Monthly Monkey Mini Review – July

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Well hello! This is me coming at you live for the first time in weeks and I gotta admit it feels a little strange- I’m pretty out of practice I guess. But I thought you ought to know, from the monkey’s mouth, I’M ALIVE (not much of a drama queen, am I?) Anyhoo, you might have noticed that I had a lot of content up after my whole “I’m off” post, partly cos I had a lot of reviews to catch up on, although mostly cos I stress blogged before I left. Now though, I’m pretty busy (I promise to give details when I’m done) and *shock horror* haven’t been reading much 😦 I still have plenty of ideas for content, yet I’ve decided to take a proper break while I try to figure out a schedule for when I can post… so bear with me! Okey dokey, preamble aside, I have only two books to review for July:

city of brass

City of Brass– I really wanted to like this a lot more, but this got far too confusing and felt overlong. There was just so much information flying about over warring tribes and I struggled to keep up with the overload of world building- which was an especial pity, because a lot of that was beautifully written. I still ended up with way too many (irrelevant to the plot) questions like “why do they hate each other again and what the hell is going on?” And when I couldn’t connect this with the overall story, I wondered why it was included at all. Too much of the plot felt meandering anyway and that didn’t help. Nahri, the main character, initially delighted me with her antics and trickster charade… but all too soon it transpired it was little more than an act, for I couldn’t connect this character with her later impossibly innocent nature. As for the other lead, Ali didn’t grab my attention and was lost for way too much of his narrative. Again, we’re told he’s this pious and it didn’t quite match up with how he appeared in the story. It’s not a bad book per se, it just didn’t live upto any of the promise.

Rating: 2½/5 bananas

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Always and Forever– I found Lara Jean’s final book really relatable- especially the part (*spoiler alert*) where she didn’t get into the college of her dreams. That kind of disappointment will ring true with a lot of readers no doubt. Overall, I preferred it to the second book, as the focus on growing up made it feel more necessary, yet it still didn’t quite capture my heart the way the first did.

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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So yeah, part of the purpose of doing this blog was to tell you all I’m not gonna be about… again! In the meantime, have you read either of these? Did you like them? Let me know in the comments!

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I figured I would like Father Figure… And I was right!

father figureSome books start with a bang, others slowly build up in what seems like an orderly fashion- but don’t be fooled by the steady opening, such books can end with an avalanche of emotions and knock you off your feet. This was one such book. After Jay’s amazing debut last year, I was obviously excited to see what he came up with next. Now, this did initially take me some time to really get into, some parts clicking more than others, yet I very much appreciated the trickle of information, eroding any sense of stability I had, bit by bit.

The dual perspectives were done really well. There was plenty to latch onto with both stories and I found myself invested in both of the main characters- especially since both stories were so raw and emotional. Amalia was relatable and sympathetic; Brianna was incredibly likeable. I did get irritated with Brianna for not hearing Molly out- but I felt like this was a testament to how realistic the relationship was.

Speaking of things that were realistic, but I didn’t especially enjoy- if I had a friend like Shanelle, I wouldn’t need enemies. Me and bossy people do not mix- it’s the ultimate rock meets hard place- if someone tries to tell me what to do they’ll look like a cayote running into a brick wall. I can’t pretend that I liked anything about her: I hate nags, I can’t stand people that play games in relationships and woe betide anyone that tries to pressure someone into a relationship when they’re not ready. What can I say- I’m just not as agreeable as Briana and would have told her to eff off. Phew- glad I got that off my chest. THAT SAID, I did not see this as a criticism of the book, cos irritating or not, people like this exist and as I always say (sometimes 😉 ) eliciting a strong response means it’s more real. And I think it’s pretty clear from the way I’m talking about these folks that I felt they were very life-like.

Psychologically, I thought Cudney painted a striking picture of the bitter and resentful mother and the spiteful son. Both villains, for me, were spot on. I did unfortunately think that certain other additions were less believable- for instance I did not buy that about 90% of the men in the book were creepy pervs. There were just a few too many deeply unpleasant men and I needed more Jonah-type figures.

I loved the descriptive elements- more even than Watching Glass Shatter. The writing and imagery, as good as it was before, was vastly improved and struck a deeper chord. As the pace picked up, the drama became more harmonised and I was transported by the magnificent finale. I became more in tune to how the themes of the title wove into the narrative and saw how it was all interconnected from the start. The twists kept rolling and the story grew darker and things snapped into place. I don’t want to spoil anything- but believe me, it’s all about the ending with this one. Ultimately I got tingles from so many parts of the conclusion and felt just-stepped-off-a-rollercoaster giddy. It was that good.

