The roller coaster that was my January reading ground to a halt in February. I can’t even blame the weather because Michigan has had one of its most mild winters (so far!) in years. Instead, it seems as if it’s something larger in the air because most of the readers and bloggers I know reported the same thing. Sadly, this means I’m going to sound crankier than ever in this wrap-up.
Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes by Kathleen West
Published by Berkley
Publication date: February 4, 2020
If you’re looking for one-stop reading that covers every hot button topic about parenthood in contemporary America then Minor Dramas is for you. The novel is set at an elite private high school near Minneapolis and includes a snowplow mother (more involved than helicopter parent because she literally pushes every obstacle out of her child’s life so they never face adversity), elitism, entitlement, and social media run amok. The problem is that the author bludgeons with these themes. The villainous mother appears almost immediately, ensuring there’s no nuance to follow. This is snack food reading—you’ll tear through it fast, but it’s not very satisfying.
The Beautiful American by Jeanne Mackin: Historical fiction about Lee Miller recommended because I loved Age of Light so much last month. Review to follow
The Women in Black by Madeleine St. John: One of the bright spots in February! My review
The Lost Diary of M by Paul Wolfe
Published by Harper
Publication date: February 25, 2020
I was really looking forward to this novel about the missing diary of one of JFK’s mistresses. It was my top pick on Sarah’s Book Shelves Live podcast. So, this review of The Lost Diary of M may be exacerbated by the fact that I publicly embraced the book, but honestly, I don’t think so. I made it for 62 pages before deciding life is too short. Probably the easiest way to explain my choice is this sentence on page 2: Perhaps we are making love again amid the draperies of American history. I can’t work with that. What does it even mean?!
Beyond metaphors (and there were more of them) that made no sense and verged on the overwrought, this is a novel about a woman and yet she has virtually no presence. None of the women do. The Lost Diary of M is about a bunch of dreadful men, most of whom seem to hate women. The only positive thing to come out of this book is that I’m determined to find a biography of Mary Pinchot Meyer and find out what her life was really like.
Cleanness by Garth Greenwell: A melancholy novel that was still one of the highlights of the month. My review
Writers & Lovers by Lily King: I loved her debut, Euphoria, and this one did not disappoint. Review to follow
The Jetsetters by Amanda Eyre Ward
Published by Ballantine Books
Publication date: March 3, 2020
The Jetsetters was another of my winter picks that made me feel as if I should not be publicly announcing the books I want to read anymore. I had hoped a novel about a dysfunctional family that goes on a 10-day cruise might be the kind of light, palate cleansing book I love after reading heavier literary fiction. Unfortunately, it was a case of an author unsuccessfully trying to straddle the line between drama and comedy. I would have quit reading but there were snatches of insight about aging, loneliness, and family that made think a corner had been turned. It had, but it led to silliness and superficiality none of which was helped by a premise that became absurd.
The Institute by Stephen King
Published by Scribner
Publication date: September 10, 2019
I never feel as if I read a Stephen King novel so much as download it directly into my brain and The Institute is no exception. I’m not even conscious of my eyes moving across the page—the story is simply filling my brain and I can’t stop reading. In this case King takes children being kidnapped from their homes and put in a place where mad scientists –or shadow government employees (which is kind of the same thing)—experiment on their brains. Each of these children is either telepathic or telekinetic and it’s believed that by harnessing their power large world events can be changed. Of course, none of this happens without painful testing and experimentation. When a boy who also happens to be a genius is added to the mix things start to happen.
The Institute feels like the new Stephen King. He’s discarded outright horror and goes for a slow drip of discomfort, adding in psychological components that work to build tension. Unfortunately, the tension bubble burst about ¾ of the way through the novel and the resolution felt unsatisfying. This would not rank as one of my favorite King novels, even if, as always, he does a great job driving home the enduring power of childhood friendship.
That’s all for me! How was your February? Please send me ideas if you read something great!
Sarah's Bookshelves says
Though March is a bit better, I still feel like 2020 books have been pretty disappointing. I’m going to blame it on publishers not putting their best stuff out there during an election year!
I agree, but we need the distraction now more than ever!
Julie Zeller says
Sorry you had such a bad reading month! If you get a chance, read Writers and Lovers by Lily King.
I did and it was one of the bright spots! I’ll be reviewing it in March before it comes out.
I had a pretty good reading month and would recommend any of these books. Say Nothing by Patrick Keefe, The Truants by Kate Weinberg, The Holdout by Graham Moore, Psycho By Robert Bloch and True Grit by Charles Portis. The episodes you and Sarah do together on her podcast are always some of my favorites.
Thank you! I hope you don’t hold it against me that my choices this winter have gone so wrong! I saw The Truants at the library so will check it out. Thanks for the recommendations!
I look forward to Lily King’s novel and The Glass Hotel. Sorry these other books didn’t work out, argh! Perhaps Elizabeth Wetmore’s novel Valentine ???
You’re a mind reader! Valentine is one of the 6 books on tap for March that I’m excited about.