Best Books of February 2020

Even though February is a short month, we took a vacation during it (to Isla Palenque — read my review here), so I managed to get through more books than in a normal month. These are only the highlights for February – I read some real dross too unfortunately in my hunt for some great beach reads… For beach vacations I always try to mix in a couple of more satisfying “classic” reads that I don’t have the willpower/time to dedicate to at home. Hence the inclusion of The Road by Cormac McCarthy which might not strike you as classic beach read territory!

You Never Forget Your First by Alexis Coe

You Never Forget Your First is a fresh new take on the kind of traditional six inches thick biographies of presidents that dads read. Written by millennial historian, Alexis Coe, a woman (yay!) I loved this dive into a genre I’m usually wary of. You Never Forget Your First takes a clear-eyed look at America’s First President including his relationships with the women in his life, and his slave-owning. I loved the slightly snarky tone and as someone who is a newcomer to US history (the War of Independence isn’t covered at ALL in history lessons in the UK unsurprisingly!) I was happy to read a really easy-to-remember timeline of this exciting period during the founding of the nation. I would definitely recommend getting the print version of this book as it’s full of entertaining footnotes, which are hard to navigate when you’re reading the Kindle version.

The Housekeeper by Natalie Barelli

The Housekeeper is the holy grail of kindle binge fiction – a cheap, thrilling read that doesn’t leave you with a guilty aftertaste. It’s very Girl on the Train with an unreliable and unpleasant narrator who becomes obsessed with a wealthy Manhattan woman who has a connection to her past, and ends up working as her housekeeper. It’s fast-paced and deeply unlikely, but if you just want to turn your brain off on the beach but don’t like sacrificing quality of writing to do this, The Housekeeper is a great choice! I’d definitely seek out more Natalie Barelli for vacation reading.

I Feel Bad about My Neck by Nora Ephron

I first read I Feel Bad About My Neck in my late twenties, but it has more resonance now that I’m in my mid-thirties (mid to late?!). Nora Ephron has been much imitated, but her essays like What I Wish I’d Known and The Story of My Life in 3,500 Words or Less still feel sparkly and free and she has such a clear and honest voice. I went and looked hard at my neck after reading this, but decided I don’t need to worry just yet. Another re-read in February? The excellent Dept. of Speculation which reminded me a lot of Fleishman is in Trouble in my Best of 2019 list..

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Road has been on my reading to-do list for soooo long, but because it looked like pretty heavy subject matter I put it off until a vacation as my only “serious” read. All I can say is that I loved it as a piece of dystopian fiction, but did everyone know it’s a Christian allegory except me? I got the whole way through the book without realizing that sub-text. I love a bit of post-apocalyptic fiction, so this was right up my alley and didn’t feel like a slog at all.

Long Bright River has been marketed as a thriller, right down to the Paula Hawkins endorsement on the front cover, but this is more literary than the “Girl etc.” trope. The story centers on a hard-edged female police officer searching for her opioid-addicted sister in a run-down area of Philadelphia, moving between the present day and flashbacks to their childhood and past. It’s cleverly plotted, with reveals and twists, and also rings like a really authentic story of addiction and family connections.

Such a Fun Age is a well-observed and wry story of the dynamic between a wealthy white mother, Alix, and her African-American nanny, Emira, changing between both viewpoints so we have a great understanding of both of their psyches. The story starts with a confrontation between Emira and a police officer at the local grocery store (in Brooklyn) while Emira is looking after Alix’s daughter, and explores the feelings this incident engenders in both women which develops into Alix becoming fixated on Emira and her life. It’s sometimes uncomfortable reading but brilliantly and humorously written. If I were going to narrow down to one Pick of the Month, this would be it!

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