Monday, February 28, 2022

February Books

Can you believe that reading wasn't my jam growing up?! Clif Notes were my best friends in high school - I'd "read enough" to get by for a paper or test, but other than that I did not enjoy the act of reading so never did it... like ever. Maybe I wasn't reading things that held my interest or maybe it was because it was "required" so I didn't find it enjoyable, but whatever the reason, I'm glad I challenged myself to add the goal of reading 17 books in 2017 (which turned into 88 books in 201777 books in 201867 books in 201966 books in 2020 and 67 books in 2021). In the last year or so, especially since going back to work outside of the house full-time, the majority of my "reading" has been through audiobooks since I don't have as much time to sit and read physical books (not to mention I walk to work and walk on my lunch break so have two-ish hours a day I can listen to something). Even still, holding a physical book is the bomb diggity and I hope to get back to adding more reading vs listening. Just like in years past, writing a monthly recap of the books I get through is a great way for me to both record what I'm reading and to stay accountable. So here are the books I finished in February:

  • The Radium Girls by Kate Moore - I'm slightly embarrassed to say that I didn't know much about this before I downloaded the audiobook. This book is based on the girls (seeing as some were as young as 14) who worked in the radium "studios" painting watch dials in the early 20th century. If you are unfamiliar with the history, let me tell you it is heart wrenching and shocking. I'll be honest, at points in the book I felt as though it was dragging on a bit, only because there were SO MANY LIVES impacted and being discussed that it was hard to keep them straight, but the author wanted to do right by all of these women (and their families), so, in the end, I totally understand why everyone was included. These women (and eventually others who championed their cause) fought for justice and basic human rights when it seemed as though there was no hope or light at the end of the tunnel. The effects of their fight can be seen in modern day lives (workers comp, poison control, OSHA, etc). I don't want to give anything away but WOW - this was rough! These women were poisoned from the inside out and the companies they worked for wanted none of the responsibility. It's a tragic recounting of corporate greed, finger pointing and straight up lying at its finest. Although I am NOT comparing my fibromyalgia to the radium poisoning that these women suffered through, I did understand their plight when they would go to doctor after doctor, only to be told that they didn't see anything wrong or they had no idea how to help. We should be forever grateful to these brave women who fought, not only for themselves, but for the future. They refused to be silenced and we can still hear them today! I would give it a 9 out of 10.

  • Dear Bob and Sue by Matt and Karen Smith - I don't remember how I came across this book, but it seemed interesting. It was about a couple who had a goal to visit all 58 (at the time) National Parks in the United States. The format of the book is emails from the couple to their friends (Bob and Sue) about what they saw, what they did, etc. It isn't meant to be used as a travel guide, but just their overall observations. I was pretty excited about the book, because the hubby and I love the outdoors and visiting the National Parks, but this book just didn't hit the mark for me. I'm not sure if it's because the couple seemed to be racing through each park (more just to cross it off the list rather than taking the time to really enjoy it all) or because at times they felt like the rules didn't apply to them and they shared about it openly (touching cave formations after being repeatedly told not to, trying to take wine into the parks, etc). Now, when the hubby and I visit the parks we are normally camping (because we enjoy that), but we have nothing against folks who don't want to "rough it". This couple stayed in lodges and hotels the entire time, which, again, to each their own, but it was just another way that our experiences would differ so wasn't really helpful insight. The authors are good writers and there were parts that I found myself shaking my head along with (agreeing with their frustration of folks loudly talking on their cell phones while on the trails), but overall I was a bit disappointed. I would give it a 5 out of 10.

