Malibu Rising was BLAZING HOT!

Hot off the press, Taylor Jenkins Reid newest novel burns bright. With a sizzling start, in 80s Malibu, we catch the embers of a rager. Before we can even get our head above water, we know things are going to end in flames.

Introduced to four famous siblings, hosting this party, slowly getting to know their distinct personalities, as their pictures build up in waves. From their tumultuous origin stories to the present riptide that sweeps them up, it becomes apparent that this is a book about heartbreak. Surprisingly for a book about surfers, there’s zero chill- which is more than fine by me.

Because below the glossy surface of the writing, there is immense depth to this book. More than I ever expected. There’s such a whirlpool of emotion, I was thrown off balance and sucked under. Here’s a story that takes you far out to sea, showing all the ways a heart can hurt. And damn, it resonates.

Summery and frothy, the story fizzes like champagne. In typical Reid fashion, it’s utterly unique and so totally her style. Evocative and powerful, I could practically taste the salt, sand and sun of her words. And, without taking any easy turns, it delivers an epic ending.

Rating: 5/5 bananas

So, have you read Malibu Rising? Do you plan to? And do you also love Taylor Jenkins Reid novels? Let me know in the comments!

Lights, Camera, Action: Survive the Night Rolls into Twisty Territory!

***Received from Netgalley in exchange for review- but the excitement featured is all me***

*Fade in*

Let’s set the scene: it’s the 1990s, it’s night and our main character is in a car with a man who may very well be a serial killer. It doesn’t help that she has a history of “seeing movies in her head” aka she’s not sure of what’s really playing out before her eyes. And if that sounds tense to you, you’d better climb in cos it’s gonna be one crazy ride.

Told uniquely in a movie-script style, I found it hard to be certain what was really playing out. With such an unreliable narrator, it’s easy to feel lost in the dark. I will admit that the style was somewhat distancing, making it hard to connect to the characters. Yet nonetheless I was gripped, as the story swerved in maddening directions and drove towards a bonkers conclusion.

As if through headlights, I could see some of the dangers coming, but Sager still pulled some curveballs. And WHAM-BAM-THANK-YOU-MA’AM those twists sent me into a tailspin! Skidding off into something of a melodramatic end, it may not have pleased every reader, but I have to say I was satisfied.

So, expect something a little bit larger than life, because this homage to movies does not hold back.

*Fade out*

*End credits*

4/5 bananas

Have you read this? Do you plan to? Are you a fan of Riley Sager novels? Let me know in the comments!

The Ivies was a Killer Read!

Who wouldn’t kill to get into an Ivy League College? Well, most people obviously 😉 But at Claflin Academy, there’s plenty of suspects when a student with a coveted place at an Ivy is brutally murdered. With biting humour and plenty of drama, Donne’s new YA thriller instantly grabbed my attention and refused to let go.

From the juicy opening, the tension sizzles. The voicey style gives you a direct insight into the main character’s point of view and helps you get to know her (largely irredeemable) cohort. As the twists came thick and fast, I couldn’t stop reading. I had to know everything.

Because this group of teens have more than their fair share of secrets. There’s no way I could have seen all the twists coming- which was precisely what I wanted from this book. And then there was the big reveal- *highlight for spoilers*- DAMN Donne did the secret sociopath well. It’s breadcrumbed nicely, but not too obvious. Personally, I also loved the motive, because it’s not straightforward jealousy (which I think some people have misunderstood). It’s actually a pretty clever reason.

For me, the ending completely hit the mark. I liked that it wasn’t too clean. Again, a bit spoilery, but I don’t know why people expected the main character to grow in this one- it’s not that type of story. I liked that this didn’t hold back and went with the boldest outcome. I don’t want my thrillers to pull their punches.

There is politics in the book- but for once I didn’t find it entirely off-putting. Perhaps this was helped by the fact it was in first person. And that her views only add to Olivia’s characterisation as an insufferable hypocrite (did I mention that the characters aren’t all that likeable?)

This was everything I want in a YA thriller. And of course, it was dead fun.

