Read in March 2024

March was a month of serious ups and downs as far as reading goes. It started well, but as the month progressed my choice of books became increasingly unsuccessful, even for a few for which I had high hopes.

In total I read 9 books, good for 3174 pages. The average March book comes to 353 pages/book.

As mentioned, a month of highs and lows, with ratings between 1 and 4 stars, and one DNF. The average finished book in March amounts to a round 3.0 stars.

In terms of target group, I varied between 4 Young Adult books and 6 adult books, of which I DNF’ed one adult book.

As always, I also varied in reading style, with 1 e-book, 5 audio books and 4 bookcase books.

For the genres I alternated between 5 genres, namely thriller (1), mystery (1), sci-fi (1), romance (1) and fantasy (6).

For the language, I stuck to English again and didn’t read a single book in Dutch.

Below is the list of the books I read in March and my rating in stars.
Click the link to jump to the blurb and my review! As always, be aware that both blurb and review may contain spoilers, especially if they are sequels in a series! Sometimes I also hide spoilers behind an expandable text!

  1. Gillig, Rachel – One Dark Window (The Shepherd King #2) 🎧 ★★★★
  2. Gillig, Rachel – Two Twisted Crowns (The Shepherd King #2) ★★★★
  3. Byrne, Kerrigan – The Hunter (Victorian Rebels #1) 🎧 ★★
  4. Watson, Katy – The Three Dahlias (Three Dahlias Mysteries #1) 🎧 ★★★
  5. Hobb, Robin – Assassin’s Apprentice (Realm of the Elderlings #) ★★★
  6. Varela, Nina – Crier’s War (Crier’s War #) 🎧 ★★
  7. Moreno-Garcia, Silvia – The Lover ★★★★
  8. Marrs, John – What Lies Between Us 🎧 ★★★★
  9. Angeles, Janella – Where Dreams Descend (Kingdom of Cards #1) (DNF)
  10. Summers, Georgia – The City of Stardust

🎧 Gillig, Rachel – One Dark Window (The Shepherd King #2) ★★★★

Genre: YA Fantasy

Elspeth needs a monster. The monster might be her.
Elspeth Spindle needs more than luck to stay safe in the eerie, mist-locked kingdom she calls home–she needs a monster. She calls him the Nightmare, an ancient, mercurial spirit trapped in her head. He protects her. He keeps her secrets. But nothing comes for free, especially magic.

When Elspeth meets a mysterious highwayman on the forest road, her life takes a drastic turn. Thrust into a world of shadow and deception, she joins a dangerous quest to cure the kingdom of the dark magic infecting it. Except the highwayman just so happens to be the King’s own nephew, Captain of the Destriers…and guilty of high treason.

He and Elspeth have until Solstice to gather twelve Providence Cards–the keys to the cure. But as the stakes heighten and their undeniable attraction intensifies, Elspeth is forced to face her darkest secret yet: the Nightmare is slowly, darkly, taking over her mind. And she might not be able to stop him

I first read this one back in February last year and really enjoyed. Now I reread it, to be up-to-speed again in order to read the sequel and finale, and I’m happy to report that I again quite enjoyed this one and fully stand behind my original review.

“There once was a girl, clever and good,
who tarried in shadow in the depths of the wood.
There also was a King—a shepherd by his crook,
who reigned over magic and wrote the old book.
The two were together, so the two were the same:
The girl, the King… and the monster they became.”

The magic and world-building in particular really appealed to me. It felt a bit like a gothic fairy tale, which is really up my alley. I also really enjoyed how aspects of the magic and world-building were revealed to us through the snippets and doggerel at the beginning of each chapter.

I also enjoyed reading from the perspective of our main characters and could really empathize with her narrative voice.
Parts of the story were predictable with typical YA twists and melodrama, but this didn’t bother me at all. On the contrary, it felt rather nostalgic and cozy for me to expect or be able to predict certain directions from the book.

The writing style really pushed the book forward. This was very immersive and felt lush and luxurious. I had trouble putting the book down.

Very curious about the sequel!

