What I read in March 2021

Hello! Happy Show Us Your Books day! Like every month, I’m linking up with Steph and Jana to tell you what I’ve been reading. There are a few to get through so I’ll just launch straight in.

Anxious People by Frederik Backman When a failed bank robbery turns into a hostage situation at an open-house apartment viewing, eight anxious people find themselves trapped in a room together. As the pressure mounts, the eight strangers gradually begin opening up to one another and reveal long-hidden truths. As police surround the premises and television channels broadcast the hostage situation live, the tension mounts and even deeper secrets are slowly revealed. Before long, the robber must decide which is the more terrifying prospect: going out to face the police, or staying in the apartment with this group of impossible people.   I wasn’t sure I was going to like this book at first. It’s all a bit too weird and quirky. But somehow it was also fascinating in a way that wouldn’t let me stop reading. Even though it all felt a bit far-fetched (and I couldn’t believe anyone would act the way these characters did while being interviewed by the police!) I also felt like I just had to know how it all came together. It ends up being a very clever puzzle and the author did a good job of putting it all together, but the overwhelming feeling I came out with was melancholy. I feel like nobody actually knows what they’re doing and we’re all just wandering through life making a whole series of bad or sometimes slightly less bad decisions. There are some nice touching moments and I think the ending and the overall message was supposed to be hopeful but personally I came out of it just feeling kind of down – which I suppose is the sign of a good author, being able to manipulate my emotions to that extent. 4 stars.

The Highwayman by Kerrigan Byrne. For Farah and Dougan the only thing that makes life at Applecross Orphanage bearable is their friendship, which deepens into love as the years pass. Shortly after they seal their love in a “handfasting” ceremony at the ages of 10 and 13, the two are torn apart. Seventeen years later. Farah, now a clerk at Scotland Yard, where she is known as the widowed Mrs Mackenzie meets Dorian Blackwell. Known as the Blackheart of Ben More, Dorian is a ruthless villain – one of London’s wealthiest, most influential men who will stop at nothing to wreak vengeance on those who’ve wronged him… and will fight to the death to seize what he wants – including Farah. But Farah is no one’s puppet. She possesses a powerful secret—one that threatens her very life. When being held captive by Dorian proves to be the only way to keep Farah safe from those who would see her dead, Dorian makes Farah a scandalous proposition: marry him for protection in exchange for using her secret to help him exact revenge on his enemies. But what the Blackheart of Ben More never could have imagined is that Farah has terms of her own, igniting a tempestuous desire that consumes them both. Could it be that the woman he captured is the only one who can touch the black heart he’d long thought dead?   I enjoyed this. It was a fun read. It’s kind of predictable but honestly what romance isn’t? I really liked Farah – she doesn’t take anyone’s crap. I will most likely continue the series. 4 stars.

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi. There are no monsters any more – or so Jam and the other children growing up in Lucille have always been told. But one night, Jam meets Pet, Pet, a creature made of horns and colours and claws, who emerges from one of her mother’s paintings and a drop of Jam’s blood. Pet has come to hunt a monster – a monster it claims is lurking in Jam’s best friend Redemption’s house. Jam isn’t sure what to think, but if there’s even a chance that Redemption could be in danger she has to find out the truth. And so she must fight not only to protect her best friend but to find the answer to the question: How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist? It seems weird to describe a book as both charming and dark but that’s exactly how it felt to me. Jam’s family and friends are so loving and accepting of her. It’s mentioned early on that she’s trans and not a single person batted an eyelid when she told them she was a girl (at age 3). She rarely speaks out loud and it seemed like most of the town learned sign language to communicate with her – not just family friends but even the town librarian. And her relationship with best friend Redemption is the most lovely, heart-warming thing I’ve read in a while. Even when he tells her something unbelievable he believes her immediately without question. Then there’s the other side. They’ve always been told that monsters don’t exist any more, but now a creature named Pet is telling them that not only are there still monsters but one of them has been right under their noses the whole time. The moment when Redemption realised who he thought might be the victim of the monster was heartbreaking. And the end took a very dark turn – I would definitely not let anyone under about 12 it 13 read this book. The whole discussion of monsters and how assuming/claiming there aren’t any could cloud people’s judgement so that they missed all the signs is thought provoking and very relevant to our times. How do you know how the monsters are if they look like everybody else? My one complaint about this book – and it’s relatively minor – is I would have liked to know more about the world. What happened to the monsters? Is it just Lucille that’s monster free or the entire world – and if there are monsters elsewhere now do they keep them out? Are young people’s monitored for signs that they might grow up as “monsters”? Maybe I’m just expecting too much of a children’s book. 4 stars anyway.

