The Wanderlust Book Tag!

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Ah it’s that time of year, when my eyes start to drift towards the horizon, and I can’t help but think of all the exotic places I’d rather be… or maybe that’s just me? 😉 Anyway, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to go adventuring in books. Thank you so much to the lovely Hammock of Books, for giving me the chance to live vicariously through reading 😉

Rules

  • Mention the creator of the tag and link back to original post [Alexandra @ Reading by Starlight]
  • Thank the blogger who tagged you
  • Answer the 10 questions below using any genre
  • Tag 5+ friends

The Questions

  1. Secrets and lies: a book set in a sleepy small town

To Kill a Mockingbird- basically the ultimate book set in a small town- and a book with a big impact.

  1. Salt and sand: a book with a beach-side community

Big Little Lies- an intense murder mystery, the beach town felt like a constant spectre in the background.

  1. Here there be dragons: a book with a voyage on the high seas

Life of Pi- a really vivid read, the setting is often powerfully done, even if things are not always as they seem…

  1. Tread lightly: a book set down a murky river or a jungle

Journey to the River Sea- this is basically the perfect book for this this question. No contest. And if you haven’t read Eva Ibbotson/already love her books like me, then definitely consider this exquisitely written, fairy-tale-esque middle grade!

  1. Frozen wastes: a book with a frost bitten atmosphere

The Northern Lights- and having just watched the recent adaptation (which brought some of the plot points into sharp relief) I can safely say, it isn’t just the setting that’s chilling.

  1. The boonies: a book with ruff or isolated terrain 

Heidi- a beautiful book with a beauitiful setting.

  1. Hinterlands and cowboys: a book with a western-esque setting

Saga Volume 8- okay, I did pick this largely cos I don’t really read books with this setting- BUT this is an excellent (adult) graphic novel- so if you like the look of it you should definitely check it out!

  1. Look lively: a book set across sweeping desert sands

Holes- I am so glad I was reminded of this book by doing this tag, because it’s brilliant! A gripping story, with wonderful characters, about changing your fate.

  1. Wild and untamed: a book set the heart of the woods

The Hobbit- okay, not all of this is set in woods, but for me Mirkwood is the most memorable fictional forest.

  1. Wildest dreams: a whimsical book shrouded in magic

charmed life

Charmed Life- yes, yes I could’ve gone with Harry Potter- but you guys know it already. If you’re looking for something else that’s whimsical, you can’t go wrong with Diana Wynne Jones- I especially love the Crestomanci series!

That was a lot of fun! I tag: Miri @the Book Dragoness, Zezee with Books, Embuhleeliest, Read by Tiffany, Meeghan, Ola and Piotrek @Re-Enchantment of the World Blog, the Corner of Laura and anyone else who wants to do it!

What did you think of my answers? And what are some of your favourite books for these settings? Let me know in the comments!

 

Celebrating Fairy Tales From Around the World – Monkey Mini Reviews of a Time for Telling and a World of Fairy Tales

Way back in the last decade (*ahem* I mean last year 😉 ) I got into a discussion on fairy tales– defending them against the spurious claims that they aren’t diverse enough… which seemed somewhat ludicrous to me given there’s a whole world of fairy tales out there, outside the Western canon (I know, shocker 😉). Well, today I have the opportunity to prove my point further! Because while I was moving house, I came across a couple of old children’s books. Aside from fuelling a little nostalgia and thinking they’d be great for my nephews, I thought they were so lovely that they were worth sharing with all of you.

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Time for Telling– kicking off the collection on “The King with Dirty Feet”, I was instantly glad I’d taken this trip down memory lane. What’s great about this collection is how it walks you through simple concepts, like the origins of shoes, and elevates them. It makes the world a richer place. Add to that the wonderful illustrations by Sue Williams and I thought this book was a real winner! Another massive positive is how great the rhythm is for children- they’re written in a way that rolls off the tongue, designed to be read aloud. Some of my personal highlights were: “Loawnu Mends the Sky”, with its excellent imagery and patchwork of beautiful ideas; the “Clever Rabbit and King Lion”, because I can’t help but root for the underdog; and “The Great Rain” for its sheer magic. Of course, as with every anthology, there were a mix of stories, some of which I wasn’t as keen on, but overall, I thought all the stories were beautifully told and very much enjoyed the immersive experience.