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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

Finding my way in Spellbook of Lost and Found

spellbook of the lost and foundI had sooo many mixed feelings about this one guys. There was a lot that was well done and then, for seemingly no reason, there was ideas shoved in here that I had a lot of problems with.

To start with, I did appreciate the writing. It was witty, striking and had plenty going on under the surface. I felt like that added to the uncanny element and the air of mystery. And boy were there quite a few mysteries to contend with and many layers to the narrative.

The story centred on two groups of girls finding a spellbook and there were consequently quite a lot of characters, which could have been tricky to keep a grasp on, but all of them were distinct and the voices separated them out nicely. I did also like the characters overall- they all felt necessary to tell the story and had their own problems woven into the plot.

That said, it felt like the book was missing something (no pun intended). Sure there was that eerie element, but it felt like everything could have been explained, which meant it didn’t hold the charm of actual magical realism. Plus while I did like the message at the end was lovely, to find the magic all around us, it didn’t feel quite like an ending and was more of a moral. And that’s okay- just not something I was really looking for.

Especially since it drew attention to the authorial intrusions that I’d had trouble with throughout. Because while there were a lot of smart things in this book that I loved, there was a not-so-smart thing to counterbalance it- which brings me to some of the random shit that was in this book that it could have done without:

  • The fact that a character was raped when they’re unconscious at a party and said something to the effect of “I’ve read all the feminist blogs and know there’s nothing you can do”- which seems like an incredibly irresponsible thing to tell young people. I’m not judging people’s decisions here, but actively telling people not to bother reporting crimes is not a good message.
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    No offence strawmen!

    Why does this book set up the idea that the “heteropatriarchy” has decided there’s only one way to lose your virginity- strawman much? Literally nobody even in the book brought this discussion up. The main character just presents the idea and refutes it- so why is it there at all? Especially since no one in the world of the book even cares and I don’t care, so just bugger off.

  • Just the casual mention of Faulkner’s “kill your darlings”, which always irritates me no end because if Faulkner had killed his darlings he’d have executed his whole goddamn book.

None of what I’ve said there will probably be popular opinions, but whatever, that’s why I gave it:

Rating: 3½/5 bananas

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So have you read this? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments!

Grey Sister was a *Technicolour* Masterpiece!

grey sister

Yes, I went with that title, and no, it is not an exaggeration. Because I really cannot express HOW MUCH I FRICKIN LOVED this book! I think this probably the best Lawrence book I’ve read to date (and I always love Lawrence books). I was already enraptured by Red Sister, so I knew I had to read this pronto when it came out- and man was I satisfied with this sequel!

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Let’s start with what happens before you even read the book- because I think I owe Mark Lawrence a big thank you for the recap! I’m one of those readers who really doesn’t like in-text “we need to remind you what’s going on in case you’ve forgotten things” conversations- especially cos I usually like to binge series. But if it’s a newer release, I most likely have forgotten things. So this worked brilliantly for me! Especially since it was done in such a lovely way and created intrigue for what was to come- I immediately wanted to know who this Keot fellow was.

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See what I mean!

The opening itself was nothing short of exquisite. It started from a super emotional point and didn’t loosen its grip on my heart strings for a single second. In fact, it was so good that I read it in one sitting, while I was in the middle of one of the worst reading slumps I’ve had in years. If anything, the reason why this review isn’t longer is because the book is just that good!

It’s beautifully, beautifully written. The only time I paused was to scribble down a particular phrase I loved like “arboreal gloom” or the “headache knifed its way past her forehead” that captured my attention. In between though, there were tiny little messages that I really liked: “My father told me, your weaknesses have more to teach you than your strengths”.

There were many hidden depths to the story, reflected in the striking figure of Nona. What I loved about her depiction in particular was how her black eyes created a sense of her being somewhat primal- from an evolutionary standpoint we’ve developed to have visible whites of the eyes, so that other primates can see where we’re looking and trust us… Nona is an exception and ergo an exceptional character. Lawrence has tapped into this primordial element of humanity and carved a protagonist into someone who feels like a shade of our most feral nature. Her lacking a shadow adds to this, making her unanchored and impossible to pin down. She’s like an inner wildness we all hold and strangely relatable. With our view into her mind, we can witness how misunderstood she is and simultaneously understand why she’s so isolated.

Evidently, I really, really liked Nona, but she’s not the only standout character! When Keot did turn up and was explained it was a *brilliant* addition!!! All the other characters served their purpose and were well drawn- I was particularly rooting for Apple and Kettle in this one. And of course, Brother Pelter cut a chilling figure.

What more is there to say then? I was simply blown away by this book. Just take my bananas already!

