Monthly Monkey Mini Reviews – November 2020!

Hello all! Looks like we made it to November- hopefully all in one piece! Nothing too freaky happened to me in October… except starting a new job- which caught me by surprise! (in a good way 😉) Like a lot of people, this year’s been a bit rocky financially, so pretty relieved to have some more stable work to see me out to the end of 2020. Sadly, on that note, I may have to take a few more breaks from blogging (gosh so reluctant to just say I’m going on hiatus!) I’d love to be able to catch up on everything I’ve been missing out online, but I guess I’ll just have to see what happens.

gotta go to work! 😉

Emily in Paris– there are a million reasons why I shouldn’t have enjoyed this: the stereotyping, the silly inaccuracies for cheap laughs, the *awful* (cheating) love triangle and the horribly unsympathetic lead… buuut I have to admit I had fun with it. It was a light, fluffy, silly rom com that made me laugh. So I’m sorry to the Gods of TV Taste- I enjoyed this more than I should have!

American Vandal– I watched this because I was obviously craving something a little more serious 😉 I loved how this sent up true crime documentaries. I still think that Sadie is the best for critiquing the way true crime doesn’t care about the victims- yet this did make compelling arguments about how filmmakers can expose people unfairly, ruin lives and not really help anyone in the long run (especially if society already has it in for them). Not just because it offered an interesting commentary on how so many of these documentaries can be unethical, but because it was a remarkably compelling story in its own right (even if the main mystery was “who drew the dicks on teacher’s cars?”). And it was all the more entertaining for being completely over the top!

City of Girls– after reading a couple of Gilbert’s great non-fiction books, I’d been hoping to read her fiction for some time now, because I hoped it would hold the same charm for me. Sadly, this did not live up to expectations. My biggest issue with City of Girls was that it basically read like a modern story with a vintage veneer. For all the costumes and hints of setting, I felt like too many characters were out of step with the time period. And while I loved the voice, because its expressive tone created so much character, I ultimately found the protagonist incredibly unlikeable. Sometimes this isn’t such a big problem- however in this case she was such an unconscionable cow that I was cheering on the person chastising her.

Rating: 2½/5 bananas

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Inheritance– in this compelling memoir about discovering the secrets of her DNA, Dani Shapiro hands down the details of her life story. Part detective story, part journal of self-discovery, this is one of the most intriguing non fiction books I’ve ever read. Reading this, I was constantly annoying my family with exclamations of “oh my god!” (so beware reading this in a public place). On a personal level, it’s hard not to empathise- yet it also raises ethical quandaries that are not so easily put to rest. Do donors have a right to privacy or children have a right to know? It is no small thing to consider- especially if the potential cost is the lives of these very children. Then there are the questions of nature vs nurture- for if you find out your father is not your biological father, then who made you who you are? Surely both inform your identity in some way? Finally, and most significantly, there is an attempt to get to the root of one of life’s biggest issues: who am I? And I guess it was this central issue that made me relate- despite how unusual her story was. I couldn’t help but identify with her struggles to connect with her identity. I definitely knew what she was talking about when she referred to veiled anti-Semitism. Much of this hit me like a gut-punch. It’s a powerful and fascinating read that I would definitely recommend. Nonetheless, I have to warn you, even though the mystery of her parentage is solved by the end: the puzzles at its heart linger will linger long after you turn the last page.   

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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The Wife Who Knew Too Much– after reading Michele Campbell’s Stranger on the Beach, I knew this would be a strong thriller. And I was right… to an extent. For much of the book, I had no idea where this was going. I loved some of the legal drama woven in, but it dragged in the middle and I wasn’t quite clear on whether I was fully invested in the story. Yet, the author really hits the accelerator at 80%, taking a bit of a wild turn off a freeway. I was impressed with how much smart the twist was and liked the motive more than I expected. I especially loved how the title plays with you and has many different meanings. Ultimately it wasn’t my favourite journey, but I liked the destination.

Rating: 3½/5 bananas

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Spinning Silver– I’m struggling to weigh up my thoughts about this one. There were so many delicate threads that wove into an intricate design. There’s love, monsters, adventure, friendship and family- all seamlessly stitched together. Standing back from it I can see Novik certainly knows how to spin an elaborate tale! The author has such a talent for taking the villains of a tale and turning it around- and doing this with Rumpelstiltskin is a far more remarkable feat than Beauty and the Beast. What I especially liked was how the original was revealed to be simply the blood libel in disguise- which I had not realised before. Still, I did end up fairly conflicted about the Jewish aspect of the story- since writing another ugly-Jewish-girl-with-money story doesn’t exactly challenge stereotypes. But while I may have been a little sensitive to this, I don’t want to be too critical, especially as I am aware of the historical reality (ie Christians were not allowed to lend money and Jews were often not allowed access to any other profession). Plus, it’s an interesting enough spin. On balance, this was an excellent book, just perhaps not quite the right fit for me.

