“Leap years are a strange, enchanted time. And for some, even a single February can be life-changing.” —Tia Williams
Library lovers, it’s February! Find a list of picture books to celebrate the Lunar New Year, delve into Black History, Literature, and Culture lists for kids, teens, and adults, and discover Romance on our booklist page. If our copy is checked out, you can request this month’s featured YA author Jas Hammonds’ book We Deserve Monuments through MaineCat.
Curious about a girl and a glacier? A space thriller? Kelley’s romantic manga picks? Poets writing novels? The beyond-refreshing fantasy that Vicky loved? Read on for our February Staff Picks!
Sarah Mari’s Picks
Books about Family Love (Families, Dad and Daddy’s Big Big Family), Love for a Sibling (When Aidan Became a Brother, Zoom!), Love for Animals (Ethan and the Strays, The Kitten Story), Love for Yourself (Chubby Bunny, Not He or She, I’m Me), Romantic Love (Love in the Library, Love, Violet), Love for Where You Came From (The First Blade of Sweetgrass, I Can Be All Three), and Love for Your Community (Out and About, Loving Kindness).
All my picks this month are brand new titles in our children’s collection. The first is the lovely, meditative, and beautifully-illustrated picture book Angela’s Glacier by Jordan Scott and illustrated by Diana Sudyka. It’s the story of a young girl learning to manage her time to include something she has loved since her birth: an Icelandic glacier called Snaefellstokull.
The dreamy illustrations are done in a multi-layered palette of blues. “This is Angela’s glacier. For weeks before Angela arrived her glacier was covered in clouds. And then…Angela came into the world and the glacier bloomed peacock indigo and duck-egg blue under the milky arctic sunlight.”
As she grows up, Angela spends much time listening to the glacier. “Her father held her still in this universe of sound.” But as Angela gets older she has violin lessons, school, homework, and friends that make the time melt away, until she hasn’t spent time with her glacier and realizes nothing feels right. Discover the way she gets back in touch with her beloved glacier.
My second choice is a sweet alternate telling of the fairy tale Rapunzel: Ra Pu Zel and the Stinky Tofu by Ying Chang Compestine and illustrated by Crystal Kung. The author grew up in China “during the late 1960s, when Western books were banned.” The rare times she could find a book, she read it in a hurry, late at night, so she could share it with the next waiting friend. She loved the story of Rapunzel and wanted to put her own spin on this tale, setting it in ancient China.
The story is humorous and sweet, and Ra Pu Zel is a very brave and wise princess who chooses the course of her life her way. There is even a recipe for Stinky Tofu!
And finally, a graphic novel I’m very interested in! Are You Afraid of the Dark? The Witch’s Wings and other Terrifying Tales by Tehlor Kay Mejia and illustrated by Junyi Wu, Justin and Alexis Hernandez, and Kaylee Rowena. The story starts around a campfire in the woods, with a group of nerdy middle schoolers who have a storytelling society—only scary stories. A newcomer arrives with a truly terrifying tale! The illustrations are dynamic and fun, and the text is very easy to follow and understand.
Kelley’s Romantic Manga Picks
I don’t usually gravitate towards romantic fiction, but there is something about the combination of storytelling and gorgeous art that has made me a huge fan of romantic manga. If you love romance and are new to manga, or if you love manga and want to read something new, here are my top picks:
Blue Flag by Kaito (vol. 1-8, complete): Love is already hard enough, but it becomes an unnavigable maze for unassuming high school student Taichi Ichinose and his shy classmate Futaba Kuze when they begin to fall for each other after their same-sex best friends have already falled for them.
Fangirl: The Manga by Rainbow Rowell and Sam Maggs (vol. 1-3, ongoing): Readers new to romance manga can be eased into the genre with this adaptation of Rainbow Rowell’s charming coming-of-age YA classic, Fangirl. Swoon.
Insomniacs After School by Makoto Ojiro (vol. 1-3, ongoing): Sleepless high school student Ganta Nakami begins napping in his school’s abandoned astronomy tower with classmate (and fellow insomniac) Isaki Magari in this sweet slice-of-life manga series.
