March Reading Wrap-up 2019

Monday, April 01, 2019
I could feel myself starting to slip into a reading slump at the end of February and I felt very disheartened by it but thankfully I did manage to read 13 books and one of them was over 800 pages, which I'm very happy about! However, sadly I did DNF one book (Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell but only because the plot of the TV show was still fresh in my mind so the very dense, heavy book wasn't new or engaging to me at that moment).

There were three main readathons within the month of March including: the Irish Readathon (reading books by Irish authors and or books set in Ireland), the March of the Mammoths Readathon (reading books over 800 pages) and the March Mystery Madness Readathon (reading mystery books). I tried to take part in all three readathons but I did only manage to read a couple of mystery books, one book over 800 and I didn't have time to read any books for the Irish readathon.

*From The Wreck by Jane Rawson (261 pages) ★★★
The first book I read for the mystery readathon was From The Wreck which I was very kindly sent an ARC copy of. I first came across this novel on Simon's channel (Savidge Reads) and it seemed very intriguing so I had to request a copy when the tweet went out. We follow George Hills as he is one of the few very survivors of a shipwreck in the southern ocean but since then something seems to be watching over him and his new family...

The first third of the book was very interesting, compelling and very unusual (it's unlike anything else I've read recently) as it's all very surreal and mysterious. However, for me, it started to become quite drawn out and a bit boring for the middle of the book - I wasn't really enjoying that section, if I'm honest. Thankfully, the pace and interest did increase towards the end of the book but sadly, I think my expectations were too high and I just didn't click with this read unfortunately. If you like very surreal, magical realism or unusual reads then maybe this book might be for you.

The Royal Art of Poison by Eleanor Herman (320 pages) ★★★ (3.75)
I'm always looking on Amazon for book deals so when I saw this title I knew I had to buy it and it was only 99p! History is my favourite non-fiction genre, I adore history, especially darker topics such as medicine and crime etc...the happy topics. This book didn't disappoint. It explores not only the various poisons used throughout history and the effects but also the main historic figures suspected of using poison for their own gain and the casual use of poisonous and toxic substances in everything from medicine and cures to makeup. I found the sections about the makeup used in the elizabethan age very fascinating; I would not have wanted to live in a time period in which women wore lead foundation and poisonous belladonna in their eyes, all in the name of beauty!

The points mentioned already made up about 40% of the book and the second half featured case studies, almost, of various monarchs, historic figures and mistresses, all of which were thought to have been poisoned. I loved the case studies, it was so interesting to learn more about these individuals, their lives, how they died and how modern science has analysed their remains to try and figure out exactly how they lived and died. If you like the sound of this book then I cannot recommend it enough.

Wicked Plants by Amy Stewart (235 pages) ★★★
I have been interested in this book for years so when it finally dropped in price last year, I had to buy it. The cover is just gorgeous, as are all of the wonderful botanical illustrations throughout the entire book (although I'm not a huge fan of the additional rather creepy illustrations). It's a non-fiction read all about various plants that can and have been used as poisons etc...there seems to be a theme with some of the books I've read this month. The book features two to three pages per plant in which it describes the appearance of the plant, the symptoms it causes and the history of its use.

It was a fantastic book to dip in and out of throughout the month, especially as each section was very short and easy to read with a tonne of gorgeous illustrations of the plants mentioned. I did find this book to be very interesting but it did become very repetitive towards the end; however I think I will go back to it in the future.

Face Paint: The Story Of Makeup by Lisa Eldridge (240 pages) ★★★ (3.5)
Speaking of poisonous makeup and the lengths women would go to in the name of beauty, we have Face Paint by the incredible makeup artist, Lisa Eldridge. I've been watching her Youtube videos for years and I did start this book a couple of years ago when it was released but I didn't finish it for some reason, even though I did find it interesting.

Within Face Paint, Lisa initially focuses on various colours including red, white and black and their use as makeup throughout history - from the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans to the golden age of Hollywood and modern day. She also looks at various individuals such as Twiggy, Bridget Bardot etc, throughout the book which was interesting. I think the sections that I found the most interesting were the mini biographies and the origins of certain makeup brands such as Max factor and Chanel. I also loved the beautiful photography within the book as well as the images of vintage cosmetics packaging and advertising.