Rating: 4½/5 bananas

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World of Fairy Tales– this immediately takes us on a voyage from Australia to the Arctic. Even better, these initial tales gave the feeling of the world waking up. From these origins, the stories then became populated with animals, mirroring an entire creation myth. As with Time for Telling, I had some personal favourites, including “Giants of St Michael’s Mount” and “Maui and the Great Fish”. There was also the added bonus of this having a few familiar tales, like “Beauty and the Beast”. I absolutely loved that this very much embraced the world of stories out there- not neglecting any corner. It was also quite novel that each of these tales came with explanations about their origins, really giving an interesting insight into cultures from which they arose. Now, I did feel this lent itself to a drier tone, which I imagine wouldn’t be as evocative for children. The smaller font also seems a little less kid-friendly. That said, the subtle illustrations had a real charm and I got a lot out of this as an adult. I’d say the order of these tales was the books’ greatest strength- beginning with the birth of the world and ending on a journey- as all good stories should.

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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Okay reviewing children’s books is a little out of my comfort zone- but I hope that sparked some interest! What I’d like to know today is if you have any favourite myths or fairy tales from around the world? Let me know in the comments!

My Favourite (Chill) Fairy Tale Retellings

Today, I just wanted to share a super quick list of some of my favourite atmospheric, fairy tale retellings. All of these deliver on the wintry vibes- without you having to the hassle of going outside 😉

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The Snow Child– it’s been a long while since I mentioned this exquisite historical fiction. Set in 1920s Alaska, it draws on the Russian fairy tale by the same name and delivers something utterly unique.

bear and the nightingale

The Bear and the Nightingale– also inspired by Russian folklore, this has a more fantastical touch and is set in an authentically medieval setting. If you’re in the mood for high fantasy, then I can’t give you a better recommendation for the winter months.

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Wolf in the Whale– this is more inspired by a patchwork of different mythologies, stories and histories- which I think qualifies it to be on this list. Plus, it certainly delivers on the atmospheric quota- you’ll need to be nice and snug while you’re reading this, or you’ll catch a chill!

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To Kill a Kingdom– if you’re looking for something a bit creepier, then look no further! This deadly little mermaid retelling will cut you to the quick!

hazel wood

Hazel Wood– while not technically a retelling, it does draw on so many fairy tale motifs. Plus, it has a gothic edge to it too.

So, have you read these? Do you plan to? And what retellings give you the wintry vibes? Let me know in the comments!

Queen of Nothing Was Close to Everything You Could Want in a Finale

*Spoiler free*

queen of nothingAt least, in my opinion. I’ve seen a lot of people who felt pretty different to me. But, while I can understand (and even agree with) some of the complaints, for me those were only minor quibbles and didn’t ruin my enjoyment of this finale. My biggest disappointment here is that I don’t have more to say about it.

Especially cos it was so fast paced it was hard to take notes! Now, I will admit that at times, I felt like there wasn’t enough room for the plot to develop as much as it could have. This was particularly noticeable for me with a spoiler *significant death* that I won’t talk about in depth. I’ve heard it said that too much in this book happened off screen- and this is a good example of that- cos for a little bit I thought it was gonna be a fake-out death. But nope, it didn’t take long (cos nothing in this book took long) to realise that was definitely the direction the story was taking. Which was good (I often hate fake deaths) it’s just a bit of a symptom of this book that the events kinda whizzed by.

Another little issue I had with the pacing was that there could have been a bit more time spent enjoying these characters together- after all, this is the last we’ll be seeing of them. I would have enjoyed a bit more banter in the romance department- as it had in previous instalments- though I did enjoy the sweeter touch it had here. And I personally didn’t think a certain someone deserved a sort-of-redemption arc- it felt somewhat unearned (again, being vague to avoid spoilers). I rarely say this, however, I feel this could’ve benefited from being a tad longer.

All that said, I inhaled this book. The upside of that breakneck pace was that I couldn’t stop reading it. There were so many twists and turns in this tale- and as much tricksy fae drama as you could ask for! Plus, I really liked how the cliffhanger from the previous book was resolved.

Nit-picking aside, I have to echo what a lot of reviewers have said before me: this was a very satisfying conclusion to the series. We got a fair queen and a fair ending for the fair folk! And really, you can’t ask for more than that.

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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

Best Books of the Last Decade

Hello all! I wanna say something really funky about blogging in a new decade… but let’s be real, it’s gonna be much the same as before, mostly gushing about all the great books out there! And what better way to continue that tradition than with a post about all the best books in the last decade? (at least according to me 😉). I’ve seen a few people do this- so sorry if I don’t remember all the amazing posts out there on the topic- but I was particularly inspired by Kristin Kraves incredible post– so definitely check that out!