Show Us Who You Are by Elle McNicholl. Cora has no interest in being dragged along to her brother’s work do. She certainly doesn’t expect to make a friend there. Then she meets Adrien, son of the intimidating CEO of Pomegranate Technologies, and the first person ever to understand how Cora feels being neurodiverse in a world that isn’t made for people like her (Cora is autistic and Adrien has ADHD). As she becomes part of Adrien’s life, she is also drawn into the mysterious projects at Pomegranate. At first, she’s intrigued by them – Pomegranate is using AI to recreate real people in hologram form, with the aim of eventually allowing people to speak with relatives who have passed away. Having lost her mother a year ago, Cora can understand exactly why people would want another chance to talk to a loved one. But as she digs deeper, she uncovers darker secrets… Cora knows she must unravel their plans, but can she fight to make her voice heard, whilst never losing sight of herself? This book is a roller-coaster! There were so many ups and downs. What Pomegranate Industries was doing is genuinely disturbing. I totally got Cora’s dad’s concerns even before Cora uncovered the truth. It was an absolutely fascinating plot though. I loved the characters – even the villain in a love-to-hate kind of way. Cora’s friendship with Adrien is just the best, and of course I LOVE the dog. I cannot recommend this book enough.It’s slightly lacking in world building/some explanations (e.g. it’s never explained why people aren’t allowed to fly any more – I’m guessing climate change but it’s never actually addressed) but I gave it 5 stars anyway because I genuinely enjoyed it that much.

Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella. Becky Bloomwood has a fabulous flat in London’s trendiest neighbourhood, a troupe of glamorous socialite friends, and a closet brimming with the season’s must-haves. The only trouble is, she can’t actually afford any of it. Her job writing for finance magazine Successful Savings not only bores her to tears, it doesn’t pay much at all. And lately the bank has been chasing her, sending letters with huge red numbers that Becky can’t bear to even look at. She tries cutting back. But none of her efforts succeeds. Becky’s only consolation is to buy herself something … just a little something… Finally she stumbles on a story that she actually cares about, and her front-page article catalyses a chain of events that will transform her life – and the lives of those around her – forever. I remember when this came out (my first year of uni) and it was absolutely everywhere. Somehow I never actually got round to reading it though, so when I spotted it in a free public bookcase I decided to grab it and see what all the fuss was about. It’s a fast, fun read but kind of ridiculous. Becky really annoyed me at times. The ending is kind of ridiculous but it’s exactly what I expect from this kind of book. If I had actually read it back in the day I would have adored it. At nearly 38 I just liked it. I did have fun remembering early 2000s life though – not many mobile phones, no Facebook, etc. – but I won’t bother tracking down the rest of the series. 3 stars.

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson. Liz Lighty has always believed she’s too black, too poor, too awkward to shine in her small, rich, prom-obsessed Midwestern town. But it’s okay – Liz has a plan that will get her out of Campbell, Indiana, forever: attend Pennington College on a music scholarship, become a doctor, find a cure for the sickle cell disease that took her mother from her. But when the financial aid she was counting on unexpectedly falls through, Liz’s plans come crashing down… until she’s reminded of her school’s scholarship for prom king and queen. There’s nothing Liz wants less than to endure a gauntlet of social media trolls, catty competitors, and humiliating public events, but despite her devastating fear of the spotlight she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get to Pennington.The only thing that makes it halfway bearable is the new girl in school, Mack. She’s smart, funny, and just as much of an outsider as Liz. But Mack is also in the running for queen. Will falling for the competition keep Liz from her dreams… or make them come true? This is cute and fun even while dealing with some serious issues. I loved the characters – mostly. Liz’s friend Gabi kind of annoyed me at times and “mean girl” Rachel was sooo stereotypical. The ending was a little predictable and almost too perfect but that’s par for the course with this kind of book. My absolute favourite thing was the relationship between Leah and her brother – everything about their interactions was so heart warming. 4 stars.

