My very favorite books from February!
Here are my favorite reads of the past month, in no particular order:
No Cure for Being Human, a funny, raw, thoughtful memoir about facing stage 4 colon cancer and life in general, from Kate Bowler;
The Saints of Swallow Hill, Donna Everhart's recently published historical fiction about heartache and hope, set in the Depression-era South;
Nobody Will Tell You This But Me, Bess Kalb's charming, touching, lovely tribute to her late grandma Bobby, a formidable and irresistible character;
The Body by Bill Bryson, fascinating nonfiction about the human form, how it works, the ways it sometimes fails, and its captivating capabilities and wonders;
Project Hail Mary, Andy Weir's space-focused science fiction that's filled with innovation, optimism, creativity, connection, and tons of heart.
Sparks Like Stars, Nadia Hashimi's luminous historical fiction about a childhood lived in Kabul and a life in the United States that is largely shaped by having survived a deadly coup.
I'd love to hear: what are some of your recent favorite reads?
01 No Cure for Being Human (And Other Truths I Need to Hear) by Kate Bowler
Touching, honest, raw, funny, and full of gritty reflections about life and faith, this was a read that I absolutely adored and gave five Bossy stars.
Reading memoirs centered around cancer is not always a go for me, but this book was special. Divinity professor Kate Bowler offers meaningful insight, gritty truth-telling, and wry humor as she shares her experiences surrounding facing stage 4 colon cancer.
I finished No Cure for Being Human in one evening, tabbed many, many passages, immediately bought my own copy, re-tabbed everything, and would have been perfectly willing to read the book again in its entirety right away.
So many moments struck me, surprised me, or touched me as I read this lovely work, including Bowler's exploration of how our lives are largely shaped by choices out of our control and her reckoning with the way in which she considers her body after cancer treatment ("Who would fault a body that has survived so much and asked for so little?").
No Cure for Being Human is beautiful, funny, heartwarming, practical, and Kate Bowler is so wise and wonderful, I hugged this book to my chest when I finished reading it.
For my full review, check out No Cure for Being Human.
02 The Saints of Swallow Hill by Donna Everhart
This Depression-era-set historical fiction story tracks characters in intensely difficult situations as they successfully fight for justice, peace, love, and forgiveness in a satisfying story arc that captivated me.
The Saints of Swallow Hill traces the paths of Rae Lynn and Del, disparate characters in Depression-era Georgia who have two important things in common: each of their searches for food, shelter, and survival is becoming more desperate; and each of them is running from dark secrets that threaten to destroy them.
As I read the first pages of this book, I admit that I was fairly hesitant--the tone felt increasingly bleak, and I wasn't sure if Everhart was going to revel in creating further mishaps and disasters for her characters.
I was grateful when she laid out not only a tale of intense hardship, bad luck, and rough circumstances in a difficult period of our nation's history, but also a captivating story of determination, struggles for improvement, deep human connection, justice, love, and hope.
I'm so very glad I stuck this one out so I could see these characters through and witness their journeys' ends.
Click here for my full review of The Saints of Swallow Hill.
03 Nobody Will Tell You This But Me: A True (As Told to Me) Story by Bess Kalb
This is an irresistible tribute to Kalb's funny, opinionated, fiercely loving grandmother--a granddaughter's best friend and a wise and formidable character.
I listened to Bess Kalb's irresistible love letter to her late grandmother, Nobody Will Tell You This But Me. The audiobook was wonderful and read by Kalb.
The author saved every one of her grandmother's voicemails, and here she uses them--along with emails, letters, vividly recalled conversations, and her grandma Bobby's imagined thoughts from beyond the grave--to construct a picture of a formidable, tough-love, fiercely protective matriarch in Bobby Bell.
This is a heartwarming, funny, poignant, sassy tribute to a life fully lived and to a determination love freely, deliberately, and unwaveringly. It made me laugh out loud and brought me to tears. I just adored this gem.
Click here for my full review of Nobody Will Tell You This But Me.
04 The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson
Bryson's examination of the human body, its processes, its wonders, and its limitations is surprising, illuminating, and wonderful.
“We pass our existence within this wobble of flesh and yet take it almost entirely for granted.”
The Body: A Guide for Occupants is made up of fascinating, funny, odd, and often unexpected information about the complicated corporeal shell we each inhabit.
With his signature wit and curiosity, Bryson delves into everything you didn't know that you didn't know about the body (and, I'm glad to say, he narrates the audiobook edition of the book).
I'm willing to accompany Bill Bryson anywhere he wants to take me, and an adventure through body systems, grievous injuries, and our various, wondrous healing processes is no exception. Bryson considers the body's systems, outside positive and detrimental influences upon the body, and disease and the process of death. He inspires wonder, shares knowledge, and offers sometimes shocking factoids about our bodies and how they work.
For my full review of The Body: A Guide for Occupants, please click here.
05 Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
Andy Weir offers the fascinating story of a desperate space mission, creative innovation, and enduring optimism, with an enormous amount of heart that surprised me.
Ryland Grace wakes up as the sole survivor of a last-chance effort to save Earth and its inhabitants.
He's millions of miles from Earth, and he's got two dead crewmates, a chatty AI robot caregiver, a lot of complicated equipment, and a mysterious mission whose purpose and execution he'll have to unravel if he's to possibly survive--much less save humanity.
Weir provides Grace with unexpected company, fascinating collaboration, fantastic interpersonal relationships (Rocky!), incredible innovation, and wonderfully big-hearted moments. The present-day story alternates with peeks back in time to life before this space mission, which show Grace as an interestingly faulted but incredibly valuable team member on the project of a lifetime.
As in his book The Martian, significant page time in Weir's Project Hail Mary is spent on creative problem-solving, particularly scientific experimentation and high-stakes trial and error, and while it slowed the pace of the story, it felt warranted--and I was hooked by all of it.
For my full review, check out Project Hail Mary.
06 Sparks Like Stars by Nadia Hashimi
This peek into a childhood in Kabul and a lifetime of searching and yearning is luminous and vivid in Hashimi's hands.
Young Sitara is living a comfortable life in Kabul in 1978. Her father has a prominent position in the government, and the family has plenty of love and laughter.
But when the military soldiers she's always known turn against those in charge, the men stop protecting her family and help enact a bloody massacre that sweeps up much of the current government administration and their families.
Sparks Like Stars follows Sitara through unlikely alliances, a desperate plan to escape her fiery homeland, and a life with twists and turns that ultimately lead her back to the beginning of it all.
Hashimi's storytelling is luminous. She sets the scene in Kabul with the vivid sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of the past that reemerge in Sitara's memories and her subconscious, and she explores Sitara's complicated, ongoing, conflicting feelings of survivor's guilt.
For my full review, check out Sparks Like Stars.