February Reading in Review

I hadn’t intended to read all of the 2020 Tournament of Books contenders, but once I’d read most of them, I couldn’t help myself and ended up finishing the list. Alas the TOB brackets have my favorites (Girl Woman Other, Mary Toft,  and Nothing to See Here) clustered together, alongside Lost Children Archive, beloved by many readers, even though it didn’t exactly work for me. I still haven’t filled out my bracket, but I’m rooting for any of the three favorites or Your House Will Pay to take the rooster this year. And those all seem fairly well liked, so they have a chance.

As for the rest of my February reading, I caught up on a lot of newish books that I’ve been meaning to read for ages and got started on the books for the TOB Tournament of Champions, which happens to include a bunch of books I’ve been wanting to read anyway.

We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin: For TOB. A really smart satire about future in which people of color can escape the effects of racism by undergoing a medical procedure to turn themselves white. The father at the center of the story will go to any (sometimes humiliating) lengths to get this treatment for his biracial son, even though the son and his white mother want nothing to do with it. There were some terrific and uncomfortable scenes in this, but I didn’t end up loving the whole of it. There was, for me, too much going on and little time to rest in the ideas presented. (I do think this is the best book in the TOB play-in round, although I enjoyed Golden State more.)

Saudade by Suneeta Peres da Costa: For TOB. A short book about a young woman living in Angola in the 1960s. It was fine, but I think I didn’t know enough about the history to really get it. However, it made me curious, so that’s a good thing!

A Grave Talent by Laurie King: The first in King’s Kate Martinelli series. I started and gave up on this decades ago because I was annoyed by the obvious trick King was playing in introducing Lee, a major character in this series. But the trick only applies to this book, and I love King in general, so I finally got around to trying again. It’s a solid crime novel about a series of child murders that takes place in a closed community. I like Kate as a character, so I’ll certainly read more.

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson: For TOB. This was a delight about an unlikely caretaker to a pair of kids who happen to catch on fire. See my full review for more.

Come Closer by Sara Gran: A short novel in which a woman comes to suspect that she is possessed. Very creepy!

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong: For TOB. A very sad story of abuse and first love and trauma. Told non-sequentially and in fragments, it was a little too pretty for me.

Heaven My Home by Attica Locke: This is the second in Locke’s Highway 59 series, about black Texas Ranger Darren Matthews. The central mystery involves the disappearance of a 9-year-old boy whose family is linked to a white supremacist group. This is good, but I didn’t like it quite as much as Bluebird Bluebird. Sometimes Locke’s mysteries get too intricate, and that was the case here. But Matthews is a character I want to keep following.

Plainsong by Kent Haruf: This was a beautiful book about people in small-town Colorado, all adjusting to massive changes in their previously uncomplicated lives. It’s the kind of story where not much happens, but everything happens. I absolutely loved it and expect to read Eventide, the next in the series, very soon.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell: Ingeniously structured, but it took me a while to get into it. I think it suffered a bit from the hype for me, as I just couldn’t get into the individual pieces as much as I’d like. It only really became great when I stepped back and looked at the whole.

All This Could Be Yours by Jami Attenberg: For TOB. A family drama about a dysfunctional family awaiting the impending death of its patriarch, a crime boss and abuser. Lots of terrible people in this book, but Attenberg manages to make at least some of them sympathetic. I appreciated her effort to draw in members of New Orleans community that surrounds the family, but those scenes felt thrown in. I didn’t mind reading this book, but I also didn’t care about it much.

The Accidental by Ali Smith: I normally love Ali Smith, so I was looking forward to this but ended up not loving it as much as I hoped. The story is basically about a mysterious woman who turns up at a family’s vacation home one summer and throws each of their lives in disarray. I think I would have liked it better if it had dove deep on the mom, whose arc is the most interesting. The father and son are particularly shallow and unpleasant, and not in a way that I could bring myself to care about.

