March was a pretty steady reading month for me. I read eight books, which wasn’t as many as in February or January, but I found my second five star read of the year and an instant favourite, so it was a good month overall.
The Split // ebook // 3.5 stars
This is a slightly dark but highly entertaining comedy about Ally who, in a moment of extreme hurt after being dumped by her girlfriend, kidnaps their cat and runs away to Sheffield.
Ally isn’t always a kind character, but she’s certainly entertaining and realistic in her morally questionable decisions and desire to show Emily ‘what she’s missing’ after their breakup. Her budding romance with Jo was enjoyable to read and I found myself getting more and more invested in their relationship.
The moments of trying to figure out if someone is queer (without asking) so you knows if an attraction might be mutual felt so realistic.
Looking for hints or signs in people’s speech and wondering if you’re reading too much into their actions or too little is something that a lot of queer people will have done (I have definitely done it), and Ally, too, does often throughout the story.
As well as lesbian, gay, and bi rep, there are discussions of mental health and depression, which Jeremy experiences throughout the novel. I can’t speak to the MH rep, but I really enjoyed the queer rep and the way that the queer characters gravitated towards each other in a sort of found family dynamic. (There are also TWO sapphic relationships in the book, which made me very happy.)
Content warnings for relationship breakups, discussions of toxic relationships and codependency, mentions of homophobia, discussions of fatphobia, (past) death of a parent.
The Rules of Arrangement // ebook // 1 star
This is a contemporary romance about an Indian plus size main character, Zoya, as she agrees to an arranged marriage but then has to deal with the offer of a potential new job in New York.
I was really looking forward to this, but I can’t in good faith recommend it to other readers when there are so many issues. There are fatphobic comments in every chapter and none of them are fully challenged.
Zoya describes her aunt Sheila Bua as a ‘tent’, ‘fleshy’ and mentions ‘her humongous body’ many times throughout the story. We never really get an instance where Zoya objectively describes her aunt’s appearance; these comments are repeatedly framed in a negative manner with judgment and stigma attached each time.
As well as fat-shaming her aunt and other characters, Zoya thin-shames her cousin multiple times and makes jokes about EDs, which felt very insensitive and incredibly uncomfortable to read.
There are also microaggressions towards Muslims, transphobic and misogynistic comments, and moments of slut-shaming, which go unchallenged throughout the novel.
There were times when I felt so uncomfortable reading this that I had to skim sections or put the book down for a while. I persevered with it because I hoped that the story would improve and the characters would grow and develop, and have candid conversations about the harmful stereotypes and ideas they were perpetuating. Unfortunately, this never happened.
Trigger warnings for fatphobia, transphobia, thin-shaming, slut-shaming, Islamophobic comments, terminal illness, misogynistic comments, and bullying.
Legendborn // Audiobook // 5 stars
I FOUND MY SECOND 5 STAR READ OF 2021.
This story follows Bree Matthews, as she joins a programme for high-achieving high schoolers at UNC–Chapel Hill, and witnesses a demon attack on her first night. Bree then becomes drawn into a secret world of magic, mages, and descendants of King Arthur in an attempt to find to what really happened to her mother the night she died.
This is by far one of the best Arthurian legend retellings I’ve ever read. The writing style is sleek and imaginative, the plot is incredibly clever with some brilliant twists, and the world-building is just SPOT ON.
Tracy Deonn incorporates the lore surrounding Arthurian legends into the story seamlessly, but also puts her own completely unique take on it. Some of the main characters are descendants of the knights of the round table, waiting to be ‘called’ by their ancestor, which will imbue them with new powers and strength.
These ‘scions’ are grouped at different universities across the US and have set up secret societies as a cover for their actual purpose, which is to defeat demons and stop dark magic from taking over. This combined with the different types of magic (bood magic and root magic) and different demonic creatures made the world-building some of the best I’ve read in a YA fantasy book in a long while.
Content warnings for kidnapping, racism and racial profiling, violence, mild blood and gore, mentions of domestic violence, death of a parent (off page).
Mina and the Undead // 4 stars // Paperback ARC
Check out my full review here.
Something I’ve discovered about my reading tastes over the last year is that I don’t like gory/gruesome horror very much, but I enjoy atmospheric horror. And this book is exactly that; atmosphere in abundance.
There’s definitely some blood and violence (it probably wouldn’t be a vampire book without those things?), but on the whole this story definitely priorities atmosphere over gore and it hits the mark just right for sinister, gothic vibes.
We get some wonderful descriptions of the streets of New Orleans, with gilded balconies and energised crowds.
The plot goes from strength to strength as Mina, Libby, Jared, and Della try to uncover a murder mystery before finding themselves the targets of new attacks. Some of the twists were jaw-droppingly good and I didn’t see them coming at all.
The fast pacing and gripping plot make this story one that’s easy to blaze through in a few short sittings, and the threat and thrill of vampires and danger will have you wondering if everyone’s going to survive to the end.