  • Grown by Tiffany D Jackson - This is the fourth book I've read by this author and I've never been disappointed. (Yes, they are technically YA books, but don't hold that against them, I promise they are deep and important reads.) I didn't know what it was about prior to downloading it, but since I have always been engrossed in Tiffany's writing I figured it'd be good. I was not wrong! This is a story about a 17 year old girl, Enchanted, and her (inappropriate) relationship with a 28 year old man. In the author's notes at the end, Tiffany explains this it is not supposed to be the story of R. Kelly, but there are definitely some similar storylines in the novel. I appreciate there was a trigger warning (giving everyone a heads up of the heavy topics discussed - including domestic violence, rape and other extremely real, raw and potentially triggering themes). I had started this book the day before, and although I normally don't listen to things while I run, I knew I had 2.5 hours of "free time" and I NEEDED to see where this story went. As with a few of the recent books that I've finished recently, this is yet another one that made me really take a hard look at myself and how I view victims. I know how society sees (or doesn't see) victims, especially those from marginalized classes, but I believe it is extremely important to dig into your own beliefs (and often). Tiffany does a great job at exposing rape culture and how too often the innocence of Black girls is stolen from them. I would give it a 10 out of 10.

  • The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner - While scrolling through my Hoopla app, I noticed this book and thought it sounded familiar - like maybe I had seen friends mention they were reading it (or maybe it was just the pretty cover that drew me in ;)). As per usual, I didn't know anything about the book before downloading it, but that's normally how I prefer it. As you probably know by now, I really enjoy books that switch between different point-of-views and this one rotated between the first-person perspective of three women as the narrator (two in the late 1700s and one in modern day). [The audiobook was read by three different people as well, which always helps to keep things straight, especially when switching between people and time.] I thought the storyline was engaging and original (an apothecary in the 1700s who helped women murder men in their lives and a woman in modern day trying to track down the history of this "killer"). Each chapter had just enough of a cliffhanger that it had me not wanting to put the story down. It was like a puzzle I was trying to piece together, but the author did a great job not giving away too many of the clues ahead of time so I felt like I was always guessing where the story may go next. I would give it a 9 out of 10.

  • Don't Cry for Me by Daniel Black - This book popped up on my Hoopla app because it's Black History Month so I downloaded it to give it a read. It's a novel written in the format of letters from a father to his estranged son while he is on his deathbed (dying of cancer). It shows so clearly how the traumas we endure in our past are passed down to others - whether we intend them to or not. I'll be honest, I went back and forth liking this book and not liking it. The father writing the letters was trying to explain to his son why he was the way he was, but at times I felt like it was coming across as justifying his actions rather than just apologizing. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the backstory of his life and can totally see how his past impacted his present (and then future), but sometimes we need to see changed actions and attitudes and hear remorse rather than excuses. And, maybe, what it was, is that it felt a little too "real", it wasn't a nice story wrapped up in a bow with palatable characters and that rubbed me the wrong way. There were parts that were difficult to read, but I also found it difficult to put down because I was very much invested in the characters. I would give it a 7 out of 10.

  • When You Look Like Us by Pamela N. Harris - Figured it was time for another YA book, so I downloaded this one. The first couple sentences of the blurb said that if you like authors such as Tiffany D. Jackson and Nic Stone then this one's for you (and, if you've follow my recaps, you know those are authors who always get very high marks in my book ;)). This was a bit of a thriller/ whodunit story and I really enjoyed it. It touched on serious topics such as race relations, law enforcement, microaggressions, prejudices and what it's like to be Black in America while still keeping the younger reader in mind. As you probably know, I grew up watching TONS of Law & Order and normally pride myself on figuring out the plot before it has been completely revealed. Well, this one kept me on my toes and guessing for most of it. Unless you've been living under a rock for the last few decades, you know that marginalized folks tend to get less priority, whether when it comes to investigations, resources, media coverage, etc. This book dives further into this reality that many Black and Brown communities face. I would say that there were a couple characters that probably could've been skipped because they didn't bring much to the story (i.e. Camilla), but overall I was along for the ride. This author did a great job in her debut novel and I sure hope there are more books in her future. I would give it a 9 out of 10.

