All These Beautiful Strangers was Pretty Exquisitely Done

all these beautiful strangersI’m a massive fan of books where a character enters an exclusive world and finds that under the surface it’s not as glitzy as it seems. All These Beautiful Strangers not only reflects on the dark secrets of at the heart of this society, it also deals with the very personal unsolved mystery of the protagonist’s missing mother.

When I picked up this book, I noted that the very pages were marked with the words “I KNOW”. From that moment on, I was gripped by the question: know what? This is something that preoccupies the main character throughout. What’s great about this novel is that it layers up the enigma, wrapping each clue up with intrigue and leaving it for the reader to uncover. With flashbacks and seemingly insignificant pieces of the puzzle left in plain sight, it’s very possible to gather where it’s going- however going on that journey is half the fun.

I thoroughly enjoyed every twist and turn of the story. The best part about it- by far- was that it never became campy or ridiculous- I’ve read a few other books in this vein and that has become an easy trap to fall into. Not for this book though- while there was plenty of intrigue, it didn’t utterly dispense with reality. My one minor issue in terms of the plot was that it was rather a lonnnng, s l o w reveal. Also, I did guess the end- still it built to such a satisfying conclusion that I didn’t mind in the least.

The characters were mostly decent- though not wholly original. Perhaps rather surprisingly, the most compelling characters for me were the parents. Not only did I feel far more connected to their romance, I also felt like I was seriously invested in their side of the story. Highlight for spoiler: I also don’t know if this makes me a bad person, because the father did sit back and let something terrible happen/didn’t come forward about it after- but I felt he deserved forgiveness by the end because a) he didn’t technically do the deed and b) he suffered enough with the loss of Grace– so yeah, that’s my teeny tiny “complaint” (that’s not even a real complaint).

Overall though, I thought it was an excellent story. I’d definitely recommend it for fans of YA mystery-thrillers- this is right up there as one of the best ones I’ve read.

Rating: 4½/5 bananas

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So have you read this? Do you plan to? What do you think of it? Let me know in the comments!

Graphic Novels Wrap Up #2

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One of the *coolest* things about blogging is that it’s introduced me to genres I never would have considered otherwise. The biggest change in my reading since I started is that I now read graphic novels- which now that I think about it makes sense, because I love art and I love stories, so in the words of Joey from Friends…

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Anyway, way back when I did a wrap up about my first foray into the graphic novels and now that I’ve accumulated a few more graphic novels in a row, I thought it would be fun for round two!

nimona

Nimona– gosh this was good. It was funny, it cleverly subverted my expectations to add to the humour and had some excellent character development. Somehow, this story about villains also managed to have a sweet ending. I thought the illustrations were a lot of fun as well. My one niggling thought with this though was that it was a little young for me. But I happily gave it:

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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sleeper and the spindle

The Sleeper and the Spindle– I wasn’t crazy about this Sleeping Beauty retelling. It was basically another *strong woman saves the day* story- and if you’ve been reading a lot of my posts in the last few months, you may be able to tell that I’ve grown bored of this trope. There’s a lot of the typical tropes that go along with that of course like the useless prince- which at this point are becoming worthy of an eye-roll. However, the writing was beautiful and I really liked the evocative world. Evidently, this was not the best Gaiman I’ve read- but let’s face it, even the not-so-great Gaiman is gonna be a decent read. And in true Gaiman fashion, there was a pointed ending with a bold twist.

Rating: 3/5 bananas

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Monstress Volumes 1-2– first of all it has to be said: the artwork is stunning. I was *blown away*by how beautiful it is to look at. The imagery also lends itself to some extensive world building. I will say that in volume 1, the story didn’t grab me and I was a little lost at times. However, the expansion of the story in the second volume really grabbed my attention and by the end it left me breathless. So I do think that if you weren’t blown away by the first one, just know it gets better! The one thing I wasn’t keen on throughout was the use of lectures/history lessons to infodump points about the world. I don’t see how talking about trade routes is interesting at the best of times and for me this wasn’t the way to do it. Other than that, it was a compelling graphic novel series I’d like to continue. Also, this was the first graphic novel I tried on my kindle and I was a bit worried about how that would turn out at first- but I needn’t have worried, because the way you can click on panels worked brilliantly for me.

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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persepolis

Persepolis– this was another brilliant graphic novel and I think the type I lean towards the most. As an autobiography, it worked superbly well. I appreciated the insight into Satrapi’s life and found it very educational with regards to the Iranian Revolution. Split into two parts, the story of childhood and the story of return, I ended up preferring the latter as Marjane had more room to grow and faced greater personal struggles. By the end, I was engrossed in her story and felt like I’d seen first-hand the conflict between liberation and oppression. What was especially bold was that it didn’t shy away from some of the more unpleasant things she did to stay alive and free- like getting a randomer arrested when she nearly got caught wearing lipstick. While this troubled me deeply, I also thought it was brave to present her flaws, as raw and real as they were. The artwork, while not my favourite style, was solid and did convey strong emotions. Ultimately, I was glad I picked this up.

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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wicked and divine

Wicked + Divine– this was another one I unfortunately didn’t love. Initially, I was digging concept and that it was set in London. I also liked Lucy and the chapter titles. HOWEVER I did not like the main character at all- and the fact that she was self-aware about her celebrity obsession didn’t disguise this unlikeable trait. I also felt a lot of characters weren’t characters but reduced to traits. I didn’t feel like these characteristics were blended seamlessly into the story and consequently they ended up feeling gimmicky. The artwork was simple and colourful- but unfortunately not to my taste at all (I’m afraid I can’t pinpoint why, it just wasn’t doing it for me). Ultimately, this is a one and done situation. There are definitely reasons to like it, yet I didn’t connect with it and I don’t feel any urge to continue.

2½/5 bananas

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So have you read these? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

Some *AWESOME* (and not so awesome) TV I Watched in 2018

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Maybe it’s the cold, maybe it’s the end of the festive season, but for me, January is the perfect time of year for TV… and also wrap ups. So I decided it was a great opportunity to share some of my TV related thoughts from 2018!

The Good Place– wowee! This was one of those GOOD decisions I made in 2018. I adored everything about this: the characters, the storyline and the fact that it delves so much deeper into philosophy than I ever could have expected. I’m actually learning things while I watch- and that’s one of the things that makes this so much more than a regular sit com. I don’t want to say anymore in case of spoilers. ItI’m currently upto season 3 and it’s still blowing my mind! Thanks so much to the wonderful Kat for bringing this to my attention- and if you’re looking for good TV advice, that’s where you need to go too!

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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Black Mirror– I was reluctant to try this because I’d been told how freaky this was- and as many of you know I don’t do scary. In fact, when I sat down to watch this, I’d already chickened out of American Horror Story- but fortunately this was nothing like that. So if you’re like me, don’t worry! It may get you thinking, yet I’ve never had any problems sleeping after an episode, though I’ll admit it’s not as bingeworthy as the other shows on this list cos I don’t want it to mess with my brain too much 😉 Every episode is different, with some being better than others, however overall the self-contained storylines are definitely one of the show’s strengths. I still have quite a lot of this show left and I’m nervously excited for the Bandersnatch episode!

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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Peaky blinders– while this takes a lot of liberties with historical accuracy and is incredibly violent, I did find it completely addictive. Tommy Shelby’s dubious character is endlessly compelling- as he never quite fits into the hero/villain mould. I also thought the family aspect of the story is executed perfectly. I fell completely under the story’s thrall- it’s non-stop action all the time. The acting and production values are superb. However, I would be remiss though not to mention the niggling issue I had with the Judas-style-turncoat, bordering on blood-libellous portrayal of Alfie Solomons. And no, having a “hey you’re just as bad as me” moment doesn’t excuse the implications of having a character fall into a racial stereotype. Anyway, as usual, I’m not casting any shade on people who like this, just trying to point out something a lot of people might not have realised. I still think this is great TV… but flawed.

Rating: 3/5 bananas

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A Very English Scandal– everything about this is amazing.  The acting, the story, the acting, the soundtrack, the way it’s shot. This is why Russell T Davies is the king of TV! Yes, it’s bonkers, but it’s also funny and oh-so-quintessentially British. Underneath the drama (and there’s plenty of drama!), it’s a sad state of affairs that will make you feel all sorts. It was very very very good; I simply had to watch it all in one go.

