Hello, I’m Rogan and welcome to my wrap up for January and February books! Since I was behind anyway, I decided to just combine these two months. Hopefully, I’ll get back to monthly after this! I read six books in January, and four in February, so let’s right into it. I’ll be doing more simple summaries since you can generally find more in-depth synopses online if that’s what you want.
Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune. Wallace Price is watching his own funeral when a woman approaches him and confirms that he’s dead. She brings him to a little tea shop hidden deep in the woods, one that has impossible architecture and Hugo, the owner that makes the most delicious tea while also helping people cross over when they’re ready. Wallace isn’t ready to die, and lingers at the shop until he’s given an ultimatum by the Manager, Hugo’s boss. He decides to make the most of it and live a lifetime in the time he’s given. — This has a lot of similar vibes to Klune’s other book, The House In the Cerulean Sea, even a similar cover, but these books aren’t connected at all. At least, not that we know of! There’s strong found family, Wallace and Hugo are so into each other, but it’s a very slow burn which I enjoyed. This book talks a lot about death, big feelings around it on the part of the living, and what it potentially could be for those who have died and those who work with the recently passed. It handles all of these topics with care, but also with honesty, saying things that can be hard to hear but are necessary. It’s a very melancholic book but it absolutely has its moments of joy and happiness. I loved this book, and definitely will read anything by Klune.
The Removed by Brandon Hobson. This is about a Cherokee family still struggling and healing from the trauma of their son Ray-Ray being killed in a police shooting fifteen years ago. The mother is trying to manage her husband’s Alzheimer’s, their daughter is mostly solitary except when she has bouts of romantic obsession, and their other son left home long ago, and is dealing with addiction that helps him not feel so alienated. As the annual family bonfire, an occasion that marks both the Cherokee National Holiday and Ray-Ray’s death, approaches, the mother attempts to get the whole family together again. The closer it gets to the date, the more the family experiences a blurring between reality and the spirit world indivivdually. — This draws on a lot of Cherokee folklore, and really explores familial grief, how it impacts everyone as a whole but also individually, how the trauma can last for a long time, never fully healing. I’m certainly not the right person to give a review for this because I’m not indigenous and I haven’t experienced trauma like what’s happened in this book, but I thought it was very well-written. There are a few periods where I wasn’t sure what exactly was happening, but the characters weren’t sure either, so that was very effective. I would recommend this, but absolutely look up trigger warnings for this if you need to.
Legends of the North Cascades by Jonathan Evison. Dave has served three tours in Iraq, and after coming home to Vigilante Falls in Washington state, he realizes he’s had enough of people and civilization. He works through it for his daughter, Bella, but then tragedy strikes and he makes a dramatic decision. He takes Bella and goes to live in the wilderness of the North Cascades, completely off grid. As Dave and Bella get used to their new routine, Bella retreats into another world. This world is one of a mother and son who once lived in the same area, at the end of the Ice Age which is thousands of years before. The stories of these two families have strong parallels and start to merge, becoming a story of survival, the dangers of isolation. — I really enjoyed the writing of this, the stories told in this were very captivating. I don’t know how accurate the Ice Age story really is, but again, we still don’t know a lot about that time period so it’s very possible that it could’ve happened. This felt like it had real stakes, it never felt too dramatic or stretching to make it fit. Sure, there were some times that I went, wow, that’s convenient, but this is titled Legends, so there’s bound to be some dramatics. I did enjoy this very much though!
Starstruck: The Play by Elaine Lee, Susan Norfleet Lee, Dale Place, illustrated by Michael Kaluta. Full disclosure, I read this only because of the current season of Dimension 20, A Starstruck Odyssey. This is the first iteration of this universe, written in an era where women rarely got lead roles, so they decided to write their own. Starstruck is a wild sci-fi universe where it’s basically complete anarchy and that’s reflected by the name for this time period, AnarchEra. What I read is the original script for the stage play, and I can tell this was probably very fun to actually watch on stage. Stage plays are really not made for casual reading, so I try to imagine it as if I was seeing it on stage. This edition has some pictures from an actual production, so that helped a lot with picturing what it looked like! Starstruck was eventually turned into a comic series with Kaluta as the illustrator, I’ve been slowly working through the web version, though I’d love to get a physical copy to read. I know I haven’t really described the story at all, but it’s hard to explain, it’s so out-there and jumps around a lot. I enjoyed it, so there’s that!
Not a Nation of Immigrants: Settler Colonialism, White Supremacy, and a History of Erasure and Exclusion by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. The author explores the myth that the United States was proudly founded by and for immigrants, and does a deep-dive into the founding, development of the country using slaves and immigrants to build it, all the way up to modern-day rhetoric about immigrants. There’s eight chapters, and each focuses on a different facet, but also shows how it all comes together to create the US of today. Some chapters focus on when bunches of laborers were brought over, such as the Irish, Chinese, Japanese, in periods of growth, others focus on settling, colonizing, and modifying the history of some people and how the country was truly founded. — So much is talked about in this book, and a lot of it is history that many of us learn in school. However, this looks at it with a different lens, one being critical of colonialism, the settler mindset and how many immigrants took that on as their own and turned it into their de facto origin story. I really appreciated all of the information I learned from this that was in addition to the history I’d learned over my life. I would absolutely recommend this read for anyone interested in history or wanting to understand more about the start of the US.
Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness by Kristen Radtke. Loneliness is everywhere in America, from metropolises to small towns. Humans have so many ways that we use in an attempt to feel closer to each other, and the distance that’s still there. Radtke takes us through a history of longing, telling us about using laugh tracks, Harry Harlow’s experiments, various ways we experience being lonely. — This book is done in graphic novel form, so you really get the visual experience of loneliness along with the stories and info. I personally felt meh about this, nothing about it made me go wow, this is really good, but it was still interesting to read.
That’s the six books I read in January, let’s move right into February.
Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law by Mary Roach. Fuzz explores human-wildlife conflict, where laws and human lives intersect with wildlife, sometimes in hilarious ways and sometimes in very destructive ways. Roach goes out in the field with animal-attack forensics investigators, people who specialize in specific animals that come into contact with humans often like elephants, bears, gulls, macaques. She explores the different methods that humans have used to attempt to mitigate conflict with animals, how those attempts sometimes cause another problem, and sometimes they provide a path to a better solution for all. — I really enjoyed this. I’ve had a couple of Roach’s books for a while now, but haven’t gotten around to them yet. I definitely will be after reading this, I enjoy Roach’s style of writing and telling stories. This book was absolutely fascinating, I learned a lot about a field that I knew existed but didn’t really know, if you know what I mean. Like, it’s something that has to exist, but we don’t hear about it because it’s not exactly glamorous or flashy. I really appreciated that Roach showed us a wide range of animals that humans come into conflict with, and all across the world, not just focusing on one country. She shares a lot of data and hard facts, but she does it in a way where you feel like you’re having fun, going on adventures with her. At least, that was how it felt in this one! I’m hoping that her other books are similar, but I’ve heard nothing but good things about her work so I’m looking forward to it.
Sex Cult Nun: Breaking Away from the Children of God, a Wild, Radical Religious Cult by Faith Jones. This is a memoir where Jones tells us about her upbringing on an isolated farm in Macau, with her family and other members of the Children of God. An international organization that became notorious for its sex practices and accusations of abuse and exploitation, it was founded by her grandfather, with tens of thousands members looking to him as their light. Faith and her siblings were celebrated as special, but also punished to remind them that they were not, everyone was equal in this one big Family. Jones was born and raised in this cult, but had a thirst for knowledge that she fed by sneaking books and teaching herself high school curriculum. She finally hit her breaking point at twenty-three and left the cult, forging her own path in America. — This was a wild ride from start to finish. Jones writes this more or less linearly, starting from as young as she can remember up to present day. She also writes how she was thinking in each period of time, so we really get to see her evolution from unquestioning obedience in the Family’s rules to feeling stifled and wanting to learn more, wanting more from life than just the Family. This is from Jones’s perspective, but we also learn a lot about the Family and how it was run, how the adults in it thought and did things. It’s just wild to me how this kind of thing can happen, how people get sucked into cults, but it can happen so easily until you’re so deep in it, it’s near impossible to get out. This was an incredible read, and I would recommend it.
Brown Girls by Daphne Palasi Andreades. A group of friends who grow up in Queens, New York City, a vibrant and eclectic borough. Languages from all over the globe, the scent of the ocean, dollar stores and subways, girls trying to reconcile their immigrant backgrounds with being Americans and coming of age. They roam the streets of NYC, pine over crushes, have broken hearts, trying to be dutiful daughters and heed their mothers. As they age, their paths diverge – some choose to remain home, surrounded by familiarity, while others feel drawn to other places and skylines, the unfamiliar. A portrait of life for women of color, exploring race, class, marginalization, finding their place in the world while many forces work to keep them down. — I really enjoyed the collective way this book was written in. There isn’t a singular person, it’s always “we” and names are said, but always as part of a group. The prose in this is very lyrical and beautiful. It shows us the whole range of experiences, from girls who are dutiful and do all their mothers say, to those who are rebellious and want to forge their own path in life. Those who follow career paths laid out for them, and those who choose to go against what is expected of them. We see queer women, those who don’t fit the mold. But we also see in the end they return to each other and to Queens, where their true heart is.
The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina by Zoraida Córdova. The Montoya family is used to strange things happening, like letters from their grandmother appearing out of nowhere or being delivered by birds, the pantry never seems to run low, and their matriarch won’t ever leave their family home in Four Rivers. One day, they all get invitations to come and collect their inheritance. Happily or resentfully, they all show up, hoping to learn more and get something good. But Orquídea has something else in mind. She transforms into a tree right in front of the family’s eyes, leaving many more questions behind. Like who was Orquídea really? Where did this strange magic come from? Orquídea also left behind blessings for each of her family, some more unique than others, and these four attempt to find the truth behind their inheritance as family members start dying one by one. — If this sounds a lot like Encanto, you aren’t wrong! There are a lot of strong parallels with these stories, but they also are very different. This talks about generational trauma being carried down through the family even when most of them don’t know what that trauma is. Some of them get slightly unusual gifts, but they’re kept hidden from the world for the most part. You definitely get the feel of a big family, with all the mini conflicts between members but also all coming together for a single reason. I’m definitely not the right person to be reviewing this, and there’s so much that happens it doesn’t feel right to reduce it down to my review. I would definitely encourage you to go read other reviews, especially those by Latine reviewers.
That’s all of the books I read in January and February! March and April should be coming very soon, hopefully along with other posts not book-related!
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