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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

Let’s Discuss: Maybe You Should Talk to Someone

Maybe I should start by saying that I loved this book. It’s a chatty, self-help memoir, told by a therapist as she navigates therapy. I listened to it on audiobook, which really with the intimately conversational format. I felt like I was perched on the couch next to Gottlieb, listening to her clients and listening to her, going through the deeply personal journey of therapy with them.

Indeed, one of Gottlieb’s strengths as a writer is building up a clear picture and making you feel closer to the stories she shares. In an amazing feat of empathy, she transposes the feelings of others onto the reader. And through that, I felt like I was in the chair, working through the issues myself and learning to expunge my own thoughts.

While deeply personal at times, the book is fundamentally universal. Like all the best therapists, Gottlieb holds up a mirror to her patients (ie readers) and makes us really see ourselves. Not in an affirmative, vacuous *you go girl* way, but by giving us the uncomfortable truths we need to push through tough times. The book doesn’t act like a timid Yes Man- it’s hard-hitting and sometimes difficult to get through. Yet, it opened my eyes, gave me real insights into myself and genuinely helped me come to important realisations- and you can’t ask for more than that.

Like a therapy session, the book flits through a timeline. You have to force yourself through the messiest bits first, before you can reach any sense of clarity. You have to work to come unstuck from the complicated quagmire of human existence- and only then can you be rewarded. Because, even if we lose sight of it in the middle, the process is structured around an ending. And that ending is finding the way to breathe easier and move through life with just a little bit more grace.

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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

Books That Ought to Come with a Box of Tissues

Often, when I give out certain books at the library I think “damnnn I should give them tissues with this one”… which is why I thought I’d share some books today that need to come with a serious TEARJERKER WARNING. I’ll be brief to avoid spoilers (and hopefully spare you some of the inevitable pain these books bring up).

Code Name Verity– I recommend sitting back, listening to the audiobook and grabbing the tissues, cos this is gonna be an emotional ride.

The Book Thief– just in case you haven’t heard of this book’s reputation for making people cry, then consider yourself warned.  

Thousand Splendid Suns– are you human? Do you have tear ducts? Then this book about women under the Taliban rule is gonna get you good.

Bright Side– I defy you to get through this book and not sob! I knew this was supposed to be sad, but nothing could’ve prepared me for how attached I’d be by the end.

Second Chance Summer– I’ve never given this book a second read, because the first time it destroyed me.

All the Bright Places– this book about mental health issues is as bright and cheery as a smack in the teeth. Don’t do what I did and read this in public (unless you like having strangers side eye you while you sob).

Sisterhood Everlasting– I can’t even talk about this one, it still gets to me. After three books to get to know the characters, saying goodbye to them like this is pure AGONY.

Noughts and Crosses– this alternate history Romeo and Juliet kills me every time. It’s so good. And so so so devastating.

A Monster Calls– a beautiful book about grief (that will rip your heart out and make you sob).

Song of Achilles– yeah this Iliad retelling will just wallop you in the *feels*. *Oof*.

So, have you read any of these books? Do you agree? And what books do you think need to come with a box of tissues? Let me know in the comments!

Awesome Audiobooks- Books That Need to be Heard!

Increasingly, I’m listening to more and more audiobooks. When I’m exercising, when I’m cooking, when I’m on my way to work, I can cram in some more reading time by cramming some headphones in my ears 😉 And best of all, audiobooks can often make the reading experience all the more thrilling! That’s why I decided to recommend some of my absolute favourite audiobooks for everyone that loves audiobooks already- and for everyone else who just needs a little nudge to get started!

Sadie– this is the story that switched me onto audiobooks. Poignant, pacy and heart-breaking, the main character’s voice resonates most strongly in the spoken word. And with the construct of a podcast woven into the structure, the audiobook works as the perfect medium. Ultimately, this opened my eyes to what audiobooks could be… and I’ve never looked back.

Daisy Jones and the Six– the audiobook is the way to go for this one. With the multiple narrators, all putting in powerful performances, this the best way to experience the story by far. Designed as the individual recordings of different band members, discussing the height of their fame in the 80s, this was a whole lotta rock n’ roll. And, sound being integral to the story, it doesn’t hurt that all the voice actors are easy on the ears. I virtually listened to this in one sitting.

