Another month in the bag. As promised, here’s a rundown of my reads of this month and some quickie reviews of everything I read, for better or for worse. On with my February reads!
MY FEBRUARY READS
The Fields, Erin Young – I read an ARC of this Iowa-set crime thriller, and I wish I had more to say, but it can kind of all be summed up by my experience reading this: something just felt off, and 80% through I did some Googling to discover the author is actually British, and based the story off some news articles they read about Iowa and agriculture developments in the Midwest. I’m not saying authors should never set books in places they haven’t been to (or have only seen as a tourist), but let’s just say that it can be achingly obvious sometimes. 3/5 stars.
Mexican Gothic, Silvia Moreno-Garcia – A twisty thriller that lives up to its name, exploring Mexican 1950s socialite Noemi uncovering a mystery surrounding her cousin, recently married to a British landowner in a rural estate, far from their native Mexico City. More of a classic ghost story than a modern-day horror, this is a cinematic and compelling book. 4/5 stars.
Vox, Christina Dalcher – I read Dalcher’s Femlandia a few months ago and…. didn’t like it, but I thought it could be worth reading her first novel to see if Femlandia was just a fluke. Nope! This is another Handmaid’s Tale knockoff that offers no real commentary, just some plasticky attempts at feminism and critique of Christian nationalism. I would hope these types of books become less relevant/marketable with Trump out of the White House. 2/5 stars.
Caste, Isabel Wilkerson – A phenomenal anti-racist book examining how the Jim Crow laws–and the continued segregation that emerged from them–closely mirrors the both the caste system in India and the caste system used to “classify” victims of the Third Reich. An uncomfortable but essential read, and Wilkerson is one of the most talented longform journalists alive today. 5/5 stars.
Heatwave, Victor Jestin – A translated-from-French novella from the POV of Leonard, a teenager enduring a boring family holiday and falling in with the resort’s resident ‘cool kids’, thought things take a dark turn. It’s compelling and captures adolescent ennui well, but it’s a “nothing happens” book and also so short it doesn’t feel particularly fleshed out. 3/5 stars.
The Maid, Nita Prose – A book that proves peer pressure works on me – this book is all over Booksta and I’m glad I gave it a try. Molly is a dedicated and driven maid working at the Regency Grand Hotel – and one day she finds her employer dead in his suite. She is neurodivergent, and many around her have taken advantage of her, but she possesses skills that have been overlooked and can help to crack the case. A unique and fast-paced cozy mystery. The audiobook is wonderfully read by Lauren Ambrose, aka Claire from Six Feet Under, if that’s your thing. 4/5 stars.
Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng – The queen of the book club knows how to churn out a great family drama where about 90% of the issues would be solved if everyone just sat down for two seconds and talked to each other, but this is a great addition to the genre. In my opinion, this is a stronger book than Little Fires Everywhere (which I also loved – we don’t talk about the TV show) because it deals more overtly with race and especially the Asian-American experience. Great primer for Ng’s third book, coming out in October. 4/5 stars
The Disaster Tourist, Yun Ko-Eun – I think this book reinforces why Squid Game and All of Us Are Dead just fell a bit flat for me–the pacing of Korean media just doesn’t compute with my brain. Language barrier? Cultural differences? I just don’t know. The book is focused on Yona, who works at a tour operator focused on holidays to ‘dark’ destinations, and is sent on the road to assess some itineraries (or to get her out of the office after making a sexual harassment complaint against her boss). I used to work in travel and enjoyed a lot of the details, even if they felt a bit too cringey and recognisable. But the second half of the book feels like a totally different book–and it was just too WTF to really get into. 3/5 stars.
First They Killed My Father, Loung Ung – It’s a bit hard to give a star rating to someone’s actual life, but a lifetime of US history classes have given me some blind spots around Cold War history. Ung tells the story of growing up under the Khmer Rouge, as it split up her family and forced her and her siblings into work camps. It feels relevant considering how current events are exposing… some ongoing confusion as to what Communism actually is, and Ung is a capable writer, although there is some discourse among the Cambodian diaspora about Ung’s suitability to be the primary memoirist of the Pol Pot years as her family, led by her French-educated government agent father, were particuarly privileged before the Khmer Rouge took power. 4/5 stars
Universal Harvester, John Darnielle – Another book set in Iowa! Although this was better than The Fields. It focuses on Jeremy, a college student working at a video store in 1990s small-town Iowa, stumbling across returned videos with weird scenes intercut in them. It’s a chilling horror novel, but the split plots clearly demonstrate one is stronger than the other. 3.5/5 stars
Wishful Drinking, Carrie Fisher – Surprise I’m a loser! Of course I am, my laptop background is an art print of Tatooine. But the late Carrie Fisher hasn’t been remembered enough for her comedic chops, and this book is riotously funny and profoundly reflective as she looks back on her career and struggles with mental health and addiction. And it’s quite relatable and emotionally resonant, even if most of us don’t get turned into a Pez dispenser or get approached by fans telling us they thought of you every day from age 12. Well, four times a day. 4/5 stars.
A Kick in the Belly, Stella Dadzie – A short but well-researched look at how women led many slave rebellions and smaller acts of resistance against the slavery industrial complex from the 17th century onwards. This was a particuarly interesting read as it focused mostly on the experiences of slaves in the Caribbean rather than the American South, and how specifically the British profited from slavery. 4/5 stars.
Plain Bad Heroines, Emily M. Danforth – If you like books about EVERYTHING, this is one for you–telling the parallel stories of Brookhaunts School, a New England all-girls boarding school with a string of ‘cursed’ events in the early 1900s, and the contemporary story of a Hollywood production of a Blair-Witch-esque film set there. It’s huge, with a massive cast and a very “as you will see, readers” tone that could be alienating. But it’s certainly unforgettable. While the “Picnic at Hanging Rock, but with lesbians” comps are compelling, it’s selling this unique novel a bit short. 4.5/5 stars
Velvet Was the Night, Silvia Moreno-Garcia – Guess I started and ended the month with Moreno-Garcia. While Mexican Gothic is a fantasy-tinged mystery, this is a more straightforward noir set in 1970s Mexico City, involving gang wars and government clampdowns on leftwing organisers. The setting of this is super compelling and offers a lot of insight into Latin American history of the time, but the actual plot failed to hook me. 2/5 stars.
Total pages read: 5,035
Fiction/Nonfiction breakdown: 69%/31%
Books by authors of colour: 43%
Percentage read as audiobooks: 68%
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