What to read in February 2024

Open book in front of a stack of hardback books on wooden table with a turquoise background.

This month’s book selection had me wondering: would I have two DNFs in February?

As you know, I’m following two book clubs. One is hosted by my local library and the other, a neighborhood group. The library picked Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez, and the neighborhood group selected It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover.

Why did I think two DNFs were possible? Historical fiction is not my jam and Take My Hand is a fictionalized account of what happened to poor, black women and girls in the United States in regards to their reproductive health. Yes, I’ve read a number of historical fiction novels, but every time I pick one up, I feel weighted down. If we didn’t fix the issue in the past, are we going to fix it now?

And as for Colleen Hoover, I swore I would never read another one of her books after I read (well, listened to) Verity. My intense negative reaction to that book suggested it was the author I disliked rather than the subject matter.

Come to find out, I was wrong on both accounts. Go figure.

Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Book cover of Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez. Cover shows a silhouette of an African American women overlooking the image of two young black girls.

Book description from Kobo.com

Montgomery, Alabama, 1973. Fresh out of nursing school, Civil Townsend intends to make a difference, especially in her African American community. At the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic, she hopes to help women shape their destinies, to make their own choices for their lives and bodies.

But when her first week on the job takes her along a dusty country road to a worn-down one-room cabin, Civil is shocked to learn that her new patients, Erica and India, are children—just eleven and thirteen years old. Neither of the Williams sisters has even kissed a boy, but they are poor and Black, and for those handling the family’s welfare benefits, that’s reason enough to have the girls on birth control. As Civil grapples with her role, she takes India, Erica, and their family into her heart. Until one day she arrives at their door to learn the unthinkable has happened, and nothing will ever be the same for any of them.

Decades later, with her daughter grown and a long career in her wake, Dr. Civil Townsend is ready to retire, to find her peace, and to leave the past behind. But there are people and stories that refuse to be forgotten. That must not be forgotten.

Because history repeats what we don’t remember.

My Take

This was a tough book for me to read. Not because of the writing. Perkins-Valdez’s prose flows smoothly and is authentic to the characters she’s created. I enjoyed the way she wove the past and present together. In fact, this is a great example of how you take a true story and fictionalize it to make it more impactful. 

It was tough to read because it made me angry.

Angry that nothing has changed.

Angry that society still discriminates.

Angry that children still suffer.

In my opinion, Perkins-Valdez’s purpose when she wrote the book was to point out that we still have a long way to go to make sure that everyone can achieve their goals. And to light a fire for change. Mission accomplished. 

But she also included another message: You can make a difference. You can’t fix everything, but as long as you keep making an effort, you can move forward. It’s only when you give up that you truly fail.

If you’re up for a tough book, then Take My Hand is for you. 

It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover

Book cover of It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover. A smashed pink lily lays in pieces on a table.

Book description from Kobo.com

Lily hasn’t always had it easy, but that’s never stopped her from working hard for the life she wants. She’s come a long way from the small town where she grew up—she graduated from college, moved to Boston, and started her own business. And when she feels a spark with a gorgeous neurosurgeon named Ryle Kincaid, everything in Lily’s life seems too good to be true.

Ryle is assertive, stubborn, maybe even a little arrogant. He’s also sensitive, brilliant, and has a total soft spot for Lily. And the way he looks in scrubs certainly doesn’t hurt. Lily can’t get him out of her head. But Ryle’s complete aversion to relationships is disturbing. Even as Lily finds herself becoming the exception to his “no dating” rule, she can’t help but wonder what made him that way in the first place.

As questions about her new relationship overwhelm her, so do thoughts of Atlas Corrigan—her first love and a link to the past she left behind. He was her kindred spirit, her protector. When Atlas suddenly reappears, everything Lily has built with Ryle is threatened.

My Take

Colleen Hoover tells it like it is. She’s made a career of showcasing the darker side side of humanity, which is what turned me off in Verity. The main character in that book appalled me, and I decided not to read any more of her work. That doesn’t mean Hoover isn’t good at what she does. That just means I’m not her target audience.

But I gave Hoover another try and It Ends With Us made more sense to me. It is not a HEA type book, which is more my style. Lily, the main character, makes a hard decision that not all authors would force their characters to make. It’s a more realistic take on what real life romance is like. Hoover also says in the author’s notes that this is her parents’ story. Ryle was based on her dad. The fact that this book was so close to home makes me appreciate the vulnerability she took when writing it.

I’m not going to go out of my way to read more of her books, but if a book club puts another Colleen Hoover book on the list, I’ll give it a read.

What am I listening to?

Spells for Forgetting by Adrienne Young. I finished it! Took a while, but I did discover where the magic is in the book.

I also realized there was a character I overlooked. I won’t spoil it, however, I will recommend paying careful attention to the chapter headings. The headings indicate which character is speaking. Somehow, I missed a particular character who was rather vital to the story. Had I been reading the print or digital version, I don’t think I would have had an issue, but I missed the verbal cue entirely.

I’m hoping for some lighter-hearted books in March. We’ll see if that happens!

Until next time…