my reading sweet spots and 𝗧𝗛𝗘 𝗦𝗛𝗔𝗗𝗢𝗪 𝗢𝗙 𝗣𝗘𝗥𝗦𝗘𝗨𝗦 was no exception. In this particular iteration, Claire Heywood gives us the life of Perseus from the perspectives of his mother, Danae, the woman he’s best known for slaying, Medusa, and his wife, Andromeda…but, she does so in a very unique way. She follows his story as we would know it, but takes away all the help from the gods that Perseus gets in the original. Instead, she treats his life and his journey like that of just a man with no connection to the gods. This was an impressive twist (making Perseus even more of a creeper), and one I only fully understood when reading the author’s notes.
It’s hard to talk about this book without bringing up 𝘚𝘵𝘰𝘯𝘦 𝘉𝘭𝘪𝘯𝘥 by Natalie Haynes which was released earlier this month. It was the story of Medusa’s life, in which Perseus plays a dominant role. There was much overlap between the two stories, but for me that only made 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘚𝘩𝘢𝘥𝘰𝘸 𝘰𝘧 𝘗𝘦𝘳𝘴𝘦𝘶𝘴 richer. His basic story was so fresh in my mind and then I loved seeing the very different way that Heywood approached it. If, like me, you’re a mythology geek, you’re going to want to add this one to your TBR. I loved it! Grade: A-
Thanks to Dutton Books for an electronic and beautiful finished copy of this book in exchange for my honest thoughts.
My Thoughts: 𝗔𝗧𝗢𝗠𝗜𝗖 𝗙𝗔𝗠𝗜𝗟𝗬 by debut author Ciera Horton McElroy was an easy, easy five star read for me. Taking place over a single day, this is the story of a family living in the midst of, and fully emerged in The Atomic Age. Nellie, Dean and their son, Wilson, live in a small South Carolina town whose chief employer is a nuclear bomb plant.
It’s 1961 and everyone is fixated on the atom bomb, the lingering aftermath of WWII, communists threats, the Cold War, and how to survive in this hostile new world. There are lessons and drills at school, warning posters around town, radio stations dedicated to such an emergency, and bomb shelters like the one buried in the Porter’s own backyard. No one is more obsessed than 10-year old Wilson. It’s all he thinks about, dreams about, worries about, talks about, and wants to prepare for. Meanwhile, his mom is remote, vaguely unhappy, and lost in her marriage. Worse still, his distant father works at the bomb plant, monitoring the environmental effects, but unable to communicate anything he does with his lonely family. Wilson longs for their affection, their attention.
McElroy did an amazing job telling 𝘈𝘵𝘰𝘮𝘪𝘤 𝘍𝘢𝘮𝘪𝘭𝘺, alternating between the three characters’ perspectives. Layer by layer, she built this into an incredible story that fit perfectly in the era, one I’ve come to really enjoy. Her writing was absolutely stellar and I cannot recommend this book more highly. I already believe you’ll be seeing it on one (or more) of my end-of-year “best” lists. Grade: A
Thanks to Blair Publishing for an electronic and beautiful finished copy of this book in exchange for my honest thoughts.
My Thoughts: Back in January, 𝗚𝗢 𝗔𝗦 𝗔 𝗥𝗜𝗩𝗘𝗥 by Shelley Read was the first five star book I read in 2023, and I can almost guarantee it will be among my Best Books of 2023. It’s that good. Better than that good. ALL the stars for this beautifully written debut. Bravo!
I’m not going to tell you much because this is a story you’ll want to sink into as it unfolds. It’s 1948 and Victoria Nash is 17. She’s already lived a tragic life between devastation from WWII and a tragic car accident that took three of the people she most loved. Victoria is the sole woman left on her family’s Colorado peach farm. She has a lot of responsibilities on her shoulders when she meets a boy/man, Wil, who others deem an outcast, hated for the color of his skin. Victoria has her own ideas, follows her heart and steers her own life down unexpected paths.
Told in first person, Victoria is a character I came to both admire and adore. She’s tough, yet vulnerable, selfless, yet willing to fight when she’s able, and remarkably resilient. Many have compared her to Kya in 𝘞𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘊𝘳𝘢𝘸𝘥𝘢𝘥𝘴 𝘚𝘪𝘯𝘨 and I would agree, but I cared for Victoria even more. I liked 𝘎𝘰 𝘢𝘴 𝘢 𝘙𝘪𝘷𝘦𝘳 even more. This is a MUST read book. Please, don’t even hesitate. Grade: A
Thanks to Spiegel & Grau for an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest thoughts.