However...as I read The Royal Art Of Poison this month, I found quite a large portion of the first half of the book to be similar to what I'd already read in that book which isn't a fault of Face Paint but it made it a little repetitive and boring, if I'm honest. I shouldn't have read them both in the same month. Additionally, I found the structure of Face Paint to be a little strange as the middle of a sentence was cut off by a couple of pages of photographs and then started again...why would you structure a book in that way. Overall, it was an interesting read and I'd recommend it to those who are interested in makeup and the history of makeup.

The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey ★★★ (3.5)
Within January I received an Amazon gift card so naturally I had to spend it all on books (that's the rule) and one of them was this gorgeously designed book. It's set during the 1400's which is a time period that I've never really read about and I couldn't wait to start as it was described in a way that made me think it was a historical fiction/literary fiction murder mystery which was good timing for the March Mystery Madness readathon.

We follow the priest John Reve and his little community as one of their neighbours has disappeared and was thought to have been sighted drowned in the river that runs through the community, separating it from other villages. The unfortunate man is Thomas Newman, one of the wealthiest men in the village but was his death an accident, murder or suicide?

I haven't read anything by this author and I was surprised at how calm, easy but engaging the writing was as well as how close, intimate and vivid the little world and it's flawed characters seemed to be. The author creates such a vivid, raw and throughly realistic look into the lives within this impoverished but close community in the face of an untimely death. As we follow a priest (and due to the time period), religion plays a huge part in this book which usually would put me off a book instantly but I liked it within this one. It was quite a slow paced book but it was such an interesting, unique read with a kind of sassy and sarcastic main character, vivid setting and interesting (kind of) mystery.
The Priory Of The Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon (848 pages) ★★★★
My 800+ page book for the March of the Mammoths readathon was the latest and much awaited release from Samantha Shannon. I adore her Bone Season series (I can't wait for the fourth book) so when I saw that she was coming out with an LGBT epic fantasy with dragons...I needed it! It is a gigantic book but the cover is just gorgeous so I had to order the hardback, even though it could definitely be used as a weapon.

We follow so many characters including: Ead (a handmaiden for the Priory of the Orange Tree), Sabran (a young queen weighed down by her duties), Loth (a courtier thrust into a perilous adventure), Niclays (an exiled anatomist and alchemist), Tane (an aspiring dragon rider) and a whole host of other friends, family, witches, dragons, monarchs and many mythical, cute and also not so cute creatures.

The crux of the story lies in the lore and myths of the world in which a thousand years ago, two sorcerers bound the Nameless One, a fearsome dragon, under the sea to protect humankind but that time is running out and soon he will be free. The only apparent hope lies within the Queen of Inys (supposedly descended from the god of their region's religion) who for hundreds of years have all birthed daughters and it is said that if that line stops, then the Nameless One will return. However, there's so much more at play including an evil witch, magical fruit, a secret society charged to slay dragons and an uncovering of myths, religion and history to find a balance in the world, all in order to defeat the Nameless One.

Initially I found it to be very vivid with an easy writing style but I was a little overwhelmed by the number of characters, the vast world, relationships between leaders of each area and the backstory of the nations, gods and dragons...so much information. However, the more I read, the more interesting, easy and free flowing (if that makes sense), the story seemed to become. I loved the family relationships in this book (Loth and Margaret), the relationship between Sabran and Ead (although I thought it was a little too insta-love) and the plethora of creatures. The world was vivid, especially when you fully become immersed in the book and I loved how the story unfolded revealing all of the ties between the characters and intertwining stories.

The author isn't afraid of adding in so many characters or killing them off, she also isn't afraid of making a complex world but explaining it very well throughout the book so you don't become too bogged down or confused and she added a couple of LGBT relationships that actually felt genuine and heartfelt rather than just been included for the 'diversity' label. It had the ending I wanted and I felt that it wrapped up well but I wasn't *quite* as blown away by it as I thought it would be (hence the four stars) but I did still throughly enough it. I whole heartedly recommend this book if you love fantasy reads, especially those with perilous adventures, demonic creatures, legends, magic and dragons.

*The Near Witch by V.E Schwab (304 pages) ★★★
I was very kindly sent this utterly beautiful book from Titan Books. It's V.E Schwab's debut novel which has been out of print for a while but it's been re-printed in this gorgeously designed new edition. As well as the debut novel, it also consists of a new introduction and short story.

Set in the little village of Near, we hear the story of the early inhabitants of the village and the witch that lived among them alongside the current inhabitants as a stranger appears in the shadows at the same time as the children from the village disappear one by one. We follow Lexi, a tracker like her father used to be as she investigates the sudden appearance of this mysterious stranger who has many secrets of his own as together they try to save the children of Near.

