Book Reviews for February 2023

three pink rose flowers on opened book

Written by Michelle Watson

February 12, 2023

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It’s been a snowy winter here in the mountains of Arizona—yes, it DOES snow in the desert—and I’ve been trying to maintain a solid five on the Levels of Cozy scale below:

Here are my book reviews for February 2023—a mixed bag.

This time, you’ll find…

  • A doorstopper classic (in progress)
  • One vintage YA fantasy, and a dark adult fantasy that I had to DNF
  • A modern romance that was just okaaaaaaay
  • Some quality children’s books

Here’s where you can find me on Goodreads and The Storygraph. Connect with me so that I can see what you’re reading, too!

Middlemarch (48% read)

By George Eliot (narrated by Juliet Stevenson)

Small-town comings and goings brilliantly described

You’ll love it if you crave a story with subtext.

This portrait of small-town life SHOULD be boring but ISN’T! George Eliot is a master at onion-peeling the layers of humanity until she reaches the heart of why we do what we do. For example, two people get married. Their friends and family believe they’re marrying for certain reasons. The two people declare they’re marrying for other reasons, and the reasons they say out loud don’t match what they say to themselves privately. Then Eliot lets us peek at the real reasons—the ones the characters themselves don’t even know—and it’s a little funny and a little sad and very wise.

Content warnings: None

The Blue Sword

By Robin McKinley

Vintage YA fantasy

You’ll love it if you’re sick of YA fantasies that all sound the same

I think there are a lot of mature teenagers who’d read this book and say, “Now THIS is how I’d like authors to write for me.” This YA fantasy doesn’t feel like it’s trying too hard to win the teen choice awards. It’s got action, romance, mystery…and it felt a bit like Dune but with a female protagonist. This one isn’t a quick, easy read, though. It requires more of you than most modern YA, but it engages your brain rather than numbing it.

Content warnings: None. The battle scenes are great but not gory. The romance is real but not raunchy.

Neverwhere (DNF 30%)

By Neil Gaiman

Adult urban fantasy

You’ll love it if you like your fairy tales to bare their teeth at you

ALL of Neil Gaiman’s books sound SO interesting to me! But they’re all just a little too twisted and macabre for my taste. This book has a lot going for it. Likeable protagonist. Speedy plot. Colorful cast of characters. I may be persuaded to finish it someday. I love the whole concept of London Below—an alternate reality that exists in another dimension of sorts and that’s populated by a ruthless, circuslike folk who make regular people seem like a bunch of ninnys.

This book wasn’t bad. I just couldn’t finish it. It was too dark for my tender little soul.

Content warnings: Graphic violence. Some sexual content.

The Dead Romantics

By Ashley Poston

Modern romcom with a weird twist

You’ll love it if you want something light and fluffy that’s set (mostly) in a funeral home

This was a light, superficial romcom that was trying not to be. It reminded me a LOT of Emily Henry’s Beach Read because it was about writer’s block more than it was about romance. Our protagonist, Florence Day, is a ghostwriter for a famous romance novelist, and her manuscript is due, and she can’t finish it because she’s been dumped and no longer believes in love. That’s pretty par for the course. But Florence sees dead people. For real. And, she just might become a real ghostwriter if you get my drift.

Content warnings: Foul language. Sex (but not too much—not 100% sure since I skipped over the final hotel room scene). General wokeness (multiple same-sex relationships, they/them pronouns, etc). This is definitely not a clean romance, but it also isn’t nearly as open-door as Emily Henry or Christina Lauren, et al.

A Curse So Dark and Lonely

By Brigid Kemmerer

YA fantasy retelling of Beauty and the Beast

You’ll love it if you want a super-quick, ultra-easy read with a colorful cast of characters

I expected this to be a bubblegum fairy tale book. And it was. But it also wasn’t.

Because I went into it with rather rigid expectations of what I thought it was going to be—and because I didn’t know a thing about it before starting—the author kept surprising me at every turn. It was like she was saying, “Oh, you thought THAT was going to happen, didn’t you? Nope!” So, that made for a FUN experience overall.

This book is easy to read, ya’ll. Gotta love YA for that. The writing is very straightforward, so there’s zero friction, but it’s also rather blah at times. The book praises virtues like courage, devotion, and self-sacrifice, so I can’t just outright dismiss this one. I’d recommend it with reservations.

Content warnings (with some spoilers): There is some light wokeness. Harper’s brother is in a gay relationship, and the two men are minor characters till the very end. Is there sex? No. There’s the steam you kind of expect with a YA romance, but nothing gross.

The Little White Horse

By Elizabeth Goudge

Children’s period fantasy

You’ll love it if you want a sweet, pure fantasy that’s more girly than a set of Lisa Frank sparkle stickers

If Peter Pan is a boy’s fantasy, then this book is a girl’s. It has none of the nonsense of Alice in Wonderland, but it’s just as magical. It doesn’t have the complexity or grit of The Secret Garden, yet it has the same element of healing and second chances. This book is beautifully written! Lush, vivid language on every page. To be honest, I wasn’t invested in this book till the 75% mark—crazy right? I usually DNF before that. But I’m so glad I finished because the ending was satisfying, and the writing was just such a pleasure to read.

Content warnings: None

Begin (The Growly Books #1)

By Philip & Erin Ulrich

Children’s animal adventure

You’ll love it if you want a sweet, wholesome book for your youngest kids

This was a super-cute animal adventure where friendship takes center stage. There was nothing even remotely concerning for me as a mom. None of the characters model bad attitudes. It’s free of potty humor, and there’s nothing that resembles snark or cynicism. It’s just adorable.

Having said that, I felt like this book lacked something…maybe it was just that the characters were too 2D? This is the first in a series, and I’m not sure if it works as a standalone because it ends on a major (not cliffhanger) but a major unfinished beat. I also felt like it was a little longer than it needed to be.

Content warnings: None

The Dragon Masters Series

By Tracey West (illustrated by Graham Howells)

Fantasy chapter books

You’ll love it if your kids can’t get enough of dragons

My boys and I are about 10 books into this series, and they just love them. I’ll admit, I DON’T like reading aloud these chapter books because they put me to sleep! They’re meant for young readers to consume by themselves. My 7-year-old can read them just fine, but my younger son can’t yet, and so, to be equitable and fair, mommy reads them aloud so BOTH boys can hear. These are more enjoyable than the Magic Treehouse books IMO. As we’ve moved along in the series, they’re getting more nuanced and interesting.

Content warnings: None

Check out all the books I’ve reviewed

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