Because I didn’t want to overload the post, I tried to keep to just one book per author (I only broke that rule once, but who can blame me when Laini Taylor exists 😉). I’ve not included series that started before the decade either. And also, I feel like I have to point out I haven’t read *all the books* (as much as I’d love for that to be the case 😉), so this is far from an exhaustive list! Here are some of the ground-breaking, game-changing, mind-blowing books from the last decade:

2011

Daughter of Smoke and Bone– a forever favourite ever since I read it. Laini Taylor gives lyrical writing a whole new meaning.

A Monster Calls– this graphic novel made me so emotional! I never realised how powerful a graphic novel could be until I read it!

2012

Righteous Mind– such a thought-provoking book and- dare I say it- one of the most important non-fiction books of the decade.

Wonder– a great Middle Grade with a sweet message!

2013

Vicious– this was my introduction to Schwab and it couldn’t have made a bigger impact!

Ocean at the End of the Lane– Neil Gaiman delivers on nostalgia and fantasy in this beautiful book.

2014

Red Rising– what a bloodydamn brilliant book this turned out to be! The way I’d describe this series is basically Romans in space and if that sounds good to you, you simply have to read it!

Shadow of What was Lost– an underrated fantasy book that is the epitomes the best of the genre to me.

Through the Woods– this creepilicious book takes fairy tale retellings to a whole other level!

2015

Carry On– a Harry Potter parody with so much heart- this never fails to bring a smile to my face 🙂

In Order to Live– I read this just last year and it made a huge impact. An important memoir that gives insight into life inside North Korea- and what it means to escape it.

Illuminae– I had to include this because it is such a gamechanger. It took me a while to get used to the unusual format- but that ended up being one of the greatest assets to the story! Plus, it’s thanks to books like this that I fell so deeply in love with sci fi.

2016

Radio Silence– a book that has ended up meaning so much to so many people from different walks of life- and that is an impossibly impressive achievement!

My Lady Jane– this laugh-out-loud alternative history was not what I was expecting- it was better!

Homegoing– weaving individual, intergenerational stories into one seamless narrative is no easy feat- yet Gyasi effortlessly accomplished this with her masterpiece.

2017

Red Sister– another incredible fantasy- this one stands out to me because it doesn’t just have cool world building- it has real heart!

Bear and the Nightingale– inspired by Russian mythology, this exquisite historical fantasy won my heart with every beautiful word.

Strange the Dreamer– okay , I know I said I wasn’t going to put authors on here twice… but Laini Taylor deserves it! And this duology deserves its place on here just as much- its rich world building, lovable characters and dramatic plot all make this a wonderful reading experience.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine– Eleanor Oliphant was not the contemporary romance I was expecting- it was so much more! Quirky and emotive and with hidden depths, it easily is one of the standout books of the decade.

Blackwing– mind-blowing, atmospheric and different- for that alone I would have loved this series. Yet, what makes it special is the complex characters at its heart.

2018

Circe– beautifully written and poignantly thought out, this retelling of the Odyssey is magnificent in that it not only perfectly interprets the original, it also elevates the story to new heights. I doubt we’ll see another retelling like this- unless of course Miller writes another 😉

Sadie– my absolute favourite read last year, Sadie is a gut wrenching and powerful book. I particularly recommend it on audiobook!

Hazel Wood– there’s something very special about this book. A gothic fairy tale, it draws you in to a story within a story and takes you places you could never dream.

Seven and a Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle– ever since I read this groundhog day murder mystery, I’ve been mulling it over. I didn’t think it was perfect- but it sure as hell stands out!

2019

Daisy Jones and the Six– this was also especially awesome in audiobook form- this book boasts one of the most realistic casts of characters I’ve ever read. And I adored the rock ‘n roll setting.

Wolf in the Whale– a very unusual fantasy that draws on the little known history of Vikings landing in Inuit land- I can safely say I’ve never read anything else like it.

So, what did you think of these? And do you have any books from the last decade you’d like to add? Let me know in the comments!

Taking a Turn into the Beguiling Night Country

*Received from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review- but the gushing you’re about to see is all me*

night countryMany of you probably know how much I loved the Hazel Wood (and if you didn’t, here’s your daily reminder 😉) which is why I was nervously excited to read its sequel. Fortunately, while the first worked well as a standalone, there was much to appreciate about this second instalment.

