May 2023 Reading Wrap-Up

Welcome, my book friends! I hope you had an enjoyable reading month. I can’t believe we’re already at the end of May, and summer is right around the corner!

If you’d prefer to listen to this review, you can check out the full episode on The Bookmarks ‘n Blankets Podcast on your favorite podcast platform or listen below. 

Well, this month took me by surprise. It started off pretty strong, and I read three books within the first week to week and a half. I even surprised myself. At one point, I thought that if I kept up this pace, I’d have to start thinking about adding more books to my list. However, I got sick unexpectedly in the middle of the month, which greatly slowed things down. What’s crazy is that that was the first time I got really sick with a fever and was stuck in bed for a few days since the beginning of 2019. I know! I guess I have an immune system of steel. 

Anyhoo, after I recovered, reading slowed quite a bit because I had to catch up on work and this podcast, and I’m still working on my website and whatnot. 

So for this month, I read six books. However, I did have my very first DNF book and had to pick a new title. We’ll get more into that in just a moment. (This is a spoiler-free post.)

I feel like this was a mixed month, half of the books were just meh for me, but the other half were pretty good. 

Before we jump into it, just a reminder that you can listen to full book reviews for each book as I post those on the podcast. So check back in the coming weeks to dive deeper into each one.

May Reading Wrap-Up

Mandy by Julie Andrews Edwards

This story is about a 10-year-old girl named Mandy. She’s an orphan but has a dream of finding a place of her own. She escapes over the orphanage wall to explore more of the outside world. During one of her excursions, she discovers a tiny deserted cottage in the woods. All through the seasons of spring, summer, and fall, Mandy works on the cottage, attempting to make it her own safe haven. At times, she “borrows” things she needs from the orphanage, and at other times, she relies on telling lies to keep her secret safe. But then, one stormy night at the cottage, Mandy gets sick, and no one knows where she is, except a special friend she didn’t know she even had.

Brief Review: I absolutely loved this cute, wholesome book. Not only didn’t I know Julie Andrews was an author but a good author at that! Honestly, I was surprised by how engaged I was with this story. Mandy is such a sweet little girl that just wants to find a place of her own as she deals with some pretty big feelings and emotions. The pacing was on point, and I never got bored with it. In fact, I read it in about three days, but if you’re a fast reader or like to read short books in one sitting, then you could absolutely read this in one day. 

I also loved the imagery written throughout the book. It was vivid and descriptive, which I always enjoy. There were many descriptions of the garden, flowers, and cottage that Mandy found in the woods. I was looking for a springy vibe book, and this definitely delivered. The whole story takes place over all four seasons, but the first half of the book is during spring and summer, which I really enjoyed. 

It was pretty predictable, but it didn’t take away from the story. I was still fully engaged with Mandy and her adventures. Someone did mention to me that Julie Andrews actually reads her own book on audiobooks. I haven’t heard it yet and usually, I don’t listen to audiobooks, but I might give this one a try, especially if Julie Andrews is the voiceover. She has such a soft, soothing British accent, which I find satisfying.

(You can purchase this book here.)

Gallant by V.E. Schwab

From GoodRead’s description: “Olivia Prior has grown up in Merilance School for Girls, and all she has of her past is her mother’s journal—which seems to unravel into madness. Then, a letter invites Olivia to come home to Gallant. Yet when Olivia arrives, no one is expecting her. But Olivia is not about to leave the first place that feels like home; it doesn’t matter if her cousin Matthew is hostile, or if she sees half-formed ghouls haunting the hallways. Olivia knows that Gallant is hiding secrets, and she is determined to uncover them. When she crosses a ruined wall at just the right moment, Olivia finds herself in a place that is Gallant—but not. The manor is crumbling, the ghouls are solid, and a mysterious figure rules over all. Now Olivia sees what has unraveled generations of her family, and where her father may have come from. Olivia has always wanted to belong somewhere, but will she take her place as a Prior, protecting our world against the Master of the House? Or will she take her place beside him?”

