Books I read in February

This was another busy month for reading – again in part due to snowy, icy days when the best place to spend time was curled up with a book. According to my book-tracking spreadsheet (my year doing this – someone else doing the PopSugar Reading Challenge had one and I decided to make my own), I finished books totaling over 2600 pages in February, 500 pages more than in all of January, and that’s only the books the count for the challenge, not others I’ve read just because they interest me. But of course, that’s books I finished in February. (Two of them I had started in January, and one back in December.)

The librarian at the college has helped me select some books for the PopSugar Reading Challenge. For a book set in space, she suggested A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe by Alex White. I’ve always enjoyed science fiction, so I happily dove into this novel. It’s an interesting mix of science and magic, which seems odd but works well enough since, after all, a lot of the “science” in science fiction is little more than magic labeled as science on the assumption that someday we’ll figure out a natural way to do what seems supernatural now. I’m not as enthusiastic about the book as some readers, but it was pretty good, once I finally figured out what was going on (the beginning is a bit confusing).

Another of the librarian’s recommendations was Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens, edited by Marieke Nijkamp, as an “own voices” book. As a collection of stories by different writers, the style and quality also differ considerably. Some I enjoyed more than others, but there weren’t any I disliked, and it gave me a perspective on what it might be like to be a teenager with physical disability, chronic illness, or mental illness.

A few months ago I read Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway, which I discovered after reading was the first in a series. I hadn’t been sure whether I’d read more in the series, but since one of the prompts for this year is a book written by a musician (fiction or nonfiction), and McGuire is a musician as well as a writer, I decided to read Down Among the Sticks and Bones. It actually is more of a prequel than a sequel, and having read the first book I already knew Jack and Jill’s story. It was interesting to get all the details of it, though knowing the ending rather takes away any sense of suspense.

For “your favorite prompt from a past POPSUGAR Reading Challenge,” I knew I could find books I would enjoy that would be a book from a nonhuman perspective, a book about time travel, or a book that involves a bookstore or library. I’ve continued reading the St Mary’s Chronicles by Jodi Taylor, but so far they’ve happened to fit other categories. I’ll also read more of the Chet and Bernie books, though I have one of them planned for one of two books that share the same title. But for now the book I’m marking down for this prompt is The Lost for Words Bookshop by Stephanie Butland. It took me a while to get into the book, despite the obvious appeal of books and book-lovers, but once the story really got moving I enjoyed it.

When I started As The Crow Flies by Craig Johnson, my fourth read in Johnson’s Walt Longmire series (though I have not them at all in order), I thought it would work for a book that includes a wedding, since Walt Longmire is supposed to be helping plan his daughter’s wedding that is in two weeks. As the story went on, day by day, I began to wonder if perhaps it would finish before the two weeks was up. And in the meantime, I finished reading Jodi Taylor’s No Time Like the Past, which did include a wedding. But as it turned out, Johnson does end the book with the wedding, so now I have two books read for that prompt.

I also had found multiple options for a retelling of a classic, and I still plan to read the others, but I picked out Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson to read this month. Partly it was curiosity what the collaboration of those writers would be like, and partly because I sometimes like to read children’s books, and this would be a good book to read when I wanted a break from the non-fiction books I am reading. It actually is more a prequel to the story of Peter Pan than a retelling of it, but because it finds a way to explain the origin of not only Peter but the Lost Boys, the mermaids, the Indians, Captain Hook and Smee, and even the crocodile, I think it qualifies as a retelling, and an interesting one at that. (Though I still plan to read at least one of the others suggested for this prompt.)

A Goodreads list of retellings of Alice in Wonderland included Coraline by Neil Gaiman, and I liked what I had read by Gaiman previously, so I decided to read this one also. I didn’t think it really had much in common with Alice in Wonderland, other than the idea of an alternate reality reached by going through an opening of some kind. I did notice later, when I went back to the list, that it says “or just wonderland in general,” so perhaps that explains its presence on the list. But I was more interested in an actual retelling of Alice’s story, as I read two of those last year (or maybe the year before?). This book is kind of creepy, which appeals to some people, but not very much to me. It’s a well-told story, I think, just not what I enjoy reading.

I had no idea what I would read for the prompt of “a debut novel,” and no idea I had just finished reading one until I was reading other Goodreads readers’ reviews of Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith. While some the these reviews do point out some of its shortcomings, I found it a very engaging story once I got into it (at the beginning it’s hard to tell who the story is about, and the main character is not particularly likable), and I was surprised to find out it was Smith’s first novel. I had also been somewhat concerned, at the beginning, at some of the grisly scenes, but given the setting of Russia under Stalin, the scenes are appropriate, and not especially graphic. And there is less of that as the story goes on, though the emotional and psychological stress that people live under is probably as life-draining as the more overt violence. Some reviews says that Smith chose to use the most extreme stereotypes in describing life in Stalin’s Russia – that may be true, but even stereotypes have some basis in fact. It’s a well-told story, in my opinion, though not exactly what one can call “fun” to read.

I had seen Circe by Madeline Miller suggested for “a retelling of a classic,” since it tells of Odysseus’ visit to Circe’s island, recounted in The Odyssey, but that part of the story comprises less than half the book, and I decided it worked better for a book inspired by mythology, legend, or folklore. I went through a period, as a girl, when I read every book on Greek mythology that I could get my hands on. The local library’s children’s section only had so many books on the subject, however. When I had finished them (along with books I found at home and that my father bought for me), I discovered science fiction, which had the advantage of there always being new ideas and new books coming out. There are only so many ways to retell the familiar stories of Greek mythology, but Miller succeeds well in providing a fresh perspective, that of a minor goddess rather than a human. Most of the stories included in the novel were familiar to me, but only barely, as it had been so long since I had read them (Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books had refreshed my mind on some of them, but there is relatively little overlap with the characters and stories in Miller’s novel). Her novel is not just about retelling old stories, either, but about the meaning of being human.

I had been puzzling over what book I might read for a book with a question in the title. A lot of people have chosen Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple (it was chosen by readers as the Monthly Read for March), but I read it for our library book club a year or two ago, and didn’t care for it. Then one day recently as I was wondering what I might choose, my eyes fell on the book I had just been reading, What Could Possibly Go Wrong? by Jodi Taylor. That’s the second one in the series that I realized, while reading it, that it fit one of these prompts, so I wouldn’t be using it for a book about time travel. This book is just as good as the rest, and I’ve ordered the next one. Maybe it will count as a time travel book …

There is one more book I finished in February, that I actually started in December 2018, The Women of Christmas by Liz Curtis Higgs. This was a book we read together in the adult Sunday School class at church, which is why it took as long to read as it did. It’s a good book, but I have to admit I don’t enjoy Higgs’s writing style as much as I know many people do. There is good background information in this book, and some good spiritual lessons, but I also have to admit that after so many years of books and sermons on Scriptures related to the birth of Jesus, it was all pretty familiar to me. That’s not a bad thing – we often need to be reminded of the same lessons again and again – but it means that I probably was much more impressed by books with this information and these lessons when they were new to me.

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