February Book Reviews
Updated: Mar 22
February began in panic and relief: February 1st was Match Day for my husband Mark, the day to find out where in the country he matches for residency training, determining where we live for the next four years. Not having control over this turned me into a total stress-case, peaking on the last day of January when I tried to calm my nerves with Kava tea, and we distracted ourselves with round after round of the card game Phase 10.
The following morning Mark turned his computer screen toward me, and I read that he matched at his home institution. What a relief to finally know the outcome, and what a relief to stay put in sunny Southern California.
I spent the rest of the month settling back into regular life, which of course included plenty of reading. Below are my ten books of February, from Did-Not-Finish (DNF) to five-stars.
Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth
I felt eager to read this book until I began it. Then I found myself prioritizing other titles over this one. I pushed myself to read over half of its 600+ pages before quitting.
Danforth’s playful conversational tone is supposed to increase the humor of this horror-comedy, but the side-comment footnotes throughout take me out of the scene and add unnecessary information. If it matters just put it in the main text. If it doesn’t, just remove it! The book is 600 PAGES and it doesn’t have to be.
I did feel genuinely spooked twice, but it just wasn’t enough and there were so many pages in between. I never hit my stride, and with every footnote I lost more momentum until I stopped completely.
Eat Only When You’re Hungry by Lindsay Hunter
Like most small, slim hardcovers this book appealed to me in a tactile way. Unfortunately the appeal stopped there. None of the characters drew me in because they were just so pitiful.
Greg, obese and food-focused, embarks on a solo road trip to find his missing son GJ who has a history of addiction, and Greg’s wife seems relieved to let him leave on this trip alone.
In twenty-eight pages there was no light, no breath. It began in such a way that I didn’t expect a redemptive ending, and I just didn’t want to read that, so I didn’t.
Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger
Elatsoe is a late elementary/middle school level murder mystery starring a seventeen-year-old Lipan Apache protagonist named Ellie who lives in a version of the United States that includes ghosts, magic, vampires, and an underworld. With the help of her pet (ghost) dog Kirby and her friend Jay, Ellie tries out her skills as a paranormal investigator to find her cousin Trevor’s murderer.
Themes include settler-Indigenous relations (appropriate to the target audience age group) and discerning when to be brave when to refrain from action. The book is delightful and well-written, and I definitely recommend it for younger readers.
Becoming Duchess Goldblatt
This is the memoir of an anonymous woman who, in the face of immense grief, began a Twitter account under the pseudonym Duchess Goldblatt and became a social media sensation.
Because the author is anonymous, I found myself hesitant to trust her. At one point I flipped to the back of the book for her photo and bio only to remember I wouldn’t find anything there. I learned to build trust for an author on her writing, not her face or past experience.
Her story was interesting, but to read it felt entirely optional for me because I’m not on Twitter and hadn’t heard of Duchess Goldblatt before picking up the book. But once I began, I continued reading for the excellent writing, full of wisdom without being preachy.
For example, I've been thinking about this quote for days:
“Any asshole can make a mean joke. It’s harder work to reach out for the joke that’s funny and can’t hurt anybody” (196).
Perfect Little World by Kevin Wilson
This title came from Wilson’s backlist, found after reading his most recent book Nothing to See Here (which I loved). The two have obvious similarities: both address themes of family, parental suicide, and social class. Both include a female protagonist from the working class who grew up with a single parent (who is not much of a parent) and who finds herself in an unconventional family in adulthood. Despite these similarities both books prove to have unique and creative premises.
In Perfect Little World, Izzy agrees to join the Infinite Family Project (IFP) where she raises her little boy alongside nine couples and their children as one big family. Dr. Grind, who grew up under the Constant Friction Method, intended to maximize a child’s resilience, leads the IFP to study—and challenge—attachment theory, how parents and their children bond.
I found it interesting to read about these fictional characters dealing with attachment, trauma, and resilience juxtaposed with my reading of The Body Keeps The Score. On these heavy subjects Wilson makes room for hope, goodness, art, and love. He has a way of writing happy endings that don’t feel saccharin—they just feel right.
Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center
This contemporary fiction romance (not erotica!) was a delightful read. Helen, a jaded divorcée, wants to get away from everyone and everything by going on a transformative wilderness trip. But then Jake, best friend to her annoying, irresponsible younger brother, ends up taking the same trip. The story is well-paced, well-written, and I enjoyed it immensely.
Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler, MPH
This book is for women and couples interested in the fertility awareness method, which determines when a woman is most fertile during her cycle for the purpose of family planning. I read it because I want to get a handle on my irregular cycles. The author instructs women to chart their basal body temperature and cervical fluid characteristics daily and shows how these relate to ovulation and menstruation.
Over and over Weschler points out how simple the method is, but if it were so simple then it wouldn’t take 400 pages to write about it! Still, as comprehensive as it is, the writing is clear, and I was able to begin charting my cycle right away.
To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey
Set in nineteenth century Alaska, this novel proved even better than Ivey’s first book The Snow Child. It includes similar aspects of Native mythology but goes even further in characterizing the setting of Alaska by way of Lieut. Col. Allen Forrester’s exploration of the land.
Also similar to the protagonists of The Snow Child, Allen and his wife Sophie are unable to bear a child of their own. Though they grieve the path of parenthood, they lead lives filled with meaning and purpose, each as pioneers in their own right. Diary entries, letters, and photos chronicle Allen’s expedition while Sophie stays in Washington state and teaches herself the burgeoning art of photography.
Ivey’s epistolary format allows the story to unfold naturally. And of course I especially love to read her writing on Alaska. Having lived there her whole life, she captures both its essence and allure:
“There is a feeling here that civilization is still just a speck, and it makes me feel small in a good way” (182).
The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk, MD
This is a technical, tiny-font book that seems unassuming in its 358 pages but is heavy for its vast content and grim subject: How does trauma affect the body, brain, and mind, and how do we heal it?
In February 9th’s Wordy Wednesday I discussed some of those strategies for healing and how van der Kolk’s characterization of trauma relates to my own experience. I found his book informative, building on what I know about trauma from my undergraduate psychology degree, from my experience with patients as a chiropractor, and as a patient myself.
I hoped to learn more about how trauma can be healed through bodywork, how trauma connects to the development of chronic pain and psychosomatization. Even excluding these topics the book felt long, and I finished it in order to learn all van der Kolk could teach me, not for enjoyment per se. Well-written, well-researched, rich with the analysis of an experienced clinician, this book gets five solid stars for what it is, a thorough explanation of trauma’s effects and what is known to treat it.
Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld
What if Hillary never married Bill? In this speculative fiction novel, she doesn’t. They attend law school, they date, she finds a teaching job in Arkansas and moves in with him, but then she walks away due to his infidelity and sex addiction.
The novel includes biographical details that allowed me to learn more about Hillary’s life while also telling a story that diverges from reality. As a woman I identified with Hillary’s maneuvering through a sexist world and the challenges she encounters.
The story works its way to the present and yes, that means Trump makes an appearance too, but that’s all I can say without spoiling it. I thought this book was fantastic, and shout out to Carrington MacDuffie who does a stellar job narrating the audiobook.