Let's start with the positives and that's the vivid setting, folktale elements, magic and the almost fairytale feel to it, all of which made the book for me, along with the easy writing style. The only problem I had was the insta-love which was sweet overall but also annoying at times. However, I think it's a lovely debut novel and I think if you love fairytales or folktales then you'll like the read. I also liked the short story at the end of the book which explains the past of the mysterious stranger. Out of the four V.E Schwab novels I've read, I have liked all of them but This Savage Song and A Darker Shade Of Magic are my favourites do far; however I'd recommend all of them.

*The Secret Barrister (384 pages) ★★★★
The book I finished just in time for the end of the month was a non-fiction read, The Secret Barrister which I was very kindly sent from Pan Macmillan. My non-fiction reads tend to be quite quirky or history based rather than anything specifically focused on law, criminality or the court system in the UK so it was a nice change to read something that I didn't have much background knowledge of (apart from the criminology modules within my psychology degree).

The author divides the book into various aspects of the court system such as juries, judges, victims and so on which made the information a little more consumable and easier to comprehend. So many aspects of the information within this read were entirely new to me and I think it would be to most people so for that reason alone, it's an important read but it also brought to light the problems and failures of the court system that I wasn't aware of including a devastating array of statistics demonstrating the lack of money, staff and resources that for all areas, such as police, courtroom staff, for example, has a shocking impact on justice.

There's an almost dizzying plethora of information so it's a longer and slower read than the other non-fiction books I've finished recently but it's an important book and one that I think many people will be shocked by. Despite the heavy topics such as the miscarriage of justice, lack of justice for victims and the truth of staff and spending cuts, the author manages to also keep a sarcastic, sometimes humorous view with all of the information, facts and statistics you could want from someone on the front line *almost* of the justice system. My only negative is that it's a little repetitive a times. Overall, I haven't tabbed as many pages in a book as I have with this one, it's a vital read and I cannot recommend it enough.

Red Queen by Christina Henry (313 pages) ★★★ (3.5)
After reading and enjoying the first book (you can read my review below), I bought the second and as it is the second book I can't say too much about it as I don't want to spoil the first. I'll say that it carries on directly from the events of the first book, it has the same bizarre and memorable world and it has more magic than the first. I liked both main characters as well as their relationship but my favourite part of both of these books is a tie between the vivid and unusual Alice In Wonderland (but much darker) world and the incredibly easy writing style that allowed me to speed through both books faster than any other read in the month of March. Out of the two, I definitely prefer the first but I liked both. If you're looking for an Alice in Wonderland inspired read with darker elements (trigger warning for rape/abuse/mental illness) then I'd recommend them both but be aware of the potential triggers I've mentioned as they are persistent throughout the books.

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova (336 pages) ★★★
One of the last physical books I read in March is one I've wanted to read for a while as it involves Mexican or Latin American (I'm not sure which) folktales, magic and adventure. We follow Alex who has shunned magic all of her life but as her deathday (a family celebration of magic and the ancestors) is drawing closer, she wants to get rid of her magic. However, after a chance encounter and a spell gone wrong, she has to save her family with the help of her friends and embrace her powerful abilities.

Firstly, the cover is stunning! Secondly, I loved the Latin Americanesque folktales and magic - I haven't really read any books with that heritage before. The pace of the book is great as it always kept my interest and I managed to finish it SO quickly (it is a YA book after all). I also liked the LGBT relationship, family bonds and friendships that are shown within the book....however, I did have a few problems with it.

I found some of the Nova/Alex dialogue to be so cringey, very YA and I found myself rolling my eyes a little at times. Additionally, it has a very straightforward plot of a classic YA adventure story with peril, gods, coming of age elements and obviously romance, because you can't have YA without romance it seems (although admittedly I liked the Alex/Rishi relationship). Overall, it was an enjoyable read and naturally my favourite elements were the magic/gods etc but it wasn't as fantastic as I'd hoped and maybe it was a little too YA for me with it's tropes, straightforward plot and cringey dialogue. I'm glad that I read it but I won't be picking up the second book in this series.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #1 by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (44 pages) ★★★
I wasn't planning on reading some of these next three e-books but I had a week long Amazon Prime trial so I naturally had to take advantage of the free e-books on Prime Reading, the first of which was this short graphic novel related to the Netflix Sabrina series. It follows the basic theme of the Sabrina series but with a few changes. I loved the classic comic book art style, it was a very quick read and naturally I adore anything that involves Sabrina or witches in general. However, it was just a bit...boring, slow and throwaway almost. I've tried a few graphic novels and comic books over the past couple of years and I think I can now confirm that they just aren't for me.