Rating: 3½/5 bananas

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Ninth House- I’ll confess I took a risk reading this, because I wasn’t that sure I’d like it. I love the author, but have never been into horror. That said, with all the hype, the pull was to great to resist. And, even if it’s not my usual cup of tea, I’m glad I gave it a go! Straight away, I could see it was a good job this was classified as adult- it’s exceptionally dark. As has been widely discussed, there is a graphic rape scene that is hard to read. However, having read it, I can’t believe Bardugo was called out over it- maybe people should spend more time getting angry at the people that do evil things, not the people that write about them. Despite all the gore, what actually stood out was the story. Pacey, intriguing and hinging on different timelines- I was wowed by how it all came together. In fact, I was feeling pretty slumpy when I picked it up and still whizzed through it in a day! Galaxy, while dark and edgy, has enough shine to keep me interested. Darlington was considerably more fascinating than I first thought as well. But really it was all about that plot and killer ending for me.  

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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

A Bloody Good Time

The sunlight offends me. Squinting at the windows, indecently trying to get in. I hiss at the flickering blinds. The impertinence of it! The breeze and a slight buzzing have broken my slumber- yet I shall not be roused…

Only I’m so thirsty. So hungry. A gnawing ache twists and turns. A tremble fills the void. I cannot remember the last time I had serious sustenance. Groaning, I creak from my abode.

Creeping across the landing, desperate not to wake the others, I shield my eyes as I pass the hall mirror. I dare not look; I will not like what I see. I ought to smash the damn thing- it is a constant reminder of what I am now. Of what creature I have become.

Instead, my eyes snag on the insect suspiciously resting by the window pane… and I make a run for it. Bolting for cover. Sprinting down the stairs, I make it, gracelessly, to what we used to call the living area (it has other uses now, we don’t talk about it).

Eyes closed to the endless equipment we’ve been “gifted” by our gracious overlords, I make it through. Careless of the noise now, because I’ve not seen a soul in days and it’s pretty hard to wake the undead.

Into the pantry I go. Open a cupboard and… We’re completely out of supplies. Completely. I curse myself for I am an accursed fool. Foolish not to brave the streets yesterday- before we ran out. Before the news broke.

Not just the food is gone- but the cleaning products, the hand sanitiser and the toilet rolls. And now the killer bees are at the door too…

Oh well, looks like it’s just another day in 2020!

Spoopy Memes Book Tag! Versions 1 and 2!

Hello all! It’s that time of the year again… time to celebrate SpOOpY SeaSOn… WhooOOoOOOooooHHh! Last year the lovely Emily at Embuhleeliest tagged me in her Spoopy Memes Book Tag and I didn’t get the chance to do it- so I’m rectifying that by doing that one and the one from this year! (tbh I liked them both and couldn’t choose between them 😉) Thank you so much for tagging me! Let’s jump into the rules…

If you’d like to do this tag, please link back to this post so I can see your answers!

  • Feel free to use the banner above if you’d like, and I highly suggest you copy over the memes, as they give the questions context.

Time to get spooky! What books will you be reading to celebrate this time of year?

I love spooky season so much, I’ve actually made a tentative tbr!! At the time of writing this, I’ve already read a few, but I still have to read Winterwood, Ninth House and maybe even Gideon the Ninth!

Do you put up decorations for Halloween? If so, describe them! Even better, show them!

Oh dear, I’ve got to confess I’m pretty lazy when it comes to decorations (as much as I appreciate looking at decked out houses!) I usually just carve a pumpkin… sometimes not even that. HOWEVER, this year I do have a super cute bubonic plague plushie sitting on my desk that my friend got me… does that count? (probably not, since that’s it’s home now!)

What is the scariest book you’ve ever read? What made it so scary?

I struggle to read scary books (even children’s ones) so the first scary book I can remember getting through was Turn of the Screw. If I hadn’t had to read it for uni (and I hadn’t had all the lights switched on) I don’t know if I’d have finished it, because it’s so creepy!!

What’s the last book you read that truly shocked you, made your jaw drop, or made you chuck the book across the room?

This may be a shocker, but I’m going with a recent memoir I read called Inheritance. It’s about a woman who finds out in her fifties that her father isn’t her father- and I can’t count the number of times it made me gasp!

What’s a book that’s fallen out of the spotlight that you still really like and try get people to read?

Demon King– it’s not got the spotlight on it anymore, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still an electrifying fantasy series!

Are you dressing up this year? If so, what as? If not, what would be your costume if you were?

I’m not dressing up, but if I were, I’d dress up as a human! Cos humans are weird 😉

What is your opinion on the word ‘spoopy’, and memes that follow its theme?

It’s loads of fun- just like this tag! And on that note, time for PART 2!

Name a character that keeps repeating the same mistakes, despite having multiple opportunities to prevent them

I’m going left of field and picking some characters that IRRITATE ME TO DEATH- both Marianne and Connell from Normal People *repeatedly* cheat on their SO throughout the story… and for what? Why can’t they just be a couple? Maybe it made sense in the weird social dynamics of high school… buuut once you’re adults at the same uni/working in the same city- what’s the point of (literally) screwing over other people? What do they gain from it?

Name a book where the characters got their just desserts

The first character that popped into my head was Umbridge- because if anyone deserved to get chased by centaurs, it was her. That said, I don’t know if everyone in that book got their just desserts!! (RIP Sirius!!)