Love Me, Love Me Not by Io Sakisaka (vol. 1-11, complete): Four friends, Akari, Kazuomi, Rio, and Yuna, navigate their complicated romantic feelings for each other, while trying to maintain their friendships. Fans of slow-burn-will-they-won’t-they stories will love this series.
My Love Mix-Up by Wataru Hinekure (vol. 1-8, ongoing): Aoki has a crush on Hashimoto. But he discovers she has a crush on Ida—the guy who sits in front of Aoki. When Ida accidentally comes across a love confession, Aoki protects Hashimoto’s feelings by claiming he wrote it. Hijinks (and romantic tension) ensue. It’s hard for me to choose a favorite, but this might be it.
P.S. See more of my graphic novel picks over at YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens. The 2024 list will be published any day now!
I always have a long TBR going for books I’m excited to read (thank you, Storygraph). Here are some forthcoming 2024 books from my list!
Kristina Forest’s The Neighbor Favor was a favorite of mine last year—it was the perfect mix of romance and humor with a lot of heart. I am anxiously awaiting her next book (coming soon to the library catalog), The Partner Plot, which will have all kinds of hijinks and feelings given that it is a second-chance romance with an accidental wedding in Vegas!
Alyssa Cole’s books are among my all-time favorites—both her romances (A Princess in Theory) and her newer foray into thrillers (When No One is Watching). I can’t wait to get my hands on One of Us Knows, a story about an historical preservationist with dissociative identity disorder working as a caretaker on a remote historic home on an island in Hudson Bay. There’s a surprise visit from a conservation trust, a storm that traps them all on the island—and of course, a murder. Alyssa’s writing is quick and smart and a lot of fun, so this is high on my list! (This title isn’t out until April, but you’ll be able to place a hold on it soon).
Micaiah Johnson’s The Space Between Worlds was an unforgettable science fiction audiobook, and I’m thrilled to read her next book, Those Beyond the Wall. It’s billed as a sci-fi thriller with a coming apocalypse, mysterious deaths, and will let me jump back into the fascinating multiverse I first met in Space.
The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi had me at its cover. How could I resist that image, with the humongous tentacled monster dragging a ship, quite tiny in comparison, into the depths? Happily, this is one book that can and should be judged by its cover, as the story more than lived up to that one thrilling scene.
Amina al-Sirafi, once the most-feared pirate in the Indian Ocean, leads a quiet, pastoral life with her mother and daughter, her seagoing days long behind her—until the mother of a former crewmate dangles a fortune in front of her, promised payment for completion of one extremely dangerous task. Not without regrets, Amina kisses her beloved daughter goodbye, rounds up her crew (a thoroughly delightful rogues’ gallery if ever there was one), and once again boards her beloved ship. None of this happens without incident—the plural in the title is completely accurate.
It is beyond refreshing to read a fantasy helmed (literally, in this case) by a badass middle-aged woman with bad knees. Author Shannon Chakraborty nails every landing in this riproaring adventure festooned with demons, monsters, and other otherworldly perils. I listened to the audio edition, with Lameece Issaq voicing Amina’s first-person narrative and Amin El Gamal voicing (fictional) contemporaneous commentary that adds fizz to the primary story; both are excellent, providing a totally absorbing, 100-percent enjoyable experience.
In the introduction to the horror anthology Out There Screaming, editor Jordan Peele writes, “I view horror as catharsis through entertainment.” This statement gave me a chuckle, as the reveal in his second horror film Us shocked me straight out of catharsis and continues to haunt me five years later. So, I’m not sure what I was thinking when I decided to read a few stories in this anthology every night while in bed. Did I have a repressed urge for nightmares that shocked me out of sleep? I must have, because that’s exactly what happened.
Out There Screaming is an excellent collection that brings together newer authors and trusted voices. We have stories from horror greats, such as Nnedi Okorafor’s mythological beast, P. Djélí Clark’s truly terrifying shapeshifters, and N.K. Jemisin’s eyeballs (so many eyeballs…). However, stories from new and less well-known authors shine just as brightly. “A Grief of the Dead” by Rion Amilcar Scott explores breakups, mania, and monsters. “Flicker” by L.D. Lewis drops the reader into a world of simulation and body horror. Ezra Claytan Daniels’ “Pressure” probably scared me the most, as inexplicable dread leads to a shocking conclusion.
