What I Read in April 2021

I completed 9 books in April, comprising 6 genres, for a total of 2, 463 pages, thus meeting three of my reading challenges for the month. For an explanation of my 2021 Reading Challenge, see my post here. My average rating for the month was 3.9.

Here’s a breakdown of how I did with the remaining six challenges, and what else I read.

THE CHALLENGES

  1. ONE FROM MY SHELVES

Van Gogh’s Flowers
Debra N. Mancoff
Genre: Non-Fiction/ Art
My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This is a beautiful book, especially if, like me, you love the work of Van Gogh. I found it in a charity shop for $3, an absolute bargain. And I enjoyed reading it, but the rating was a bit of a dilemma. The illustrations deserve 5 stars, no question. They are wonderful reproductions of so many of Van Gogh’s most gorgeous paintings. But the text was not of the same standard. It was very repetitive, as if the author only had a small number of facts and ideas about Van Gogh to convey, but had a word count to make up. So she just kept writing the same thing, sometimes as many as four times. This grew tedious. I would give the text on its own 2.5 or maybe 3 stars. And so I’ve averaged the rating and come up with 4 overall.


2. ONE FROM MY KINDLE

To Be a Queen
Annie Whitehead
Genre: Historical Fiction
My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ ⭐⭐

No doubts about the rating on this one. I have had this book sitting in my Kindle for about a year, and now I’m kicking myself that I didn’t start it sooner. It is the story of Aethelflaed, known as The Lady of the Mercians, daughter of Alfred the Great. She was the only female leader of an Anglo-Saxon kingdom. The book is set in England in the 9th – early 10th Century. Annie Whitehead is an expert on the period ( with her own blog, Casting Light upon the Shadow) and a fantastic fiction writer, a combination that seems quite rare. I loved everything about this – the character of Aethelflaed, the brilliantly-evoked settings, the action and the quieter moments. Perhaps the best historical novel I’ve ever read.


3. ONE MIDDLE GRADE

Olivia Stone and the Trouble with Trixies (The Guardians of St Giles #1)
Jeffrey E. Doherty
Genre: Middle Grade/ Fantasy
My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I chose this from my library because Jeffrey Doherty is an author in my local community. I hadn’t read any reviews and didn’t know what to expect, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself with this story. It centres around a boarding school guarded by stone Grotesques (don’t call them gargoyles😉) that come to life at night, and what happens when they are taken down from the rooftops and locked away. Brilliant idea and a novel I would have absolutely loved as a ten or eleven year old. The main characters of Olivia, who seems to be turning to stone herself, and the smallest Grotesque, Yip, are both endearing, and the book is action-packed from the start. Recommended for 8 to 12-year olds who like a touch of horror (not too much) with their fantasy.



4. ONE FROM THE LIBRARY

Shadows in Death (In Death #51)
J. D. Robb
Genre: Crime/Mystery
My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

The next of the In Death series and a bit of a disappointment in the end. I was enjoying it right up to the point where it basically became a revenge fantasy. If you are supposed to be “the good guys”, it is not okay to take pleasure from physically beating up the villain after he has already been captured and neutralised. And for no one at all to call you out for it. It left a nasty taste in my mouth.


5. ONE GROUP READ OR BUDDY READ

The Churn (The Expanse #3.5)
James S.A. Corey
Genre: Science Fiction
My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Continuing my Science Fiction Series of the Year with the Epic Fantasy Reads Group on Goodreads. (Yes, I know ScienceFiction isn’t Fantasy, but they occasionally include it).
This novella wasn’t nearly as enjoyable as I’d hoped. It gives some backstory for Amos, one of my favourite characters, but it is less science fiction and more a gangster tale that could be set in any city at any time. Gangster tales do not interest me in the slightest. Oh well, on to another novel next moth, hooray!


6. ONE THAT MEETS A RANDOM CHALLENGE

As you can see, I doubled up on this one. The challenge this month was to watch a Youtuber build their monthly TBR using some kind of game, and then apply the first prompt that came up to my own TBR shelf. The Youtuber was Chantel at An Intentional Life and the challenge was to choose an obscure book from my shelf – one with very few reviews on Goodreads. Even though I was already reading this one, it was the only book I could find that fit the bill – only 4 reviews! See my own review above.


OTHER BOOKS I READ IN APRIL

The Borrow a Bookshop Holiday
Kiley Dunbar
Genre: Romance
My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐1/2

I was so looking forward to this – our heroine takes up the offer of a holiday that includes running a cute little bookshop in a village on the Cornish coast. What’s not to like?
It started well and I was getting a huge amount of vicarious pleasure from the whole situation, until the romance storyline kicked in. Unfortunately, it hinged on a trope I heartily dislike – the big, strong, silent man with a deep, dark secret that means he cannot commit to a relationship, but which somehow doesn’t stop him from starting one anyway, hurting our already romantically-bruised heroine for no good reason. I simply could not like the man after that, especially when the secret turned out to be quite unbelievable too.
And a romance where you don’t want the two main characters to get together in the end is bound to be a disappointment, isn’t it? Such a shame, because the writing itself is very good.
I received a free copy of this book from #Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.


Springtime for Murder (Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries #5)
Debbie Young
Genre: Crime/ Mystery/ Cosy Mystery/ Humour
My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I’m still enjoying the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries and this is the latest. Another light-hearted cosy murder mystery with touches of humour and village characters I have become very fond of. A quick and fun read.


One by One
Ruth Ware
Genre: Crime/ Mystery/Thriller
My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I love a good closed circle mystery where the characters get bumped off one by one and there is no outside help available. They irresistibly remind me of the greatest closed circle crime novel of all, Agatha Christies And then There were None. And in fact, the publicity for this novel compares Ware to Christie. So I was excited, and at first the novel lived up to the hype.
The writing, characters and setting are all very good, and continue to be so throughout the book. But it has one flaw, and it’s a big one: I guessed the identity of the murderer and how they committed the seemingly impossible first crime almost as soon as it happened. Ware is not as good as Christie in embedding her clues with subtlety. They practically shouted out to me. Admittedly, I have read a lot of crime novels. If you haven’t, your experience might be different, and the huge reveal near the end might shock, surprise and delight you.
And yet, even though this novel fell short for me, I enjoyed my time with it a great deal. So the flaw, although large, didn’t turn out to be fatal, thanks to Ware’s undeniable skill in getting the reader to keep turning the pages. And I will read more from her in the future.


The Stranger Diaries
Elly Griffiths
Genre: Crime/ Mystery/Thriller
My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐1/2

This had a set up that rang all the right bells for me: a teacher of Creative Writing who specialises in one particular Gothic writer and one particular story of his, which we get snippets of throughout the novel alongside the main story. A book about writers and a book within a book – two of my favourite things. And I’m partial to a bit of Gothic fiction, too. So when mysterious words started appearing in the main character’s personal diary – the one no one knows about – I was there for it. And it didn’t disappoint.
I loved Griffiths’ writing style and could hardly bear to put this novel down between readings. Sometimes her description is almost lyrical, and yet the story moves fast too. As the icing on the cake, she tricked me and I didn’t guess the murderer until just before the end – exactly what I want in an amateur sleuth mystery thriller. A great way to end the month.


What was your favourite April read?

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