Content warnings for violence, (previous) abandonment by a parent, stabbing, exsanguination, murder, blood and gore, kidnapping.
The Conductors // 4 stars // Audiobook and paperback
The plot follows Hetty an Benjy, a husband and wife duo with magic who used to be conductors on the Underground Railroad during the civil war. Now, the pair solve crimes in their local community that white detectives won’t bother to investigate.
To call this book a murder mystery feels like an injustice because it’s so much more than that. It’s a historical fantasy adventure. It’s a criticism of slavery and racism in the US. It’s a commentary on social hierarchies and gender roles. And it’s a brilliantly written story.
I loved Hetty and Benjy and their changing relationship with one another. Originally, their marriage was built on mutual admiration, respect, and trust, but throughout the course of the novel, they begin to realise that they’re actually in love with one another too. (I’m soft.)
The writing is eloquent and engaging and the audiobook narrator brought the characters to life brilliantly. The plot seemed to stall a little in the middle of the novel, when the characters were running out of leads to investigate a second death, but the ending was dramatic and compelling.
The celestial magic system is based on zodiac signs and different signs manifest different powers. Hetty is able to do things like unlock doors or cast protection charms using different signs.
Discussions of racism and slavery are a critical part of this novel because the main characters experience both first hand. Hetty and Benji’s lives have been deeply affected by slavery and Hetty still searches for her sister, who she was separated from when they were enslaved as children. This book shows the harsh realities of Black trauma, but it also gives the main characters many moments of joy and triumph as well.
This is a well-written, cleverly plotted story, with wonderful characters and an explosive ending. I’m really excited to see what Nicole Glover writes next and I’d definitely recommend this if you enjoy murder mysteries.
Content warnings for racism, discussions of slavery, torture, violence, murder, blood, attempted kidnapping, domestic abuse.
Be Dazzled // 4.5 stars // Audiobook
Be Dazzled focuses on Raffy, a crafter, streamer, and cosplayer, who decides to compete in one of the biggest cosplay competitions at his favourite convention. The only problem is his ex-boyfriend Luca is there too…and also happens to be competing.
Told in dual timelines, this book is all about passion for artistry, finding your community, and rediscovering love. In the past tense chapters, we see how Raffy and Luca met and got together. We also find out how they eventually broke up and their love story was so sweet and fun that I found myself desperately hoping for a second chance romance.
Raffy is an energetic, exuberant character and his vibrant personality really comes through in the narration. The audiobook narrator does a fantastic job of bringing Raffy and the whole story to life and I laughed aloud while listening to their narration. If you’re unsure which medium to read the story in, I’d highly recommend the audio.
As someone who loves conventions, this book spoke to me a lot. I’ve never made my own outfits, but I’ve cosplayed before, and I really felt the joy of the main characters when they revealed their cosplay to others. I could also tell how much the author, Ryan La Sala, loves crafting; his joy for what his characters were creating really came through in the narrative.
This book is also unapologetically queer and it’s a love story to the LGBTQIAP+ community. Raffy is gay and Luca is bi and there are some really beautiful moments as the two explore their feelings for one another in the past tense chapters. We see them learn each other in the wonderful in-depth way that people falling in love do; they discover each other’s likes, dislikes, and passions as they grow closer and explore their queerness together.
They also navigate homophobia and fears of rejection because Luca isn’t out to his family. Luca’s fear and concerns about how his parents might react to his coming out will resonate with many queer readers, as worries about being accepted have been through many of our minds.
Although Raffy is fully out to his mom, he also has parental issues to contend with because his mom is cold and critical towards him and he knows she would reject his cosplay if she found out about it, and stop him from crafting. Thankfully, Ryan La Sala has got our backs and both Raffy and Luca get happy endings, which was blissful to read.
Overall, this is a wonderfully energetic, flamboyant story, which covers important topics but also manages to be joyous and delightful throughout. I adored this and I’m going to be picking up the author’s other book, Reverie, ASAP.
Content warnings for anxiety and panic attacks, parental neglect and emotional manipulation, outing, mentions of homophobia.
Exist West // 4 stars // Audiobook
This is such a powerful, profound book and I was really struck by the emotional depth of the story. I listened to the audio, which is narrated by the author, and I really enjoyed the slow-moving, highly descriptive narrative. This is a very character-driven story, so I can understand that it won’t be for everyone, but it really clicked with me.
We follow Nadia and Saeed, who both live the Middle-East and begin to meet in secret as they fall for each other. As war erupts across their city, people begin fleeing through a mysterious, magical doors and Nadia and Saeed soon realise that they too need to leave.