Brief Review: Honestly, this was such a disappointment for me. It was a highly anticipated read because I know this is a beloved author in the book community, and there was a lot of hype around this book last year. In fact, it won GoodRead’s 2022 Best Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction. So I had pretty high expectations for this book. But in the end, it came up short for me. 

The first thing I’ll praise is that the writing is superb, and I understand why Book Nation really loves this author. This was my first book of Victoria’s, and I thought she was an excellent writer. The story was very atmospheric and gave me eerie, creepy vibes, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It was descriptive, immersive, and hard to put down because I kept wanting to know what would happen next, and the story sucked me in. 

However, the letdown came with the plot of the story. Not much happened. For a dark fantasy where there is a portal to another world that is opposite to ours, there is so much potential for what you could do with this story, but nothing really happened. The author could’ve used so much creativity and imagination with her world-building, and it could’ve been a really captivating story, but unfortunately, it wasn’t. 

I did enjoy the characters, but there wasn’t too much development with them, and there wasn’t even much interaction between them. There was a lot of descriptive prose and not a lot of dialogue. Now there is a reason for that, which I won’t spoil, but nonetheless, I wanted to see more of the relationship between the characters and wanted more plot action. I wasn’t bored, but I kept waiting for something interesting to happen, and it just never did. 

However, I probably will give this author another chance and read one of her other books later this year. I’m thinking possibly in October for Spooky Season. I’ve read from reviewers that her adult books are better than her YA books, so I’ll probably give one of those a shot. I don’t think I would recommend this book to others, but I would re-read it if I wanted to feel those creepy, eerie, atmospheric vibes.

(You can purchase this book here.)

Marchwood by R.A. Lorensen

From GoodRead’s description: “Nova the red squirrel loves nothing more than enjoying a cup of Valerian root tea in her tiny, stone home in Riverbank Village. But when her friend Rudbeck the mouse is kidnapped, she’ll enlist the help of a curious, high-collared fox from the East and don her shortsword as she rushes off to the rescue. A quaint, riverside hamlet where chipmunks study the secrets of nature in grand libraries. A tree-top city of pine martens with golden, glowing lanterns strung from the trees. A summer solstice feast in a meadow with tables full of fresh walnut loaves, spring salads, and flagons of fizzy drinks.”

Brief Review: This was another mediocre book that I almost didn’t finish. Firstly, the writing was not up to professional standards, in my opinion. It read really amateur and desperately needed a good editor. There was way too much repetition, overexplaining, and read like it was written by a first-time writer. However, I found out that the author was or is a writing professor at a university with over ten years of experience. I was shocked because the writing did not come across as written by a professional writer. 

Aside from the writing, which I tried hard to ignore, the story was interesting, but there were a lot of characters to keep track of, it eventually split off into three storylines, and not a lot actually happened. I thought this story centered around this fox that comes to save the day, but it’s not. I won’t spoil anything by telling you what it is truly about, but it took a turn that I didn’t care for. Also, it got a little preachy with some woke ideology that I do not agree with and definitely do not think should be in a kid’s book. So that really turned me off. 

This is the first book in a trilogy, but unfortunately, I will not be reading the next two books. In fact, our neighborhood has one of those free library boxes, and I think I’m gonna donate it and let someone else enjoy it because I didn’t.

(You can purchase this book here.)

Flowerheart by Catherine Bakewell

So this is my first DNF’d book, meaning I didn’t finish it. Honestly, I was surprised. There was quite a bit of hype around this book, the cover art is stunning, it’s a YA fantasy story, which is usually right up my alley, and I thought that I would really enjoy this story. 

However, it started off a bit slow, and I noticed a juvenile tone to it. But I ignored it and kept reading. I was about 17% into the book, which isn’t far, when it happened. Now, I’m gonna get a little controversial here with my reasoning on why I stopped reading, but you must understand that I come from a more conservative background, and I don’t deal with today’s woke culture and preachiness. 

