Full disclosure: February is my least favorite month of the whole year. I tend to try to rush through it as fast as I can, because even though it’s the shortest month, it feels soooo long!
February 2018 was a slower reading month for me than January, but I still made it through quite the stack of books! And, as usual, they are all over the place genre-wise.
1. The Real Peter Pan: J.M. Barrie and the Boy Who Inspired Him, Piers Dudgeon
The world has long been captivated by the story of Peter Pan and the countless movies, plays, musicals, and books that retell the story of Peter, Wendy, and the Lost Boys. Now, in this revealing behind-the-scenes book, author Piers Dudgeon examines the fascinating and complex relationships among Peter Pan’s creator, J.M. Barrie, and the family of boys who inspired his work.
After meeting the Llewelyn Davies family in London’s Kensington Garden, Barrie struck up an intense friendship with the children and their parents. The innocence of Michael, the fourth of five brothers, went on to influence the creation of Barrie’s most famous character, Peter Pan. Barrie was so close to the Llewelyn Davies family that he became trustee and guardian to the boys following the deaths of their parents. Although the relationship between the boys and Barrie (and particularly between Barrie and Michael) was enduring, it was punctuated by the fiercest of tragedies. Throughout the heart-rending saga of Barrie’s involvement with the Llewelyn Davies brothers, it is the figure of Michael, the most original and inspirational of their number, and yet also the one whose fate is most pitiable, that stands out.
The Real Peter Pan is a captivating true story of childhood, friendship, war, love, and regret.
Spoiler Alert: Peter Pan isn’t the beautiful fairytale Disney has led you to believe, and James Matthew was even more of a sleazeball than Depp’s portrayal of him in Finding Neverland. That being said, I am in love with the complexity and darkness of the lives of the families Barrie and Llewellyn-Davies. I actually appreciate that such a beautiful exploration of innocence and death came out of these people and their lives.
This book was a lot of primary sources, which I enjoyed, especially as I got to read even more Barrie prose than I have to date. And it was an easy-to-digest narrative with a natural build toward the ending you know is coming–at least, if you know anything about Michael Llewellyn-Davies. That being said, I felt the title of this book was a little misleading. There was very little in this text about Barrie himself, even though I was expecting it to focus on him. Instead, the book is about Michael and his short life. I’m glad to know more about Michael–the inspiration for Peter Pan–but I picked up the book expecting a biography on Barrie. So, I’ll have to go out hunting for a more accurate biography of the author in the future!
This is a cautionary tale: read at your own risk. Again, I cannot say enough about how different the real story of Peter Pan is from Disney’s watered down cartoon. You’ve been warned!
2. The Amber Spyglass, Philip Pullman
Will is the bearer of the knife. Now, accompanied by angels, his task is to deliver that powerful, dangerous weapon to Lord Asriel – by the command of his dying father.
But how can he go looking for Lord Asriel when Lyra is gone? Only with her help can he fathom the myriad plots and and intrigues that beset him.
The two great powers of the many worlds are lining up for war, and Will must find Lyra, for together they are on their way to battle, an inevitable journey that will even take them to the world of the dead…
I’ve already talked about “His Dark Materials” in my January Wrap-Up, and I don’t have a lot to add here. I think this book suffers from the typical troubles of the third book in a trilogy–all those loose ends the author created have to be tied up, and quickly. But still, the characters in this text stay true to their form, and that is something to appreciate. And the ending of the book is satisfying, in that not-quite-perfect-so-it-feels-real kind of way. This still isn’t my favorite fantasy series, and I’m not a huge fan of the story, but I do appreciate what Pullman accomplished with it.
3. Teach Me to Forget, Erica M. Chapman
This is the story of Ellery, a girl who learns how to live while waiting for the date she chose to die.
Ellery’s bought the gun, made arrangements for her funeral, and even picked the day. A Wednesday. Everything has fallen into place.
Now all she has to do is die.
When her plans go awry and the gun she was going to kill herself with breaks, she does the one thing she has control over–return it and get a new one. After tormenting the crusty customer service associate by trying to return the gun with the wrong receipt, Ellery gets caught by the security guard who also happens to be someone she knows–the annoyingly perfect Colter Sawyer from her English class.
Colter quickly uncovers what she’s hiding and is determined to change her mind. After confessing a closely held secret of his own, he promises not to tell hers. Ellery tries to fight her attraction to him as the shadows of her past cling tight around her, but when she’s faced with another tragedy, she must decide whether she can learn to live with what she’s done or follow through with her plan to die.