Name a book that tries to put a positive spin on something terrible

Man’s Search for Meaning– Frankl’s positive and constructive worldview is astounding, especially considering the horror he endured. This book doesn’t just shed light on his own experience, it can lead others out of their own personal darkness.

Name a book that delves into an existential topic

The Stranger- I just loved the dark humour in this. 

What trope or theme in a book do you really like that you don’t feel gets enough attention?

I love the trope where a character goes into the “wild” and comes back transformed. It’s a pretty common trope- you can see it in every fantasy from The Hobbit to Ravencry to Winter of the Witch, BUT not many people seem as lowkey obsessed with it as I am 😉

Name a character whose humour is consistently underappreciated by those around them

Oof I see this in books all the time and yet I struggled to think of the answer! Until at last the perfect character smacked me round the face and reintroduced himself: Jalan from Prince of Fools. He’s hilarious- but not everyone in the series appreciates that about him!

Name a book (or two or three) that has helped you get through this year

Books are always my go-to in tough times (so needless to say I’ve needed a lot of fluffy, escapist and fantastical reads to get through the dumpster fire that is 2020). I was completely transported by Once and Future Witches, I had a wild ride with Aurora Burning and Sorcery of Thorns was just a joy to read! 

What are your plans for Halloween this year if you celebrate it? How do you plan on spending what’s left of October?

I’m planning on surviving it!!! 😉 Given how the last year’s been going, who knows if what’ll happen? 😉

Annnd on that terrifying thought, I’m going to love you and leave you! I tag anyone that wants to do this!

And for everyone else- do you enjoy spoopy memes? Let me know in the comments!

Books that will haunt me to the grave

… in a good way (sort of 😉). Because these are some of the most poignant, heartrending, memorable reads I’ve ever experienced. Let’s just get right into it!  

The Book Thief– I’ve been meaning to reread this for years, but I’m so haunted by the first time, I can’t quite bring myself to pick it up again. It completely broke my heart.

Heart of Darkness– the writing that is so hauntingly beautiful, it’s hard to forget. More than that, the story is such that every reread gives me a different impression. It’s a puzzle that I don’t know if I’ll ever solve.

The Stranger- an unusual book, I can’t quite shake it from my mind. When I look back on this book, I feel like I’m in a haze of mismatched thoughts. I don’t know what to think of it- and yet I can’t not think about it!

The Trial– it’s not just the weird, surreal atmosphere that gets to me with this book- the shocking part is how true it turned out to be. Kafka acted as a prophet with this book, reflecting the absurdity of Soviet-style show trials before they ever took place.

Homegoing– this is another story with exquisite writing- yet it’s the overarching narrative that lives in my heart. A disquieting story, it shows the intergenerational ghosts that haunt a single family, coming full circle at the end to put them at peace.

Beowulf– I don’t know what it was- the ancient words or the powerful translation by Heaney, but I felt this story thrumming in my bones. I don’t know if it was the obscurity or the familiarity of the epic- but it’s seized my imagination now and will not let it go.

Wolf in the Whale– this is a story that captured me with its sense of place, I feel like the visuals are imprinted in my mind and the harrowing tale is hard to shake. Fantastical, mythical and yet all too real, it’s not going to be for everyone, but if you do read it you won’t forget it in a hurry.

Between Shades of Grey/Salt to the Sea– yes I’m doing 2 for 1 here, because I frankly can’t choose between Sepetys most celebrated works. These evocative novels shed light on events a lot of people (including me) don’t learn about- and I love that they managed to be subtly interlinked as well.

All That Still Matters at All– I talk a lot about this poetry collection, because I just don’t feel like it gets enough attention. A hidden, Hungarian gem, this has a heartbreaking background and is well worth sampling.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky- ever since I read this book, I can’t quite get the plaintiff tune of Nessum Dorma, floating through the alps, out of my head. I will never forget this story of heroism in WWII and I salute the real life inspirations for it- they should not be forgotten.

Tess of the D’Urbervilles- Hardy stole my heart from the moment I read this, introducing me to his characters and world. I suppose I should be annoyed at how he toyed with my emotions, raising my hopes, only to lead me off into dark woods and dashing my dreams on a rock. But as devastated as I was, I’m not bitter about it! To my mind, it’s the perfect example of how a tragedy should be written.

So, have you read any of these? What did you think of them? And do you have any books that will haunt you forever? Let me know in the comments!

Settling in for Home Before Dark was… Unsettling!

***Received from Netgalley in exchange for review, but I’m the one trembling with excitement about this book!***

home before darkWelcome, welcome! Today I have a treat for you if you like something a little tricksy- let me show you around. Here we enter into a story that has all the hallmarks of a spinechilling thriller: a haunted house vibe, a tensely told plot and even hints of creepy children in the flashbacks.

Step over the threshold and this is a multi-storied narrative. It contains a story within a story in a unique way. For this is a story that takes place over two timelines- a mystery that unfolded twenty-five years earlier and led to a family fleeing in the middle of the night… and the present day where the daughter tries to uncover what the hell happened. Problem is, the main clue she has her (now deceased) father’s bestselling, “true” account… which she’s a little sceptical about.