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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

Why writers *need* to be readers

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seinfeld gifSo a while back, I was following an indie writer (who shall remain nameless) that said they don’t read, because, and I quote “There are writers and then there are readers”. Now, I’ve mentioned this before, because YIKES that is a dreadful piece of advice, but even more so, it then made sense to me why I’d given said writer a 2 star rating. They’d taken an exciting premise and gone nowhere interesting with it. As for their second book, I couldn’t even get past the first chapter and cba anyway because the premise was so generic and I could figure out the plot twist right away. So it made me want to talk about why it is SO IMPORTANT that writers are readers- because there is no getting round how disastrous the consequences are if you’re not. Here are some reasons why writers need to read (if not ALL THE BOOKS as a lot of us are tempted to, at least A LOT OF THEM):

floundering gifNot reading guarantees authors to make mistakes and be unoriginal. As readers we know where common mistakes crop up and have probably seen them done *all the ways*. This doesn’t mean that we won’t ever get stuck, but at least we have a better idea of how to get out of it.

squeal gifBecause books give you EVEN MORE ideas! If you think reading will make your wellspring of inspiration run dry, think again! It’s actually the exact opposite- the more you read, the more doors in your mind open and the more possibilities you’ll find.

 

boromir deathReaders know what’s on trend and what’s been done to death. Readers know off the top of their head what’s going round at the moment and what’s dipping out of fashion. They don’t have to do extensive research, because they’ve been to a library or bookstore recently- which I guess is a form of research 😉

readingSimilarly, they know how to approach THE DREADED TROPES– readers have lots of preferences and know which ones work for them, which ones to tweak and which ones to steer well clear of. But you can’t know any of this without doing proper research, which, you guessed it, requires reading.

lord of the rings writing gifReaders are more likely to write for themselves– because, as I said, readers have an intuitive sense of what they do and do not like. This will mean they don’t have to write by committee, as I call it, and will actually put together a story that they personally enjoy first and foremost.

choose books2All the techniques y’all. I mean, if you actually want to learn from *the best* writing teachers, there is nothing better than cracking open a wonderful book and figuring out just how an author achieved such brilliance. It’s literally like being able to tap into the minds of all the geniuses that have gone before- and really, what author wouldn’t want to have access to that kind of knowledge?

experimentReading more will give you confidence to experiment! If a writer wants to avoid the “painting by numbers” phenomenon that I’ve seen emerge from people following rules to a T, they should READ MORE, because it will encourage them to try different things. Even better, they might start to innovate on their own and go onto do incredible things. I always love to give advice to dream big when it comes to art- the sky is far from the limit- and if you want to go out into the stratosphere you simply have to start somewhere. Books have more than a little magic to get you off the ground.

What do you think? Do writers need to be readers? Do you have any other reasons to add? Let me know in the comments!

Ravencry Called to me from the Depths of Grimdark

ravencry*Received this book off Netgalley in exchange for an honest review- but the crazy gushing you’re about to see is all me*

Well, that’s what I call a sequel! If you remember back to my review from last year, I was *blown away* by the McDonald’s debut Blackwing and was so psyched to pick up an ARC for the sequel… but also naturally nervous because what if it didn’t deliver on the second instalment? I really shouldn’t have worried- because the Raven’s Mark series is shaping up to be a sharp venture into grimdark fantasy!

This begins with a mystery that flies in the face of what we already knew- instantly showing us that this will be different from its predecessor. We then journey with Ryalt into the unknown, travelling deeper into the heart of the Misery. Much like traditional fairy tales where a character treks out into vast unknowable nature- losing pieces of themselves along the way and undergoing a transformation- the trip alters the protagonist irrevocably. Yet here it is all the more traumatic and vividly grotesque. Psychologically and physically it breaks down his character, until he admits “I just wasn’t the same as when I’d gone in”- and we as the reader have changed along with him.

I was sucked straight back into sludge-grey world of the Misery and the Deep Kings. The only anchor was Ryhalt Galharrow’s enigmatic voice, which balanced out this grim vision with chuckleworthy asides. And even as the main character has more prestige and respectability, there’s no way a shall we say less than level-headed hero can wake up and get on with the next book without being drenched in regrets and grief. Ryhalt is most certainly haunted by recent ghosts- especially since there were some very real manifestations of the Bright Lady and a cult that rises up in her wake.

Complex and action packed, the non-stop whirring of the plot takes you through darkness into phos-induced light. The reintroduction of the villain, in particular, felt like we dived into the flesh and bones of the story. Through the amazing twists and turns, there are hints of further intrigues, making me curious as to where it’s going after the enigmatic end.

The level of imagination here is incredible. Like the first, it’s a richly dense book, with terrifying darkness and an unsettling atmosphere. There is an uncanny, gothic element to the magic, which adds tremendously to the world building.