The Salt Path– for me memoirs lend themselves really well to audiobooks- especially when read by the author. One of my most recent listens, I was blown away by the beautifully evocative writing and stunning settings along the coastal path. Hearing Winn’s struggles and revival in her warm voice was a powerful experience.

Becoming– again, I really enjoy listening to people tell their own stories. And this was obviously no exception. I really appreciated hearing Michele Obama’s life story in her own words- particularly, funnily enough, her time before she became First Lady.  

Where the Crawdads Sing– admittedly, I am including this because I just adored the story. But really, this was a pleasure in every way. And being read this book was utterly transporting.   

Wolf Hall– frankly I was intimidated to read Wolf Hall- which is why I picked up the audiobook. And not only did it help me get through this great tome, but the excellent voice actor made it thoroughly engaging. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. And despite its length, I barely noticed the time passing. Personally, I recommend this format if you’re on the fence about the series! (cos it’s damn good!!)

Code Name Verity– what a wonderful story to listen to. Read by two actresses, this historical narrative is in equal parts gripping and moving. The performances are perfect- down to the different accents and intonations. For me, it enhanced an already brilliant book. Just maybe try to listen at home (because you don’t want to get all teary-eyed while walking down the street like me 😉).

Diviners– you won’t believe how good this audiobook is until you have a listen. An EMMACULATE performance and an excitingly spooky tale, I got goosebumps listening. January LaVoy (one of my favourite voice actors) abso-positutely brings Libba Bray’s atmospheric series to life.   

The Afterlife of Holly Chase– and if you haven’t had enough of the dead, I definitely recommend this oddly-light-hearted romp through the afterlife. With a performance to die for, this Christmas Carol retelling is really worth a listen.

Aurora Burning– I wish I’d listened to the first one this way (one day I will). For now, I can HIGHLY recommend the audiobook version. Using a full cast, this definitely took off in an exhilarating direction and made you feel for everyone. I just can’t wait to listen to the finale this autumn!!

And that’s all I’ve got… for now! What about you? Do you enjoy audiobooks? Which are your favourites? Let me know in the comments below! I’m dying to hear your recommendations!

Monthly Monkey Mini Reviews – July 2021!

Hello all! Hope you’re all having a lovely summer! I’m trying to soak up what sunshine and freedom we have at the moment- so not blogging as much. Oh and I’m loving all the sports lately! Right now (possibly for this week only) I’m happy as Larry because FOOTBALL’S COMING HOME!!!

Project Hail Mary– what a rollercoaster! Andy Weir certainly knows how to toy with my emotions- cranking up the tension, before sending me rocketing to unexpected highs and lows. And Ryland was not what I expected either- his character arc really leaves you feeling a whole range of emotions. I loved his character arc and relationship with Rocky. The only major problem I have with this book is how difficult it is to talk about without going into spoilers! 

Rating: 4.5/5 bananas

A Deadly Education– I love the concept of a deadly school filled with magically gifted students- and the execution wasn’t half bad! Admittedly, the world building could be a bit info-dumpy to start, but it still managed to be intriguing enough to keep me going. Plus, it didn’t hurt that the main character’s voice cut through the narrative and made me chuckle from time to time. I appreciated how dangerous she could be and liked getting a sense of her character. Ultimately, there was quite a lot of complexity here and am curious to see where Novik takes the rest of this series.  

Rating: 4/5

Pumpkinheads– gosh this book gave me a massive jolt of endorphins. It’s just pure, cinnamon-sweet joy, wrapped up in a gorgeously illustrated bow. I know I love Rainbow Rowell books, but I really wasn’t expecting to enjoy this quite that much. It was simply a treat from start to finish. And I adored the tricksy direction it took (somehow, with Rainbow Rowell, I never see the twists coming). I really want to get my hands on my own copy to reread this in autumn 😊

Rating: 5/5 bananas

The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the Horse– let’s be honest, this is just going to be a recommendation rather than a review. Because it’s not like I can summarise this book without just saying READ IT! With the most beautiful illustrations I’ve ever seen, lovely quotable lines and just enough cake to keep it from being too saccharine, this is well worth a read.

