I’ll never understand how anyone could claim that April is the cruelest month, when February is sitting right there, a cold eternity condensed into 28 miserable days. I feel like I had to hike all the way to Mordor to get to March, but at least I read some lovely books on the way.
Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik
I was not a huge fan of Uprooted, Novik’s previous fairy tale book, so I let this loose retelling of Rumpelstiltskin languish on my TBR pile for months. Big mistake, as I absolutely adored this one! The kingdom (a sort of fantasy Poland) has always been plagued by magical beings of winter. But this winter is worse than most. We start off following the character of Miryem, the Jewish daughter of a money lender, in a sort of fantasy Poland suffering through a terrible winter, plagued by terrifying magical beings. The story rapidly branches out to include other points of view, most of them young women who are refusing to lay down and die under challenging circumstances. This is a fairly lengthy tome, but the pace never wavered. The plots intersected and diverged at regular intervals, carrying me along on their tide, but the real stars are the characters and relationships. This is a book about people, not action, so the pacing might feel slow to some, but I found myself thoroughly immersed in the world and in the lives of these stubborn women.
You Can’t Play in Our Woods, by Cat Scully
I quite enjoyed this southern gothic about college students doing things they should not have done, and suffering the consequences. This is a chapbook, so a short story in a lovely binding, and not nearly the length of a novel, or even a novella. I don’t have the constitution to read an entire horror novel – I think my nerves would after a couple of chapters – so this bite-sized story was just right for me, personally.
A Witch’s Kitchen, by Dianna Sanchez
This middle grade novel about a young witch who doesn’t think she can do magic brought me so much joy. As a grown woman, I’m not exactly the target audience for this one, but reading about Millie’s journey of self-discovery provided a welcome distraction when I was stressed out and exhausted. The story follows her as she enrolls in school for the first time (witches are traditionally home schooled in this setting), and gets to know the rest of the inhabitants of the Enchanted Forest – trolls and dragons and pixies and so much more! – while also learning more about her own family and abilities. Millie’s love of cooking (a passion which her mother does everything possible to discourage) infuses every page, and proves to be more than just flavoring – it proves crucial to her self-discovery.
How Long ‘til Black Future Month?, by N.K. Jemisin
I have no chill when it comes to the work of N.K. Jemisin, so you know that I adored this collection of short stories. She includes all of my favorite genres, from near-future SF to steampunk to alternate versions of our contemporary world, to outright fantasy. I especially enjoyed the stories that were clear precursors to her novels. The story set in the world of the Dreamblood duology was particularly telling, and deepened my appreciation for those novels. Also of note is her response to Ursula K. Le Guin’s classic, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. “The Ones Who Stay and Fight” amazed me from the title, and does not pull its punches.
The Between, by L.J. Cohen
Lydia discovered that the family she has lived with for 17 years is not her real family, that she is really a fairy, hidden away in the human world. This lovely YA novel employs the usual fairy tropes – the fairy courts come right from a Midsummer Night’s Dream, with Oberon and Titania fighting for power in the wake of their falling out – but it does a really solid job bringing them to life. Lydia is every teenager – surly, defensive, but full of potential and genuinely trying her best. She constantly alludes to the Wizard of Oz in order to make sense of what is happening to her, which is all the more endearing because the comparison really doesn’t work for this situation. It’s an adorable bit of persistent characterization that made me smile every time it came up. While this is technically the first in a duology, it stands very well on its own.
That’s it for February. I hope that February was gentle with you all!