Gillig, Rachel – Two Twisted Crowns (The Shepherd King #2) ★★★★

Genre: YA Fantasy

In the luscious, dark sequel to One Dark Window, Elspeth must face the consequences of what she’s wrought – perfect for readers of Hannah Whitten’s For the Wolf and Alexis Henderson’s The Year of the Witching.

Elspeth and Ravyn have gathered most of the twelve Providence Cards, but the last, and most important one remains to be found: The Twin Alders.

If they are going to find it before the Solstice and cure the kingdom of the dark magic infecting it, they will need to journey beyond the dangerous mist-cloaked forest that surrounds their kingdom.

And the only one who can lead them there is the monster that shares Elspeth’s head. The Nightmare. And he’s not eager to share any longer.

This one definitely did not disappoint! Different than what I was expecting, but it still delivered a very well plotted finale in the same eerily atmospheric and lyrical style as its predecessor.

“I know what I know. My secrets are deep. But long have I kept them. And long will they keep.”

Two Twisted Crowns continues right where One Dark Window ended, which necessitated a shift in narrators voices. Reading both books back to back, this initially seemed a bit jarring, but it does actually make sense for the entire plotline.

Still, a very gutsy move to completely sideline your initial primary narrator and put extra emphasis on a narrator not even following the main quest part of the story.
Luckily, I eventually ended up being really charmed by this new point of view and actually really enjoyed their side of the story.
Unfortunately, this did take away some of the focus to what I felt was the main story, making it feel somewhat unbalanced. The lack of focus on what book one established as the main couple, also felt as a bit of an oversight.

The overarching plot was exceptionally pieced together. My intrigue throughout was very high and the overall execution and pay-off were immensely satisfying.

“Here we are, my darling girl, he whispered to me. The end of all things. The last page of our story.”

All in all, a very nice gothic fantasy duology, with an intriguing magic system, a very well-crafted and well-rounded story and immensely beautiful writing.
I’m curious and excited to see what this author does next!

🎧 Byrne, Kerrigan – The Hunter (Victorian Rebels #1) ★★

Genre: Romantiek (historisch)

A scandalous proposal.

As one of London’t most elite hunters, Christopher Argent never misses his mark and always gets his man. But when his latest target turns out to be a woman—the popular, and stunningly beautiful, actress Millie LeCour—it turns his whole world upside-down. Overwhelmed by the heat that simmers between them, Christopher can’t complete his mission. On the contrary, he’ll do anything to save Millie’s life—even if it means risking his own…

A dangerous passion…

When she learns what Christopher was hired to do, Millie is torn between the fear in her heart and the fire in her soul. Putting herself in this dangerous man’s arms may be her only path to safety—but giving in to her desire may be the deadliest mistake she’s ever made. With both of their lives in jeopardy, Millie and Christopher must learn to trust the real feelings they’re hiding—to find the true love they’re looking for…

I remember when I read “The Highwayman”, the first book in this series by Kerrigan Byrne, I really enjoyed this dark type of historical romance. This second one however wasn’t very good and quite disappointing.

I usually binge these types of books in one or two sittings. I’m used to this genre being like very compelling candy: not very nutritious or objectively good, but irresistible nonetheless.
This one however, took me FIVE days to finish on audio, which is pretty telling.

The story begins similarly to the first book, introducing the hero through his backstory, that explains how he became who he is today. That was a very gruesome chapter to read and I really wondered how the author would get from there to a love story.
Spoiler, in my opinion, she didn’t.

Everything following that first chapter was just illogical, unbelievably convenient, riddled with plot holes and cringy. Nothing could be interpreted as being even remotely romantic and I felt nothing redeeming in the hero or compelling in the couple.

Now I’m hesitating whether to drop this series or give it at least one more book the chance to convince me.

🎧 Watson, Katy – The Three Dahlias (Three Dahlias Mysteries #1) ★★★

Genre: Mystery

Three rival actresses team up to solve a murder at the stately home of the author who made them famous – only to discover the solution lies in the stories themselves. A contemporary mystery with a Golden Age feel, perfect for fans of Agatha Christie and Jessica Fellowes.

