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I hope February has been good to you and yours. It feels like it’s ending a lot better than it began in terms of COVID and that’s a much needed hopeful sign. Right now it’s freezing here in Washington, but thankfully dry, so no snow. I know that’s not the case for much of the rest of the country, so hang in there! At least the chilly weather gives us all the perfect excuse to stay in and read, read read! I’ve done that quite a lot this month and today am sharing six of my favorites read for February.
I’ve also been dipping into some backlist books and will share a post focused solely on those in a couple months. As always, if you want to see ALL my reviews and in a more timely fashion, you can follow me on Instagram @novelvisits.
Brown Girls by Daphne Palasi Andreades (debut)
Publisher: Random House
Release Date: January 4, 2022
Length: 224 pages
My Thoughts: 𝐁𝐑𝐎𝗪𝐍 𝐆𝐈𝐑𝐋𝐒 by Daphne Palasi Andeades is a wonderful, unique debut following an unnamed group of women from childhood through midlife. Told in the collective voice, these women all share being from Queens and having brown skin, in all of its many tones. They are as different as they are alike, and that’s what the author so beautifully brought to life. It’s why I’m going to let three quotes I bookmarked speak for the rest of this review.
“…𝘸𝘦 𝘢𝘳𝘦 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝚐𝚘𝚘𝚍 𝚒𝚖𝚖𝚒𝚐𝚛𝚊𝚗𝚝 𝚍𝚊𝚞𝚐𝚑𝚝𝚎𝚛𝚜, 𝚝𝚑𝚎 𝚘𝚑-𝚜𝚘-𝚑𝚊𝚛𝚍-𝚠𝚘𝚛𝚔𝚒𝚗𝚐 𝚘𝚗𝚎𝚜, 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝚙𝚊𝚛𝚊𝚐𝚘𝚗𝚜 𝚘𝚏 𝚝𝚑𝚎 𝙰𝚖𝚎𝚛𝚒𝚌𝚊𝚗 𝙳𝚛𝚎𝚊𝚖, 𝘢𝘳𝘦𝘯’𝘵 𝘸𝘦? (𝘉𝘶𝘵 𝘸𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘧𝘰𝘳? 𝘍𝘰𝘳 𝘸𝘩𝘰𝘮?) 𝘕𝘰𝘣𝘰𝘥𝘺 𝘢𝘴𝘬𝘴 𝘢𝘣𝘰𝘶𝘵 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘸𝘰𝘳𝘬 𝘪𝘵𝘴𝘦𝘭𝘧. 𝘞𝘦 𝘢𝘳𝘦 𝘴𝘰 𝘷𝘪𝘴𝘪𝘣𝘭𝘦 𝘸𝘦 𝘩𝘢𝘷𝘦 𝘣𝘦𝘤𝘰𝘮𝘦 𝘪𝘯𝘷𝘪𝘴𝘪𝘣𝘭𝘦. 𝘖𝘥𝘥 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘪𝘯 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘴 𝘮𝘰𝘮𝘦𝘯𝘵 𝘸𝘦 𝘥𝘳𝘦𝘢𝘮𝘵 𝘰𝘧, 𝘸𝘦 𝘢𝘳𝘦 𝘧𝘢𝘤𝘦𝘭𝘦𝘴𝘴.”
“𝘉𝘳𝘰𝘸𝘯 𝘨𝘪𝘳𝘭𝘴 𝘣𝘳𝘰𝘸𝘯 𝘨𝘪𝘳𝘭𝘴 𝘣𝘳𝘰𝘸𝘯 𝘨𝘪𝘳𝘭𝘴 𝘸𝘩𝘰, 𝘪𝘯 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘪𝘳 𝘣𝘰𝘯𝘦𝘴, 𝘢𝘳𝘦 𝘣𝘦𝘨𝘪𝘯𝘯𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘵𝘰 𝘶𝘯𝘥𝘦𝘳𝘴𝘵𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘺 𝘢𝘳𝘦 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘴𝘶𝘮 𝘰𝘧 𝘮𝘢𝘯𝘺 𝘪𝘥𝘦𝘯𝘵𝘪𝘵𝘪𝘦𝘴, 𝘮𝘢𝘯𝘺 𝘩𝘪𝘴𝘵𝘰𝘳𝘪𝘦𝘴, 𝘢𝘵 𝘰𝘯𝘤𝘦.
𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘤𝘰𝘭𝘰𝘯𝘪𝘻𝘦𝘥, 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘤𝘰𝘭𝘰𝘯𝘪𝘻𝘦𝘳𝘴. 𝘞𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦 𝘥𝘰 𝘸𝘦 𝘧𝘢𝘭𝘭?”
