February Wrap-Up: My Favorite Reads of the Month
My very favorite Bossy February reads!
I'm coming in early with my six favorite (and varied!) reads of February, but I feel recklessly sure of myself with just one Bossy review to come before the short month is over.
If you've read any of these, I'd love to hear what you think!
And I'd also love to hear: what are some of your recent favorite reads?
01 Maame by Jessica George
Jessica George's debut Maame takes on big issues of race, culture, and the challenges of growing up between two cultures while shining in its details: wonderful dialogue, messy moments, and the main character's hard-won self-discovery and growth.
Young adult Maddie's life in London is exhausting. She's the primary caregiver for her father, who has Parkinson's disease; she pays the bills; her mother spends the majority of her time in Ghana yet manages to micromanage Maddie's religious faith and life from across the globe; her older brother never seems to be around to help; and she's the only Black person at work with a boss who shifts all of the blame and none of the accolades her way.
When her mom shows up from Ghana, Maddie jumps at the chance for some independence; a late bloomer, she finds a flat share and revels in finally being on her own. Maddie is inexperienced and has been somewhat isolated in her caregiver role (although she has close friends, who are wonderful characters in the story), so she's got a lot of learning to do and mistakes to make.
Jessica George offers a wonderful story with messy moments of love, some humor, big issues of race, loss, anger, lies and betrayal, and underneath it all, the constant, stressful push and pull between Maddie's two cultures.
Maame explores Maddie's search to establish herself in the world, and I loved rooting for her the whole way.
For my full review, check out Maame.
02 Solito by Javier Zamora
Zamora's memoir of his grueling journey from El Salvador to the United States without family at age nine keeps the reader within each immediate, breathless, uncomfortable, fear-filled moment through and to the unknown.
In Solito, the poet Javier Zamora shares the story of his grueling journey from El Salvador to the United States at age nine.
Zamora keeps us in his nine-year-old perspective, which also serves to keep us focused on moment-by-moment sensations and concerns and makes the memoir feel immediate and breathless. Physical discomfort (he is tired, cold, hot, burned, thirsty, hungry), emotional turmoil (he feels loneliness, fear, concern, disconnectedness), and yearning (he is desperate for trust, for assurances, for safety and security, for reunification) are at the forefront.
Zamora takes us through what often feels like his literal step-by-step journey, without summarizing or skipping over impactful moments of need and want and despair. Yet he doesn't mine the difficult situation in an effort to build drama; his account feels honest and without emotional manipulation.
I listened to Solito as an audiobook. Click here for my full review of Solito. You might also be interested in the titles on my Greedy Reading List Six Fascinating Books about Immigrants' Experiences.
03 Big Swiss by Jen Beagin
Jen Beagin's literary fiction novel is consistently bizarre, at times base, and often darkly funny as her characters alternately dive into and avoid facing the implications of their past traumas, stunted emotional states, vulnerabilities, lies, and sexual exploration.
Greta sits in her 1700s Dutch farmhouse in Hudson, New York transcribing sessions for a local New Age sex coach (his credentials are suspect) who calls himself Om.
She begins to fall for a stoic female client Greta affectionately thinks of as Big Swiss (Greta gathers from Om's awkwardly admiring chatter that the client is tall and originally from Switzerland).
When Greta recognizes Big Swiss's voice at the dog park and the two accidentally meet, Greta panics and lies about her name and her profession, and the two begin a passionate affair.
The dialogue is witty, odd, and often both cringe-inducing and darkly funny. Some of the metaphors felt heavily hammered home, but I didn't mind. I was intrigued by the intersection of the women's personalities and lives, and Beagin kept me consistently hooked with this offbeat novel.
Click here for my full review of Big Swiss.
04 Looking for Jane by Heather Marshall
Marshall's debut historical fiction centers around women's searches for body autonomy in three timelines of interconnected characters and their stories.
Looking for Jane is a story of women living in three timelines who are linked through decades by a mysterious letter--and by enormously important, recurring dilemmas for women through the ages: unexpected pregnancies; searches (and fights) for bodily autonomy and securing their health; and weighty choices with repercussions that reverberate.
In this historical fiction, Marshall explores the goings-on at 1960s unwed mothers' homes in Canada--based upon actual first-person accounts of practices, cruelties, and secrets and lies at such homes in the U.S. and Canada.
The female characters' stories are deeply intertwined; I saw some of the events coming but not others, and I didn't mind predicting portions of where the story was going.
Marshall sets up realistic emotional barriers for characters who have had to hide parts of themselves away; she doesn't shy away from sharing the sometimes-tragic outcomes of pregnant women's desperate searches for a say-so in their fates; and she places each story within the events and details of its timeline.
Please click here for my full review of Looking for Jane.
05 We All Want Impossible Things by Catherine Newman
This was my favorite read of the month!
Newman's writing is irresistible; she offers a heartbreaking and heartwarming tribute to friendship and to family that centers around witty dialogue, unconventional arrangements, coping with an excruciating, looming end, and above all else, love.
In Catherine Newman's novel We All Want Impossible Things, Edith and Ashley have been best friends for more than four decades. They've shared the good, bad, and the ugly; endless painfully mundane and thrilling cliffhanger moments; love and loss; disappointment and victory; and everything in between.
But now the unthinkable is happening: Edi is dying from ovarian cancer and living out her days in a hospice near Ash. Ash is struggling with her own imperfections as a mother, wife, and friend as she tries to figure out how to say goodbye to her longest, best friend in the world.
Newman's lets the reader into Edi and Ash's rabbit warren of private jokes and moments and memories, and she made me feel a part of it all. The dialogue is exceptional in how real it feels--funny, heartbreaking, sometimes realistically without resolution.
I find myself drawn to books that explore mortality. We All Want Impossible Things is heartbreaking and wonderfully strange, funny and full of love, and a tribute to deeply loving friendships and families. I loved this.
For my full review, please check out We All Want Impossible Things.
06 Changeless (Parasol Protectorate #2) by Gail Carriger
Book two of the Parasol Protectorate series continues to be playful, mischievous, wonderfully detailed about Victorian life, and full of supernatural creatures and clever plotting.
The series takes place in 1870s London, and in book two as in book one, the immensely appealing, practical, fearless character of Alexia Tarabotti (now married to Lord Maccon, a werewolf) navigates danger and helps achieve justice by using her smarts, eschewing societal tradition and limits on women, and demonstrating her ability to neutralize the supernatural abilities of werewolves, vampires, and other creatures.
She is a preternatural--a human without a soul--serving on Queen Victoria's somewhat secret advisory committee, which affords her a certain power, and she is also the Alpha female of her husband's pack, which affords her a very different one.
When her husband disappears, Alexia tracks him to Scotland, where all manner of badly behaving creatures await, she needs her incredibly handy parasol, her unshakable nerve, some savviness, and the armor of the latest fashions in order to fight off danger, uncover dastardly plots, discover the power plays at work, and save her own life.
I'm in for all of these books and laughed out loud at the dialogue, Alexia's abrupt manner, and the delightful oddities in Changeless.
For my full review (and a link to my review of the first book in the Parasol Protectorate series), please check out Changeless.