In attendance: the VIP fans, staying at Aldermere; the fan club president turned convention organizer; the team behind the newest movie adaptation of Davenport’s books; the Davenport family themselves – and the three actresses famous for portraying Lettice’s 1930s detective, Dahlia Lively.

National treasure Rosalind King, from the original movies. TV Dahlia for thirteen seasons, Caro Hooper. And ex-child star Posy Starling, fresh out of the fame wilderness (and rehab) to take on the Dahlia mantle for the new movie.

Each actress has her own interpretation of the character – but this English summer weekend they will have to put aside their differences, as the crimes at Aldermere turns anything but cosy.

When fictional death turns into real bodies, can the three Dahlias find the answers to the murders among the fans, the film crew, the family – or even in Lettice’s books themselves?

Excellent premise and for the most part a very enjoyable murder mystery. Perhaps a bit too slow, repetitive and ultimately a bit predictable, but overall a very cozy mystery with several nods to the whodunits of the golden era.
Definitely interested in more books in this series.

Hobb, Robin – Assassin’s Apprentice (Realm of the Elderlings #) ★★★

Genre: Fantasy

In a faraway land where members of the royal family are named for the virtues they embody, one young boy will become a walking enigma.

Born on the wrong side of the sheets, Fitz, son of Chivalry Farseer, is a royal bastard, cast out into the world, friendless and lonely. Only his magical link with animals – the old art known as the Wit – gives him solace and companionship. But the Wit, if used too often, is a perilous magic, and one abhorred by the nobility.

So when Fitz is finally adopted into the royal household, he must give up his old ways and embrace a new life of weaponry, scribing, courtly manners; and how to kill a man secretly, as he trains to become a royal assassin.

You could previously read my review for this book here.

🎧 Varela, Nina – Crier’s War (Crier’s War #) ★★

Genre: YA Sci-Fi

Impossible love between two girls —one human, one Made.
A love that could birth a revolution.

After the War of Kinds ravaged the kingdom of Rabu, the Automae, Designed to be the playthings of royals, took over the estates of their owners and bent the human race to their will.

Now, Ayla, a human servant rising the ranks at the House of the Sovereign, dreams of avenging the death of her family… by killing the Sovereign’s daughter, Lady Crier. Crier, who was Made to be beautiful, to be flawless. And to take over the work of her father.

Crier had been preparing to do just that—to inherit her father’s rule over the land. But that was before she was betrothed to Scyre Kinok, who seems to have a thousand secrets. That was before she discovered her father isn’t as benevolent as she thought. That was before she met Ayla.

Set in a richly-imagined fantasy world, Nina Varela’s debut novel is a sweepingly romantic tale of love, loss and revenge, that challenges what it really means to be human.

While I thought the idea of this book was interesting and showed a lot of promise, the execution was lacking and I ended up not enjoying my time with it.

There was something about the writing that really grated on me. A bit overbearing and belittling, too drawn out, too much telling instead of showing.

The worldbuilding was just a big info-dump at the beginning of the book. Not even interwoven into the narrative, but just a big old timeline for us to study. Furthermore, the world and how it looks like remained very vague.

As for our two main characters, I liked Crier’s character well enough, but actively disliked Ayla.
Yes, Crier is immensely naïve, which can be frustrating to read, but it made sense for her to be that way and she is slowly waking up and starting to ask questions.
However, Ayla is one of those self-righteous YA-characters who always act before they think. I’m at an age I can no longer find rash and brash endearing or forgivable in any way. She was so selfish and thoughtless and continuously puts others in danger, but still feels like she’s got the right end of the stick.
As for the romance between these two, I did not feel it at all. It was just a case of insta-love, while we were promised a slow-burn.

Suffice to say, I’m not interested in reading the sequel.

Moreno-Garcia, Silvia – The Lover ★★★★

Genre: Fantasy (romantiek)

During a brutal winter, a young woman longing for love finds more than she expected in the woods, in this wickedly sensuous short story by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, the New York Times bestselling author of Mexican Gothic.

