On Annie's Nightstand: February.

A lot of folks gripe about February – elsewhere it’s cold and grey, and the winter doldrums have begun to set in – but here in the South, I think February is a delight. There’s Valentine’s Day (or, my preferred holiday of choice, Galentine’s Day) and my birthday to celebrate, plus you can feel it, can’t you? Spring is headed this way. Even on the chilliest of days, the sky is bluer, and the pollen has started to dust my porch. Spring is coming, a promise of beauty before the sweltering heat of summer. I love this time of year, and as a bonus, I enjoyed quite a few of the books I read during this, my favorite month.

Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty by Diane Keaton. I turned 30 on February 2, and my husband gifted me with “book bonds,” money to spend at other independent bookstores I love and try to support. We drove down the coast to Seaside, where I popped into Sundog Books and promptly purchased this Diane Keaton memoir. Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty is as quirky as Diane herself, and it was the perfect book to welcome a new decade of life. In the memoir, Diane reflects on a variety of topics, most of them about aging and beauty and grace. This particular book found me at the perfect time, and I’d guess it would make an excellent birthday or even hostess gift.

My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout. Confession: I didn’t love Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize-winning short story collection. I’m glad I read it, but I didn’t necessarily enjoy it. (Though I don’t believe you have to enjoy a book to gain something from it, obviously.) All that to say, I purchased Strout’s new novel from Sundog Books on my birthday, and I’m so glad I did. It’s a beautiful novel, both inside and out. My Name Is Lucy Barton is a quiet story, and its length might fool you into rushing through its pages. Don’t! Savor this one, and follow Lucy as she recounts her flawed, often broken relationship with her mother. My Name Is Lucy Barton lends itself to book club discussions, too.   

The Good Goodbye by Carla Buckley. The Good Goodbye made a list of Domino magazine’s top books to look forward to this spring, so I snagged it off the shelf when it released earlier in February. The book jacket implies it’s being marketed as a thriller, but don’t be fooled: The Good Goodbye is a family drama at its core, often encouraging readers to ask themselves how well they know their spouse or their children. The novel opens as Natalie Falcone receives the phone call no parent wants to hear: her daughter has been critically injured in a dorm room fire, and the police suspect arson. I began The Good Goodbye with comparisons to Celeste Ng’s novel, Everything I Never Told You, swirling in my head; this book isn’t quite as literary as Ng’s, but fans of Jodi Picoult and Kimberly McCreight’s Reconstructing Amelia should be more than satisfied.

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. Another birthday purchase, this one from Hidden Lantern Books in Rosemary Beach, The Interestings has been on my TBR list for a while. I finally took the plunge last month, and although the premise of the book is appealing – the novel takes a group of teenagers who meet at a summer camp and follows them all the way up until middle age – I found myself anxious to finish and move on to the next book. This could be due to the fact The Interestings bears quite a resemblance to A Little Life, another novel that takes a group of NYC teens and follows them into adulthood. I loved A Little Life, despite or because of its tragic content and impeccable story telling, so The Interestings inevitably fell a little flat. (Though if you haven’t read – or won’t read – A Little Life, The Interestings could certainly make a suitable substitute.) I did love how Meg Wolitzer told the stories of these characters without having to do so in a linear way; the story wove through several decades without ever being confusing. Have you read this one? I’d love your thoughts!

American Housewife by Helen Ellis. American Housewife was my first short story collection of the new year, and it didn’t disappoint. Helen Ellis is biting and witty, and each story in this book captures the American housewife in her element; there are casseroles and nosy neighbors and book clubs, and the result is this really funny work of literature. I loved this one. (It’s a short collection, too, so if you’re not much of a short story fan, I actually think this could be a fun starting point for you.)

Opening Belle by Maureen Sherry. Let’s call this one The Big Short Lite. Here’s what I mean: I haven’t read The Big Short yet, but I loved the Oscar-nominated movie. It felt like a really entertaining economics class, and Opening Belle – which features a female protagonist working her way up on Wall Street – explores those same themes, only with a much lighter touch. Reese Witherspoon has already optioned the book for a movie in which she will star, so… I was sold. The book itself really isn’t groundbreaking, and I though it started much stronger than it finished, but it was fun and light, and I can see this one landing in beach bags this summer.