February top reads: Recommendations for the poetic, the romantic, the underdog and for those afraid of commitment

Photo by Marlei Soderquist

Whether you’re living life for the romance, the poetry, the fairy-tale bliss, or if you’d simply rather keep your heart buried at the center of a labyrinth full of dragons who gobble up nasty, thieving burglars, you’re in good hands. We’ve got the books for each and every one of you. 

The poetic must-read

Harllie Stevenson

Warning: the following review has mentions of sexual assault

Maya Angelou passed away in 2014, but her vigorous spirit and deep-rooted legacy live on through her writing. The esteemed poet, author and activist published many powerful books in her lifetime, and it was through her 1969 autobiography, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, that Angelou captured the attention of the literary world. 

Regarded as her most memorable and essential piece of work, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” details Angelou’s life from the age of three to seventeen, as she grows up in the segregated South. Angelou’s memoir admirably presents her coming of age with grace. She finds meaning in her pain as she faces racism and sexism and struggles with identity and self-esteem issues.

While a vital piece of literature everyone should read, please be aware this novel can be hard to get through. Angelou goes into detail about the sexual assault she faced when she was eight years old. After the man responsible for her rape is found dead, Angelou believes she is at fault for his death as she was the one who told on him. Fearing her words are violent, Angelou spends the next five years refusing to speak. 

With the help of one of her teachers, Mrs. Bertha Flowers, and a new passion for poetry, Angelou regains her most valued strength: her voice. From fearing her voice to reclaiming it as her most forceful weapon, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” is all the evidence one needs to know how powerful Angelou’s words are. It’s a testament to the resilience of the human spirit; a personal account that delicately reminds us we can rise above our troubles.

 “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” is an impactful, evocative read that gives us a glimpse into the life of one of the greatest writers of our time. 

The one that makes you believe in love

Harllie Stevenson

“Flipped” by Wendelin Van Draanen is a pure, adorable portrayal of first love. You never forget your first crush; especially if you are Juli Baker, who has been in love with her next-door neighbor, Bryce Loski, her whole life. Immediately smitten with Bryce and his “dazzling” eyes upon first meeting as kids, Juli spends the next six years pining for him. 

As for Bryce, well…he just wants Juli to leave him alone. When she starts to give him the solitude he desperately wished for, will it be too late for Bryce to see what was in front of him this whole time? 

Bryce and Juli’s interactions are sweet and innocent, and it’s impossible not to root for them together. Juli is bold and spirited; unafraid to stand for what she believes is right. Bryce, just like his father, only cares about what others think of him and is embarrassed by Juli’s affections. It is not until Juli comes to the realization she may have been putting Bryce on a pedestal all these years that she starts to leave him alone, which also happens to be the same time Bryce realizes he may return Juli’s so-far unrequited feelings. 

Draanen skillfully takes a common love story trope and “flips” it on its head. The love story between Bryce and Juli is surprisingly suspenseful. You can’t help but eagerly flip the pages as you try to guess what happens next for our unpredictable, young couple. 

Full of humor and feel-good storylines, “Flipped” is a quick, enjoyable read that will have you grinning ear-to-ear. It is perfect if you are looking for a unique, joyful love story.  And afterward, you can watch the equally adorable 2010 movie adaptation. 

The underdog fairytale

Koletta DiDio

Undermining the expectations for what makes a fairy tale while simultaneously fulfilling that desire for magic that is both whimsical and wicked, “Nettle & Bone”, written by T. Kingfisher, is a hidden gem. It’s a short read with a quick pace, so if you’re looking for a way back into reading, this is the sharp-tongued ticket.

The main character Marra is far from powerful, far from a princess, and far from your regular hero. She’s the forgotten sister stashed away in a dusty convent, and she only leaves her simple life to rescue her sister from a dark, twisted prince. With the help of a wily, insane witch and a demonic chicken, Marra finds the courage to embark on her journey to save her sister.

Kingfisher takes the bones of what makes a classic and deconstructs the skeleton to create something entirely new. The veneer of a typical fairytale is stripped down to reveal unsightly feminine rage, justified fury for the oppression of society and anger over the persecution of hateful royalty. It’s about anger and healing, what it takes to earn that happily ever after and how not all of those ever afters look the same. 

There are as many types of happy endings as there are people — have you ever thought about what your happy ending looks like? If you’re nettled about the state of the world or want to be inspired by an untraditional and nonconformist heroine, this is the book to sweep you away.

For those afraid of commitment

Koletta DiDio

The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien is a classic read, perhaps life-changing and even wallet-burning for those who discover their passion for wanderlust after reading this. 

Many already know of this book hottie, of the immersive world-building and reluctant adventuring from a character who’d much rather stay cozied at home. So why should you read it? Maybe you need a reminder of what’s truly important in life. “The Hobbit” is about living life to the fullest, immersing yourself in the moment and appreciating yourself for who you really are.

Tolkien intended for it to be the first work in “Lord of the Rings, but it was so successful that it works independently as a stand-alone. If you’re intimidated by the length of Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”, “The Hobbit” is a great alternative for those afraid of commitment. Still, just as rewarding a read, “The Hobbit” is more accessible for those short on time or for those who want to experience the intensity of old fantasy without dedicating themselves to a lengthy series.
The book explores themes of bravery and heroism, it’s true. But even more, Tolkien’s work proves the value of friendship, mercy and hope. If you’re looking for a way to fall back in love with the gentle persistence of a life filled with love and hope, “The Hobbit” will take you there and back again.

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