So here’s where I’m going to call it out – a new character was introduced, and the paragraph read really weird. In fact, I had to go back and re-read it a few times because it didn’t read grammatically correct. Then, it hit me, this is a non-binary character. The author used they/them pronouns, and all the other characters used he and she. 

At that point, I was completely turned off because it felt like the author put in this character to check a box on the progressive checklist, and she was pushing a specific agenda and narrative that I absolutely do not agree with. It just didn’t feel natural. Then, I did some digging on this book and found out that not only is there a non-binary character, but there are two transgender characters, and the main character is bisexual. So then I realized that this was a very queer-focused book, and I didn’t have any interest in reading a story with so much leftist ideology in it. I also read some reviews that said it got super preachy with its woke messaging the further you got into the book. If I had known all of this ahead of time, I never would’ve bought the book. 

Now, I will admit that I sat with all these thoughts for about three days trying to decide if I could be open-minded enough to read this book. But in the end, I could not compromise on my morals and values, the truth, and reality among all this woke nonsense of today. I just can’t indulge Leftist propaganda and that’s what I felt was in this book. In my heart of hearts, I could not pick that book up again. It just didn’t feel right and wasn’t for me; therefore, I decided to choose another book.

(You can purchase this book here.)

Fairytale by Danielle Steel

From GoodRead’s description: “Cinderella set amid the wine-making estates of modern-day Napa Valley, complete with an evil Parisian stepmother. Deeply in love, Christophe and Joy Lammenais built Chateau Lammenais into a small but renowned Napa Valley winery and an idyllic home where they raised their beloved daughter, Camille, who takes on increasing responsibilities for the estate they all treasure. But after Joy’s early death from breast cancer just after Camille’s graduation from Stanford, a lonely Christophe soon falls prey to the machinations of a sophisticate from his native France-who moves, with her two reprobate sons, to consolidate her power over Camille and the property when Christophe is killed in a plane crash. With a French “fairy godmother” on the scene, however, the son of a neighboring vintner to assist, and a grand Harvest Ball on the horizon, lovely Camille may make some potent magic of her own…”

Brief Review: I used to read a lot of Danielle Steel back in the 90s when I was in high school. She was a really popular author back then, and honestly, it made me feel “very adult” when I read her books as a teenager. So I have a fondness and nostalgic affection for this author. A few years ago, my dad gifted me this book for Christmas. He must’ve remembered that I used to read her books. It had been sitting on my bookshelf since then.

When I decided not to read Flowerheart, I needed another book to read. This one stuck out because of the beautiful cover. Since it’s set in a winery in Napa Valley and most of it takes places around spring and summertime, I thought it would be a good mix to my list of books for the month. 

Overall, I did enjoy this Cinderella retelling, but it’s not the best fairytale retelling that I’ve read. Something about her writing felt a bit dated for me. There was also a lot of repetition and overexplaining, which is a book pet peeve of mine. It also took quite a while to get into the heart of the story, and then it abruptly ended. However, I did enjoy myself and was engaged with the story. I liked the characters. The villains were very easy to hate and the heroes were very easy to love. There were a few fun twists and turns, but the majority of it was just mediocre for me. However, it was nice to take a break from a fantasy book and read a more modern, contemporary piece of fiction. I don’t think I would recommend this book to others, but I’m didn’t hate it. It was an enjoyable read with some frustrating moments.

(You can purchase this book here.)

A Magic Steeped in Poison and A Venom Dark and Sweet by Judy Lin

From GoodRead’s description: “For Ning, the only thing worse than losing her mother is knowing that it’s her own fault. She was the one who unknowingly brewed the poison tea that killed her—the poison tea that now threatens to also take her sister, Shu. When Ning hears of a competition to find the kingdom’s greatest shennong-shi—masters of the ancient and magical art of tea-making—she travels to the imperial city to compete. The winner will receive a favor from the princess, which may be Ning’s only chance to save her sister’s life. But between the backstabbing competitors, bloody court politics, and a mysterious (and handsome) boy with a shocking secret, Ning might actually be the one in more danger.”

