In February, I read 9 books, all fictional stories. To celebrate Black History month, I set a goal to read mostly books by authors of African descent and I initially put together a TBR that included books like Underground Railroad and Brown Girl Dreaming. However, when the month started, I decided to shift my focus just a little bit so instead of limiting myself to African American authors, I read mostly books by authors of African descent but from all around the world. Because of this, a few of the books that I planned to read in February, I now have to move to my March TBR so you’ll see some of those same books that were on my February TBR reappear in my March goals.
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Still here? That’s great. So on to what I actually read.
I read The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson, a coming of age novel about two sisters, 16 year old Dionne and 10 year old Phaedra who have been living with their mother in Brooklyn. After a bout of unemployment and depression, their mother sends them to Barbados to spend the summer with their grandmother. The novel describes their experiences adjusting to the change in family structure, making new friends and trying to assimilate in the new culture. It was my first time reading a book set in Barbados so I liked the little glimpse of life in another West Indian country but I didn’t think some of the situations were realistic, the voices didn’t feel authentic for the character’s ages and I think the author overused tragedy in the story. Rating: 3 stars
Next I read a short comic called Adulthood Is A Myth by Sarah Andersen which gave a humorous look at the responsibilities and challenges that we face as we get older. This book was beautiful and it made me giggle. Rating: 4 stars
Book 3 was See Now Then by Jamaica Kincaid. In her classic style, Kincaid tells the story of a middle aged couple, Mr. and Mrs. Sweet who moved out of New York City and are living in the Shirley Jackson home in Vermont. Mr. Sweet is struggling as a musician and composer and his wife is a stay-at-home mom and writer with a steady income that supports the family and that her husband deeply resents. The book is a look at the attitudes and complexities of their relationship, both of them wishing they could have seen into the future and made other decisions about their life. This gives rise to the title of the book – if you could see the present (now) back when you were making decisions (then), what would you do differently? I thought Kincaid stayed true to the writing style I have come to expect from her – fictionalizing her real life with a combination of distance and emotion and using endless repetition. Rating: 4 stars
Book 4 was a collection of short stories by Josh Barkan entitled MEXICO: Stories. The central theme in all these short reads was crime – ordinary characters trying to go about their lives, innocently pursuing their goals until one day crime falls into their laps and they have to make difficult decisions, often endangering their lives, sometimes turning them into criminals themselves. Some of the stories were graphic, some were humorous but they were all very interesting. If there was one thing I would have changed was the title of the book. Although it was a definite attention grabber, it made it seem like crime was a characteristic of the country and I am sure that there are millions of law abiding Mexicans who would disagree about that. But the title also drew me to the book so I guess it’s not entirely negative. Rating: 4 stars
For book 5, I went back to reading books by black authors and I chose Here Comes The Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn who is a Jamaican living in the US. This book takes place in Jamaica and follows three women from a family – a mother and her two daughters – Margot who works at a hotel and helps provide for the family, and the other, Thandi, who is in school and who the other two women look to as the one who will become a doctor and rescue them from poverty. The book tackles issues like homosexuality and prostitution, poverty and race/class issues. I didn’t like this book because I am from Jamaica and I didn’t feel like it was a complete depiction of all the different layers of Jamaican society. Every character in the book was exploiting someone else, there was absolutely no evidence that there were honest, nice people in the communities, that there were nuclear families with a man present in the home, or even any people who had regular jobs and used honest means to take care of their families. I didn’t feel like people like me or my family members were represented in the book. I also didn’t like the way the book ended because some of the things the characters were ready to sacrifice themselves for, they just gave them up. Rating: 3 stars
Book 6 was What Is No Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi who is a Bristish born young woman of Nigerian descent. This was a collection of linked short stories that included some elements of magical realism. The central theme of the stories was locks and keys and each story discussed keys in a different way – a key to a garden, key to an inheritance, key to someone’s heart, the key to a prison cell, etc. and it was quite interesting seeing the theme explored in such diverse plots. There were a lot of characters and because some of the stories were linked, it was a little difficult to keep track of who was who. The fact that some of the stories were magical, it wasn’t always confirmed whether the people the characters were talking to were also other people or puppets etc. At first, I wasn’t sure where the stories were going but overall, when I thought it about it, Oyeyemi’s brilliance became more and more apparent. Rating: 4+ stars
