Amazon's Best Books of February: Today's Releases

Erin Kodicek on February 06, 2017
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ImpossibleThis month was tough. There were so many great books released in February that we had an unusually difficult time coming up with our overall top ten. This is a welcome "problem" to have, however...One thing that was easy was selecting our Debut Spotlight, Jason Rekulak's The Impossible Fortress. Senior Editor Seira Wilson says that 'Impossible Fortress' is one of those rare books that "once you have finished it, you want all your friends to read it immediately." It will be especially beloved by unapologetic nerds, 1980s buffs, and video game fans. But, I am only one out of the three and still found it delightful. Its "ability to conjure powerful adolescent feelings of friendship, first love, and that difficult place where the two collide" make it a relatable, and endearing read, for everyone.

Check out more of today's releases below, along with some thoughts about why we liked them. Or have a look at the full list here.

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Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller
A famous elderly author looks out the window of a bookstore and thinks he sees his deceased wife. Upset by this event, he takes a near-fatal tumble and winds up in the hospital. Flora, his youngest daughter, returns home to help care for him—shortly thereafter, letters from her mother will be discovered hidden inside the books of her father’s prized library. Thus begin two plotlines, as Flora and her sister care for their father, and as their mother’s letters lay out her side of the marriage—starting with their first meeting when she was a student and he was a professor. Is their mother dead now, or did she run away? And what other secrets are hidden inside the letters? Well-paced and finely detailed, Swimming Lessons is a mystery about an uncoiling family that will keep you turning pages and cause your loyalties to ebb and flow like a tide. --Chris Schluep
 

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Universal Harvester by John Darnielle
In Nevada, Iowa, in the late 90s, someone is splicing creepy home footage into the videocassettes rented from the Video Hut. You might be enjoying a Boris Karloff classic with some popcorn when the narrative is disconcertingly interrupted by a few moments of someone breathing heavily in the dark, or maybe something more sinister waits for viewers of She’s All That. And despite obvious reservations, Jeremy, treading water as a clerk following his mother’s sudden death years earlier, can’t stop watching. A few of the clips seem to betray local landmarks, and what self-respecting meddling kid could resist checking it out? This may sound like the set-up for a good thriller, but Universal Harvester is much stranger than that. Darnielle – whose unorthodox debut novel, Wolf in White Van, was nominated for the National Book Award – has written an understated slow burn of a book, lean on plot but dense in mood and dread. Darnielle is more interested in what ferments in the dark corners of our universal experiences – how we cope with loss and absence and the ways that they bend us, the peculiar ways we become bent. In fact, if ambiguity isn’t your thing, you might look elsewhere. People might be filming unnerving things in dilapidated, farm country outbuildings, but the pat, Psycho-style explanation is not forthcoming. Universal Harvester is like a David Lynch adaptation of a Marilynne Robinson novel, where manicured grass is replaced by fields of corn, but the bugs squirming beneath are the same. --Jon Foro
 

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Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Beginning in 1910 during the time of Japanese colonialization and ending many decades later in 1989, Pachinko is the epic saga of a Korean family told over four generations. The family’s story starts with Hoonie, a young Korean man born with physical deformities, but whose destiny comes from his inner strength and kindness. Hoonie’s daughter, rather than bring shame on her family, leaves their homeland for Japan, where her children and grandchildren will be born and raised; yet prejudice against their Korean heritage will prevent them from ever feeling at home. In Pachinko, Min Jin Lee says much about success and suffering, prejudice and tradition, but the novel never bogs down and only becomes richer, like a sauce left simmering hour after hour. Lee’s exceptional story of one family is the story of many of the world’s people. They ask only for the chance to belong somewhere—and to be judged by their hearts and actions rather than by ideas of blood traits and bad seeds. --Seira Wilson
 

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Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman putting his own fingerprints on the Norse myths? Cue the hyperventilation of delighted readers. That reaction is genuinely earned in this tight retelling, as Gaiman darts between a Tolkienesque tone in the epic origin stories and his own bright wit in the tales centering on the adventures of Thor, Loki, and Odin. Those new to Norse mythology might be astonished by how bizarre some details are. (For example, the ship made of the fingernails and toenails of the dead might make you wonder how much the Vikings genuinely enjoying sailing.) The doomsday of Ragnarok will cause a jolt of disquiet among those who are used to Hollywood endings, and Thor himself will be a surprise for those who are familiar with Hollywood Thor—but those surprises are often where the fun lies. Fans more well-versed in Norse myths should still appreciate the humor and spark that Gaiman infuses into the stories he has selected to retell, adding to the existing rich literature. Many who read Norse Mythology will make this volume their joyful leaping-off point into a strange and mesmerizing world of gods, giants, undead goats, betrayals, a slanderous squirrel, elves, dwarves, and Valkyries. And don't forget that ship made of the finger- and toenails of the dead. —Adrian Liang
 

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