Dear Emmie Blue by Lia Louis. At sixteen, Emmie Blue released a red balloon with her name, email address and a secret she desperately wanted to be rid of. Against the odds, Lucas Moreau found her balloon and emailed her, sparking an intense friendship between the two teens. Now, on the eve of their shared 30th birthday, Emmie is desperately hoping that Lucas is finally about to ask her to become his girlfriend – but instead he announces he is marrying someone else. Suddenly all Emmie’s dreams are shattered and she feels like she’s losing the only person on her life she can rely on. But what if Lucas isn’t her forever after all? What if her love story is only just beginning… This book is cute with some great characters – Emmie’s co-workers Rosie and Fox are hilarious. I loved every scene they appeared in. Certain aspects of the plot were very predictable – not just in the way that romance is always predictable but as in the second the person Emmie was “truly” meant to be with appeared I knew it was him and I also totally guessed something else that was integral to their eventual relationship. So one star off for that but overall I did really enjoy it. 4 stars.

Naomi’s Room by Jonathan Aycliffe. Charles and Laura are a young, happily married couple inhabiting the privileged world of Cambridge academia. One Christmas Eve, Charles sets off with their four-year-old  daughter Naomi on a shopping trip to London. But, by the end of the day, all Charles and his wife have left are cups of tea and police sympathy. For Naomi, their beautiful, angelic only child, has disappeared. Days later her murdered body is discovered. But is Naomi really gone? This book started off well – very creepy and atmospheric, but the second half was almost too convoluted. I would have preferred more of a pure haunting than the “twist” with a certain person taking a more active role (trying to avoid spoilers there!). 2.5 stars.

The Song of the Quarkbeast by Jasper Fforde (The Last Dragonslayer #2). A long time ago magic faded away, leaving behind only yo-yos, the extremely useful compass-pointing-to-North enchantment and the spell that keep bicycles from falling over. Things are about to change. Magical power is on the rise and King Snodd IV of Hereford has realised that he who controls magic controls almost anything. One person stands between Snodd and his plans for power and riches beyond the wildest dreams of avarice. Meet Jennifer Strange, sixteen-year-old acting manager of Kazam, the employment agency for sorcerers and soothsayers. With only one functioning wizard and her faithful assistant ‘Tiger’ Prawns, Jennifer must use every ounce of ingenuity to derail King Snodd’s plans. It may involve a trip on a magic carpet at the speed of sound to the Troll Wall, the mysterious Transient Moose, and a powerless sorceress named Once Magnificent Boo. But one thing is certain: Jennifer Strange will not relinquish the noble powers of magic to big business and commerce without a fight. If you think that synopsis sounds bizarre you would be right! I remember really liking the first book in the series. Admittedly it’s been a while but this one just wasn’t as enjoyable. It’s very silly but to me somehow lacked in imagination. I liked the characters but the actual plot just isn’t that interesting. It’s quick and fun though and I don’t regret reading it. 3 stars.