Book 7 was Human Acts by Han Kang. Kang is from South Korea and you might know her from her book The Vegetarian which won the Man Booker International Prize last year. Human Acts is another book based in Korea. It was originally published in 2014 in her original language under the title The Boy Is Coming. In 2016, it was translated to English by Deborah Smith and released as Human Acts. On May 18, 1980, civilians started to protest the new administration. The government responded by declaring martial law and attacking the civilans. Dozens of people were killed, although the exact number has never been verified. Others were imprisoned and tortured. The story is a fictional account that follows one of the boys killed, and the impact it has on the people in his life. The story is told in 7 parts, each in a different time, with a different narrator, highlighting a different part of the uprising or its impact. I originally started reading this on my Kindle and I got to page 100 and stopped. I thought it was good but I didn’t like the supernatural theme when one of the segments was being written by the sprit of the boy’s friend who had been killed. I gave it a 3.5 star rating but I couldn’t put down the story. So I went out and got a hardcover copy and started again from the beginning. This time, I made notes – I wrote down the characters names and details about them, keeping track of how they moved through each segment of the book. And I have to say, the book is fantastic. Yes, there are animism themes but the book is so much more. At first, I was reading the book as Karen, privileged girl living in the Western world, expecting that everything is as I know it. I realized I had to step back, let Korean Han Kang take me on a journey, introduce me to some people who didn’t see things the way I do, and hear (read) their stories as they were telling them. Then, of course, I gave the book 5 stars. Brilliantly written. Beautifully translated. The cover is attention grabbing. I recommend it. Rating: 5 stars
Book 8 is Best Laid Plans & Other Disasters by Amy Rivers. After Human Acts, I needed a palate cleanser, something that brought me back to American society, people living normal lives where their worst crisis is whether to quit one job and take another. This book was perfect for that. Best laid Plans is a follow up story to Wallflower Blooming. In Wallflower, Gwen has political ambitions and her cousin, Val is a PR consultant. Together, they work to get Gwen elected as Mayor of Cambria, a town in Colorado, and in the meantime, maybe one or both of them falls in love. Book 2 centered on Gwen’s story, the challenges she faces in her office as a public servant and relationship challenges. This was a quick, easy read and I read it all in one night to complete a challenge of a book you can read in 24 hours. Rating: 3 stars
Fresh off that simple read, I wanted to round out my Black History month with this book entitled Radiance of Tomorrow by Ishmael Beah. It is a fictional story of the suriviors of the civil war in Sierra Leone, those who returned to their village and the atrocities they face even after they thought the worst part of their lives was over. This book was beautifully written, in the author’s note, Beah explains that in his native languages, the words are poetic, for example he says a ball in English translates as ‘a nest of air’ in his native tongue. And he used some of that flowery expression to write some very horrific scenes and make them readable.
The third person narrative allows the reader to see what everyone in the village is doing, without being tied to any one character and giving an eagle eye view which was very informative. However, that style isn’t supposed to show motivation so I found that where Beah wrote why a person was doing something, parts of that didn’t ring true for me. The story also didn’t follow the natural progression of a novel and felt very biographical at times. That said, I want to read his memoir, Long Way Home: Memoirs of A Boy Soldier, to see if I can identify which character in this book was probably based on his personal experience. Rating: 3 stars
So that’s what I read in February. Overall, I read 9 books for a total of 2200 pages. I had a couple of 3 stars that I could have rated lower but I found something to justify liking them, most of what I read were 4 star reads and I had one 5 star read. I didn’t think anything was truly terrible, probably because I chose some really great books to start out with.
Of the 9 books, 5 were by authors of African descent, 1 was by an Asian author. Through reading, I visited 6 countries other than the USA – Barbados, Mexico, Jamaica, England, South Korea and Sierra Leone.
I didn’t read any Non Fiction last month so I am going to have to make sure I add NF books to my TBR for March.
But that’s my February bookish recap. If you made a similar list, leave me a link in the comments below so I can check it out or just tell me what was your favorite and least favorite read of the past month.Find me on Amazon, YouTube, Tumblr, Bloglovin, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter