A Natural History of Dragons

REVIEW: A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan

Narrated by Kate Reading.

Everyone knows Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, prospects, and her life to satisfy scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the mountains of Vystrana, where she made discoveries that would change the world.

First off, I’ve got to say how much I enjoyed the narrator for this book and while I’m sure I’d still have liked A Natural History of Dragons if I’d read a physical copy, the audiobook was brilliant and if/when I carry on with the series, I’ll definitely be doing so via the audiobooks. It brought Isabella’s story to life in a way I wasn’t expecting. The narrator had a wonderful old posh British lady kind of voice and it just worked. It was easy to imagine an elderly woman writing her memoir and throwing in the odd aside about what she’s learnt since and how her attitude towards certain things might’ve changed in the intervening years.

A Natural History of Dragons is a historical fantasy memoir of a fictional character who lives in a world that’s inhabited by dragons. I would say there is not that many dragons in a book titled A Natural History of Dragons but I didn’t mind that. Instead, it’s more character focused as a good portion of the novel is about Isabella’s childhood, how she became obsessed with natural history and dragons and how that hindered/helped her find a suitable man to marry. I liked how A Natural History of Dragons spent time building Isabella as a character and the world around her which often feels like a nineteenth century world. There’s a lot about the upper society and how Isabella doesn’t fit in with her interests and not being very lady-like but still knowing that she needs to marry in order to be a respectable daughter. I liked the struggles Isabella goes through personally just as much as her “professional” ones when she gets involved more with dragons. It’s interesting to see her straddle this line between respectability and following her passions and how love could possibly combine the too.

The main dragon stuff comes in the latter half of the book as Isabella gets to join an expedition to Vystrana. I really liked how while dragons were known and excepted creatures in this world, the people don’t know too much about them. Isabella and her fellow naturalists are what I presume were like the people who first started any animal in our world, especially potentially deadly ones like sharks. It’s clear in the beginning they don’t know a lot and some of their theories are wildly inaccurate while others are the basis of bigger discoveries. I liked how there’s references to things later in Isabella’s life throughout the book but especially when she comments on their research process or ideas and how they might’ve changed over time. I also appreciated the trial and error of their expedition and how Isabella gets into various scrapes due to her impulsiveness.

I really enjoyed A Natural History of Dragons. It’s a book I’ve seen around over the years but the fact it’s a fictionalised memoir did put me off a bit. I’m glad to say I’m wrong and that interesting narrative choice really works, especially via the audiobook. 5/5.

Mid-Year Book Freak Out Tag 2022

We’re officially half way through the year so it’s time for the Mid-Year Book Freak Out Tag! I do enjoy doing this tag and taking a moment to check in on my reading goals and seeing how I’m doing with them. I am doing far better with my reading this year compared to this time last year so that’ a huge positive.

1. Best book you’ve read so far in 2022
Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Li
I absolutely adored this book. It’s about art and culture and is about art heists and who museum artifacts should really belong to – the international museums where people can see it, or the country the artifact was originally stolen from. Then there’s the Fast and Furious vibes with a uni student being a street racer but also the found family vibes.

2. Best sequel you’ve read so far in 2022
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
I haven’t read any new-to-me series this year and have instead been rereading the Saga graphic novel series and The Hunger Games trilogy. I’ve been rereading The Hunger Games on audio from my library, and I haven’t reread Mockingjay yet (my hold comes in later this month) but I was blown away by Catching Fire. I haven’t read the series since the first time I read it about 10 years ago (read the trilogy just before the first film came out) and haven’t seen the films recently either so it’s fun to see what I remember and noticing the foreshadowing now I know how it ends though not necessarily how it gets there. I was surprised by how much happened before it was even announced that former victors would be going back into the Games. So much setup and character work and the alliances that Katniss isn’t really aware of are so interesting and then the Games themselves are thrilling. I honestly think Catching Fire is one of the best sequels ever.

3. New release you haven’t read yet, but want to
I’m so bad at keeping up with new releases as I’m so focused on my Read the World Project right now. That being said, I remember seeing When Women Were Dragons by Kelly Barnhill everywhere on Twitter when it was due to be released and it definitely sounded like a book I’d like. I don’t have a copy yet (will probably wait till it’s in paperback) but it’s something I am looking forward to reading soonish.

4. Most anticipated release for the second half of the year
Likewise, I’m often unaware of what books are coming out until I see them sitting in Waterstones. In the latest Top Ten Tuesday I saw The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Alias Emma by Ava Glass featured on a few blogs I visited and both of them sounded interesting, so I’ll try and keep my eye out for them when they are released.

5. Biggest disappointment
Angel Mage by Garth Nix
I love the Old Kingdom series by Garth Nix and have read the other odd book by him when I was a teen but nothing outside of that series recently, so I was intrigued to see what I made of this standalone fantasy. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for me. I never really got attached to any of the characters and I don’t think I’d ever read something where the magic/fantasy aspects were so linked to religion (a kind of Catholicism religion) and that kind of weirded me out and I could never really get my head around the magic system. Plus, I didn’t realise this when I picked it up, but Angel Mage is sort of inspired by/a retelling of the Three Musketeers and that aspect was a bit jarring too. So overall, it just didn’t work for me and if I wasn’t reading it for the Magical Readathon I’d have probably DNF’d it.

6. Biggest surprise
Nina is Not Okay by Shappi Khorsandi
I don’t read contemporary books that often, or at least not contemporary books set in USA/UK (I’ll read any sort of book for my Read the World Project), so Nina is Not Okay which was one of the 12 Books recommended by 12 Friends books was a little out of my comfort zone. It’s about a teenage girl who’s an alcoholic and who may have been raped when drunk but she can’t remember. I found Nina is Not Okay fascinating and frustrating in equal measure and that was down to Nina as a character. She was so unlikable at times, and while I’ve thankful never had any real interaction with an addict, I feel it was a good depiction of their self-destructive tendencies and how there’s no helping someone until they actually want to help themselves. Enjoy would be the wrong word considering the subject matter, but I found the experience of reading Nina is Not Okay a powerful and important one which I didn’t expect.

7. Favourite new author. (Debut or new to you)
Tété-Michel Kpomassie
I don’t really have a favourite new author (or favourite authors in general to be honest) as the only authors I’ve read multiple books from this year are Suzanne Collins and Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples which were both rereads. I will say though out of all the new authors I’ve read this year I’d like to read more from Tété-Michel Kpomassie. I don’t know if his written more travel memoirs, but I really enjoyed An African in Greenland and how he described the different people, places, and cultures he came across and learnt about.

8. Newest fictional crush
I don’t think I have one? Perhaps I’m getting too old for fictional crushes. Will Chen from Portrait of a Thief was certainly charming but neither he nor anyone else I’ve read about was really a crush.

9. Newest favourite character
Peeta Melark – The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins
Once again, I’m kind of cheating here as Peeta is neither new nor a favourite but he’s the closest fit for this question. I was never Team Peeta or Team Gale (always thought Katniss would end up like Haymitch/with him as platonic besties as they understood each other so well) but I’m definitely liking and appreciating Peeta so much more on reread. He’s so kind and loving and smart, and with hindsight seeing how he can manipulate the audience is a lot of fun.

10. Book that made you cry
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Even though it’s been almost 15 years since it was released, I won’t say too much because I’m nice like that when it comes to spoilers. I will say what made me teary-eyed was to do with a character called Rue and it did surprise me when it happened. I don’t think I had that reaction when I first read The Hunger Games 10 years ago but maybe now knowing how it starts a chain reaction and impacts other characters it hit me more on reread.

11. Book that made you happy
Blood, Sweat & Chrome: The Wild and True Story of Mad Max: Fury Road by Kyle Buchanan
This is one of those books that if I’d started it earlier in the day, I would’ve read it in one sitting. I absolutely loved Blood, Sweat & Chrome and often found myself with a huge grin on my face with how various parts of the production of Mad Max: Fury Road unfolded. The language used made it feel like all the various members of the cast and crew were just talking to you about their experiences, and how it was put together made the story of how this extraordinary film got made flow really well. It was funny and interesting and I learnt so much about not only how Mad Max: Fury Road was made but filmmaking in general and how Fury Road was so different to a lot of mainstream Hollywood films – they didn’t even have a script with dialogue!