Alice by Christina Henry (304 pages) ★★★ (3.5)
I was very kindly sent Lost Boy by Christina Henry a couple of years ago and I loved it for how entertaining, dark and quick it was and I hoped this would be the same...and it was! I've wanted to read this book for a while so I was very happy to see it as one of the Prime Reading free e-books.

We follow Alice as she is confined within a mental asylum with no memory of what put her in that horrific place but there's one element of hope, Hatcher. Hatcher is another tormented soul within the asylum and her only source of companionship. An unfortunate but fortuitous event allows Alice and Hatcher to escape the asylum to try and find out who they are, what they have done and what they now need to do next.

I utterly adored the dark, sinister world she created which did have so many nods to the original Alice In Wonderland story including various character names but it is definitely a story in it's own right. It isn't a retelling as it's far too removed from the original (which is a very good thing) but if you do like the original story then you might like this far, far darker inspired story. I even liked the somewhat romance within the book as well as the magic (we all know how much I love books with magic). The only negative point for me was the ending (which was the ending I wanted) but it just seemed so neat, convenient and a bit boring, if I'm honest. I need to mention that there are so many triggers for abuse, mental illness, violence and rape within this book.

A Darker Shade Of Magic by V.E Schwab (401 pages) ★★★ (3.5)
My second and final V.E Schwab book of the month is one I've wanted to read for so long as I love her quick, easy and engaging writing style and it involves magic. I love any book that involves magic! Set in a world in which there are multiple versions of London (red London, grey London, black London and white London), we follow Kell who is a rare magician that can travel between all of the versions of London. Grey London is similar to our own world with no magic, red London is a world in which life and magic are revered, white London is ruled by power hunger siblings and black London has been destroyed its own thirst for magic.

I've read a couple of her books previously and found them to be instantly engaging but sadly it took me the first 25% or so to become interested and engaged with the story. I loved the magical elements as well as the character of Kell and how dark it became at times. It quickly became a fast paced and thoroughly entertaining read with dark magic, twisted rulers and adventure. Although I found it too convenient and neatly wrapped up. Also I found the character of Lila extremely annoying at times.

Have you read any of these books? What have you been reading recently?

*Sent for free via Netgalley 

17 comments

  1. Sounds like a great selection of books x

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  2. I'm still in awe of your book reading skills, I have not read one for over a year and it's so bad x

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  3. I like the sound of the Lisa Eldridge book but it does sound like it's laid out in an odd way! xx
    www.coleoftheball.com

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  4. I haven’t managed to finish more than 5 books so far this year, so bad x

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  5. I ike the sound of The Priory Of The Orange Tree x

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  6. I haven't read any of these but some of them sound great.

    Jenny
    http://www.jennyinneverland.com

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  7. I'm stuck on bed rest for a week so gonna check some of these out 💜

    With love, Alisha Valerie x | www.alishavalerie.com

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  8. Oh wow they all sound fab! I so wish I had time to read.

    Erin || MakeErinOver

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  9. Wow so many. They do sound interesting and I’ve noted some to read myself

    http://littlemissmelanie.com

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  10. Some absolutely gorgeous books here!

    Love, Amie ❤


    The Curvaceous Vegan

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  11. Great selection of books. :) Thank you so much for sharing.
    Clem xx
    http://www.clemloves.co.uk

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  12. I love the sound of The Secret Barrister. I have the Lisa Eldridge book but use it more as a coffee table book, snippets here and there. Never read it cover to cover x

    Sophie
    www.glowsteady.co.uk

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  13. I finally have new books to read so here's hoping I can take some of your motivation

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  14. Wow so many books! I've really got into a slump with reading over the last few weeks but I'm hoping to get back to it soon x

    Tiffany x www.foodandotherloves.co.uk

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  15. Sounds like this month has been good for what you've read x

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  16. The Royal Art of Poison sounds oddly fascinating. It's not a book I'd normally be drawn to but it sounds really interesting.

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  17. I have amazon prime and Sabrina has been on my list a while. I think I’ll still give it a go.

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Feel free to leave me a comment, I read all of them!

If you would like to contact me, email: heathernixon4@gmail.com