“𝘞𝘦 𝘭𝘰𝘷𝘦 𝘰𝘶𝘳 𝘧𝘳𝘪𝘦𝘯𝘥𝘴, 𝘴𝘵𝘪𝘭𝘭.
𝘞𝘰𝘯𝘥𝘦𝘳 𝘩𝘰𝘸 𝘸𝘦, 𝘵𝘰𝘰, 𝘩𝘢𝘷𝘦 𝘤𝘩𝘢𝘯𝘨𝘦𝘥 𝘪𝘯 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘪𝘳 𝘦𝘺𝘦𝘴.
𝘋𝘪𝘥 𝘰𝘶𝘳 𝘧𝘳𝘪𝘦𝘯𝘥𝘴 𝘢𝘭𝘸𝘢𝘺𝘴 𝘴𝘦𝘦𝘮 𝘴𝘰 𝘧𝘳𝘢𝘨𝘪𝘭𝘦?
𝘞𝘦’𝘷𝘦 𝘣𝘦𝘤𝘰𝘮𝘦 𝘴𝘵𝘳𝘢𝘯𝘨𝘦𝘳𝘴 𝘵𝘰 𝘦𝘢𝘤𝘩 𝘰𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘳, 𝘣𝘶𝘵 𝘥𝘰𝘯’𝘵 𝘸𝘢𝘯𝘵 𝘵𝘰 𝘢𝘥𝘮𝘪𝘵 𝘪𝘵.”
The emotion and commonality that rang true for so many girls throughout 𝘉𝘳𝘰𝘸𝘯 𝘎𝘪𝘳𝘭𝘴 really spoke to my heart. Grade: B+
The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: February 1, 2022
Length: 320 pages
My Thoughts: I didn’t have any expectations going into 𝐓𝐇𝐄 𝐂𝐇𝐑𝐈𝐒𝐓𝐈𝐄 𝐀𝐅𝐅𝐀𝐈𝐑 by Nina de Gramont. I’m admittedly not an Agatha Christie fan; in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever read one of her books. (Yes, I am embarrassed!) I’d heard of her 11 day disappearance in 1926, and read up on it a bit about before starting the book. I was glad I did because that little bit of background showed me just how neatly the author wove her story into the real events of those 11 days.
For the first 10-15% of the book, I was unsure how I felt about it, and then suddenly, I was all in. I realized that I was loving the voice of the narrator, Nan O’Dea, the fictional mistress of Agatha’s husband, Archie. (Though him having mistresses was well known.) De Gramont gave Nan a great backstory and solid reasons to wind up involved in Agatha’s disappearance. Layer by layer, she built the story, creating some mystery of her own, and drawing me deeper and deeper into the lives of both Nan and Agatha. Whether you’re a Christie fan or not, I highly recommend 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘊𝘩𝘳𝘪𝘴𝘵𝘪𝘦 𝘈𝘧𝘧𝘢𝘪𝘳. Grade: A-
Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson (debut)
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Release Date: February 1, 2022
Length: 400 pages
My Thoughts: 𝐁𝐋𝐀𝐂𝐊 𝐂𝐀𝐊𝐄 by debut author Charmaine Wilkerson is a story of family secrets. The biggest of these surrounds Eleanor Bennett, who upon her death leaves her son and daughter an hours-long recording explaining who she and their father really were, and why they lived a secret life. And, that’s only the start of her surprises. Eleanor was born Covey, grew up in the Caribbean, eventually landed in England and finally California. While Eleanor held many dark secrets, her children were not without some of their own. Theirs was a complicated family story that I was thoroughly engrossed in even when its layers got a little thick.
I loved the theme of the “black cake” tradition that ran through this story. It helped to tie everything together and really developed that feeling of home. What worked less well for me was the last quarter of the book. It felt like too much was covered, jumping abruptly from scene to scene. Every possible loose end was tied up and that just didn’t need to happen. The book would have been stronger to me, had the focus stayed more narrow, and possibly had a little tighter editing. Never-the-less Wilkerson is most definitely a new author to watch. I’ll be very interested in reading whatever she does next. Grade: B-
Love & Saffron by Kim Fay
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Release Date: February 8, 2022
Length: 208 pages
My Thoughts: I’ll be honest, I hadn’t really planned on reading 𝐋𝐎𝐕𝐄 & 𝐒𝐀𝐅𝐅𝐑𝐎𝐍 by Kim Fay, but two things happened almost simultaneously that made me believe the universe wanted me to read it. First, I was texting with Catherine @gilmoreguide and she was telling me how much she loved the book, so I was curious. Then, less than 10 minutes later, my mail came and what was in my mailbox? That’s right, a copy of 𝘓𝘰𝘷𝘦 & 𝘚𝘢𝘧𝘧𝘳𝘰𝘯!
