February Wrap-Up // 2021

February By the Numbers:
  • Total Books Read: 13
  • Audiobooks: 0
  • Five Star Reads: 2
  • Goodreads Shelf: 28/125 (22%)
  • Unread Shelf: 2 (15%)
  • Nonfiction Challenge: 2/12
  • Books by BIPOC Authors: 5 (31%)
  • By Women Authors: 10 (71%)
  • Diverse Books: 4 (31%)
  • Nonfiction Reads: 6 (46%)
  • Debuts: 3 (23%)
  • Published in 2021: 10 (71%)

Favorite Book of February:

Infinite Country by Patricia Engel

Honorable Mentions:

  • How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America by Kiese Laymon
  • Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

For Fans of #OwnVoices Fiction:

  • Infinite Country by Patricia Engel – A book that literally made me sob like a baby is definitely going to be a top book of the month for me! This small book (only roughly about 200 pages) packed a big ol’ punch as it dealt with themes of undocumented immigration, deportation, resilience, love, family, and forgiveness. The writing was beautiful, and before I knew it, I was crying like this was really happening to me. I’m not sure there’s higher praise for a book – to make the reader feel such an intensely personal reaction. This book is seared into my heart…and I’ve added Mauro to my list of favorite literary characters!

For Fans of Fiction With a Touch of Magical Realism:

  • Kindred by Octavia E. Butler – Magical realism is hit or miss for me, but Butler handled it masterfully in this story where Dana alternates between her present-day life in 1976 California, and a slavery plantation in the 1800s. While this book was written in 1979, it reads as if it’s a new release! Butler really brought to the reader’s attention just how little say Black people had over their body. They were beaten, raped, and killed for the smallest infractions. Dana had to strategically navigate this reality as she was used to living life as a free woman.This book was intense, heartbreaking, and very well-written.

For Fans of Memoir:

  • * American Daughter by Stephanie Thornton Plymale – If you liked Educated or The Glass Castle, this is the next memoir in that lineup that you need to read. Plymale’s life wasn’t easy. As her mother struggled with mental illness and addiction, her children were left to fend for themselves. They were homeless, in and out of foster homes, and sexually abused. But when Plymale’s mother is diagnosed with terminal cancer, she is able to gain insight into her own mother’s troubled past. Without making excuses for her, Plymale is able to find a place of forgiveness, not only for her mother, but also for her own pain.

For Fans of Historical Fiction:

  • The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah – I love Kristin Hannah, and I will read everything she writes. In The Four Winds, the Martinelli family lives in Texas in the 1930s. A decades long drought has plagued the region; daily dust storms occur, not only destroying the crops and land, but also the livestock. Hannah’s writing is so descriptive that I could feel the grit from the dust in my teeth, the heat sizzling on my skin, and the desperation of a mother trying to keep her children alive. The writing is slow and so very sad, and Elsa eventually heads west to California in hopes of finding a job to provide for her children. I loved this book up until this point, but it lost its steam when they reached California. For me, there was an incredibly odd twist and the ending wrapped up way too quickly. Even though this wasn’t a five-star read, I still appreciate Hannah’s writing so much. She has a way of making her readers become invested in the story and I’m looking foward to what she writes next.
  • Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell – I avoided this one because I am not a fan of Shakespeare and I felt like the 1500s time period wouldn’t work for me. I was sadly mistaken! This book is more about Shakespeare’s wife, Agnes, and their three kids. In fact, Shakespeare’s name isn’t even mentioned in the book! The first half of the book sets you up for the second half where it tackles the big topics of child illness, death, and grief. The way O’Farrell demonstrated the very realistic portrayal of grief and how it affects people very differently was masterful. I became so emotionally invested that I had tears in my eyes as I finished the last sentence. Honestly, the ending sealed the deal for me – definitely making this one of my favorite reads of the month!