And it’s this motivation that makes it such a compelling read. Not only is she clearly haunted by what happened in this house, she’s also troubled by her father’s runaway success story. Thrusting her into the spotlight, it made me think of the troubling trend of child stars. Her foundational motivation for getting involved in this case is unshakeable. Even better, her character is intrinsically built around resolving her childhood trauma. It really strengthens the story.

Of course, it’s not a cut and dry situation. Unlocking what happened uncovers revelation after revelation. The key is elusive. I kept feeling like I had all the pieces to the puzzle… yet couldn’t quite put it together. To complicate the matter even further, Sager proves that memory is not always to be trusted. The narrative becomes lost in the labyrinthine passages of Baneberry Hall. Then- suddenly- the answer pounces on you and throws you into a frenzy of “aha”s. This is, after all, the kind of thriller that makes perfect sense when you think about it.

So, needless to say my visit was an experience… one I won’t forget in a hurry! 😉 I hope you enjoyed that quick open house and got a taste for what’s inside! Do come back and visit any time! Please take some bananas for the road…

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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And let me know: do you plan on coming to stay?

What does my sister think of my recommendations? How much does our taste align? Interviewing the Monkey Baby – Fantasy edition!

Hello all! I have a very exciting post for you today… featuring my sister the ONE AND ONLY Monkey Baby!

Hi my precious bonbons- I hope you enjoy this discussion and my jelly belly thoughts!

Since she’s often the guinea pig for my recommendations (and we’ve spent an awful lot of the year locked in the same house together) I thought it might be cool to put it to the test! As you may know, I love seeing how my taste differs from other people and trying to be a bit more objective about the books I love. And, although this is a little close to home, you’ll still hear plenty of contrasting opinions from us!

To make this even more fun (for me 😉 ) I did this interview style! I’ll be the one in bold, asking the questions, while my lovely sister will be the one answering (henceforth known as MB). Hope you enjoy! Onto the interview…

Let’s start off with some of the big ones- what did you think of my recommendation for Laini Taylor? What do you think about her as an author?

MB: She’s a special human who writes magical content. Her romance is the mushiest. And she writes about cake- it’s so cute. I love Lazlo and moths.

But you hate moths…?

MB: Only in that world. She converted me to moths in that world- not in reality (in reality they’re the worst thing in the world).

And similarly, how do you feel about Katherine Arden’s Bear and the Nightingale series?

MB: I love the romance in that one, it’s really awesome. Their romance is so good between Vasilisa and the winter ice-freak. *Then mentions big spoiler that I’ve censored!*

I think the word you’re looking for is demon! 😂 You also loved Uprooted– I think that was even more to your taste than mine?

MB: It’s awesome. It’d be pretty cool to have magical powers to get dressed in different ways. That’s funky banana socks! I like Agniezka and the Dragon. The writing style is pretty and Novik ends it really well… *redacted for spoilers*.

And how about Night Circus? That became a favourite as well, didn’t it?

MB: Yeah that one is a favourite of mine, I love the magic. The circus is incredible. I wish there was a circus that existed like that. One that wasn’t just full of creepy clowns, because no one wants to go to a circus that’s just full of creepy clowns. Actually, on a complete tangent, I went to one at Winter Wonderland last year and that was actually pretty awesome. Getting close to that… well not really- 90% not there- but at least much closer than it used to be when we were kids, soooo.

*prompts her back on topic*

MB: In Night circus there are no clowns. And it’s just magical. And the romance was beautiful. And the ending is amazing… *starts speaking spoilers again*.

Hahaha you keep spoiling is the endings of books!

MB: It’s amazing- I can’t tell you anything about it- but it’s incredible!

Moving onto the Grisha Series- what are your thoughts about Shadow and Bone vs Six of Crows? You know I like Six of Crows better, but which do you prefer?

MB: Six of Crows was better. It was a more fleshed out story and the heist was better. The Grisha series was really good, but the romance was a bit meh. I actually wanted her to be with the evil one (spoilers).

It’s okay that’s not a spoiler- you didn’t say who the evil one was. I thought you preferred the shadow and bone series for some reason.

MB: No I really didn’t. As in I liked it a lot, but I thought he was a bit naff and I thought she was a bit naff by the end. Although her powers were really cool and I liked the fact *launches into a spoiler*… oh wait that was a spoiler.

Okay that’s quite cool- I thought we differed on that.

MB: Also Kaz is just the coolest- you can imagine he’s really cool in real life. (At the moment I’m mixing him up with another character in my mind- you know the magician from The Last Magician. He’s really similar. Kaz is better. But if you put them together it’s the best character)

Now we’re going onto a big topic- Throne of Glass. When it came to that we ended up on the same page- didn’t we? And we shipped the same people?

