February: That’s a Wrap!

This is very much a case of ‘better late than never’! Although we’re now well into March, here are the books that I read in February… It was a good old mix of fiction and non-fiction, new recommendations and books that have been on my list for a while.

  • The Animals at Lockwood Manor, by Jane Healey
  • A Good Neighbourhood, by Therese Anne Fowler
  • The Dangerous Kind, by Deborah O’Conner
  • The Age of Anxiety, by Pete Townshend
  • The Five, by Hallie Rubenhold (Audible, not pictured)
  • Everyday Sexism, by Laura Bates (Audible, not pictured)

A Good Neighbourhood, by Therese Anne Fowler

This was one of those books that I just raced through! It is set in a tight-knit community in America, Oak Knoll. The peace of Oak Knoll is sent off-balance, when the Whitman family move to the neighbourhood, next door to the Alston-Holts.

When the two families meet, things get off to a rocky start when Brad mistakes his new teenage, biracial neighbour Xavier for the gardener. The two families nonetheless assume a pleasant veneer of neighbourly-ness, but this begins to crack when the things that matter most to the two families are put at risk.

One thing I absolutely loved about this book is that it is narrated by the neighbourhood, as “we”. This really gives the feeling of many eyes all watching and judging at once, and you as the reader are right there amongst it.

I thought this book was a thoughtful exploration of race, class and community. More than anything, there’s this sort of devastating inevitability to the plot, which spirals and spirals, gradually reveals itself as you turn the pages. A fantastic read!

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper, by Hallie Rubenhold

While history has glorified the unidentified murderer known as Jack the Ripper, his five victims have either been completely overlooked, or reduced to stereotypes by the press. Through this book, Rubenhold puts the attention back on these women: Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane.

From the outset I was totally and utterly on board with this premise, but I still wasn’t prepared for just how wonderful this book is (even though loads and loads of bookish pals have loved it). I think as historical non-fiction, I was expecting it to require more concentration power – driven by facts and dates. While it does contain lots of historical research, the novel really feels to have the stories of the women themselves at its heart.

Each of the women gets their own section, so it reads a bit like a series of short stories. I particularly liked the way that Rubenhold fills in the pieces between the known facts, with probable narratives that she maps for them, as it makes for a much fuller and compelling read. The book feels so well researched and Rubenhold is completely clear on where she’s presenting facts, and where she’s filling out the stories with research.

The Age of Anxiety: A Novel, by Pete Townshend

The Age of Anxiety is a novel by The Who’s legendary guitarist and songwriter Pete Townshend. This was a Christmas present from my Dad – who is quite possibly the biggest fan of The Who ever! I have very fond memories of their music playing growing up (with Dad tapping out the beat or playing air guitar!).

The novel explores the line between creative genius and madness – with characters such as a former rock star who begins to experience apocalyptic visions, and an ambitious young musician who faces similar aural hallucinations.

I found the narrator one of the most interesting parts about this novel, as I really wasn’t sure what to make of him! As he himself experiences drug induced visions, we obviously begin to mistrust his tale. Although he always insists that he is on the sidelines of the story, his actions seem to have a way of changing the course of events. Makes for a very interesting story!

The Dangerous Kind, Deborah O’Connor

I’ve been waiting for a moment to get stuck into this book for months and months! It will be released in paperback in a few weeks, so thought this was the perfect time to get round to it. It asks “what if the people we trust are the ones we should fear?”, through several stories exploring this theme, which eventually begin to intertwine.

Although one of the main characters, Jessamine, presents a radio show exploring the mindset of ‘Potentially Dangerous Persons’, the focus of the novel is definitely not on the perpetrators, but their victims. I loved this about it, that the women who fall victim to exploitation and sexual abuse are firmly at the centre of this novel: from thirteen-year old Rowena who gradually finds herself in a precarious situation; to Cassie, a young woman who’s disappearance Jessamine begins to look into; to the women who Jessamine speaks to during her volunteer work at a domestic violence helpline.

Everyday Sexism, by Laura Bates

This was the first of my many (many) indulgences in a recent Audible sale… It actually complimented the physical book I was reading at the same time: The Dangerous Kind.

I love books narrated by the author, I love the work Laura Bates has been doing with the #everydaysexism project, and I loved this book!

The Animals at Lockwood Manor, by Jane Healey

The Animals at Lockwood Manor was published earlier in the month, and been so excited to read it, since I received the most stunning proof copy from the publisher (along with bits and pieces like a label and a key, that definitely increased my curiosity!) I warn you, the hardback is just as beautiful and would recommend this to so many people, as it is a book that will appeal to lovers of many genres, it is fantastic historical fiction, but also a Gothic thriller, and a romance.

During the Second World War, houses like Lockwood Manor were put to use towards the war efforts. While I knew that these big houses were used to provide a safe place away from big cities for child refugees, or turned into hospitals, I had no idea that some were used to safeguard museum artefacts. In this novel, the various animals that make up the natural history museum’s mammal collection are moved to Lockwood Manor. The collection of animals and specimens are so vividly described, and slightly eeries images of them seep through the pages.

What I loved most about this book though, was that I feel like there was a predictable route it could have taken, but it took a much more interesting direction. For me, it has a strong Jane Eyre vibe, but is a much more modern day take (even though it is a historical novel, it that makes sense…). You’ll have to read it to find out more!

Thanks for checking out these books I loved in February – hope you’ll forgive me for being quite so late this month!

Sophie @Sophie_Jo_Books  📚 🐾

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