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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Luther– what a good old fashioned suspense-thriller! And let’s face it: I ❤ Idris Elba. The titular character makes for a fascinating study. I don’t often watch procedural dramas, but I actually binged the *entire* boxset. Because I had to; there was a gun to my head. O-k-a-y- you got me, there wasn’t… but there was frequently a gun to my lovely Idris Elba’s head and you all know I LOVE him (*ahem*). Oops this went full circle 😉 On the downside, this was on the graphic side for me and it got FAR TOO disturbing by the end. And even if the conclusion was thrilling, I’m not sure I’m totally on board with it. I mean, it makes sense as an ending, but I could have done with *more* than just “makes sense” after what a sensation the rest of it was.

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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And since this is (kind of) a wrap up, this was also the year when I rewatched Buffy and fell head over heels for the Last Kingdom! I reviewed those in full, so feel free to check them out.

Alrighty then- have you seen any of these? Do you plan to? And what were your favourite TV shows you watched last year? Let me know in the comments!

Not-So-Secret Reasons to Read the Secret Countess

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Hello all! Brr it’s cold outside, so I decided it was time to cosy on up to one of my favourite historical reads. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve reread this book (most recently at the end of last year) and yet I still get the urge to revisit it again and again! That’s why I found it super easy to come up with this list of reasons to pick this beautiful story up:

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The setting is gorgeous. Opening in a pre-Revolution Russia and moving across the sea to the English countryside, the book maintains a mythic quality and a superbly atmospheric vision throughout. Stunningly described from the first sentence to the last, I could happily recommend this for that reason alone.

Anna, the main character, is a true heroine. Self-sacrificing and, despite the title, unable to hide her noble nature, what makes her incredible is not her background, but what she does in the face of hardship. Her role in the story teaches many valuable lessons- to never give up hope, to accept responsibility and, above all, to be kind.

While we’re on the topic, this book boasts many other amazing female characters, all reflected in a historically accurate way. One of my favourites being Minna- the stepmother who lays to rest “all the wicked stepmothers since time began”

At the same time, this book manages to have some proper villains. Recently, a friend pointed out to me that a sitcom I-don’t-want-to-spoil-by-naming gave away the villain by having them kick a dog into the sun (ok big spoiler there)- well this has a dog-kicking villain. In fact, this villain is pretty much reprehensible in every way- we learn from their introduction that they are a literal eugenicist. I’m a massive fan of baddies actually being bad and this definitely achieves that. What’s also great is that the dastardly ways of said character are revealed slowly to everyone else in the story (giving the book real tension and a plot).

This is just one of the ways that Eva Ibbotson is frankly a genius writer. As well as creating an exciting cast of characters, she also presents brilliant levels of contrast, to really tug at those heartstrings. One of the things Ibbotson does especially well is building up a character’s hopes at the beginning of a scene or chapter, only to bring them crashing down. And, as if in a perfect mirror image, the happiest moments start so sadly, only to flip everything you were feeling on its head.

Also, the romance is gorgeous. I personally hold the view that one does not know a real love story until they have tried Eva Ibbotson. And this just so happens to be one of her best romances.

I feel like I could go on forever extolling this book’s virtues, but sometimes bananas speak louder than words:

5/5 bananas

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If you haven’t checked it out, go read it! And if you have, feel free to gush with me in the comments! 😉

Monthly Monkey *MINION* Review

My sister dared me to do this months ago and I always sometimes follow through with dares. All for the lols, take this seriously at your own peril 😉

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Nowadays you can’t go anywhere without minions. You can get regular toys or plushies from this fad:

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Or get one all dressed up…

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Or three for the price of one stuffed into a banana…

minion plushie

Okay this one I like- 5/5 bananas

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Of course, I have noticed the distinctly banana flavoured note to these toys:

 

But sometimes it goes too far- I wanted to eat some bananas and what do I get? Minions!

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So I went to get some of my fave banana flavoured tic tacs and what do I find?! MINIONS!

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This monkey *BLOWS A RASPERY* at the cheek of it! You may take our jokes, but you will never take our bananas! I fling my banana peels at you!

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Incidentally, while we’re on the topic, there are also lots of memes… *claps like Pewdiepie* (also subscribe to Pewdiepie btw 😉 )

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Not bad. Plus it seems like a suitably bookish note to end on 😜

Alrighty then, hope you enjoyed this fresh batch of nonsense! If you’d like any of these products, well, I’m sure they’re on ebay somewhere #nonspon 😉 And if there’s anything you’d like to dare me to do in the future, I might just do it in 6-8 months 😉

Bookish (and Some Non Bookish) Resolutions for 2019

It’s that time of the year again! You know the drill- I’m gonna say a bunch of resolutions I plan to do this year and then spend the whole year not doing them 😉

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Bookish:

number 1

10 More Books from My Challenging list

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I considered making this less because I didn’t manage to read 10 in 2018, but then I thought, where’s the fun in that? I figured it would be more of a challenge this way 😉

number 2

10 Non-Fiction Reads

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Again, I didn’t make it to 10 non fic reads in 2018, but I figure I have a whole year to try and hit this goal!

number 3

5 Rereads

Because I had so much fun doing this last year! I have some really fun books lined up for this one!

number 4

5 Poetry Collections

Cos, why didn’t I read any last year? It’s gotta be the first year where I didn’t even pick up *one* collection- FOR SHAME!

Non Bookish:

number 5

Compile notebooks

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Another old ‘un but a good ‘un. Not only does the weird part of my brain that likes organising get a kick out of it, but it’ll make my life so much easier in the long run if I do this annually. There aren’t that many for me to go through this year, so it shouldn’t be too bad.

number 6

Complete another language on Duolingo

This is probably the most challenging one on the list and I could easily fail this due to lack of time… but no pain, no gain, right? I have previously completed two languages on there, yet the only way I ever seem motivated to go back and practice is if I’m learning a new language at the same time. I actually enjoy doing this (even if I’m still far from fluent in the ones I’ve tried 😉 ) so why not? Plus, Duo keeps sending me messages saying it misses me:

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I probably shouldn’t pay attention, because it’s a bit like a needy ex at this point, but I MISS WHAT WE HAD TOO 😉

number 7

THE DREADED EDITING

Okay, you got me, I’m exaggerating for comic effect 😉 I not-so-secretly actually like editing. HOWEVER, I’ve never undertaken *so much* editing at once. In fact, I’m a little scared about reading my last WIP (it’s not in good shape!!) I have so much to do in this regard, that I figure all the remaining points can be for this one!

And that’s all I’m doing this year! I decided to have some self-control and not add a bunch of resolutions I don’t plan on doing. Maybe I’ll add more goals as the year goes on instead of taking them off the list!

What do you think of my resolutions this year? Do you have any resolutions you plan not to do? Let me know in the comments!

Getting to the SPIKY Issues in Language of Thorns

 

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Oh boy, I had some pretty barbed thoughts when it came to this book. Well- in a manner of speaking. Because I don’t actually think my views are all that controversial: I liked the stories overall, I thought they were super well written and a lot of them had great characterisation. I even liked how Bardugo used multiple stories as inspiration- that was a sharp idea! Most of all I LOVED the illustration style, all round the page. The artist, Sara Kipin, deserves ALL THE PRAISE. She can have all the bananas she likes from me!

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However, as with many collections, this had weaker tales and I ended up concluding that a few of the overarching themes didn’t sit well (especially in relation to the originals). In order to explain that though, I’m afraid I’m gonna have to get into the spoilery details, so if you don’t want to read those, maybe skip to my rating at the end, cos I’m about to give the play-by-play for each of these stories.

  1. Ayama and the Thorn Wood

Overall, I liked the first tale. The writing was crisp; the narrative structure was tightly wound and slowly unspooled in an intriguing way. I also really enjoyed the stories within stories element- even if I wasn’t totally sold on each of its messaging- like “there are better things than princes”. I mean, yeah, but it feels like a pointed statement about old-school fairy tales and that misses the mark for me. Because this pervasive view throughout is far too simplistic. That’s why- while I liked the aspects of *monsters are not always who you think they are*- this story didn’t totally ring true. And that’s a shame, because it was very close to perfect.