12. Most beautiful book you’ve bought so far this year (or received)
This Woven Kingdom by Tarereh Mafi
While I have acquired more books than I should’ve so far this year, there’s not many I’d call beautiful. I haven’t read This Woven Kingdom yet (and I’m not sure if/when I’m going to) but I received it in my now-cancelled Illumicrate subscription earlier this year and it’s definitely the most beautiful book I’ve got. It’s a naked hardcover with foiling and stencilled edges and I’s so different from the standard cover. I wouldn’t have picked up this book based on the standard UK cover, but this one is definitely more eye-catching.

13. What books do you need to read by the end of the year?
The end is in sight for my Read the World Project so that’s my focus. I have 11 books to read before the end of September (my new self-imposed deadline) which is totally doable and most of those books are featured in my latest TBR. I still need books for Tuvalu and Monaco so if you happen to know any writers from either of those countries who have work in English, please let me know.

Now for my reading stats. My goal is to read 52 books and review half of that and I’m at 40 books so I’m right on track with that – a long weekend away in a cottage plus some comics/graphic novels has certainly helped with that. I have read 7 of the 12 Books Recommended by 12 Friends challenge and I’m currently reading and very much enjoying book number 8 – A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan.
A Winter’s Promise by Christelle Dabos
A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan
Slade House by David Mitchell
Himself by Jess Kidd
Nina is Not Okay by Shapi Khorsandi
John Dies at the End by David Wong
The Cabinent by Un Su Kim
They Both Die in the End by Adam Silvera
Darius the Great is Not OK by Adib Khorram
City of Devils: The Two Men Who Ruled the Underworld of Old Shanghai by Paul French
She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan
Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

I like to have an equal split when it comes to reading books by men and women but at the moment it’s leaning towards more male authors. While most of the books I have left for my Read the World Project are by men, hopefully once that’s done and I read more different books on my TBR it’ll be more of an equal split. That’s because outside of my Read the World Project, my physical TBR does lean more towards women writers.

The genres I’ve read so far this year are a nice eclectic mix which I’m always happy about. Once I’ve finished my Read the Word Project, I’m interested to see what my taste is when it comes to genres because so much of what I’ve read for the challenge has been historical or non-fiction and I always thought I was a big fantasy fan but that’s not something I’ve picked up as frequently.

How has your reading gone for the first half of the year?

Magical Readathon: Spring Equinox TBR

The Magical Readathon is the brainchild of Gi at BookRoast on YouTube and now we’ve completed the Novice Path, we are in our first year of exams. Previously the Magical Readathon was based on Harry Potter and its exams but Gi has now created her own magical world and university and it’s truly impressive. Like the previous iteration of the Magical Readathon, the aim is to read books that fill the prompts for the subjects you need to pass in order to be able to do the magical career of your choice. Gi’s announcement video explains it all and she has a variety of documents that can guide you. This round of the Magical Readathon, the Spring Equinox exams, is a month-long readathon through the entirety of April. The Autumn Equinox exams/readathon will take place in August.

The career I want to work towards is Moon Warden (though it was so hard to choose) which means in this round of the Magical Readathon I need to read 5 books for the prompts Art of Illusion, Astronomy, Elemental Studies, Restoration and Spells & Incantations. As usual though, I’ve had a look at my TBR and tried to find a book for each of the 14 prompts so I can read as much as possible and then give me more choice when it comes to my magical career path.

TomeTopple hosted by Sam at Thoughts on Tomes is happening in April as well (from 15th-29th and the aim is to read books over 500 pages) so that will be some extra inspiration for at least one of the prompts.

As usual with readathons I try to have a mixture of genres and include as many books for my Read the World Project as possible. One of the only rules with the Magical Readathon is that you can’t double up on prompts so one book = one prompt. However, as you’ll see below, I sometimes have multiple suggestions for a prompt and some books can fit more than one prompt but I promise I won’t use a book for more than one prompt.

Art of Illusion – book with a trope you like
The Ivory Key by Ashaya Raman or The Fortunes of Wangrin by Amadou Hampâté Bâ
The Ivory Key is the first book in a fantasy duology and a book I got in a subscription box. The fact that in the author’s note it said she was a fan of the film National Treasure and was inspired by that is what made me most interested in this book. I love that film and adventure/puzzle stories. On the blurb of The Fortunes of Wangrin it describes the titular character as a “rogue and an operator, hustling both the colonial French and his own people” and I do love a morally grey character.

Astronomy – top of your TBR
Beyond the Rice Fields by Naivo
I’m using my latest Top Ten Tuesday post as inspiration for this prompt, so really any of the books there could be what I end up reading. Beyond the Rice Fields is set in the nineteenth century and it’s about the relationship between a slave and his master’s daughter.