Trigger Warnings: Suicide, Suicidal Ideation, Depression, Loss of a loved one, Self-harm.
I’m from a very small town. At the end of January, we lost three young men to suicide. They were all close in age, and one of them was a close friend of my family. At the time, I was feeling very broken and discouraged. How do you cope with such unexpected, devastating loss? I knew I had this book on my shelves, and so I picked it up looking for understanding and perhaps a sense of closure.
The situations in this book are bleak. The trigger warning listed in the description is absolutely necessary. And yet, Chapman’s exploration of grief, loss, healing, and suffering is beautiful and captivating. I can tell that she honestly sought to explore the mind of one with suicidal thoughts, to give voice to the mental agony associated with such hopelessness. And, in many ways, it shows.
I have a few concerns with this book that have kept me from completely loving it, including the situations that have led Ellery to attempt suicide. We have to be so careful about associating traumatic events with depression, because the reality is the things Ellery faces could affect anyone, even if they had not suffered the losses she did. I also did not care for the romance between Ellery and Colter. This is perhaps my age showing, but anyone in Ellery’s situation is in no position to be getting into relationships… And my interpretation of her situation is, should she and Colter dissolve, so might her resolve to go on living.
So, not a perfect book by any means. But I was so grateful for this story and its message at the time that I read it.
4. To Catch a Pirate, Jade Parker
Once caught, it’s harder still to let a pirate go
When Annalisa Townsend’s ship is set upon by pirates in search of her father’s treasure, one of the crew, James Sterling, discovers her in the hold. When he moves to take her necklace, she begs him not to, as it is all she has left of her mother. He accepts a kiss in exchange for the necklace. “A fair trade, m’lady,” he tells her afterward, before disappearing.
A year later, with a forged letter of marque, Annalisa is intent on hunting down the wretched James Sterling and reclaiming her father’s treasure from him. But now she’s in danger of him stealing something far more vulnerable this time: her heart.
Not gonna lie, the only reason I read this book was to fulfill the POPSUGAR Challenge Criteria: A book set at sea. I have read this book before, and I remembered really liking the dynamics between the two main characters. This time around, I found it a little more cheesy. But, hey, what do you expect from a romance, right? A fun, fluffy read perfect for Valentine’s Day.
5. The Magicians, Lev Grossman
A thrilling and original coming-of-age novel for adults about a young man practicing magic in the real world.
Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable. A senior in high school, he’s still secretly preoccupied with a series of fantasy novels he read as a child, set in a magical land called Fillory. Imagine his surprise when he finds himself unexpectedly admitted to a very secret, very exclusive college of magic in upstate New York, where he receives a thorough and rigorous education in the craft of modern sorcery.
He also discovers all the other things people learn in college: friendship, love, sex, booze, and boredom. Something is missing, though. Magic doesn’t bring Quentin the happiness and adventure he dreamed it would. After graduation he and his friends make a stunning discovery: Fillory is real. But the land of Quentin’s fantasies turns out to be much darker and more dangerous than he could have imagined. His childhood dream becomes a nightmare with a shocking truth at its heart.
At once psychologically piercing and magnificently absorbing, The Magicians boldly moves into uncharted literary territory, imagining magic as practiced by real people, with their capricious desires and volatile emotions. Lev Grossman creates an utterly original world in which good and evil aren’t black and white, love and sex aren’t simple or innocent, and power comes at a terrible price.
I have a more full review of this book on Goodreads, but the long and short of it is I did not enjoy this book. I like the Harry Potter-esque themes, several shades darker to reflect “real life.” And I like Grossman’s writing. However, I found the plot to move far too quickly (there was a lot of ground covered for a single book; I’m terrified to think how much more may be waiting in the rest of the series…!), and I hate the characters. None of them have truly redeeming qualities, which perhaps is getting at the commentary Grossman has with Rowling on what actual magicians/wizards would have to deal with in the real world. But that makes it super hard to root for anyone, “good” or “bad.”
Actually, I’ve found myself to be quite partial to the TV series. I enjoy Elliott and Penny so much more in their film roles than I do on the page, and I actually support the rewrite of Janet to Margot. The plot in the show is slowed down a good bit, and you get to know the characters in ways you don’t in the text.
(And, honestly, I had no expectations for the show. I only watched it because Felicia Day shows up in Season 3. Love her!)
