February Reading Roundup
Updated: May 4, 2019
February is a shortchanged month that finishes abruptly but I still got through a few books. It's an eclectic bunch of books - a mix of recommendations, found books, buzz books, award books and borrowed books.
Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
The language and detail gives the sense of place a wonderful depth but I felt the plot veered too much into melodrama. Would have preferred grit and grime and dark, which probably says more about me than the book. Southern Gothic meets small town crime - this book will appeal to many. Kya Clark is the 'marsh girl', an abandoned child bringing herself up hidden in the swamp. She is highly intelligent and in tune with her surroundings, studying the flora and fauna. Trouble finds her, as she reaches womanhood, in the form of local boy Chase Andrews. At first, the book jumps between time periods, juxtaposing the Kya's childhood and the future investigation into the murder of Chase. While the structure and language is highly accomplished, I baulked a bit at the courtroom drama and sentimentality in the book.
Bluebottle by Belinda Castles
I chose this book because it was on the Stella Prize longlist.
The novel follows the Bright family in two distinct time periods, twenty years apart. Boxing Day on the beach with undercurrents of tensions, teenage angst, domineering father, mania and marital strife is evoked with authenticity and stark clarity.
In the present the family are at odds, the father now absent.
While the book is compelling, for me there was an over reliance on sensory writing, visceral descriptions rather than ideas and more creative language - something I find common in contemporary Australian writing. There was the feeling that this was a short story expanded to a novel albeit one that is extremely accomplished. While the past was vivid, the present characters just didn't ring true.
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
A small dense punchy book that will claw at your mind.
Seventeen year old Sylvie and her parents join an University anthropology class and their professor in a two week re-enactment of Iron age Briton. Sylvie's father is obsessed with the Iron Age and the way of life. He is also violently physically abusive. The book explores gender dynamics and how close we are to reverting to primitive mindsets when given the chance.
Everything Under by Daisy Johnson
A debut novel shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
This is a circular narrative that sweeps you up in playful language while creating a mythical atmosphere. The novel explores identity, fate, language and family and it is quite strange and brilliant.
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
It's Dirk Gently meets Charlotte Bronte in a whimsical literary adventure. Set in an alternative 1985 where there is time travel, cloning and literature is the most important thing. Thursday Next is a literary detective from Special Ops who is brought in to investigate the thefts of original classic manuscripts and the elimination of certain characters by the dastardly Acheron Hades. When he threatens the beloved Jane Eyre it is up to Thursday to put things right. Wonderfully silly and wonderfully fun.
The children's fiction I read in February was all truly fantastic.
Feeling Sorry For Celia by Jaclyn Moriarty
This book is so brilliant. A teen novel written entirely as letters that manages to deal with love, friendship, family break ups and even attempted suicide, but does so with such warmth and brevity that it manages to be an absolute delight. Jacyln Moriarty is a genius.
The Skylarks' War by Hilary McKay
I have been waiting for this book - Hilary McKay is my favourite children's author. And it did not disappoint. The story of cousins Clarry and Peter and Rupert in the early 1900's through the first world war this book just crushes your heart. It is a masterpiece.
Catching Teller Crow by Ambelin Kwaymullina and Ezekiel Kwaymullina
Beth Teller is dead. But she can't leave. She is tied to this world because of her dad's grief - he can still see and talk to her. She is with him while he investigates a fire that killed a man. Then there's Isobel Catching. Why can she see Beth? And what is the truth behind her strange poetic story? Beth and her father unravel the mystery - a shocking crime lurking under the surface of a small town. This book tightly weaves the mystery, including a cold case, with gritty realism, mystical imagery and poetry. It's fantastic YA read!
In Darkling Wood by Emma Carroll
This is a middle grade book with magic, history and fraught family relationships, beautifully told. When her brother Theo goes to hospital for a heart transplant, twelve year old Alice is sent to live with a grandmother she doesn't know. There she discovers a girl in the wood who warns of fairy magic and revenge if her grandmother follows through with her plan of cutting part of the wood down. Interspersed with the present day narrative are letters from a girl in 1918 writing to a missing soldier brother. There is also a mystery as to why the grandmother hates the woods, Alice adjusting to family break ups and serious illness and wonderful fairy magic. This book cleverly manages to balances all the elements right to the end while creating a cracking read.