March was kind of a slow reading month for me. I read a few chunksters that took up some time, and also started a few buddy reads that didn’t finish until April, but hogged up March reading time haha Anyway, here’s the first few books I read in March!!
Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough. Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it! Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up. For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.
The White Cottage Mystery by Margery Allingham – 3.5*
This is the first book I’ve read by Allingham, and while it didn’t become a new favorite, I did enjoy it. This one was originally published as a serial story, and it felt really obvious as the chapters were very episodic and ended on dramatic cliffhangers. The story also jumped around a bit with some odd dialogue. The mystery itself was quite good, though, and I can see myself enjoying some of Allingham’s other works that were meant to be novels from the get-go.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck – 5*
Wow. Steinbeck just… I can’t even describe his writing. I kind of hate it. It’s depressing. Zero happy endings ever. And yet – I just don’t know. He captures emotions so well, can make you feel things you don’t want to feel. This book is so short, yet I’ve thought about it more than most books I read that are four times as long. Steinbeck writes absolutely brilliantly about everyday tragedies in a way that gets under your skin and keeps you chewing on it for a long time.
Blue Smoke by Nora Roberts – 4*
I really struggled with rating this one because I overall liked it a lot, but there was one scene that was unusually dark for a Roberts book, that disturbed me enough that I’ll never reread this one… so 4* for most of the book, but negative stars for including a bizarrely brutal rape scene, I guess???
The rest of the book was typical Roberts romantic thriller fare. Reena’s family owns a restaurant and they are close-knit and happy. When she was a little girl, someone set fire to their restaurant and the aftermath of that inspired Reena to become an arson inspector, which is a job that I think sounds so fascinating. (The guy I work for was also an arson inspector for several years and the way he understands how fire originates and moves is just amazingly interesting.) Roberts chose to let the reader know who was behind the destructive fires that haunt Reena’s life, which I honestly didn’t think worked very well for this story. The fires are spread apart throughout Reena’s life and are purposefully set differently each time to make sure that she doesn’t realize they’re connected. But because, as the reader, we KNOW they’re connected, it kind of makes Reena look dumb – even though from her perspective there really isn’t any way that she would realize they had anything to do with one another. The parts of the story that were from the villain’s perspective were also the parts that I didn’t like at all – I’m not a huge fan of thrillers where we get to see how the bad guy is reveling in the pain and destruction he’s causing. It’s not normally a part of Roberts’s repertoire, so I wasn’t exactly expecting it, and it also led to the really dark rape scene late in the book that was just… unnecessarily nasty. In the end, while I did enjoy so much of this – especially Reena’s just delightful family (Roberts does siblings SO well), it’s definitely not one I’ll reread.
The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon – 2.5*
There are some books that I really should review when I first read them because they give me SO MANY FEELINGS at the time but then fade after, you know, two months have gone by. Priory was a case of me judging a book by the cover but not actually looking at anything about it, and this totally backfired on me. I mean, look at this cover! It’s even more gorgeous in real life. The dragon is sooo blue and glossy. And honestly, I was drawn to the compete HEFT of this one – sitting at 806 pages, plus glossaries and the like, I just really was physically drawn to how beautiful this book was. But. In the end, it just did not work for me, and even though I struggled through all 806 of those pages to reach the end, I’m not sure it was worth it. (Please note: There are LOADS of 5* reviews for this one and it has over a 4* average on GR so I am DEFINITELY in the minority on this one… but that happens sometimes!)
The biggest problem was that I didn’t like a SINGLE character. All of them were completely self-absorbed. There are multiple strands in this book with several main characters (literally all of whom are gay, as an aside, which felt… unlikely) and all of them are completely motivated by what will be best for them, personally. Even the characters who LOOK like they’re doing something for “the greater good” are actually doing it because that will make their personal life significantly better – i.e., Ead is supposedly concerned about the fact that the whole world is going to end up going to war and consequently runs away… but I’m not remotely convinced that she would have cared if she wasn’t trying to get back to her lover. Another main character, Niclays, was just plain dreadful, completely motivated by greed and fear. His lover is dead, so we only hear about him in the past tense, but their so-called love story was 100% unbelievable to me on every level, and my eyes almost rolled out of my head when Niclays’s lover’s wife tells him how “glad” she was that her husband had someone he could “truly cherish”… riiiiiiiiight. Even the dragons were completely self-absorbed! (Speaking of which – there were not NEARLY enough dragons!)
Despite this book being almost three inches thick, parts of the world-building still felt incredibly underdeveloped, like literally the entire thing with the queens having a daughter made almost no sense – out of centuries, NONE of them have had more than one child…???? And I couldn’t stand Sabran, supposedly this amazingly strong woman/heir to the queendom, who literally spends the entire book walking around wringing her hands and whining about the fact that she’ll have to have a baby someday.
At its heart, this book didn’t feel pro-woman as much as it felt anti-mother. All the mothers are bad ones, none of them want to be mothers, and everyone who could be a mother in future views that possibility with literal revulsion. Shannon claims that this saga is a great feminist work, but all I saw were the same tired lines that women are too weak to be both a mother and a fulfilled individual – you have to pick. That’s not empowering, it’s insulting. Telling me that motherhood ruins the lives of women just doesn’t seem like a positive message, but it was one of the big takeaways from this story. She creates this world where women are rulers and even strong warriors, yet tries to convince the readers that women are still only viewed by the culture as “breeding stock” – which literally makes no sense. Sabran is literally obsessed with the idea that she will have to bear a child, to the point that I wanted to smack her in the head with this brick of a book and tell her to suck it up and move on with her life. Maybe do something worthwhile between now and having a baby instead of doing nothing except whining about how you hypothetically need to have a baby someday??? I was just SO over every character in this book acting like having a baby is the quickest way to destroy your life – ugh.
There were many things I did enjoy while reading this one – Shannon does weave a very complicated story, pulling together myths and legends from multiple in-world cultures and turns them into a (mostly) cohesive story. Much of it was incredibly well-written and I can see why so many people love this book. But I found basically every character to be unrelatable and, or the most part, unlikable, which meant that in the end I was somewhat relieved to finally finish this one.