For March, my library stack contains The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman, The Odd Woman and the City by Vivian Gornick, and The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt. I also hope to read Bring Up the Bodies in anticipation of the release of The Mirror and the Light. I’m also reading Mother Teresa’s Come Be My Light for Lent. I want to get back into reading from my shelves, particularly some of the older books there, but we’ll see if that happens.

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16 Responses to February Reading in Review

  1. writerrea says:

    On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous suffered, in my opinion, from the author being a poet who got lost in poetry at times. There’s a difference between writing a book of poems and writing a novel. Oh, I loved The Sisters Brothers. I recently reread Wolf Hall and am more than halfway through Bring Up the Bodies to prep for The Mirror and the Light. I’m not always a fan of historical fiction, but Hilary Mantel really makes it work for me.

    • Teresa says:

      Yes, I can see that Vuong is probably a very talented poet, but the story got lost sometimes.

      I love lots of historical fiction, but the Mantel series is near the top of the heap.

  2. I love Kent Haruf’s writing so much.

  3. Rohan Maitzen says:

    That’s a lot of reading! I love Haruf too. I think my favorite is Our Souls at Night but every one I’ve read has been really good. I struggled a bit with Cloud Atlas too. I got annoyed at being kicked out of the parts I was really enjoying, and some of them are in styles or genres I didn’t enjoy – the mix was too much. I loved Black Swan Green, though.

    • Teresa says:

      I liked Mitchell’s Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, and I’d certainly read more, but I did feel like some sections of Cloud Atlas dragged. I can appreciate the overall structure, though. It was impressive even if not consistently enjoyable.

      • Rohan Maitzen says:

        I have 1000 Autumns on my shelf but haven’t read it – I got part way along then got distracted somehow. I think I’ll try it again this summer. Impressive but not enjoyable seems fair for Cloud Atlas, though I do know some people who absolutely loved it. I guess they have more patience with disruption than I do.

  4. Jeane says:

    Looks like some good books! I’ve read Plainsong and The Spirit Catches You When You Fall Down- both good reads if I recall well. I have Nothing to See Here on my list.

  5. I am massively impressed that you read all the TOB books! I have read extremely few of them, though I’m still hoping to read Saudade, which looks brilliant despite me not knowing enough, really, of the history either. (I know, like, some.)

    • Teresa says:

      Taking almost two weeks off and not traveling at Christmas gave me a lot of momentum for the TOB. I don’t know if I’ll make the effort next year, but I always say I probably won’t, and then I get drawn in and read a bunch.

  6. Ruthiella says:

    That’s a lot of books for the shortest month of the year!

    I would be really happy if Your House Will Pay takes the Rooster this year. But it’s anyone’s guess.

    I would have picked The Golden State over We Cast a Shadow. The Ruffin book was a little to frenetic for me – jumping from situation to situation with nothing to tie them together. But both were stronger novels than Oval, I think.

    I’ve only read The Cutting Season from Locke but really liked it and look forward to reading more from her.

    • Teresa says:

      The rooster ended up full of surprises this year, didn’t it? I have to admit, I didn’t care much either way about the final. I didn’t finish Optic Nerve but could see that it just wasn’t for me while being a good example of what it is. And Normal People was enjoyable enough, but I didn’t see the fuss. Oh, well. Still looking forward to the Tournament of Champions this fall.

  7. Oh you’ve just reminded me I have the Kent Haruf trilogy on my shelves, I shall dig them out, perfect reading for these times, thank you!
    I’m having a Vivian Gornick phase as well, I wish I had the memoir, but I just finished The Situation and the Story and I have her new Unfinished Business to read.

    • Teresa says:

      I was supposed to be getting Eventide from the library right about now, but alas…
      I didn’t end up liking the Gornick as much as I hoped, but I may try her again when my mood is different.

      • I’ve now finished Plainsong which I liked and by Eventide I was hooked, especially on the McPheron brothers and Victoria’s story, starting Benediction now. I hope you can continue the series soon, it’s such a pity that libraries are closed.

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