  • A Danger to Herself and Others by Alyssa Sheinmel - I have had this book saved on my Hoopla app for probably a year and a half now, but haven't gotten around to downloading it until now. As per usual, I didn't know much about it, other than the title, but it drew me in and I thought I'd give it a go. The story is about a teenage girl who ends up in a psychiatric hospital after an accident with her best friend. I'll be honest, I was going back and forth, not knowing whether Hannah, the main character, was manipulating the reader or not. Maybe it's all of the Law & Order I have watched, but I wasn't sure if I should take her at her word or second guess everything and wonder if she was a psychopath underneath it all. In the end (well, well before the end) I realized Hannah could be believed and that I was reading into her character a little too much (or being nervous that the book was going to turn into more of a psychological thriller [#RealTalk - I am a BIG scaredy cat when it comes to horror and even some thrillers, so I need to be careful what I read/ watch or else it can really affect me. With that being said, I was a bit on guard, making sure I wasn't getting in "too deep" if I needed to put the book down.]). The book was okay, but it missed the mark a bit for me. It was like it wasn't exactly a great book about mental health and it wasn't exactly a great thriller. Also, I'm not sure if it was the author's intent or not, but I spent the majority of the book not knowing if I should like/ root for Hannah or not. I just felt a little uneasy and unsettled the entire time and finished with a "meh" feeling about it all. I would give it a 5 out of 10.

  • The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe - Wow. Just wow. I had never heard this story before and I was blown away by it. Obviously, any title with the word "Auschwitz" in it, you know will NOT be an easy read... and that was absolutely the case in this situation, but oh so powerful! There were many parts that I had to pause, reflect, decompress and just mourn. Mourn for the lost lives, mourn for the lost childhoods, mourn for the lives that could have been. I am still flabbergasted that the amount of evil shown during the Holocaust is possible. And what is even more shocking, in my opinion, is that those people living through it could still hold on to faith and love. As heartbreaking as this story/ history is, it was surprisingly filled with more hope than I could have imagined. I realize that this book is "based" on a true story and real people, but that there is some creative freedom also allowed. Even still, this is a book that will stay with me for many years to come. Dita, the librarian, was brave beyond her years and I pray that I can be like her when I grow up! I would give it a 10 out of 10.

  • Far From the Tree by Robin Benway - After listening to The Librarian of Auschwitz, I knew I needed something a little lighter. I decided to go back to my tried and true Young Adult genre and download one of the books that I've had in my "to read" list for a while but haven't gotten around to listening to. I grabbed this one without knowing much about it. I saw in the little blurb that it mentioned something about the TV show "This Is Us" (I've never watched it but heard it's pretty great) so figured I'd give it a go. I wouldn't say this was necessarily the fun and jolly book I may have been looking for (it discusses serious topics such as teen pregnancy, race, adoption, love and loss), but I still enjoyed it. It was both heartwarming and gut-wrenching. (Side note - I also very much appreciated that the main focus was not about two teenagers falling in love, as it can be in many YA books.) The story is about three biological siblings that don't find out about or meet each other until their late teenage years. The three teens are all very different, as are the families that they find themselves in, but it's great to see how they mesh and meld together throughout the course of the story. I am absolutely a believer that family is not only the people you are born "with" but the people you choose as well, and this story dives into that idea. There may have been a few tears shed while listening to this one ;)  I would give it a 9 out of 10.

  • 100 Days of Sunlight by Abbie Emmons - Remember how in the previous summary I mentioned how most YA novels focus on two teenagers falling in love?! Well, this was just that story! Of course there are some caveats in the plot (Tessa, the main character, has temporary blindness due to a car accident and Weston lost both of his legs due to an infection after a skateboarding accident), but it's your traditional love story besides that. It was cute, but nothing special to write home about. One of my "gripes" is that the characters felt extremely mature... which normally would be fine, but they are supposed to be 16... Again, nothing wrong with this one, it was a sweet story, maybe like a read-by-the-pool-on-vacation type read, but not one that I feel needs to be purchased and added to my permanent collection. I would give it a 7 out of 10.

With that, February has come to a close. My reading may not be going gang-busters like it has in the past, but I hope it never completely stops. If you have any suggestions, let me know! I'm always willing to add them to my library wait list! 

PS I created an Amazon list that includes all of the books I've read and would recommend to others. Check it out!

What's the best book you've read lately? 

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