The doldrums of winter are here, but February brings something shiny and new for every kind of reader. If you’re looking for inspiration, you’ll find it here, with both true and fictional stories of bravery, defiance, self-acceptance and growth. If you’d rather escape, you’ll find stories that will open your mind to other worlds, with tales of cold-war spies, queens, con-artists and magical birds. Happy reading!
“The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward,” by Daniel H. Pink (Riverhead, Feb. 1)
“No regrets” is a popular cultural mantra, yet as the author reminds us, tattoo removal is a $100 million-a-year industry in the United States. Why is the slogan so favored, when regret is a useful emotion? Differentiating the feeling from mere disappointment, Pink details four core regrets everyone faces, and shows how to see them through new lenses. His pragmatic approach offers techniques to transform regret into something positive.
“In the Shadow of the Mountain: A Memoir of Courage,” by Silvia Vasquez-Lavado (Henry Holt and Co., Feb. 1)
Trying to process the scars from childhood abuse and in denial of her sexual orientation, Vasquez-Lavado turns to drinking to numb her pain. But then she discovers rock climbing. That pastime becomes a way to allow herself to be vulnerable; and in helping other survivors do the same, she finds a path toward healing and peace. The book’s chapters alternate between her enthralling life’s journey and a nail-biting Mount Everest ascent. Selena Gomez will produce and star in the movie adaptation.
“The Matchmaker: A Spy in Berlin,” by Paul Vidich (Pegasus Crime, Feb. 1)
When her East German husband goes missing, an American translator working in West Germany realizes her marriage was based on deception. As protests engulf both sides of the Berlin Wall, she races to uncover secrets, uncertain whom to trust. With a capable female protagonist, Vidich brings a modern sensibility to the complex machinations of the traditional spy novel.
“What the Fireflies Knew” by Kai Harris (Tiny Reparations Books, Feb. 1)
Debut author Harris wanted to “show Black girlhood at its best, at its worst, at its most dull and most exciting.” Her coming-of-age novel about a young Black girl during her first summer away from her parents captures precisely that, without being at all dull. Instead, it’s a sensitive, realistic portrait of a 10-year-old trying to understand her world in the wake of her father’s death. Sent to spend the summer with a grandfather she barely knows, she contends with her losses and fears while learning more about her family, finding her own voice in the process.
“Shadows of Pecan Hollow,” by Caroline Frost (William Morrow, Feb. 8)
The reverberations of childhood trauma can be felt for years, and overcoming such challenges have been themes of recent bestsellers like “Educated” and “Where the Crawdads Sing.” The category’s newest heartbreaking entry follows a runaway orphan lured by a con man into a life of petty crime. When an opportunity to escape arises, she begins a new life far away but can’t stop feeling guilty about her past, which suddenly catches up to her in unexpected ways.
“The Great Mrs. Elias: A Novel Based on a True Story,” by Barbara Chase-Riboud (Amistad, Feb. 8)
Fans of HBO’s “The Gilded Age” will enjoy this tale of a woman whose formative years were spent clawing her way out of the poverty obscured by the grandiosity of that era. Hannah Elias, a light-skinned Black girl born in 1865, is forced to grow up quickly and sets her mind on her heart’s desire: wealth. She becomes one of the richest Black women of her time, despite facing racism, sexism and classism. The lush descriptions of glamorous lifestyles and fashions are enticing, and her scandalous courtroom battle against powerful men in turn-of-the-century New York seems all the more incredible for being based on historical fact.
“Nobody’s Magic,” by Destiny O. Birdsong (Grand Central Publishing, Feb. 8)
In some parts of the world, Black people with albinism are endangered by the myth that their body parts can transfer magical powers to others. In this series of three stories about strong Black women living with albinism in Shreveport, La., the author writes instead about the power of transformation. With voices that are appealingly modern and distinct, the three women face hardships complicated by a history of racial and social injustice. Each finds herself at a crossroads and is given the chance to define her own individuality, honoring strengths that others might mistake for weakness.
“The Boy with a Bird in His Chest,” by Emme Lund (Atria, Feb. 15)
Lund’s allegorical novel imagines a boy with a Java sparrow living in his rib cage. Owen is caught in a cycle of fear and shame over this hidden appendage, but his journey toward truth leads to self-acceptance and to love from people who celebrate him as he is. The burden of living with a secret is poignantly rendered and illuminating for those who seek to understand living a life outside the ordinary.
“Scorpica,” by G.R. Macallister (Gallery / Saga Press, Feb. 22)
If Brienne of Tarth or Éowyn, Shieldmaiden of Rohan, are your girls, Macallister has something for you. The first book in her matriarchal fantasy series the Five Queendoms features women as warriors, scholars, farmers and the titular royal leaders. But when years pass and every baby born is a boy, balance is disrupted. As queens compete for power, men, whose acceptable functions have always been beauty and servitude, may have sinister new roles to play.
“The Swimmers,” by Julie Otsuka (Knopf, Feb. 22)
Once per decade we are graced with a new book by Otsuka, the award-winning author of 2012’s “The Buddha in the Attic” and 2003’s “When The Emperor Was Divine.” This year’s novel starts as a catalogue of spoken and unspoken rules for swimmers at an aquatic center but unfolds into a powerful story of a mother’s dementia and her daughter’s love. If Otsuka doesn’t write another novel for several years, it will be okay. This is one to be savored and reread.
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