I loved Nadia as a character; she’s a bisexual Muslim who is bold, intelligent, and exudes confidence. Saeed is quieter and more introspective, but thoughtful and caring towards everyone. I really enjoyed seeing the highs of their relationship when they were so enrapt in their love that they’d do anything for each other. But I also appreciated seeing the way their love ebbed as they became distant with each other because it felt really realistic of the way romantic relationships can change.
War and displacement are big themes in this novel, as Nadia and Saeed leave their home city and become refugees with thousands of other people travelling through the doors. Mohsin Hamid describes the fear and vulnerability of not knowing where you’ll sleep that night and not feeling safe in a refuggee camp with raw honesty and sincerity that moved me deeply.
This story is also a study in human nature; in our emotions, reactions, and connections with others, as well as what drives us. It shows how people have the capacity to be the best they can possibly be and the worst. I really enjoyed this and I’m so glad I finally read it.
Content warnings for murder and violence, war, suicide, sexism, xenophobia, sexual assault, prejudice towards filipino people.
Spoiler Alert // 4 stars // Paperback
This was our Sprayed Edges book club pick for February and March and I’m so happy I finally picked this one up.
This is a fun, body-positive romance about April, a geologist and fanfic writer, and Marcus, an actor on a well-known TV show. The two are best friends online through The Gods of the Gates fandom where they both write fanfiction, but they don’t know each other in real life until they end up going on a date…
I’m love reading fanfiction and I’m a big advocate for writing it (I used to write a lot of fanfic), so it’s no surprise that I loved the fanfic elements in this book. April and Marucs both write Gods of the Gates fanfiction, celebrating their love of the TV show characters but changing parts of the storyline that they think should been done differently.
I adored April as a character; she’s intelligent, confident, and knows her own worth. Marcus is kind and thoughtful but hides behind what he calls his ‘golden retriever’ persona so that the press and media don’t get to close to the real him. I loved the slow-build romance between April and Marcus and I really enjoyed the way April immediately saw through Marcus’s facade. She’s attracted to who Marcus really is rather than his appearance or the persona he puts on.
The book includes plus size rep and dyslexia rep, and body positivity is a consistent theme throughout the story. Fatphobia is strongly challenged by April, Marcus, and other characters, and both MCs spend time working through issues of emotional manipulation and abuse by their parents.
Overall, I really enjoyed this. I love books that have a pre-existing fandom/world within the world of the story and I thought the way the romance played out was fun, realistic, and ultimately had a satisfying ending. I’m excited for the next (companion) novel in this series.
Content warnings for fatphobia and fat-shaming (challenged), gaslighting, sexism, emotional abuse/manipulation by parents, mentions of eating disorders.
My Dad has his birthday in March, so I took the day off work andmy Dad opened his presents and cards in the morning. Since we were still in lockdown, we went for a long walk at lunch time (there wasn’t much else we could do).
It started off INCREDIBLY muddy, but after an hour or so the sun came out and it became very pleasant. We also saw horses, sheep and TINY lambs, which was lovely.
Once we got home, we made my Dad a birthday buffet dinner and sang happy birthday as we gave him his birthday cake (home-made by yours truly).
This was my Dad’s first lockdown birthday (he managed to escape having one by one week last year), but despite not being able to go on a day trip anywhere or go for a meal, he still said he’d had a fantastic day, which was always the end goal.
Earth Hour is an annual event that encourages everyone to turn all their lights off at home for one hour on a specific evening. This year’s Earth Hour was at 8.30pm GMT on 27th March and we usually always try and take part, so we turned all our lights off (even thought my folks were in the middle of a quiz) and enjoyed the rest of our evening by candlelight.
In my February wrap up, I talked about how I wanted to increase my long-distance running, and I increased it even further in March by running my longest run to date. I ran almost 16km (15.75, I think) on 27th, which equates to about 10 miles.
I was really happy with this because I’d only need to add another 3 miles onto this distance and I’d be at half marathon level! Perhaps when Covid is more under control I’ll sign up for one? Stay tuned.
What I’ve been watching in March
I’ve been making my way through Tale of 1000 Stars as the episodes air weekly, and I’m SO SOFT for this show. My goodness. It’s really addictive. The series has just concluded in the last few weeks, but I have the final two episodes to watch because I’ve been saving them. I just don’t want it to be over OK???
We finished season 2 of Snowpiercer in March and BOY was that a fire cracker of a season. If anything it was even better than season 1 because we got to see new friendships and alliances and Sean Bean showed up with some Yorkshire tea. (I’m kidding about the tea part, but he is in the show (the tea is a reference to a UK ad for my international pals)).
I’ve already seen this film and the first film in the series, but I’ve got my folks to start watching them so we can watch the final film together. My main takeaways from the rewatch were:
- Lara Jean’s outfits are always on point
- Chris is my favourite character for humour
- THE GREEN DRESS
- John Ambrose deserved better
- My Dad is quietly but determinedly invested in this series (he kept asking me to recap the first film)
What did you read in March? What did you get up to last month?