MB: Oh Dorian. She ruined that series. It had so much potential for so much cuteness! And how can you say no to a puppy? Dorian is a puppy and also he gives a puppy- how on earth do you choose anyone else when they give you a puppy? I don’t understand; it doesn’t make any sense. And Manon was awesome- that was a very clever addition- the whole witch thing was brilliantly done. Dorian and Manon should’ve been the main characters. She should make a whole separate book on Dorian and Manon. That would be the only book by her that I would read next… otherwise no. The only romance that she focused on was the one I didn’t care about.

The series fell off the tracks at the end.

MB: The series itself was ehhhhh…. It got very political and it copied Lord of the Rings (but in a way where I thought “I know that you’re trying to do lotr but it’s not lotr and you’re not Tolkien, so… stop.”) I didn’t really appreciate the politics. The whole ending of we’ll now build a democracy… Sorry, ending spoiler. Of course I’m down for a democracy but why do you have to bring it into a fantasy world? It’s like, okay, I don’t care. Say it for a sentence, if you really must, but it went on for ages, banging home about it. We know democracy is good, we’re not stupid. I don’t think you can meet many people nowadays who say “you know what I really want to do is go back to the middle ages and just be ruled by royalty and not have any freewill. That makes sense”.

I’m also happy I got you into Kagawa- you read all the Iron Fey and the first two Shadow of the Fox books in lockdown, didn’t you? What did you like about those?

MB: Oh Kagawa! She’s great! Iron Fey- oh my god. What’s his name- the one with the dark hair- I’m gonna die if I don’t know- look it up!

(makes me pause to look up the name of the love interest)

MB: Ash! Ash is one of the best fairy prince characters ever. He’s just the coolest character and the whole journey to his soul is mind-blowingly good. That whole book is just… the best. Actually I don’t know why I sold it now I’m thinking of it, because I would happily reread it…

Except for the other half of the series is really meh, because she took the complete wrong path with the son. Because why why why did she have to make him evil. And then why does he have to be the (spoiler) the king of the in-between and he never has a romance. It should’ve been from his perspective. It’s just sad- they had potential to be really good- but I don’t really care about Ethan. He’s mortal and boring. But the first four were incredible.

I haven’t finished the Shadow of the Fox series- but the first impressions are that it’s cool. Yumeko’s the sweetest character and I like how she makes friends along the way. She’s a cute little fairy creature. She’s one of those little rabbits, a rabbit that makes friends, that makes you go aww.

I can’t remember what your thoughts were on Cruel Prince though? Did you like the conclusion?

MB: Oh oh ohhhhh! The first two were really good. I really liked the romance- they were a cute couple. And Jude’s obsession with getting power is really well portrayed. The whole sister thing is a bit messed up, but was well thought out. All of the relationships made sense. And I do think she ended it well. But I dunno, I think the third one was good- but it just needed MORE of it. MORE depth to the relationships. MORE to the plot. MORE fleshed out. It would just be juicier- if you don’t have any flesh in the apple, you’re not going to enjoy it). I’d still read more of her books, because I liked the whole fairy world that she created, with it being very tricksy and difficult to live in as humans.

Dipping our toes into sci fi, I also gave you Renegades- and since we’ve already talked quite a bit about that on here, I won’t make you repeat yourself. What I want to know is does it inspire you to try more Marissa Meyer?

MB: Oh Renegades was incredible. Yeah of course. There’s a whole other series… Oh her other stuff? Interestingly I don’t know if I can be bothered, just because there’s so many fantasy books and you’ve given me five more and I can’t think ahead. It depends what she writes about. Authors like Laini Taylor- heaven!– if she brought out anything, ANYTHING, I would read anything by you. For most authors it has to be about the topic. (Like Katherine Arden has written ghost stuff that I’m not interested in).

I was just wondering if you have anything else to say about it?

MB: Spoilers.

Also Adrian has the best power in the world. Although there’s Ronan. Adrian’s power vs Ronan’s power- oh lords- what would you choose?

That’s really hard.

MB: You can make anything in your dream and bring it out.

Or give yourself powers.

MB: It’s a little less dangerous if you have Adrian’s

That’s what I was thinking.

MB: Cos Ronan’s is really scary to be honest. And you’d have to have a lot of control. Whereas Adrian’s you don’t have to have that much control, you just have to get better at art, which is just a fun problem. Whereas Ronan it’s like “oh my god I have this insane amazing power and it could be amazing but it’s scary and beep”. If you could have full control of Ronan’s power possibly that could be better. But Adrian’s power is definitely the easier route.

We’re gonna talk about Raven Cycle now you’ve brought it up… I take it you like it?

MB: I thought it was pretty cool. And Blue and that posh boy Gansey- aww that was very cute. But I’m glad she did a whole spinoff on Ronan because he was the most interesting character.

It hasn’t always been plain sailing though, has it? Do you remember when I tried to get you into dark fantasy, like Sabriel?

MB: Yeahhhhh… nahhh… it wasn’t my thing. It wasn’t terrible, it was very well written, I was just like “yeah not into this”.

And you didn’t like Hazel Wood either- why not?

MB: Just no. I mean, incredibly written, very addictive, but not my thing. I don’t know why the heck you gave that to me.

I should’ve known better! (but at least you can be thankful I’m not giving you any grimdark…) You’re not as big of a fan of Carry On either, are you?