Re-entering Alice’s world, the subtle opening worked its magic on me. Slowly it built up the mystery, hiding more stories within stories, and expanding into new territory. More than ever, Albert demonstrated that this isn’t just inspired by fairy tales, giving us that gothic touch that I admired so much in the original.

Best of all, the characters were still raw and real. The new characters were welcome additions, but I had felt there was room for growth for the two main leads- and that’s what we got here. I especially liked where the story took Ellery Finch. And I felt Alice, with some of her sharp edges blunted, felt more relatable to me here. In many ways, she was just a girl, out of place, trying to find her way, giving this a stronger coming of age element.

As with her debut, Albert’s writing talent shined through. There were so many stunning sentences and beautifully balanced images. Images that blew me away at times. And many, many ingenious references.

Now, despite masterful craft employed here, I have to admit that large parts of this weren’t as compelling as the first. Much of the structure felt meandering and formless. Personally, I felt it could have benefited from a tighter plot. I found I fell out the story somewhere in the middle…

…though luckily I was captured again by the end. Because when this book had me, it had me. Keeping me up well into the dark hours of the night, I found I was hooked by the mind-blowing and meta finale. All the threads that had spun out in the narrative drew together in a satisfying conclusion. Without delving into spoilers, I can safely say it delivered something special. Sure, it wasn’t perfect- but for all its flaws I was still left one satisfied monkey:

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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So, if you’re already a fan of the Hazel Wood, I think this is worth your time. And if you haven’t read the first one yet- then what are you waiting for?! Go ahead and read it!

Also I have to include this, cos *PRETTY*, just look at this UK edition:

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How gorgeous? Which edition do you prefer? Cos I can’t choose between them! And have you read this? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments! 

Counting down all the ways I liked (and sometimes didn’t like) 4321

4321

Told on a Dickensian scale, Auster’s novel is a story of the four possible lives of Archie Ferguson. Though I’d say this was ultimately satisfying, there were elements I had quibbles with. And just as Auster counts down the hours of each version of the protagonist, I’m gonna count down all the varying banana ratings I could give this book…

4 bananas

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While I didn’t initially understand what was going on (which is why I think a synopsis is helpful) I did end up liking how layered it was. I appreciated how it explored the concept of different choices having different effects and how different experiences can lead you down a different path. Each part of the fractured personality made the whole more intriguing. I also appreciated how it flipped around in time. The foreshadowing was done in such an interesting way, cos you had to remember which Ferguson this was going to apply to (and consider if it might refer to more than one Ferguson at once).

3 bananas

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That said, I had mixed feelings about the protagonist. Parts of his character I liked… others I didn’t (and I mean that in the sense that I got fed up with some of the Fergusons, spoiler: I started looking forward to some of them dying).

2 bananas

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It could also be a little self-indulgent at times. I’ve never been a fan of listing other famous books the character’s read- in a *look how smart he is* kind of way- and this rarely felt like an opportunity for intertextuality and more like using greater writers as a crutch. And there was also too much student politics. Which leads me onto…

1 banana

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Yet, my least favourite thing about the book was the skewed view of history. Beyond the basic (and far from ground-breaking) view that the domino theory was a bad military strategy, there never seems to be an attempt to grasp the existential struggle between communism and capitalism. All conflict is largely boiled down to being much the same (I got quite the kick out of the comparison between WWI and Vietnam, because, wait for it… war’s a waste of life- what a revelation). Even more irritating is what I can only describe as the “history in reverse” view of the Six Day War- once again ignoring the existential reality of the conflict in favour of post-colonial interpretation that this was a war of conquest (apart from being bafflingly historically inaccurate, this appears to be Auster injecting his current view of international affairs, breaking the historicity of the novel in a most jarring way). A lot of the mc’s worldview came across as pretty childish and largely based on a “Stick it to the Man!” worldview (often reflected in the mc having very little respect for other people’s property rights). Sure, one could argue this was Ferguson’s slanted view coming across in all walks of his life… but considering they don’t all have the same point of view, it was definitely an opportunity for a more nuanced reflection.

4 bananas

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All that said, the narrative threads came together exceptionally well and the ending was very satisfying indeed. Which is why I gave it:

Rating: 3/5 bananas

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So, have you read this? Do you plan to? What do you think of 4321? Let me know in the comments!