All that to say, I may give the next book a chance. A friend of mine mentioned the series gets better, so we’ll have to see…
6. The War I Finally Won, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
When Ada’s clubfoot is surgically fixed at last, she knows for certain that she’s not what her mother said she was—damaged, deranged, crippled mentally as well as physically. She’s not a daughter anymore, either. What is she?
World War II continues, and Ada and her brother, Jamie, are living with their loving legal guardian, Susan, in a borrowed cottage on the estate of the formidable Lady Thorton—along with Lady Thorton herself and her daughter, Maggie. Life in the crowded cottage is tense enough, and then, quite suddenly, Ruth, a Jewish girl from Germany, moves in. A German? The occupants of the house are horrified. But other impacts of the war become far more frightening. As death creeps closer to their door, life and morality during wartime grow more complex. Who is Ada now? How can she keep fighting? And who will she struggle to save?
I am completely in love with this duology. These two books are absolutely beautiful. Everyone, of every age, needs to read them at least once.
The War That Saved My Life is a beautiful story of love and acceptance, and the true meaning of family. Ada learns so much about life in her first adventure, and this follow-up continues that education perfectly. It’s wonderful to see her wrestle with ideas of self-acceptance, prejudice, and politics, and to try and understand war, grief, and healing. This story is beyond accessible, and yet it’s so complex, even I felt that I followed Ada through the emotions and thoughts she experiences.
I can’t say enough good things, so just go read them yourself. The sooner, the better!
7. The Upside of Unrequited, Becky Albertalli
Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love—she’s lived through it twenty-six times. She crushes hard and crushes often, but always in secret. Because no matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.
Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. Will is funny and flirtatious and just might be perfect crush material. Maybe more than crush material. And if Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back.
There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker Reid. He’s an awkward Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. Right?
I love Becky Albertalli’s writing so much (and I cannot wait to see “Love, Simon” when it comes out!). This book was no exception. Molly is a different sort of protagonist from most YA stories, and some of what she faces is a different sort of struggle. There is decent representation in this book, and the topics addressed are real and present today.
This book, in all its realness, made me extremely angry at times. I seek solace in the thought that I believe this is what Albertalli wanted to happen. But conversations surrounding popularity, body image, and self-acceptance were infuriating to me. The story ends with the OTP I wanted, but good grief, I wasn’t sure we’d ever get there. This plot reminds me that, in terms of behaviors of students in schools, we have a long way to go before bullying, stereotyping, and general “clique”ness can be fully eradicated.
8. It’s Not Like It’s a Secret, Misa Sugiura
Sixteen-year-old Sana Kiyohara has too many secrets. Some are small, like how it bothers her when her friends don’t invite her to parties. Some are big, like that fact that her father may be having an affair. And then there’s the one that she can barely even admit to herself—the one about how she might have a crush on her best friend.
When Sana and her family move to California she begins to wonder if it’s finally time for some honesty, especially after she meets Jamie Ramirez. Jamie is beautiful and smart and unlike anyone Sana’s ever known. There are just a few problems: Sana’s new friends don’t trust Jamie’s crowd; Jamie’s friends clearly don’t want her around anyway; and a sweet guy named Caleb seems to have more-than-friendly feelings for her. Meanwhile, her dad’s affair is becoming too obvious to ignore anymore.
Sana always figured that the hardest thing would be to tell people that she wants to date a girl, but as she quickly learns, telling the truth is easy… what comes after it, though, is a whole lot more complicated.
I’ll be honest–I wanted to like this book more than I actually did. I really like Sana and Jamie, and the relationship that they have. However, the drama and conflict in this story is upsetting and largely left open-ended.
I read a few Goodreads reviews before starting this book (a common practice I have, to figure out why someone did or did not like a particular story and to see if I think it will be a good fit for me). I saw several people complain about the racism and the “infidelity” in the book. At first, I brushed this off, assuming that Sugiura was going for authentic, which may be off-putting to some people.
Unfortunately, after finishing the book, I have to agree with a lot of those reviews–while the racism is, perhaps, authentic, it’s never really addressed for what it is–something very wrong and what should not be tolerated. And while the complexity of the love triangle Sana finds herself in makes for high drama, I felt the whole escapade with Caleb to be unnecessary and harmful. So, while the story is beautiful (and, again, excellent representation!), it didn’t quite take me to the place I expected, and I found several problems with its execution.
And that’s it for February! March is already shaping up to be a busier reading month, so I look forward to sharing my thoughts on those books in April.