Judith knows her sister, Alice, is the pretty one—but that doesn’t stop her from wishing for love. When a handsome and gentlemanly hunter appears in their village, seeking lodging from the cold, she believes her lover has finally arrived. He does, indeed, choose to stay—but as Alice’s husband, not her own. When another stranger comes out of the woods, looking every bit a vagrant, he offers Judith something mysterious and enticingly strange. Against reason and decency, she welcomes both men into her life, in different ways. As forbidden longings ensnare each of them, an unrelenting winter storm and an evasive wolf on the prowl have everyone on edge…and ravenous. By spring thaw, will any of their hungers be satisfied?

A strangely sensual, dark and atmospheric fairy tale with a wickedly cruel conclusion.

🎧 Marrs, John – What Lies Between Us ★★★★

Genre: Thriller

They say every house has its secrets, and the house that Maggie and Nina have shared for so long is no different. Except that these secrets are not buried in the past.

Every other night, Maggie and Nina have dinner together. When they are finished, Nina helps Maggie back to her room in the attic, and into the heavy chain that keeps her there. Because Maggie has done things to Nina that can’t ever be forgiven, and now she is paying the price.

But there are many things about the past that Nina doesn’t know, and Maggie is going to keep it that way—even if it kills her.

Because in this house, the truth is more dangerous than lies.

This story was bonkers. A car crash I could not look away from.
Utterly enthralling, dark, poignant and sad. Full of curveballs and shocking plot twists.

Angeles, Janella – Where Dreams Descend (Kingdom of Cards #1) (DNF)

Genre: YA Fantasy

In a city covered in ice and ruin, a group of magicians face off in a daring game of magical feats to find the next headliner of the Conquering Circus, only to find themselves under the threat of an unseen danger striking behind the scenes.

As each act becomes more and more risky and the number of missing magicians piles up, three are forced to reckon with their secrets before the darkness comes for them next.

The Star: Kallia, a powerful showgirl out to prove she’s the best no matter the cost

The Master: Jack, the enigmatic keeper of the club, and more than one lie told

The Magician: Demarco, the brooding judge with a dark past he can no longer hide.

In theory, I should have loved this book. A mix between “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Moulin Rouge” sounds absolutely brilliant!
Unfortunately, at no point did the book manage to captivate me or move me emotionally. The only times I felt anything other than apathy were when Jack appeared, but even then the flame of interest was minor and never managed to blaze into genuine intrigue.

DNF @45%

One positive thing is this marks the final Owlcrate book that I still had to read!

Summers, Georgia – The City of Stardust

Genre: Fantasy

The Everly family is cursed. Every generation is destined to lose their best and brightest, taken by a woman named Penelope, who never ages, never sickens, and never forgives a debt.

When her mother vanishes in the middle of the night, the curse falls on Violet Everly—unless she can break it first. To do so, she must descend into a seductive, magical underworld of power-hungry scholars, fickle gods, and monsters bent on revenge. And at the edges of the world, she’ll find the City of Stardust, where the Everly story began.

What a complete and utter disappointment.
I forced myself to finish the whole book, but I should have stopped when I first considered it at only 40 pages in.

There was so much potential in this story, so many great ideas, but everything, from the world to the characters, fell completely flat. Nothing got fleshed out, everything was only vaguely disclosed and confusion was a constant companion while reading.

The writing tried to emulate the dreamy lyrical style of books like “The Night Circus” or “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue”, but mostly ended up feeling immensely overwritten and too vague to be charming.
Also, what’s up with the constant change in perspective in the middle of a chapter? Often even without paragraph breaks? It’s not edgy or cute, but just plain irritating and confusing, on top of all the other confusing and baffling writing.

In a way, I can forgive somewhat fuzzy world-building, if I have characters to root for, but unfortunately these too remained too superficial to feel anything more than annoyance. There’s something severely lacking if you’re more interested in side characters that flit by now and then, than following our main protagonists.
Violet was just an idiot and Aleksander a spineless jerk. There is zero chemistry at all between them and I can’t fathom why the author wanted to force a romantic relationship between them.
Penelope could have been a powerful character, but again she just remained incredibly shallow and one-dimensional.

A very unfortunate case of promising a lot, but delivering little more than hot air.

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