I had a great reading month in Feb! I managed to read a ton of fantastic books, several of which I suspect will be appearing on various end-of-the-year favorites lists, and finished 2 books from my Top 10 2021 TBR, which also both happened to be books that have been on my TBR shelf for several years. I read a LOT of nonfiction, but also some SFF and short stories.
Total books read: 9
Legendborn by Tracy Deonn (5 stars) – I’m sometimes leery of the hype surrounding new releases, but in Legendborn’s case, it’s completely deserved. We’re following Bree, who’s starting an early college program at UNC-Chapel Hill with her best friend Alice after losing her mother a few months ago. Bree has been feeling fractured and like she has to hide her true feelings after her mother’s death, and then her world is rocked again when she discovers a secret society of warriors and mages who are the living descendants and heirs of King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table. Bree soon suspects that magic and the society may have been involved in her mother’s death, and finds herself entering into a tournament to obtain a place in the society in order to better investigate, while she simultaneously learns she may have a different power of her own.
Legendborn is the best YA book I’ve read in years. Bree is a determined main character who’s dealing with so much, and the plot never drags for so much as a chapter. The worldbuilding is unique and complex, and but in addition to the magic and action, the book focuses on addressing issues of racism, grief, and intergenerational trauma. I’d highly recommend this if you’re looking for a book to get lost in.
Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America by Ijeoma Oluo (5 stars) – An excellent nonfiction book that I listened to on audiobook. Oluo uses examples from throughout American history (some recent, some not) to discuss how the ideology that contemporary Trump supporters rally around has been present throughout, just in slightly different clothing. It’s very informative but completely accessible; I felt like I learned so much that gets glossed over in most historical narratives. It’s a hard book to summarize because it discusses so much, but it’s definitely one I’d recommend to everyone. It somehow manages to be both concise and thorough in its account of how racism and misogyny has shaped American history and its policies.
The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson (4.25 stars) – I haven’t gravitated towards science fiction in awhile, but I picked up The Space Between Worlds on a whim due to insomnia one night, since the audiobook was available from my library and read by one of my favorite audio narrators, Nicole Lewis, who also narrates Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. I was instantly drawn into the concept–in a world where the multiverse theory has been proven and is now being exploited for data and resource collection, Cara is a Traverser, able to travel to different versions of Earth on behalf of a company with questionable motives. There’s a catch, though–you can only travel to worlds where the version of you on that world is dead, and the reason Cara is such a valuable Traverser is that she’s died on almost all of the other Earths. Scientists and wealthy employees of the company aren’t able to travel within the multiverse because they’ve lived safe, privileged lives, whereas people like Cara grew up expendable, and on many worlds never grew up at all. Because of this, Cara is a scrappy, compelling main character determined to keep this version of herself alive.
This book has a lot of different elements that I loved, including a Mad Max:Fury Road-esque city; a suspicious tech company; interesting family dynamics; and compelling romantic storylines. Being able to see different versions of characters in different worlds was something I loved and didn’t know I needed; I also loved the writing style and the themes explored in this book.
White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson (4.5 stars) – A fairly short nonfiction book about the history of racism in the U.S., but one that is incredibly informative and packed with crucial information that hasn’t been highlighted nearly as much as it should be. It’s a book I think everyone needs to read and learn from; I mainly listened to the audiobook which is narrated by the author.
How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi (4.5 stars) – I wasn’t aware when I picked this book up that it not only encompasses sociological discussion of racism and antiracism, but is also part memoir, with Kendi recounting various times he either exhibited or witnessed racist or antiracist behaviors in his life. I thought that the addition of these sections made it even more powerful; the last chapter in particular hits especially hard. It’s an extremely valuable book that I recommend everyone pick up; it’s told in short chapters that discuss different aspects of racism and antiracism.
What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi (4 stars) – The stories in Helen Oyeyemi’s What is Not Yours is Not Yours are connected by the recurring motif of keys and also by a few recurring characters. Many of them have fabulist elements, which is something I’m always drawn to in short stories, and they often contain stories within stories that don’t seem to relate to each other at first but then blend beautifully by the end. My favorites in the collection were “‘sorry’ doesn’t sweeten her tea,” about a man trying to help his stepdaughter deal with the revelation that her musical crush is facing a MeToo allegation, and “is your blood as red as this?” about aspiring puppeteers and their very strange puppets. Although Oyeyemi’s writing is consistently great throughout, some of the stories grabbed me much more than others.
Act Like It by Lucy Parker (3.5 stars) – This is the first book in Parker’s London Celebrities series, a contemporary romance series centered around the theater world of London’s West End, but it’s actually the third book in the series I’ve read (I previously read books 4 and 5, The Austen Playbook and Headliners, both of which I loved). This time we’re doing the fake dating trope between likable actress Lainey and notoriously grumpy actor Richard. As with previous books, I loved the setting, side characters, and world in this one, but I did overall enjoy it slightly less than the other books in the series so far. The two main characters seemed a bit less well-developed than couples in books 4 and 5, and although I did like both of them, it caused the book to have a bit less emotional resonance for me. I’m still really looking forward to moving forward with book 2, Pretty Face, probably sometime in the next few months. (I’m not so sure about book 3, Making Up, since it involves the circus and I really hate anything circus-related.)
Weird But Normal by Mia Mercado (3 stars) – a debut essay collection that was fun at times but not a standout for me. My favorite essays dealt with millennial childhood nostalgia, mental health, and Mercado’s discussions of growing up biracial in the Midwest; the second half of the collection was much less successful for me, and many of the pieces included felt unnecessary.
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff (2.5 stars ) – I’ve been struggling as to how to rate and review this book, since my feelings about it have been a bit of a rollercoaster. The premise is simple: it’s the story of a marriage, with the first half of the book told from the husband’s perspective and the second half from the wife’s; we know going in that the husband, Lotto, becomes a famous playwright, supported by his wife, Mathilde. I started out hating the book, in part due to my strong dislike for its main character, Lotto, and almost DNF’d it. I kept going because there were certain elements of the writing that I did like, and then I started to enjoy the book a lot more when Lotto and Mathilde got together and the author showed the passage of time in a really interesting way, by showing scenes and snapshots of the parties they held in their first apartment over the years with a cast of friends. The prose can be beautiful at times, but is often pretentious and overwrought, but the parts I liked kept me interested through the parts I didn’t. I was determined to make it to the perspective shift, since I really wanted to see what the author would reveal, but I ended up more disappointed than not with the last section; there were certain plot points that I did appreciate the author shining a light on, but it was more anticlimactic than expected, and I found the ending itself to be somewhat of a letdown. I can completely understand why there are people who love this book, and also why there are many who hate it; its characters are determinedly unlikable, and its prose definitely isn’t for everyone, but there are things that the author does very well. For me, it was neither great nor terrible. While I did find it interesting, and I don’t think I regret reading it, I also don’t think I’d be missing anything if I’d skipped it, because when I add up the elements I did and really didn’t like, I’m left with a feeling that for me, the book was just OK. (I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that Fates and Furies has a really absurd amount of fat-shaming. It’s present both in explicit statements from characters and the omnipotent narrator and also implicitly, with its only fat characters presented as the book’s biggest villains. It’s something that really takes away from the story, and I think readers should be aware.)