In some industries, not much awesome new stuff happens in winter. But not in books! February may be the coldest and snowiest month, but it’s abounding in awesome reading. Some of my favorites of the year so far are on this list and I can’t choose who I love the most so I’ll just list by release date.
The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee (Feb. 2, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) I have spent a lot of time telling people how amazing this book is. I have an abundance of feelings. But the one thing that seems to turn heads every time is this: The Queen of the Night is the first Count of Monte Cristo readalike I’ve ever found except I think I like it better and it’s full to the brim of women. Lilliet Berne is the greatest soprano diva of her time, but a mysterious book that contains her secret life story sends her on a quest to find which of the people in her past has betrayed her. Even if you do not consider yourself much of a historical fiction person (I certainly don’t) you should check out this twisty-turny tale of an American-orphan-turned-French-opera-star which includes circuses, brothels, palaces, and so much more.
The V-Word: True Stories About First-Time Sex, edited by Amber J. Keyser (Feb. 2, Beyond Words). Full disclosure: I am friends with a few of the essay writers in this collection. But honestly, I’m glad I am, because otherwise I may not have heard about this amazing book. The narratives around losing your virginity tend to be pretty similar. It should be special, it should be with someone you love, it should be when you’re ready. But that’s not what really happens for everyone. And even when it does happen, sometimes it doesn’t go according to plan. The V-Word has real people sharing their stories and they cover the entire spectrum of sexual experiences. There are straight and bi and gay writers, there are cis and trans writers, there are people who planned and people who didn’t. If you want to share a book with a teenager that will talk about sex openly and honestly (and comes with an incredible resource section), this is a must.
The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle (Feb. 16, Tor) LaValle is one of those magical writers who can genre-jump with ease. I trust him with just about anything. I know his writing will always be interesting and fresh. In his new novella, LaValle takes on the controversial giant of horror, H. P. Lovecraft. LaValle is himself a Lovecraft fan, but the author’s conspicuous racism has left a troubling legacy for the genre. Here, LaValle writes a riff on Lovecraft’s story The Horror at Red Hook but puts racial injustice at the center of the narrative. If you’re a horror aficionado, this is a must-read. If you’ve been holding out on reading Lovecraft, you can enjoy this instead (I think it’s actually better than Lovecraft). Even if you’re only a casual horror reader, this book is full of wonder and horror and pain and magic and I cannot recommend it enough.
Version Control by Dexter Palmer (Feb. 23, Pantheon) You know those books that have not only an amazing plot but such a smart view of the world and pop culture that you want to read every sentence aloud to someone, even if there’s no one there? This is one of those books. Moving back and forth through time in the near future (and alternate universes!) Version Control looks at the declining marriage of Rebecca and Philip. She’s a classic at-sea millennial, he’s a socially-challenged physicist. Philip’s lab is on the verge of a big discovery that sounds kind of like time travel. Rebecca is looking for meaning after tragedy. If you enjoyed books that challenge the classic narrative structure like Fates & Furies or books with satirical near-future settings like Oryx & Crake, you must get this book immediately.
13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad (Feb 23, Penguin Books) More and more stories on body acceptance are showing up in books, but this book isn’t really one of them. Lizzie is fat. She does not love herself. She does not love her body. She does not accept herself for who she is. Lizzie always wants to be thin, she always wants to be someone else, and Awad follows her through growing up, love, sex, work, and life as she tries to be that someone else. This is a book of interconnected stories (though the vast majority are centered on Lizzie) that show you not only how she looks at herself but how others look at her and how she looks at other fat girls. It’s not an easy book to read, and you should not read it hoping for learning and growth and happy endings, but there’s a lot of truth in Awad’s stories.