February was a tough month for reading. (Though, is it ever an easy month for anything?)
My maternity leave ended, and I was back to work on February 1st. School was still virtual but had plans to phase back into the building mid-month. Then, snow and ice hit, and we were stuck at home with schools (and daycare!!!!!!!) closed for a week before finally returning to old, nearly forgotten routines the final week of the month. It was the first time since last March that my alarm was set for 5:30 and that I had to get up, ready, and moving for work beyond of my dining room. And I had to do all of that, now, with two kids.
So yes, it was a trying month, and I did not read all I had intended. But still, I read a pleasant variety.
Here’s a summary:
The Vapors: A Southern Family, the New York Mob, and the Rise and Fall of Hot Springs, America’s Forgotten Capital of Vice by David Hill ★★★★☆
I stumbled across this book in the New York Times Book Review and immediately had to read it, drawn in by the title alone; we visited Hot Springs, Arkansas, as the first stop on our National Parks road trip out west a few years ago, and I cannot fathom Hot Springs being anything more than the quiet, run-down, strange little pocket of history we witnessed. But according to this history of the town, it was once quite the opposite. As a resort town that had drawn visitors to its restorative hot springs since the 19th century, the small Arkansas town boomed during Prohibition as an enclave of leisure – complete with horse racing, casinos, and booze – luring some of the era’s most infamous criminals and, at one time, attracting more visitors than Las Vegas. The author shares the story of Hot Springs’ rise and fall through three individuals (one of whom is the author’s grandmother) whose lives are deeply intertwined with the town. It’s a fascinating portrait of a particular place at a particular moment in time, particularly because this portrait no longer exists. Like, at all. Good for travel and history fans but especially mind-blowing if you’ve actually stepped foot in Hot Springs.
Aya by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie ★★★★☆
February’s focus for #readtheworld21 was a south or east African country. The author is from Cote d’Ivoire, and this graphic novel captures life in 1978 when the country was stable and thriving. Aya is our 19-year-old protagonist navigating the dramas of life in her working-class village, Yopougon (aka “Yop City”). Young people prepare for their future by day and party at the disco each night. The art is vibrant and oftentimes hilariously subtle with expression. Aya is an amusing character, but though she’s the title character, she’s more of a lens through which we see her world. We learn that she is funny, sarcastic, and clearly perceives herself above the surrounding dramas, but her feelings and her purpose are not the focus of the story. The author stated that what she wanted to show in Aya was, “an Africa without the … war and famine, an Africa that endures despite everything because, as we say back home, life goes on.” This was really enjoyable, and I already have the rest of the series to delve into soon.
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee ★★★★☆
My “historical fiction with an LGBTQ+ protagonist” for the Read Harder Challenge. In 18th century England, Henry “Monty” Montague has not taken well to his breeding as a gentleman. He’s been kicked out of elite boarding schools and consistently disappointing his father with his rotating escapades involving gambling, booze, and affairs with both men and women. As he begins his Grand Tour of Europe, it’s kind of his last hurrah before his sister, Felicity, and best friend/clandestine crush, Percy, are deposited in boarding schools on the continent. What starts as a deliciously tawdry and playful romp becomes a thrilling manhunt across European borders as Monty’s reckless actions threaten their survival. It was a little long – and I almost preferred Monty as an immature cad – but it was a fun romp, and I’m definitely intrigued by the next in the series which focuses on the sister, Felicity.
This is My America by Kim Johnson ★★★★★
I straight-up devoured this book in about 24 hours; it was that compelling. Tracy is a social justice warrior who has been fighting to get her wrongly-convicted father out of prison for seven years. He’s got less than a year left on death row, and she takes any opportunity she can to get word out about his story, trying to convince Innocence X, an organization that provides legal help, to take his case. She even usurps the local news profile of her star athlete brother, Jamal, to share her family’s story. Jamal is a track star and on his way to college on scholarship until the police show up to arrest Jamal, accusing him of murdering a girl in his class at school. Now Tracy’s on a mission to find out what really happened, venturing down an unexpected rabbit hole of the town’s past and present. I LOVED THIS BOOK because it was not what I expected. Yes, it’s got that component of YA social justice that’s powerful and discussion-worthy, but it’s also just a crazy-compelling mystery! I’m reading it next book with some book groups at school, and I can’t wait.