Much like Jordan Peele’s films, the horror in this anthology is cathartic, but the stories will stay with you long after completion. Just try not to read it past bedtime.
It happens periodically, on no particular schedule. My stack of library books becomes unmanageable, a tripping hazard collapsed on the floor by a favorite chair. What is scattered there?
Just now, by my sock-swaddled foot, I see Cathie Pelletier’s Northeaster, finished and ready to return. It’s a painstaking record of the 1952 blizzard that took Maine by surprise, with devastating consequences. The historical reportage and personal profiles are related in astonishing, haunting detail. Worth reading.
An ongoing mini-obsession with woodworking and hand tools (primarily theoretical at the moment, but a person can dream) is bolstered by several books, my favorites being The Minimalist Woodworker by Vic Tesolin with its good basic information about good basic hand tools; and Aldren A Watson’s Hand Tools: Their Ways and Workings, heavy on detail and glorious, instructive illustrations by the author. My interest may waver at any moment, but in the meantime I am in hand tool heaven, reading about braces and bits, egg beater drills and carcass saws. Can a well placed tenon be far behind?
On to some fiction, just to keep my checkouts well rounded: thanks to a suggestion from a friend and the marvels of MaineCat, I have discovered EM Delafield’s The Provincial Lady titles. The Provincial Lady in Wartime, published in 1940, is my favorite of the lot thus far, fictionally logging the restless, anxious inertia at the outset of WWII in Britain as the country anticipated the great unknown; it doesn’t sound like funny-fodder, I know, but trust me. These books put me in mind of Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire series.
I am not sure what this collection of borrowed materials says about me. Every trip to the library makes the pile higher and one heedless move risks sending it in all directions. I suppose, after all, that describes my 2024 state of mind: in danger of going in any and all directions. Sounds to me more like a blessing than a hazard.
May your 2024 be a year filled with books, new and newly discovered, taking you in all directions!
My list of books and movies to check out is sky-high this leap year! Here are some picks from the pile.
Two new poetry books: Hala Alyan’s tender, searing new collection is The Moon That Turns You Back; Kwame Alexander gathers today’s vital voices in poetry (“each incantation a jubilee” as Mahogany L. Browne writes) in This is the Honey: An Anthology of Contemporary Black Poets.
February is one of my favorite times to be outside in Maine (a wise friend says February light is the most beautiful light). And nature writing is the writing I turn to the most. A Darker Wilderness is edited by Erin Sharkey; the anthology’s authors write about artifacts (“a scrapbook, a family chest, a quilt”) connected to nature, Black history and memory.
More love for February: two YA graphic novels, Lunar New Year Love Story and Basil and Oregano. For adults: a flower shop, a mysterious stranger, and magical nights in Harlem set the stage for romance in Tia Williams’ new novel A Love Song For Ricki Wilde. Kelly Link (fantastical writer of brilliant, unsettling tales) debuts a novel called The Book of Love. A “bighearted bestseller” about queer love and siblinghood arrives from New Zealand in Rebecca K. Reilly’s Greta & Valdin.
Two poets write debut novels immersed in family history: I’ve followed the work of Kaveh Akbar since he was a thoughtful writer for Poetry Rx, a poetry prescription column (“Dear poet, please send me a poem about Y because I am feeling X”), so I’m looking forward to reading his debut novel Martyr! And I’m equally looking forward to the novel-in-stories Redwood Court by DeLana R.A. Dameron.
Movies last: every winter PPL’s stellar international film collection fills my nights with incredible stories. Some recent gems include the heartrending, intense twists and turns of Return to Seoul, the stark, dreamy landscape and incredible ending of Woman at War, the marigolds, music, and unforgettable family story of Monsoon Wedding, and the bizarre noir humor of The Innocent. Next up is a film I borrowed through MaineCat: This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection.
As always, thanks for reading! You can find all of our staff picks compiled in the list Library Love: Our February Picks.
Looking for more reading (or movie) recommendations? We’re here to help. You can reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org or get a list of personalized recommendations tailored to your interests by using our Your Next Great Read service (for kids, teens, or adults).