4½/5 bananas

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  1. The Too Clever Fox

I *adored* the personalities in this. I’m a huge fan of characters who live by their wits and the fact that the fox was ugly was a nice touch. The lyrical tone and the writing was splendid from beginning to end. It was complex, felt open to multiple levels of analysis and the ending was very clever in deed. I also liked how it played into the “Russianness” of the setting. It was exactly as it should be.

5/5 bananas

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  1. Witch of Duva

Well, time for some unpopular opinions. I guessed the (rather obvious) twist for this straight away and if you’re at all familiar with a lot of modern story structures then you could too. This was derivative of Hansel and Gretel– only it was clear from the get-go that the monster was the MAN and the heroes were the OLD CRONE and the STEPMOTHER. Wow, never saw that one coming *heavy sarcasm*. Now, while I’ve already mentioned that I liked the things are not as they seem concept, this was the second story in the collection to employ this idea. What makes it dubious storytelling for me is that it’s no fun if you can always guess where things are going because it’s following the formula: man = bad, woman = good. Again, this isn’t a particularly sophisticated reading of the original and only results in an okay-ish retelling (one that overlooks that Gretel is the one to save the day in the fairy tale- but whatever *man wrote it, man bad* and all that grim business). Despite my complaints, I really liked the writing and gave it:

3½/5 bananas

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  1. Little Knife

Again, the writing for this was excellent and I particularly liked how it captured the orality of fairy tales. Sadly, although I didn’t see it coming this time, this falls prey to the same issues as the last story. Some of the lessons are alright; some weren’t. Look, I don’t have a problem with the direction it took with the suitor or father- fairy tales are full of idiots getting what they deserve- BUT why did the protagonist ends up in a sort of purgatory? Sitting alone on a rock in the middle of nowhere till you die is the kind of punishment narratives usually dole out to villains and heroes that have wasted away. It symbolises wasted potential- not a grand victory and certainly not empowerment. The protagonist doesn’t really gain anything- she gets the freedom to sit… and do nothing. Independence isn’t powerful when you end up completely alone. Sure, the dimwit men may have lost her *sparkling* company, yet she’s the real loser here, since she’s lost everything. Unfortunately this left a bitter taste to what was shaping up to be a pretty good course.

3/5 bananas

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  1. The Soldier Prince

Ahh this was better! Straight away, I appreciated how the tone shifted with the “source” of the story (Bardugo bases this around different locations in the Grishaverse and this one takes place in the equivalent of Amsterdam). I worried a little about the downward trajectory of the stories- especially since this starts with a stereotypically evil male villain who feels like they’ve owed a bride- one that happens to be a young child (eww). Nonetheless, I was wrong to judge it on that score (though can you blame me?) and this helped me go back to judging each story on their own merits. In fact, this ended up surprising me in more ways than one. I know I’ve spoilt everything by now- but somehow I don’t want to taint this one- because I adored the final turn! Easily:

5/5 bananas

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  1. When Water Sang Fire

I’d describe this as the Ugly Duckling meets Little Mermaid (three guesses where this is supposed to be set 😉 ). Once more, there was a different style employed- notably a brilliant use of second person that created a striking opening! This was one of the best in the collection for me- and there’s stiff competition! There were a couple of unique touches here as well- particularly the use of magic changing the colour of the pages and resetting the illustrations to be drawn anew. That detail blew me away. And, naturally, I loved the twist in the tale.

5/5 bananas

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Alrighty then- as you can tell I had a mixed experience with this. I really liked a huge amount of this- yet what I didn’t like sometimes got in the way of perfectly good storytelling. It was a shame, because I felt like this collection could have been completely magnificent. Fairy tales are constantly evolving- that’s one of the things I love about them- yet I’ve got to admit I’m a little tired of newer interpretations bitch-slapping older ones. Often to the detriment of the incredible historical heroines who overcome hardship without becoming hermits. There’s a core to the old stories that keep us coming back- warnings and wisdom and endless complexities. And this just wasn’t quite there.

Anyway, my average still ended up being:

4/5 bananas

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So have you read this? Do you plan to? And do you agree or disagree with anything I’ve said here? Let me know in the comments!