I was gripped by the writing as well. Not only is it creepy, but there’s also a build up to create a sense of dread. My kindle copy was covered in highlights- because, man there’s some effing expertise to the writing. One masterstroke, for instance, was to add Shakespearean technique of giving logic to the ravings of a madman. Phases like “save face” are given multiple meanings. The writing is, to be frank, bloody good (emphasis on the blood- there’s quite a bit of it!)

Yet Ravencry does not simply serve up a dish of graphic entertainment- it will tear at your heart strings and open up your innards. Characters don’t just grow up like Amaira- they ripped from their childhood and thrust into the adult world. Stories like that of Nenn’s aren’t just expanded- they are pushed to the limits- and what happens to them is too awful for words. In the end, this was as emotional as the first:

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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

 

 

Casting Light On And I Darken

and I darkenAt first, I enjoyed the fact that the main character was a little savage. It seemed like an interesting choice to cast Dracula as a girl– after all this could add a creepy dimension to the legend- but only for a little while… because this turns out to be a big ask when it comes to the suspension of disbelief. There was just so much cognitive dissonance in making Dracula a girl. For starters, she’d be a valueless hostage and no one would much care what happened to her. And then there’s the second issue of her overpowering tons of men and it being *totally* unrealistic- she doesn’t have superpowers, she’s much younger than them and women don’t have the same muscle density as men. There is also a reason why the whole “girl dresses up as a boy” trope exists (which of course she eventually does anyway, but not until she’s done a gazillion stupid things that would have got her teeth knocked out boy or girl). I’m sorry, but this is not something I can suspend my disbelief for in a historical setting, especially when the author constantly kept drawing my eye to the reality. It says a lot that I have an easier time buying Stoker’s blood-sucking version than this nonsense.

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What I never thought when looking at this was “this would make a very charming lady…”

Frankly, this is all made a lot worse by the fact that Vladimir Dracula is not a sympathetic historical figure, no matter how much he suffered, and making him a girl doesn’t make the character any more likeable. He’s just too much “anti” and not enough “hero”. I found it nigh on impossible to root for Lada. No matter what battle was going on, I was never interested in who lived or died. It doesn’t help that she practically crawled from the cradle with a knife in her hand and the promise she will one day kill her brother. The fact that she is always a little psycho also undermines any potential growth she could have as a villain. She doesn’t end up twisted and dark because of torture- in fact there’s none of this- apparently it’s too difficult to overpower a little girl (I swear one of these asides is gonna get someone to yell “internalised misogyny” at me, to which I say ignore biology at your own peril). Plus the story tries realllly hard to convince us that she’s sly- but she’s about as cunning as an ox throughout- I have no idea why someone didn’t just lop her head off. I think I prefer to keep to the history books for this character.

I could not pin down why Mehmed was remotely interested in Lada either. In fact, I had no idea why he even befriended them, let alone loved her. I feel like this could have been expanded upon. It was also hard to buy is piety when he had a literal harem of women- who literally get compared to stools at one point and he doesn’t object- and again I wondered how am I supposed to like this character?

Which led me onto another problem: too often it felt like this book was trying to uphold the Ottoman Empire as a paradigm of virtue. Again, sorry, this doesn’t work if you’re going to show some of the gory reality and the subjugation of other sovereign nations. This was at its worst when it presented Huma as simultaneously powerless and yet tried to make bold claims that she’s somehow powerful- such as epitomised by this quote: “You see this as a prison. But you are wrong. This is my court. This is my throne. This is my kingdom. The cost was my freedom and my body.” This presents her:

  1. Like she has a choice about entering the harem
  2. Delivered like she’s in a position of strength
  3. And yet acknowledges the price she’s paid

There’s just too much contradiction in those sentences. Maybe it would make sense if she was presented as delusional, yet it felt more like it was saying sex slavery is liberating- sarcastic yayyy! It’s an odd attempt to sanitise the past that I can’t get my head round– either it was really bad and oppressive and we move on OR it was idealistic and we move backwards. You can’t simultaneously have this “she’s not treated nicely cos she’s a woman *and* look at her kickass and break all the social conventions- it just beggars belief.

The one thing I liked was that Radu was gay and in love with Mehmed. I did look it up and allegedly it was the other way round, but either way, I enjoyed this subplot. That’s not to say I liked Radu’s character- he came across as a bit of a pansy- but he was somewhat more interesting and was at least shown to be convincing.

Despite everything I’ve said, this wasn’t a terrible book: this had an interesting narrative and there was a strong ending. It was well written and entertaining, which always makes me reluctant to be too harsh. But I just didn’t buy what it was selling. I couldn’t latch onto any of the characters and I can’t see myself reading the next one. This was sadly not for me.

Rating: 2½/5 bananas

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Have you read this? What did you think about it? Do you agree or disagree with any of my thoughts? Let me know in the comments!