For Fans of Nonfiction:

  • The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race by Walter Isaacson – Isaacson is a master writer of biographies and when I saw this was about Jennifer Doudna, a leading scientist on the frontlines of fighting coronavirus, I knew I wanted to read this one. As the vaccines began roling out for COVID-19, I was especially interested in the groundbreaking technology of mRNA and how that is implemented. There were definitely parts that were over my head as I’m not very knowledgeable about science, and I really didn’t love all the background information about other scientists, but I also know both of these things were necessary to accurately relay the timeline of the vaccine development.
  • * Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York by Elon Green – In the 1980s and 1990s, a serial killer targeted gay men in New York City. The “Last Call Killer” dismembered his victim’s bodies and then disposed of them at rest stops along highways. Years later, with a technological breakthrough, a break in the case helped police crack several cold cases and bring justice to many of these murdered victim’s families. As a non-New Yorker, I found a lot of the details distracting (though I’m sure locals wouldn’t have had the same annoyance). Overall, I just felt like the book could have used some tighter editing and it wasn’t as engrossing as I’d hope it would be.
  • This Is All I Got by Lauren Sandler – Through immersive journalism, Sandler followed Camila, a brand-new mother who is homeless in New York. Camila is resourceful and knows all the ins-and-outs of the government systems that are in place to help the homeless population, but as she continually finds out, there’s more red tape at every turn. She spends hours, days, and weeks just trying to find the answers she needs to secure a home for her and her son, only to be turned down because she lacks a simple document. She wants a better life for her and her son, but our government programs do not make it easy, even for a motivated person. Parts of this book really reminded me of Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land. She was also highly motivated and well-versed in the system, yet found poverty a hard hole to dig out of. Lauren Sandler did a great job of providing the story of Camila and her son, Alonso, while also giving the reader facts and information about the current homeless crisis in New York.

For Fans of Essay Collections:

  • How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America by Kiese Laymon – After the publication of American Dirt last year, the publishing world has come underfire for underpaying #ownvoices authors and not valuing a more diverse cast of authors. Laymon tackles that issues in subtle ways throughout this tiny book (just 176 pages) that packed a massive punch! I had started and DNF’d Heavy a couple years ago; however, I kept it on my shelves because I knew there was something there. This book has convinced me that it’s time to pick it up again…and I will be doing that asap! Since attempting Heavy, I have purposefully focused on reading more diverse books; and, more specifically, those from #ownvoices authors. I have intentionally focused on expanding my own knowledge of my privilege and my personal blindspots and I believe I am now ready to read more Kiese Laymon. His writing is strong and powerful and I was in awe of the arguments he so eloquently set forth in this book.
  • Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019 by Ibram X. Kendi & Keisha N. Blain – Unlike anything I’ve ever read before, this community history was incredible! It documents the 400 years of Black history in America – from the actual first arrival of Blacks on this soil in 1619…a year before the Mayflower landed. I learned so much and flagged so many parts where I was prompted to want to research and learn more. This also prompted so many conversations with my teenagers on the way to school as I tried to assess how accurate the history they’ve been taught has been (it seems like it’s better than I expected, but still falls way short). The bite-size essays were perfect for focusing on some of those big events we’ve all been introduced to, and also for those far smaller incidents we’ve never heard about. It’s an amazing compilation and everyone should have this book on their shelves! (I also listened to the audiobook off and on and it is equally incredible!)

For Fans of Thrillers/Mysteries:

  • Do No Harm by Christina McDonald – This book has A LOT going on in it – parent loss, sick child, addiction, an opioid crisis, and several murder investigations. It felt like McDonald threw a whole bunch of things into one story – and it was just kind of a lot. I didn’t love it. It felt like she couldn’t really focus on a cohesive plot because she had so many plot lines to connect and tie together. Having said that, I was compelled to read it in a day. I wanted to know what was happening and who was responsible!
  • * The Push by Ashley Audrain – Maybe if I had read this book before Baby Teeth I would have enjoyed it more, but it was just too similar for me to become engaged. It totally felt like a copycat version, and the story itself is just so outlandish that one book in this category is more than enough. I didn’t buy into any of it and I forced myself to finish, all while rolling my eyes so hard.
  • * The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner – I got lost in this dark and mysterious story with dual timelines that switch back and forth between 1870s London and present-day London. It’s rare for me to equally enjoy both timelines but I was riveted by Sarah Penner’s debut novel. When Caroline finds out that her husband has been having an affair, she takes what was supposed to be their 10-year anniversary trip to London alone. On her first day there, she goes mudlarking and finds a mysterious bottle on the banks of the Thames which quickly sends her on a mission to find out where it came from. Turns out, it came from an apothecary in the area over two hundred years ago. Penner seamlessly weaves the two stories together and I flew through this book in less than a day!
(Debuts denoted by *)

Unread Shelf Update:

I added 4 books to my shelves last month, so as of the end of February, the total number of physical books on my shelves is: 236

If you’d like to participate in the Unread Shelf Project, head over to Whitney’s blog for more information!

February Posts:

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