The 10 best books of February 2020

Our picks include a novel about two fathers in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; a tale of a rogue naturalist, and a biography of Emily Dickinson.

Courtesy of Penguin Random House
“1774: The Long Year of Revolution” by Mary Beth Norton, Knopf, 528 pp; and “Bird Summons” by Leila Aboulela, Black Cat, 304 pp.

1. Apeirogon by Colum McCann

Colum McCann’s novel is a meditation on Israel – geographically, politically, and psychologically – as told through the story of an Israeli and a Palestinian. The two men each lost a daughter to the conflict; grief has sealed their friendship and hardened their conviction of the need to end the occupation.

2. Love, Unscripted by Owen Nicholls

A romantic comedy, this debut novel follows a film projectionist as he comes to terms with the fact that romance in real life bears little resemblance to what’s in the movies. Film references abound as he and his girlfriend struggle through disillusionment before arriving at a charming, happy ending.

3. Amnesty by Aravind Adiga

A Sri Lankan man living as an unauthorized immigrant in Australia discovers that he holds key information in a murder case. But if he goes to the authorities to reveal the killer, he will also reveal himself. Aravind Adiga unfolds a compelling story that pits self-interest against conscience.

4. The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley

When Monica, a London cafe owner, discovers a notebook with an entry written by an eccentric artist seeking to be truthful, she sets off a chain reaction of transformation when she commits to helping him. More entries follow; strangers become friends and a community blossoms. Clare Pooley’s novel is fresh, funny, and inspirational.

5. Bird Summons by Leila Aboulela

Three Muslim women set off on a pilgrimage in Scotland in Leila Aboulela’s novel. Salma, who married a Scot, misses her Egyptian home and childhood sweetheart. Moni has subsumed her life to care for her ill son. Iman, who’s been dumped by her third husband, is homeless. Aboulela does a beautiful job examining faith and the interior life of women. There’s a thread of magic realism that unfortunately snags the plot as the book goes on, but it is impossible not to root for the trio to find their way.

6. The Adventurer’s Son by Roman Dial

Renowned biologist and explorer Roman Dial searches for his 27-year-old son, who has gone missing in the jungles of Costa Rica. Part memoir, part mystery, “The Adventurer’s Son” is a story of a father’s love – for his son and for the natural world. 

7. 1774 by Mary Beth Norton

Cornell University history professor Mary Beth Norton has crafted a deeply researched and beautifully written account of the year in which the forces pushing the American colonies to rebellion finally came to the boiling point. 

8. The Falcon Thief by Joshua Hammer

In the tradition of Susan Orlean’s “The Orchid Thief,” Joshua Hammer chronicles another naturalist gone rogue. “The Falcon Thief” tells of an enterprising rustler of falcon eggs, which are prized among those who want to hatch them as expensive pets. It’s a gripping read – a tale of obsession that promises to engross readers as they wonder, with each turn of the page, what will happen next. (Click here to read the full review.)

9. These Fevered Days by Martha Ackmann

This engaging biography of poet Emily Dickinson focuses on 10 pivotal episodes that shaped her life and poems. Martha Ackmann describes these with the flair of a novelist, drawing on research and insights she gleaned from teaching a Dickinson seminar at Mount Holyoke College. Ackmann challenges stereotypes about the poet and provides a rich sense of how “the woman in white” may have experienced her world. 

10. The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

Erik Larson, who’s been thrilling readers for decades as one of America’s best popular historians, turns his attention to Britain during World War II. In “The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz,” Larson expertly captures not only a nation’s despair but also the extraordinary human responses to the crisis, from courage and ingenuity to passion and grit.

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