Rating: 5/5 bananas

The Ratline– masterfully telling the history of SS officer, Wächter, Sander gives a vivid depiction of the life of a Nazi. And as someone that believes we have much to learn from monsters, I found this to be a significant read. I found the background of this particular Nazi and his wife as one of marked frivolity. Indeed it is notable that later in the book, it is stated that Charlotte von Wachter only ever regrets taking a house that wasn’t hers- feeling no guilt for the far more significant crimes committed. I was struck by her description of how the starving Jews of the Krakow ghetto would appreciate the wall for its “Jewish” (and “oriental”) design (something a survivor called “absurd”). For me, this was less about the mystery of happened to Wachter after the war, becoming far more about the journey and the reactions to it. Much of this book focuses on the impact and what it is like to be the child of a mass murderer. Ratline does not offer simple or easy or comfortable truths- and for that I can see its honesty.

Rating: 4.5/5 bananas

House of Glass– this was a curious memoir. Bizarrely launching into rants about modern politics intermittently, I found the structure somewhat fragile. Many of her perspectives, while transparently left-wing, were obscurely odd. I think it’s pretty safe to state (for the record) that it’s ridiculous to compare a milquetoast Theresa May speech to Mein Kampf. While there were times I agreed and (clearly) many times I disagreed with the author’s assessments, I mostly just found it out of place that she used this topic as a launchpad for her own political musings. The history would have been better served without these interjections. Indeed, the space could have been better served with actually challenging myths around passivity- which she brings up and abandons (she could have discussed the inherent victim blaming involved or perhaps the many counter-examples). In the end, the Glass story was worth telling, though it could have been looked at from a different angle.

Rating: 3/5 bananas

Salt Path– I listened to this on audio after it was recommended by the brilliant Bookworm Jen as a great book about renewal… and she was right! It fits perfectly with that theme. Raynor Winn’s memoir tells of her and her husband Moth becoming homeless, quickly followed by a terminal diagnosis, and then deciding to walk the South West Coast Path. On the one hand, it’s a harrowing indictment of the legal system and suffering. On the other, it’s an inspiring demonstration of human endurance and appreciating nature in all her glory. The evocative language was brought to life for me by the author’s own voice, which enhanced the narration for me. The story is as rich as strawberries and cream, evoking emotions from childlike joy to that bone-deep feeling of experience.

Rating: 5/5 bananas

That’s all for now! Have you read any of these? What did you think of them? Let me know in the comments! And I hope you all had a good month!

Mid-Year Freak Out 2021!

Hi all! It’s that time of year again: I’m gonna (calmly) freak out about all the brilliant books I’ve been reading. Because no matter what a rollercoaster this year has been (so far) one thing that’s been consistently awesome is *the books*. Thanks to much to the *sensational* Sophie Li for tagging me to do this last year!  

BEST BOOK YOU’VE READ YET IN 2020

Where the Crawdads Sing– this book sings to my soul. It was simply spectacular.

BEST SEQUEL YOU’VE READ SO FAR IN 2020

A Heart So Fierce and Broken– which is kind of a weird pick, because I didn’t love the beginning or ending of this trilogy. HOWEVER this middle book was FIERCE! It made the whole series worth it for me!

NEW RELEASE YOU HAVEN’T READ YET BUT WANT TO

Rule of Wolves, The Ivies, Tales from the Hinterland– I have copies of all of these and hope to get to them soon! 😊

MOST ANTICIPATED RELEASE FOR THE SECOND HALF OF THE YEAR

I love all of these authors, so I’m bouncing off the walls waiting for these!!

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Quiet at the End of the World– ach this got off to such a good start… and then it went out with a whimper. I really philosophically disagree with the messaging behind this story and hated the ending.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Wolf Hall– I know, I know- saying Hilary Mantel is excellent is hardly a revelation. But for various reasons- including the fact I didn’t used to read much historical fiction- I didn’t think it would be for me. HOW WRONG I WAS! I’m currently making my way through the audiobook versions of this series and keep being blown away by its brilliance!

FAVOURITE NEW AUTHOR

Hilary Mantel– I know I’m going to read so much more by this author.

NEWEST FICTIONAL CRUSH

Grey from A Heart So Fierce and Broken– yes, I know I’m repeating books a bit here, but I haven’t read very many romances yet and this is basically my reason for liking that series- so now you know 😉

 NEWEST FAVOURITE CHARACTER

Echo North– she’s so different to a lot of other YA main characters (one could even say she’s “not like other girls” 😉). I loved how she felt both unique and inspired by traditional fairy tale characters. And I loved how the plot was very much dictated by her personality.

BOOK THAT MADE YOU CRY

Code Name Verity– ye gods this book is so emotional.

BOOK THAT MADE YOU HAPPY

Pumpkinheads, Road Trip and the Tea Dragon Society!

(Happily) I can’t pick just one for this question- there were so many that made my heart squeeze!

FAVOURITE BOOK TO FILM ADAPTATION

Shadow and Bone– it’s got to be- I couldn’t have asked for a better adaptation!

MOST BEAUTIFUL BOOK YOU’VE BOUGHT THIS YEAR

Once and Future Witches- this is weird cos I mentioned my plans to buy it last year, though I only went and bought it this year. It’s the most beautiful addition to my shelf.

WHAT BOOKS DO YOU NEED TO READ BY THE END OF THE YEAR

I’m just embarrassing myself at this point, cos it’s the same books every year and I even made it my goal to read them this year… and I still haven’t done it (*insert the usual excuses about mood reading/lots to do/being a fickle bookish fiend etc).

And that’s all for now! As this is an annual tradition, I’m not tagging anyone specific- just feel free to do it if you like! What I wanna know is what’s your favourite book so far this year? And what are you most looking forward to? Let me know in the comments!

Mid-Year Monkey at the Movies

Hello all! As promised in my monthly wrap up, I have some mini movie reviews for you today. There’s a little bit of the good, the bad and the ugly here (in that order) so sit tight, cos we’re in for a bumpy ride!

Carrie Pilby– charming, quirky and a lot of fun, this was thoroughly enjoyable. While it had indie vibes, it embraced classic storytelling. The character arcs were beautifully done- showing that even if Carrie is a genius, she doesn’t know everything after all. It also went further, showing how pain can reverberate across the years. All credit to the writers and actors, cos this was a super fun story. I’d happily rewatch it!

Rating: 4.5/5 bananas

The Woman in the Window– there are lots of angles through which to view this film: voyeuristically curious about the scandalous background of the author; from the perspective of a reader who read (and maybe even enjoyed) the book (like me); or just as someone who likes watching a good thriller. Yet none of those angles will make this film any more enjoyable. Because this film shows up all the shockingly awful decisions in the book. Without the flashy writing, the story just doesn’t seem to work. It’s convoluted, it’s poorly signposted and it’s all over the place. And none of the fancy camera work changes that. Even with modern technology, you can’t beat the likes of Rear Window (which this poorly tries to imitate). What made for an entertaining read (pre-authorial baggage) made for painful viewing.

Rating: 1/5 bananas

The Dig– eh- this wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t that good either. While the performances are good and the story decent, I found this forgettable. Mostly, because no one has a character arc. NO ONE. Either the protagonists or the people around them should change… but that’s not the case in this film. The protagonists have static arcs. The vague antagonists- who oppose the main archaeologist over class- continue to do so by the end. The only reason I was engaged in this movie was because Sutton Hoo is interesting- yet I don’t see why this couldn’t have been a documentary.