MB: It was fine. You just hyped it up way more than it needed to be hyped. It was cute and it was funny, but it was essentially just a rewrite, so… (although every book is technically rewritten). It was good. It was funny- but it’s not Laini Taylor. (There’s a stream here. No one lives up!)

thankfully, though, you liked all the Cinda Chima Williams books I’ve lent you?

MB: I remember it being incredible and addictive and the romance was awesome. It was really clever.

Oh and I loved the Heir series! I thought it was so sweet. I thought the whole music bit was amazing because, well obviously… So so cool to have magic in the instruments.

Which is a good note to leave on! Thank you very much Monkey Baby!

And after that all-round bananas post, if you want to check out more from the Monkey Baby, she now has a blog up and running! (shockingly not under the title “monkey baby”) It’s got a lot of lovely lifestyle posts and excellent discussions about her area of expertise (music!) I particularly recommend her thought-provoking post on the disparity in music education, useful posts for budding musicians on improving your rhythm, a great post on whether there should be a division in the types of music studied, a lovely post on taking breaks and of course her marvellous post on making time to read!

And now I want to ask you lovely people- what do you think of my recommendations? Have you enjoyed anything I’ve recommended over the years? Is there anything you hated or were a bit more meh about? Let me know in the comments!

Does Book Twitter Actually Reflect the Reading Community?

Every year in free speech week, I try to exercise my freedom and talk about aspects of this (apparently contentious) topic. Yet this year I want to do something different. Not because we have reached the zenith of free speech- far from it. Despite the job losses, tragedies and general morose of 2020, the Twitterati have nothing better to do and have been busy cancelling, well, anything and everything. Which is why I wanted to talk about this tweet:

Maybe (most likely) it’s just my confirmation bias talking, but I think it’s such an excellent point. Disclaimer for book twitter: there are some nice little bubbles where you can play around with likeminded people (/primates)… Buuuut it’s not all fun and games. Twitter is kinda known for how toxic it can get. While it’s not the only place cancel culture thrives, it’s certainly one of the hotspots. I can’t tell you how often I go on twitter, see people congregating round an issue and think “oh no, who’s getting cancelled today?” Even if it’s a case of valid criticism, the platform doesn’t exactly lend itself to nuanced conversation and this leads to things getting heated pretty fast. And too often publishers get a whiff of the smoke and are scared off- but this needn’t be the case.

You see, (and forgive me if this is obvious) twitter is not reflective of the public at large. This is hardly a revelation. Looking at just some of the research (focusing on the States, given that 70% of users are from there… which you should bear in mind if you’re from outside the US like me), most twitter users in the US are more likely to have a college degree and have a higher income than the national average. Just 20% of US can be classed as active users (ie go on the platform once a month)- and of that number 80% of tweets come from the most active 10%. Meaning we’re only hearing from about 2% of the population. It probably isn’t any wonder then that (and many people will hate me for saying this) twitter often strikes me as an elitist club. As much as people claim that twitter is designed to give a voice to the voiceless, that it’s a great way for the powerless to have some power for themselves, that the gangs running rampant on there are noble “working class” vigilantes… I can’t see any evidence it’s representative of this. Observationally, I’d say the vast majority of big users are marketing/PR people, the so-called faces for faceless corporations, journos, professional activists and politicians. Ordinary people (ie consumers) aren’t represented on there for the most part… making me question, why is it taken so seriously?  

Time and again, it’s proven to not be a good source for elections for instance (which makes sense, given that even if a politician gets 100,000 likes, this isn’t a huge number considering… especially considering this can come from a global audience). Likewise, buzz on twitter doesn’t mean much- as excitable as twitter can seem about a reboot, this may not translate to actual fans buying tickets.

Similar logic can be applied to book twitter. A lot of readers don’t hang out on twitter. As the above tweet shows, it’s not necessarily going to reflect how well a book performs (especially since big names are so often targeted). It’s always been pretty debatable whether this particular platform even sell books. Anecdotally, I can also say that a lot of readers see the fires burning and run away. And even if they do stick around, a lot of people don’t want to get into the middle of a confrontation (giving the false impression that the debates are one-sided).

Which is why I wish publishers would take twitter with a pinch of salt. Instead of going off how angry someone can get in 140 characters or how many clapping emojis a person can use in one go, maybe just maybe, they can hold their nerve and wait for the general reading public to vote with their wallets. Maybe it’s time we ignored the drama flaming on twitter.

Ooh err, hope I don’t get burned at the stake for this one! 😉 But given I do actually like free speech- I’m open to hearing your thoughts! What do you think about book twitter? Do you think it’s representative of the reading public? Let me know in the comments!

The Divinity of the Diviners – Series Review!

audiobook2What a devilishly delightful series! Amazingly atmospheric and pos-i-tutely petrifying at times, this 1920s New York ghost story will give you a run for your money. I listened to the audiobooks for this series and every step of the way was a real showstopper. January Lavoy did an unbelievable job bringing the world, characters and writing to life! It’s the best performance I’ve heard in a while!

