February was a hell of a month! The highs were very high and the lows were very low and the world was very loud. This post was supposed to go out last Friday, and eagle-eyed readers might have noticed that I missed Stone Soup Digest last week. While I’d love to make a better excuse, the truth is that I just couldn’t make it happen. I’ve been in the recovery position for the past week or so and there was nothing to be done about it.
But! I did manage to put together my favorite reads of February!
I read 18 books in February, not including The Scapegracers by Hannah Abigail Clarke, which some of you read with me in the Stone Soup Supper Club! It was a graphic-novel-heavy month for me, which is always a pleasure. Here are the three February reads that caught me the most:
This Might Hurt by Stephanie Wrobel
Natalie Collins hasn't heard from her sister in more than half a year.
The last time they spoke, Kit was slogging from mundane workdays to obligatory happy hours to crying in the shower about their dead mother. She told Natalie she was sure there was something more out there.
And then she found Wisewood.
On a private island off the coast of Maine, Wisewood's guests commit to six-month stays. During this time, they're prohibited from contact with the rest of the world – no Internet, no phones, no exceptions. But the rules are for a good reason: to keep guests focused on achieving true fearlessness so they can become their Maximized Selves. Natalie thinks it's a bad idea, but Kit has had enough of her sister's cynicism and voluntarily disappears off the grid.
Six months later Natalie receives a menacing e-mail from a Wisewood account threatening to reveal the secret she's been keeping from Kit. Panicked, Natalie hurries north to come clean to her sister and bring her home. But she's about to learn that Wisewood won't let either of them go without a fight.
I gulped this book down like it was the antidote to an assassin’s poison pill. This is a story in which people hurt each other, often for reasons that are best summarized as ‘for your own good,’ with compounding consequences. Every turn is expertly woven into the plot – so much so that the twists feel inevitable, a sure sign of master craftsmanship in a thriller. It also features one of my favorite pieces of worldbuilding: a cult I could see myself joining.
Haunting, seductive, masterful.
Baggywrinkles: A Lubber's Guide to Life at Sea by Lucy Bellwood
Welcome to the world of Baggywrinkles – a rollicking, educational survey of maritime lore, built around cartoonist Lucy Bellwood's time aboard tall ships. From the scourge of scurvy to the exhilaration of climbing the rigging for the first time, Lucy's comics bring the reader into a world of high seas history and informative adventure with a sheer and unremitting sense of joy.
I do not want to go to sea. I don’t like cramped spaces, mobile floors, heights, or the constant threat of death at the hands of an unsentimental expanse of deadly ocean! And yet, when I first saw an advertisement for a job as a chef aboard a tall ship, I felt a desperate urge to apply. I have no idea why, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Bellwood’s fabulous book doesn’t help in the slightest. This is becoming a problem.
Fascinating, inviting, charming.
The New Girl by Jesse Q. Sutanto
Lia Setiawan has never really fit in. And when she wins a full ride to the prestigious Draycott Academy on a track scholarship, she's determined to make it work even though she's never felt more out of place.
But on her first day there she witnesses a girl being forcefully carried away by campus security. Her new schoolmates and teachers seem unphased, but it leaves her unsure of what she's gotten herself into.
And as she uncovers the secrets of Draycott, complete with a corrupt teacher, a golden boy who isn't what he seems, and a blackmailer determined to get her thrown out, she's not sure if she can trust anyone...especially when the threats against her take a deadly turn.
I listened to The New Girl thinking I more-or-less knew what I was getting into. Reader, I did not. This book starts out strong and then gets stronger with every new revelation. Sutanto unites a classic Fear Street sensibility with a powerfully contemporary perspective on the pressures facing characters that feel deeply and essentially now. This book truly brings the twists.
Engrossing, fresh, potent.
If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll consider subscribing to this newsletter. The paid subscriber community is a wonderful and supportive one, and we’re spending 2022 sharing things in our cozy Stone Soup Supper Club clubhouse. You can also find a list of my favorite reads of the year so far here.
In the meantime, care for yourself and the people around you. Believe that the world can be better than it is now. Never give up.
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