Rating: 3/5 bananas

Mary Queen of Scots– boy-oh-boy this takes liberties with history. It goes too far in my book, presenting Mary’s Catholicism as a marginalised belief… when it was the conservative and powerful position. To make matter worse, her faith is also portrayed as tolerant, having her say things like “we all go to the same heaven” and to a male character “you would make a lovely sister”. Even Queen Elizabeth I is oddly sentimental. It’s all in the name of woke feminism- which does not make for a logically coherent historical drama. But who cares about that when you can score brownie points, amiright?! In fairness, the history is *bonkers*. Looking up what actually happened kept me engaged throughout the movie- and damn, if they’d just gone with that, it would have been an excellent film. The problem is, they tried too hard to make Mary a flawless heroine, when she is better suited to the role of a tragic Shakespearean figure, whose fatal flaws are her undoing. BUT NO- the movie has to insist her dismissing every councillor makes her clever. And that it’s somehow everyone else’s fault when they turn against her. Oh and it’s also great to be compassionate (even if it costs lives). It’s funny, because the film is designed to be anti-English, yet to my mind, all it did was show how useless Mary was as a leader (even while carefully glossing over Mary’s plots to take Elizabeth’s throne, somehow trying to make her seem conciliatory). The juxtaposition of her rule with Elizabeth’s doesn’t help to make a case for her reign. This is exemplified in the scene where Mary and Elizabeth meet (which of course is entirely made up). Mary calls Elizabeth her inferior and says “I’m your queen”- to which Elizabeth takes off her wig and says “your gifts are your downfall”. Frankly this makes no sense- 1) because there’s NO WAY Mary could have said that to Elizabeth and lived another 20 years and 2) because the logical response would’ve been “says the woman who’s just lost a kingdom”. She didn’t lose the kingdom because she was pretty FFS- she did so because she didn’t know how to rule. It’s just so ironic that this is the best case they could come up with for Mary Queen of Scots. If they hadn’t been trying so hard to be woke and refusing to acknowledge a female character’s flaws, this could’ve been a damn good drama. Ultimately however, as much as I enjoyed how it was shot, the acting, the history, it was a colossal waste of time. 

Rating: 2.5 bananas

That’s all for now! Have you seen any of these? What did you think of them? Am I being too harsh? Let me know in the comments!

Loudly Proclaiming My Thoughts on the Quiet At The End of the World

When I started reading this book I was lulled into a false sense of security. Initially, I believed it to be a cleverly done concept, following the aftermath of a pandemic that caused human infertility. As gloomy as the setting was, I found myself absorbed by the melancholic tone and intriguing ideas. And if nothing else, I appreciated the schadenfreude that our current apocalypse situation wasn’t quite as dire. I liked how it engaged with archaeology of the present, mining social media to uncover both individual histories and an entire global reaction to a crisis. While it lacked some prevalent aspects of our recent reaction to a pandemic (eg humour), I was impressed that the author had been able to predict how some people would react to an existential crisis. I liked the social media acted as a time capsule for this moment. I thought it was showing us a Black Mirror style possibility of people turning to apps to fill the void inside themselves.  

… except that was not where it was going at all. Because when the twist came (*spoiler warning*) that the world was inhabited by the robot-baby devices created to help with feelings of loss, the last two humans on earth decide to advocate for robots as the next stage of evolution. You see, in the story, human extinction is a shame, but not the end of the world, because robots would be more responsible with the planet- yay?!

To me, this is entirely nihilistic and human-hating. There is a heavy-handed implication that people shouldn’t have been so selfish as they went extinct and should have thought about keeping the robot babies “alive” (whilst ironically showing that the robot babies are prone to the same foibles, so aren’t exactly an upgrade). There is the oh-so-typical modern guilt imposed upon the reader that humanity should repent its existence. Then there is the message that humanity can just be replaced and isn’t worth fighting for- which didn’t sit well with me- because, well, I love humanity.

To my mind, this narrative speaks to a deep sense of self-loathing. Any attempt at nuance is drowned out by this underlying emotion. I know there are people out there who think that robots would make an adequate (or even superior) replacement to humanity- yet I am not one of them. I do not think that an entity that shares the same consciousness, but have a different aesthetic, would be an improvement. I do not think that immortality, giving an endless amount of time to achieve less (and without any of the moral qualms to hold it back), would be an improvement. I do not think that a human’s value goes bone-deep.

I think to go down this “perfectionist” line of argument is somewhat dangerous. I think it is troubling to suggest the world would be better off without humans. And it is most disturbing to see this idea presented to teens without any kickback. When one reads YA like this, it is unsurprising that so many young adults are depressed and anxious. I would have been- if I wasn’t so infuriated.

I respectfully disagree with the author calling this “uplifting”. It seems more death cult-y to me. Though the author clearly has talent, I was less-than-enamoured by the end:

Rating: 2/5 bananas

So, dare I ask, what did you think of this book? Have you read it? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!