While this does carry a lot of the hallmarks of YA- which we’ll get to later- this certainly stands out from the crowd. Taking countless twists and turns, these books are jam packed with plots and subplots. Admittedly that’s because these are hefty tomes, so if you pick them up, you’ll be in it for the long haul (especially if you go with the audiobook version- which I’ll push forever 😉).

However, given this is such a character driven story, a lot of the time is spent getting to know the stars of the show inside and out. For me, what makes these books special is how much each of the personalities shine in turn. I especially loved book 2, Lair of Dreams, with its focus shifting to my favourites, the adorably debonair Henry and the lovely Ling! Even my least favourite heroine, the rather sanctimonious Mabel, had a real crisis of personality, realising she couldn’t just believe in her own goodness to win out. And that’s just one example of the brilliant multi-faceted complexity! 

I also loved that these books were brimming with romantic subplots. And, I can’t believe I’m saying this, it even had a love triangle that really works! Not only was it done in a believable way, it also doesn’t contain cheating! (it doesn’t hurt that my ship sailed!) And if that trope doesn’t tempt you (which I get) then have no fear- this also has forbidden love, hate to love, fake dating, slow burn and more!

Now, for me, there were a few downsides. As much as I appreciated the general idea that history rises from the grave and that we have to learn to hear the ghosts of our past, I did think the messaging took over from time to time. Once again, this was a case of me not enjoying the insertion (of what was ostensibly modern) politics into fiction. Granted, I believe there was an attempt at rousing people into being better… but when there are passages on the tragedy of massacred buffalo, I had to come to the conclusion that this was not about taking the good with the bad. This was the story of a nation that has fallen out of love with itself. Perhaps it is witnessing the fires burning from across the pond, but I personally find that rather depressing.

Then there was the ending. Though I divined bits and pieces, I didn’t entirely see where it was heading. There was betrayal, heartbreak and horror. I thought victory would come at a high cost indeed… until a last second change that robbed me of that emotional impact. Now, entering *spoiler territory*, so highlight to read on… I personally felt like it made sense to have Isaiah defeat the King of Crows. When he realised that there was no story in the coat, it was reminiscent of the boy in Emperor’s New Clothes. But to have Isaiah come back from the dead just felt cheap. Yes, it was in the spirit of the story, yet it would have been better for the story to have him defeat the villain purely for the good of his family and move on. Dark as that might have been, the story would have been more beautiful for it.

Still, even if it wasn’t perfect, I enjoyed the hell out of this series! It delivered every emotion, from genuine *chills* to romantic *feels*. The perfect YA series for Spooktober that’s for sure. And I really can recommend the audiobook version- it was ab-so-lutely the cats pyjamas!

Rating: 4/5 bananas

hand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-banana 

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

The *SCARIEST* Worlds – Fictional Places I Wouldn’t Want To Visit!

I’m always talking about fantastical worlds I’d love to visit… but not about the ones I’d prefer to avoid! Which is why today, in honour of the spooky season, I’m going to brave these perilous places and report back all the reasons they’re not on the regular resort list!   

The Wood from Uprooted– yes, this world is lushly described, yes, it’s intriguing and yes, I love reading about freaky fantasy forests… BUT UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES DO I ACTUALLY WANT TO VISIT! I mean, the trees basically eat people, so that’s a hard pass on this as a holiday destination. 

The Hazel Wood from Hazel Wood– likewise I adore the creepilicious setting described in the world of this book- yet I hardly imagining chilling out in these woods… more like catching a chill! Far from feeling like a fairy story, this is the place where twisted tales live. Plus, not only is it a pain to get to, but once you get there it’s far from easy going.

Midnight from Winter of the Witch– haunting, atmospheric and exquisite to read, this is less a place where dreams are made and more a world that weaves nightmares. It is a world where time slows, where reality bleeds from the landscape and where the story takes a darker turn. And so, for all its beauty, I think I’d rather not take this detour in real life!

Ithrea from Doomspell– if you thought kid’s books would escape this list, you’d be mistaken. Kind of reminiscent of Narnia, this portal fantasy takes you to a land of eternal winter, with the *freakiest* witches imaginable. And the best-case scenario? You can become one of them!

Misery from Ravencry– I mean, the clue is in the name 😉 While it is alluring in its atmospheric way, it doesn’t exactly bring travellers any joy. Wading through this world is like losing little pieces of yourself. It’s grey and ghastly and grimdark… so not exactly a fun destination.

The Broken Empire from Prince of Thornssimilarly to the last one, this futuristic fantasy is a hellscape that doesn’t bear thinking about. In this case, it’s so hard to talk about this world without spoiling it, but suffice to say it’s chaotic, violence-filled and ravaged by nightmares.

Westeros from Game of Thrones– to my mind, GRRM’s world building is second to none. The long seasons that tie into the plot, the subtly hinted at supernatural elements and the terrors lurking in the background… And it’s for precisely all of the above reasons that I DO NOT want to visit. There’s the threat of White Walkers beyond the wall, the risk of Red Priestesses looking for their next sacrifice… not to mention all the human horrors. I mean, there are basically a million ways to die in Westeros and I think I’d rather keep my head attached to my body! So thanks for the invite, but NO THANKS!