Fly Me Home by Polly Ho-Yen. Leelu, her mum and her older brother have moved from her warm, bright home country to cold, grey London. The neighbours are noisy, there’s concrete everywhere and Leelu struggles to fit in. Worst of all, they had to leave their father behind at home. But Leelu is not alone; someone is leaving her gifts outside her house – wonders which give her curious magical powers. Powers that could help her find a way home. In my opinion Leelu’s struggles with being in a new country and missing her dad was the best part of this book. Particularly the scenes in school where she felt out of place and scared were incredibly well written. And I loved her friendship with the refugee girl from next door. It provided a lovely spark of joy in an otherwise fairly dark book. The touch of magical realism was fun but I felt a little uncomfortable about her friendship with Bo – the old man neighbour. Obviously he ultimately turned out to be fine but I would have preferred if maybe her mum had met him first and he had become established as a trusted adult before Leelu went into his house. Maybe that’s me looking at it’s from too much of an adult perspective but I would not want my child thinking it’s okay to go off with random adults! 3.5 stars.

Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston. Amari Peters’ big brother Quniton has gone missing and she’s convinced it has to do with his mysterious job. So when she gets an invitation to the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, she’s certain this is her chance to find Quinton. But first she has to get her head around the idea that mermaids, aliens and magicians are real, and her roommate is a weredragon. Amari must compete against kids who’ve known about the supernatural world their whole lives, and when each trainee is awarded a special supernatural talent, Amari is given an illegal talent – one that the Bureau views as dangerous. With an evil magician threatening the whole supernatural world, and her own classmates thinking she is the enemy, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t pass the three try-outs, she may never find out what happened to her brother. magical book! It’s very much character and plot-driven – the actual writing is nothing special. But the world is fantastic. It reminded me of Nevermoor in many ways, but this one is closer to our world (in a similar way to Harry Potter as in all this magical stuff is right there but normal people can’t see it) and also has a Men in Black vibe. It could have used a bit more editing – within the space of a few pages there were a few mistakes (one was just they’re instead of their, but the other was missing word and it threw me right out of the story). Amari is bullied for being different and the main instigator was such a spoiled mean girl cliché that I had trouble taking her seriously. I definitely recommend this book though and will read the next in the series when it comes out. 4 stars.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Drifters in search of work, George and his simple-minded friend Lennie have nothing in the world except each other and a dream – a dream that one day they will have some land of their own. Eventually they find work on a ranch in California’s Salinas Valley, but their hopes are doomed as Lennie, struggling against extreme cruelty, misunderstanding and feelings of jealousy, becomes a victim of his own strength. Most people probably already know this book. A lot would have read it in school. I didn’t. Objectively, this is a good book. It’s well written. There’s a good message. Everyone loves it. Personally I liked it okay but I didn’t love and adore it like most reviweres seem to. It’s a quick enough read that I would say read it and make up your own mind. 3 stars.

Waking Gods by Sylvain Nuevel (Themis Files #2). As a child, Rose Franklin made an astonishing discovery: a giant metallic hand, buried deep within the earth. As an adult, she’s dedicated her brilliant scientific career to solving the mystery that began that fateful day. Years of investigation have produced intriguing answers – and even more perplexing questions. Now human-kind faces a deadly nightmare – can Dr Franklin and her team unlock the final secrets behind Themis before it’s too late? I’ve tried to make that synopsis as vague as possible to avoid spoiling the first in the series for those that haven’t read it! I didn’t like this book quite as much as the first one. It answered some of the questions from the first book but a lot of the answers were kind of underwhelming. The format again made it a relatively quick read but I felt like I couldn’t fully connect with the characters. The addition of some personal diary entries helped a bit bit for the most part I still felt like I didn’t fully understand their motivations. I will finish the series though because I want to know where it’s going with the way it ended. 3 stars.

Tell No One by Harlan Coben. Eight years ago David Beck was knocked unconscious and left for dead,and his wife Elizabeth was kidnapped and murdered. Everyone tells him it’s time to move on, to forget the past once and for all. Then an image of Elizabeth appears on David’s computer screen, and suddenly he is taunted with the impossible – that somehow, somewhere Elizabeth is still alive. The messages come with a warning: tell no one. And he doesn’t. But soon Beck himself is being hunted down… This book is certainly action-packed. It pulls you in at the beginning and just doesn’t let up. It ended up being a little too convoluted for me though and a few things were a little too convenient. Plus the final twist at the end just didn’t make sense. I also got so tired of hearing about what an angel Elizabeth was. Nobody is that perfect! A good way to pass the time but far from being a new favourite thriller. 3 stars.