Brief Review: I really enjoyed this two-book duology. It was such a pleasant surprise because I wasn’t sure how it would turn out, but it was so much better than I had expected. These weren’t five-star reads for me, but I had a really good time with them. It was a nice fantasy palette cleanser for me. 

I’ve never read a Chinese fantasy book before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. But I loved all of the Ancient Chinese folklore and myths that are sprinkled throughout the story, though it does get a little confusing and difficult to keep everything straight because there is a lot thrown at the reader. The descriptions are rich and lush, the writing is very immersive and professional. I really liked the writing style and would definitely pick up another book by this author if she writes any more books. These are her only two books right now. 

The main character, Ning, is such a sweet, likable character that I found myself rooting for during the entire story. In YA fantasy stories like these, usually the main character is sassy or snarky, which I find can be annoying, but Ning isn’t like that. She’s humble and fights some inner demons and insecurities, which was refreshing. I also loved how family-oriented Ning is because the main plot is she’s trying to save her sister who has been poisoned. Everything she does, all the choices she makes is for her love for her sister and trying to save her. 

I also enjoyed her relationship with her roommate, Lian. They had a sweet friendship and I enjoyed the two of them becoming friends. There is a love interest but it’s a subtle subplot to the story and not focused on too much. Just hints here and there. It was okay for me. Kang, the boy, was an okay character for me. I didn’t hate him but I didn’t love him either. 

The best part of this book is this magical world of tea and tea-brewing. These books really do shine the spotlight on the tea and its magic, which I appreciated. There is a lot of “tea talk,” and as someone who is a tea fanatic, I absolutely loved it. There are different things the teas can do to people and it’s just a really interesting magical system that I really enjoyed. The competition that Ning enters is interesting too. I wish the story focused more on the competition and each challenge was awe-inspiring because some of them were just meh, but then others were really cool. 

The downside for me was when it started to take a political fantasy turn, especially in the second book. There is a rising rebellion and it really becomes about who is going to rule this empire and all the drama going on at the palace court with all the ministers and court officials. I wanted to stay with the action-fantasy element. All the royal political talk got boring for me and I wanted to get through those chapters quicker. But there are quite a few twists and turns, and overall, it was a really fun ride. Oh, and the descriptions of the food in certain scenes… let’s just say, if you’re hungry when you pick up this book, you’ll definitely develop a craving for some Chinese food when you put it down. Definitely recommend! 

(You can purchase book one here and book two here.)

Spring Wrap-Up

Well, those are all the books that I read this month. Looking back at all of the books I read this spring over the last three months, I’m pretty happy with where I landed. I had a few five-star books, some really good reads, and some mediocre reads. 

But now, I’m excited to jump into my summer reading lists. I’m taking a break from the fantasy genre for the next three months, which feels like a breath of fresh air for me. I’ve chosen three genres that either I’ve hardly read in or haven’t read in at all. I’m ready to dive in and hopefully be pleasantly surprised and satisfied with my choices. So join me next month when I reveal my monthly reading theme and list of books to read.

Happy reading, book lovers!

*Please note that I am a participant in the Amazon Associates Program and a member of other affiliate programs. I may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made through links in this article.

Get Cozy with the Podcast

To listen to this podcast episode, head over to The Bookmarks ‘n Blankets Podcast on your favorite podcast platform. You’ll also find full book reviews, reading topics, self-care tips, and a whole lot more.

You can also find pictures of book covers, book tag graphics, and other visuals on Instagram

If you’re interested in exclusive member goodies or want to support the show even more, you can join my Patreon community.


Come soak up all the warm, fuzzy feelings! My name is Kelly, and I’m excited to share my thoughts and opinions with you about books, movies, and TV series. I’m also obsessed with all things comfy cozy, self-care, and personal development.

Join me as I snuggle up with my favorite blankets and yummy beverages, and talk about my favorite forms of art.


Like, follow and subscribe.

© 2023. All rights reserved.