I started reading that night and finished the next day. I’m no speed reader, but the book is short and it’s also an epistolary novel, making it move very quickly. Spanning a few years in the 1960’s, Joan and Imogen become fast friends almost exclusively through letters. Joan, a recent college graduate, first writes a fan letter to Imogen, a 60ish food columnist for a small Northwest magazine. Drawn to Joan’s words, Imogen writes back. An unusual friendship, built on a love of food and trying new things, quickly builds and changes both women’s lives.
Over the course of the book there were also nods to historical events and the culture of the day, both adding umami to the mix. Though cozy doesn’t normally match my usual darker tastes, I loved the sweet friendship and the flavorful side characters in 𝘓𝘰𝘷𝘦 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘚𝘢𝘧𝘧𝘳𝘰𝘯. It read like comfort food tastes, leaving me hungry and longing to cook something new! Grade: B
Cleopatra and Frankenstein by Coco Mellors (debut)
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Release Date: February 8, 2022
Length: 384 pages
My Thoughts: 𝐂𝐋𝐄𝐎𝐏𝐀𝐓𝐑𝐀 𝐀𝐍𝐃 𝐅𝐑𝐀𝐍𝐊𝐄𝐍𝐒𝐓𝐄𝐈𝐍 by debut author Coco Mellors has the dangerous distinction of being compared to such books as 𝘔𝘰𝘥𝘦𝘳𝘯 𝘓𝘰𝘷𝘦𝘳𝘴 by Emma Straub and 𝘊𝘰𝘯𝘷𝘦𝘳𝘴𝘢𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯𝘴 𝘸𝘪𝘵𝘩 𝘍𝘳𝘪𝘦𝘯𝘥𝘴 by Sally Rooney. Those are big shoes to fill, but for me Mellors has done it. So, let me say right at the top that I thought her writing was simply exquisite. A pure pleasure to read. Bravo!
Cleo and Frank meet while leaving a New Year’s Eve party in 2007. She’s 24 and on a student visa that’s expiring in six months. He’s the 45ish owner of a successful New York marketing firm. Theirs is a whirlwind romance that ends in a marriage that takes most everyone by surprise including themselves. That’s the basic setup for 𝘊𝘭𝘦𝘰𝘱𝘢𝘵𝘳𝘢 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘍𝘳𝘢𝘯𝘬𝘦𝘯𝘴𝘵𝘦𝘪𝘯, but the story is really what happens after: how two people who barely knew each other can make a go of their marriage, or not. It’s also about how the people in their lives feel about the couple and how that impacts their relationship.
This is a story that delves into how two people can truly love each other even when they don’t seem to be able to fit together. It’s a story steeped in excess and touched by mental illness. It’s a love story, but not a romance. It’s dark, but not crushingly so. It’s hopeful, but not overtly. It’s a book I highly recommend to fans of Sally Rooney or even to those who find Rooney just a little too dark. 𝘊𝘭𝘦𝘰𝘱𝘢𝘵𝘳𝘢 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘍𝘳𝘢𝘯𝘬𝘦𝘯𝘴𝘵𝘦𝘪𝘯 will give you the same feel, but won’t leave you crushed. I loved it! Grade: A-
Our American Friend by Anna Pitoniak
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: February 15, 2022
Length: 336 pages
My Thoughts: 𝐎𝐔𝐑 𝐀𝐌𝐄𝐑𝐈𝐂𝐀𝐍 𝐅𝐑𝐈𝐄𝐍𝐃 cements Anna Pitoniak as an author I will always read. The story centers on Sofie Morse, a one-time White House journalist, who is recruited by the First Lady to write her biography, but Lara Caine isn’t your typical First Lady. She’ll remind you of Melania, but there’s a whole lot more to her than that. Lara is also Russian and the daughter of a long time KGB agent stationed in Paris. She grew up on the periphery of the spy-game, learning its rules and eventually how to play.
The real question becomes why? Why does Lara want her biography written now and why Sofie? This is the essence of 𝘖𝘶𝘳 𝘈𝘮𝘦𝘳𝘪𝘤𝘢𝘯 𝘍𝘳𝘪𝘦𝘯𝘥 and out first clue is that as the book opens Sofie and her husband are living in exile in Croatia. Why? From start to finish, I was captivated by both women’s stories, flying through those pages looking for answers. In the end, I was very satisfied. This is a fast, fun read that I definitely recommend! Grade: B+
What have you been reading this month?
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