Elemental Studies – Book under 100 pages
The Desert and the Drum by Mbarek Ould Beyrouk
OK I am cheating slightly here as the kindle edition I have is 111 page long but I can not find a book on my TBR that has less than 100 pages. Gi’s always saying it’s fine to tweak prompts to fit (and it’s not like she’d know) so that’s what I’m doing here.

Spells & Incantations – a collection of short stories/essays or an individual short story/essay
From Timor-Leste to Australia: Seven families, Three Generations Tell Their Stories edited by Jan Trezise
I have this on my kindle which is a collection of stories and poems from East Timorese families living in Melbourne whose experiences belong to that long history of human tragedy created where violent conflict of power, land and resources takes place, inevitably visiting on ordinary people, disruption and loss.

Restoration – book featuring healers
Angel Mage by Garth Nix or A River Enchanted by Rebecca Ross
I wasn’t sure if any of the books on my shelves featured healers but thanks to recommendations on the Magical Readathon Twitter I discovered I had a couple on my shelves. Out of the two I’m more likely to read Angel Mage as it’s a standalone and I’ve previously read and enjoyed a lot of Garth Nix’s other work.

Alchemy – read a book featuring romance
Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales or Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen
I don’t tend to read a lot of romance books but I have a few on my shelves, and to be honest, a lot of books feature some form of romance so this isn’t too hard a prompt to fill.

Animal Studies – a quick read
Chaka by Thomas Mofolo (and probably any of the books for the Alchemy prompt)
Chaka is less than 170 pages so that definitely has the potential of being a quick read. Plus, I tend to find YA contemporary stories pretty quick to get through so they’d work for this prompt too.

Artificery – Earth setting
Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas or The Fury and Cries of Women by Angèle Rawiri
This is one that’s pretty easy to fill as the vast majority of my Read the World books are set on Earth. Concrete Rose is the prequel to The Hate U Give which I loved and I’ve been wanting to read it for ages. I believe The Fury and Cries of Women follows Emilienne’s life through her university studies, marriage, children, work, and how she tries to search for what feminism means to her while dealing with cultural expectations and the taboos of sex and motherhood.

Conjuration – source of light on the cover
QuixotiQ by Ali Al Saeed
This is a book I’ve already started once but struggled a bit with but as it’s less than 200 pages long it’s the perfect time to give it another go for a readathon, and as you can see, it has the sun on the cover.

Demonology – word “shadow” in the book/series title
A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab
A Gathering of Shadows is the only book I have on my TBR that has “shadow” in the title but it has been six(!) years since I read the first book, A Darker Shade of Magic, so I’d need to reread that in order to carry on with the series. I’m not sure if A Darker Shade of Magic fits into any of these prompts so I may just have to scrap Demonology as a subject/prompt and any careers that need it.

Inscription – an intimidating read
The Golden Horse by Juan David Morgan or Armenian Golgotha: A Memoir of the Armenian Genocide, 1915-198 by Grigoris Balakian
I find both these books intimidating as they are rather chunky and, in the case of Armenian Golgotha, I think it’s going to be a tough read.

Lore – mythology-inspired book
Legendborn by Tracy Deonn
This is an Arthurian retelling and as the sequel is out later this year, this is the perfect time to read a it – and I’ve heard nothing but good things about it.

Psionics & Divination – book set in the future
This is the one prompt I do not have any books that can fill it. I don’t have any sci-fi books on my shelves, which are usually the most obvious books set in the future, and nothing else I’ve read the blurb of makes it seem it’s set in the future. Looks like any careers that needs Psionics & Divination won’t be in my future.

Shapeshifting – creature with claws on the cover
A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan or She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan
Both books have a dragon on the front cover which definitely has claws and A Natural History of Dragons would be an audiobook read.

And that’s my Spring Equinox TBR! Are you taking part in the Magical Readathon? If you’ve read any of these books, I’d love to hear what you think of them. As for Tome Topple, of the books mentioned here, Angel Mage, Legendborn and Armenian Golgotha are over 500 pages so I may try and read them when Tome Topple is happening. Also I do have the A-Z in April Challenge next month too. I already have over half the posts scheduled so hopefully that won’t take up too much of my reading time.