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I’m a little later than usual with my February reviews, and honestly, I hope your 2020 reading is going better than mine!
You’ll see that most of the new books have been fine–very good, even–but there just haven’t been any new 2020 releases that have blown me away yet. I’m still looking for that new book I can’t stop thinking about.
Luckily, my backlist read from my shelf and a few strong 2019 books elevated my reading this month. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling a little disappointed with 2020 releases, and I may read more backlist this year if things don’t pick up.
For now, there are a few solid choices here, and do NOT miss the two five-star books.
February 2020 Book Reviews
Orla is a struggling writer, working for a gossip site and dreaming of bigger things. Her roommate Floss dreams only of fame–at any cost. The two conspire to create the high-profile life Floss dreams of. It seems to be working, until it falls apart in ways no one could have imagined.
Thirty-five years in the future, Marlow lives entirely on the screen in a government-created community designed to keep people watching. When she learns a secret, she flees in search of the truth about her past.
This book managed to feel dark and literary and light and gossipy all at once. Most of these aren’t characters you’ll cheer for, but they will make you reflect on your own social habits, even if Angelo’s possible ramifications felt like a bit of a stretch. Addictive and intriguing.
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In the near future, the U.S. (now “AutoAmerica”) is ruled by artificial intelligence. Most jobs have been eliminated and there are two classes: the “Netted” (upper-class producers) and “Surplus” (lower-class, closely monitored consumers). Climate change has also brought drastic changes, and most of the Surplus live on water.
Grant and his family are Surplus, and his daughter Gwen has a talent for pitching. Though baseball isn’t allowed among the Surplus, the Netted discover her talent and recruit her for college and even Olympic teams.
While there were aspects of this that were intriguing–especially the too-smart homes of the Surplus–it was actually the language that failed me. Jen’s liberal sprinkling of made-up social media type words was distracting and eventually irritating–though I get that it’s a reflection of our current offhanded use of words like “tweeting” and “insta,” etc. I’m usually up for an interesting dystopian premise, but this didn’t capture my imagination.
In the 1960s, Laos was embroiled in a conflict that would lead to nine years of relentless bombings. Three children orphaned during this time are taken in by a doctor operating a makeshift hospital. They serve as runners, navigating their motor bikes through treacherous fields of unexploded bombs. After years of insecurity, they are about to step on a helicopter to evacuate when they are suddenly separated. Multiple narratives walk the reader through their fates.
Yoon’s spare style can take a bit to get used to, but the horror of this story and the strength of the characters drew me in. I knew almost nothing about these events in Laos and this book brought them–and the people who suffered–to life.
Jess is looking forward to only one thing in her first year at a British university: being taught by Lorna Clay. The charismatic professor teaches a course on Agatha Christie, and Jess is in her thrall. Outside the classroom, she falls in with impulsive Georgie, Georgie’s worldly boyfriend Alec, and Jess’s devoted new boyfriend Nick.
When a betrayal breaks up the group of friends, Jess turns to Lorna. I haven’t read a lot of Agatha Christie, but even I appreciated the references and ways that Weinberg paralleled the mystery of these characters with Christie’s stories and biography. A little less highbrow than Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, but fans of that book will like this one.
Captain Jefferson Kidd travels the west, reading the news from around the world to the small hamlets scattered across the yet-untamed land. At one stop, he is asked to return a young girl who the Kiowa held captive for years after killing her family. Johanna has almost no memory of her previous life, including how to speak English, but she soon comes to trust Kidd. The two become an unlikely team as they face threats on their journey.
I loved Kidd and Johanna, their journey, and how their relationship unfolded. Kidd’s newsreading events that drew entire towns felt both foreign and charmingly innocent in contrast with today’s information overload. This was a read from my shelf for my 2020 reading challenge and it was my first five-star novel this year.
One January night, Chanel Miller decided to join her sister and a friend at a party at Stanford. She was drinking and being goofy–and that’s the last she remembers. The next morning she woke up in the hospital and learned she had been assaulted. The perpetrator, Brock Turner, had been stopped and chased down by two men.
This event changes Miller’s life, consuming her for several years through a court case that seemed designed to implicate her and traumatize her all over again. Miller’s writing is achingly raw. She puts to words how the assault and ongoing violations affected her in ways that feel both intimate and universal to so many women.
This has earned its almost 5-star rating on Goodreads. Do not miss it.
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The Other Americans is a complicated narrative focused on the hit-and-run killing of Driss Guerraoui, a Moroccan immigrant who was crossing street one evening near his business. As his family grapples with this death and the truths about his life, the police investigate what happened.
Told from multiple points of view–Driss’ family, the investigators, neighboring business owners, and Driss himself–Lailami covers a lot of ground. From family tensions and expectations to prejudices, her story is subtle and nuanced. It’s also maybe not the best choice on audio because the characters and storylines were a little hard to track. I recommend it, but read it in print.
Speculative fiction often tends to veer dystopian, but American Royals is an alternate history story that’s light, fun, and addictive. Told mostly from the perspective of teens and young adults inside or close to the Washington royal family, the story speculates on what royal life would be like in the age of social media.
Princess Beatrice is the first female who will ascend to the American throne, and while she’s accepted this duty, the pressure is getting to her. Pushed now to choose a husband–the right husband–Beatrice is starting to feel the sacrifice is too great. Meanwhile, her twin siblings, Samantha and Jefferson, have their own romantic dramas and royal pressures.
This was just the right tone for my audiobook listening–light and still intriguing–and I’ll be looking forward to the next books in the series.
In their 16th year, the girls of Garner County are sent away for their grace year. Their only tasks in this year are to rid themselves of their destructive magic and to stay alive. The elements, poachers who want their very skin, and the violence of living among a group of girls could ruin them all.
With similarities to both The Hunger Games and The Handmaid’s Tale, this is an original, gripping take on the feminist dystopia. Liggett takes down the stories women are told about ourselves and how these stories turn us against one another. Don’t miss the author interview at the end of the audiobook.