The Old Kingdom from Sabriel– yay for necromancy and all that… but also this has necromancy and undead and all kinds of other terrors. I don’t much fancy wading into Death either. Let’s just keep our feet firmly planted in the land of the living, shall we?

The World from Shade’s Children– yes, another Garth Nix! Because apparently no one else writes creeptacular worlds quite like him. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, where there are no adults, children face being taken to the Meat Factory as soon as they turn fourteen (and yes, that’s just as “fun” as it sounds). And if you do escape, you’ll find yourself hunted down by the Overlords’ creatures… good times (although, seriously, if you’re looking for a good standalone for Halloween, then this is it!)

Raxter School for Girls from Wilder Girls– I had the pleasure of reading this last year. I say pleasure, but what I mean is this completely freaked me out. In this claustrophobic horror, stranded schoolgirls get picked off one at a time by a ferocious illness. Not for the faint of heart, I get a little squeamish just thinking about all the vivid descriptions of what can happen to you here. So yeah, I’m glad I was never posh enough for boarding school if this is what it’s all about 😉 

Panem from the Hunger Games– I think this would be a popular one to avoid. With its authoritarian government and poor standards of living, it doesn’t exactly scream a good getaway… More like somewhere you’d want to get-away from! Whether you’re starving in the sticks, getting murdered in the Games or watching other people die for sport- there’s basically nothing civilised about this civilisation.

Peculiardom from Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children– technically speaking, I could’ve talked about being trapped in time loops, but honestly I feel like every aspect of Rigg’s acutely rendered world is terrifying. While I love how this is brought to life with various old, unusual photos, I don’t much like the sound of being chased by Hollogasts and Wights- and you’ll feel the same if you read it!

1920s New York from the Diviners– funny how my most desirable location in history becomes the least desirable when you throw ghosts into the mix! It kinda stops being glitzy and glamorous when you add in a helluva lot of hauntings! And all of those creatures are so h-u-u-u-u-n-g-r-y! Yeahhh I’m running in the other direction!

So, there you go! Those are the places I *wouldn’t want to go* on pain of death… because most of them would cause a very painful death! What do you think of these worlds? Would you be willing to visit them? And which places would you dare not venture? Let me know in the comments!

Once and Future Witches was Beautifully Crafted!

***I SOLD MY SOUL TO NETGALLEY FOR THIS COPY AND WOULD DO IT AGAIN***

***Received from Netgalley in exchange for review- but the blessings I will bestow on this beauteous offering are all from me***

once and future witchesCast your mind back to January. Before we all fell under the corona curse, I was blessed to read a wondrous book called Ten Thousand Doors of January. Such was the enchantment of the narrative, I was sure that no other book I read this year could surpass it… Until now. For, Once and Future Witches has utterly bewitched me.

Before we get started, I must confess I lost my notes for this review. No matter how much I hunted for them, those devilish scribblings couldn’t be found. Never fear, however- I shall scry my memories to tell you why you should read this wickedly clever twist on Arthurian legends and fairy tales. With legendary skill, Harrow roots this story in the oral tradition, telling of ancient tales resurrected and revived into something new (actually, given all that, it’s kind of fitting that my notes vanished into the aether).

Masterfully written, this has the kind of charm you cannot put into words. Dressed in darkness and showing off its witchy wares, this captivated me from the start. Weaving its magic steadily through the pages, I was cloaked in its mystifying atmosphere. Hinting at history, yet entirely made up- this ties threads together that don’t really belong in one story. It shouldn’t really work- and yet, as if by magic, they all blend together in a remarkable tapestry. In fact, the story snaps so many conventions in its crooked fingers, pointing us in a dazzling new direction… which I suppose just shows that some rules were made to be broken 😉

witchy monkey2I’ll admit, I’ve always had a soft spot for witches. Unconventional and with pinch of dubious intent, they feed my need for anti-heroines. And these were no exception! They weren’t your average “good girls” nor were they cackling caricatures- they were entirely fleshed out as individuals. Mirroring archetypes, they came to life thanks to their distinct personalities, steady development and most importantly their relationship with each other. Beyond the romances and friendships, my favourite part of this story was how it explored the complexities of sisterhood. Evil brews throughout the story- yet they learn to stand together in the face of it.

The plot was quite something to behold. For a spell, I did wonder where the story was heading. But ultimately, it comes full circle, setting a blaze of drama and thrilling me to the core. And there are real costs at the end of it. The results were haunting; it left a shadow in its wake.

Stories are layered atop of stories here. While some of these will be familiar, others are utterly unique. Covering the woman’s suffrage movement and more, this delved into areas I usually prefer not to see in my fiction… but given Harrow’s talent I can’t pretend to have been all that bothered by it. Whether I agreed with every bit of its themes or not, this was a tale that held a great deal of power. It enthralled me even in its gloom. It conjured more beauty than I ever could have imagined possible. And you really can’t ask for more than that.

Rating: one eye of newt, three dead mans toes, some serpents teeth…

Just kidding: 5/5 bananas of course!

hand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-banana

So, have you read either of Alix E Harrow’s books? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!