My Reading Life – March 2024


Where has April gone? I only just finished March and April is more than halfway gone. I have been much busier with work and, owning my own business, I have been trying to make hay while the sun shines. 

I’m having to use my GoodReads tracker to recall what I read in March. I’m going to tell you first about my favourite reads from last month. First up, The Covenant of Water by Abraham Vergehese was my third subscription book from Mr B’s Emporium and it did not disappoint. A weaving tale with the running thread of water and how it connects and destroys a family. Set in Kerala from the start of the 20th century and spanning some 80 years or so, this book, though peppered with tragedy, is so full of love and heart. As I read, it always felt like there was hope in the gloom, and the backwaters of Kerala in those days were not immune to gloom. For me the characters at the centre of the story were whole and came off the page. The setting too was so strong and well-depicted that I was transposed into the story. It’s over 700 pages of beautiful story telling, so quite an investment of time, but it was a 5* from me.

I had a further trawl of my unread kindle books. Heather Morris’ book, Cilke’s Journey, is the second of her trilogy on shattered lives from World War II. Cilke is known to Laszlo, the Tattooist of Auschwitz, and when Morris was conducting her research, heard of Cilke and dug further into her story. As her concentration camp was liberated by the Soviets as the war was in its final days, Cilke is debriefed by Soviet intelligence and found to have been a Nazi collaborator while inside the prison. Her crime: being 16, attractive and an ideal target for the unwanted attentions of the camp commandant. She was kept apart from the other prisoners, in a place where the officer could more easily make his use of her, which happened to be in the holding cabin for those shortly to be sent to the death in the gas chambers. Though Cilke did her best to give those prisoners dignity in their last days, the Soviets took this to be assisting the enemy, and sentenced her to 15 years hard labour in a gulag in Siberia. Cilke’s Journey takes us to the harsh wilds of her camp and her struggle each day to keep her life and her dignity, without giving up her integrity. Cilke is a survivor but is very nearly broken by her second unjust imprisonment at the hands of tyrannical regimes. The book is based on a true story, but fictionalised to fill in the gaps and imagine the experience that Cilke must have lived. Another excellent and compelling 5* read.

Also in the kindle trawl, I found Coraline by Neil Gaiman. I had no idea what to expect from this children’s book of his. It was quite a creepy, chilling story. Coraline lives in the middle floor flat of an old house in London with her dull parents. On the lookout for adventure, Coraline investigates what’s behind the mysterious door in the lounge behind which is a brick wall. Only this time she opens it, the wall is gone and a dark corridor beckons. At the other end of the corridor, a flat just like hers but in a very different world. Her parents look the same but there’s something quite odd about them. For starters, they don’t have eyes, instead black buttons fill the hollows. And they seem much more keen on spending time with her, begging her to stay. Coraline has to find her way back to her own world, but she also has to find her real parents. I enjoyed this but I did wonder how kids get on with it. It would have left me afraid of my own shadow as a child. But I asked my niece (11, not an avid reader but I keep encouraging) and she had read it and thought it was a bit spooky but she seemed non-plussed. So it’s just me that’s a scaredy-cat. A 4* from me.

After listening to a couple of books on Audible last month, I continued the trend reading another from my dusty library. Atlas of the Heart by Brene Brown was recommended to me when I was trying to figure out some emotional stuff. The idea behind the book is that we are pretty bad at identifying the crux of what we are feeling beyond happy, sad, angry etc. This book runs through all of the possible feelings you might ever feel, whether positive, negative or neutral, so that by naming that emotion, you can respond to it in the way that is most helpful for you. It was quite an eye opener, also in how I thought I understood the descriptors, but didn’t really have it nailed. I’m in a good place at the moment (except that I’m a little irritated by my dog who has been whining for her supper for the last hour, an hour too early) but I hope that next time I am experiencing difficult times, I can better grasp exactly what it is I am experiencing and feeling to better understand and get me back on track.

My Audible library is also home to another Brene Brown book, Dare to Lead. This one expands on her ideas about having courageous conversations (“rumbles” to coin her phrase) but this time in an organisational context. I’ve spent the last 6 months outside of an organisation, so it would probably have been better having read this book some years ago, but it nonetheless covered some good learnings. Be honest and clear when giving feedback, and don’t shy away from saying what needs to be said. But make the other person heard, watch for their response and give space when something is better digested before dissecting further. The same applies when you are on the receiving end. If you need time to process something, ask for space, reflect, avoid the immediate urge to defend, explore if you are telling yourself the real story or if there could be another way of looking at something, don’t hide your vulnerabilities from others. These are probably not so different from those around you.

March was quite the self-help audio book month. Last on the Audible list was Why Did Nobody Tell Me This Before by Julie Smith. Smith is a psychologist with a strong social media presence. She had made a bunch of bitesize videos about dealing with difficult moments. Eventually, she turned these into a book. I also have the hardback, which a kind friend sent my way and it was good to have the paper reference alongside the audio book. Practical tips and solid insight. Smith herself recommends not waiting until the low times before reading the book, so that you can already have the knowledge to put up a ladder for yourself and climb out.

Back to the fiction, and the second subscription book from Mr B’s Emporium. It was delivered in February but I was already invested in Demon Copperhead so couldn’t make a start on another 500+ page book until that was done. This is at heart a spy book, but Max Archer is just an associate professor of history, studying intelligence and spymasters of the cold war. A mysterious invitation to meet with a former MI-5 officer, the legend Scarlett King, draws Max into the murky world and he finds himself having to master espionage tricks fast. I have not read too many spy thrillers, so for me this was an interesting education in the Cambridge Five as well as key Soviet defectors and double agents who are referenced in the book (yes, I had to Google them to see if they were real). And the story had enough pull to easily bring me through those 500 pages. 4* from me.

At the bottom of the rankings for the month was a bit of a disappointing book from Ann Patchett. I was spurred to read this by one of my book clubs reading Bel Canto, which I thoroughly enjoyed years ago. Not being much of a re-reader, this was the perfect opportunity to read Commonwealth, recently sent my way by my sister. A story of a blended family of two families brought together by divorce and remarriage, and told from the point of view of different parents and siblings. It’s about the said but also the unsaid, the secrets, the alliances. For me, this just lacked narrative drive but it was clearly well written which carried me to its end. 3* from me.

And that wraps up March. It won’t be long before I’m debriefing on Apri but that is looking like a short update. Where has all my reading time disappeared to?

Affiliate Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and make a purchase, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. These commissions help support the maintenance and ongoing development of our site, allowing us to continue providing valuable content and resources. For more information, please visit our Affiliate Disclosure page.