For the third month in a row, I read 14 books and four of them were by BAME/BIPOC authors. I really need to up my game, but it’s difficult when I’m trying not to spend and most of my owned books are by white people. I should make more use of Scribd!

TL;DR: I ended up enjoying Anxious People but it’s a strange book and definitely not for everyone. I LOVED Show Us Who You Are. Pet is thought-provoking and interesting. You Should See Me in a Crown and Dear Emmie Blue are both cute with great characters (the first is YA, the second adult contemporary). Amari and the Night Brothers is reminiscent of Nevermoor and Men in Black. I recommend it if you enjoy books for their plot and characters and don’t mind so much about amazing writing.

That’s it for this month. Tell me what you’ve been reading recently. And don’t forget to visit the link up for more book reviews.

21 thoughts on “What I read in March 2021

  1. I have not read any Backman (I know I know) and Anxious People sounds interesting. The set-up intrigues me, although agree it sounds far-fetched without having even read it, but the downer part of it doesn’t enthuse me as much. It’s still going on my TBR but not as a right now book but for when I can take something a bit more melancholy. Pet, The Highwayman and Show Us Who You Are sound really good. I love the plot of Pet! Generally I don’t read many romance novels but I like how Farrah isn’t your typical damsel in distress kind of heroine and I’m leaning towards lighter books these days. And you had me with all the twists and whatnot going on in Show Us Who You Are. Adding them all to my TBR!

    1. I’m not sure whether Anxious People was supposed to have that effect – it does work out for everyone in the end, but the resolution couldn’t erase the overall sense of hopelessness for me. It’s probably true that nobody knows what they’re doing and most of us choose the wrong option a lot, but I’m not sure I needed a book to rub that in my face!

  2. I love Harlan Coben. He is always solid for me.

    Naomi sounds good!

    I read the Shopaholic books in my early 20s. I don’t think I’d like them now.

  3. I’ve had that same thought when reading some mystery/thrillers: Why are these people acting like such jerks when talking to the police? It’s cool you included a children’s book here, too! Happy reading!

  4. My son is reading Of Mice and Men right now and I am enjoying talking about it with him. I just read Anxious People too and while I thought they were all so quirky and a bit unbelievable I really enjoyed it too.

  5. I really liked the twist in Emmie Blue – one of the few books I stayed up half the night to finish reading (I usually like my sleep too much to give in to finishing a book). Thanks for sharing and enjoy your month!

  6. With the exception of the juice company here in the States, I feel like any company named Pomegranate is up to no good. I feel like I’ve had Confessions of a Shopaholic on my to read list forever, but it turns out it’s not on the goodreads list. Fixing that.

  7. Of Mice and Men may be one of the more depressing books out there. I read it in high school…definitely required reading in the States.
    The Shopaholic series gets better! My favorite is the second book, but the wedding one is cute too. Shopaholic and Sister is also fabulous. I’ve read them all many times.

  8. Shopaholic was a favorite in my 20’s. I’m quite a bit more than that now- I wonder how it would hold up.

    Waking Gods is on my list to read soon. Like you I wasn’t in love with the series, but it is easy to read and I want to see where they’re going with it.

  9. Wow Bev this is quite the diverse month of reads! LOL. I am a diehard Backman fan as you know so I loved Anxious People but also agree with your thoughts. I read Of Mice and Men years ago and liked it enough but remember none of it. I loved Emmie Blue – it just came to me at the exact right time and hit me in all the feels. I love it when that happens

  10. Amari and the Night Brothers sounds really interesting! Pet sounds so so good, too, but super heavy. Especially after reading some of the reviews on GR.
    Glad you had a good reading month!

  11. I felt exactly the same about Confessions of a Shopaholic as you did- Ahrgh, Becky, get a bloomin grip!
    A lot of these sopund really good as always. You read some really interesting books. I like the idea of the hostage one and the balloon one!

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