Monthly Monkey Mini Reviews – A Long December

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Soooo November was a month and a half… It started out pretty quiet- and then I found out I will be moving flat before the end of the year– which to be fair has been in the works for a while, but I only got confirmation when that’ll be happening mid-November. That’s obviously meant I’ve been a bit all over the place when it comes to blogging- and unfortunately might mean a bit more disruption in the next few weeks- though I do have some posts planned/scheduled. Needless to say, this could end up being a long December- WISH ME LUCK!

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Annnd to top it all off, I also managed to get a bit sick, which wasn’t a fun state to be in while lugging boxes of books…

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O-k-a-y I think we’ve covered all the life updates- I’ll keep you posted on all of that- until then let’s talk about what really matters: BOOKS! Fortunately, I managed to get some reading in this month, though granted it tailed off towards the end. So here we go!

grace and fury cover

Grace and Fury– I was pleasantly surprised by this YA! It was one of the books I got from Naty and I’m so glad, because I probably wouldn’t have read it otherwise! Opening with a nice bait and switch (which I can’t reveal cos it’s quite spoiler) I was instantly drawn into the intense and fast-paced plot. With a graceful writing style and furious world building, I quickly got the sense that this story was basically Handmaid’s Tale meets Italian culture. Personally, I liked how the narrative played with themes like knowledge is power, whilst very much keeping the entertainment value going. That said, though I didn’t guess everything, there were elements that were a tad predictable. One of the biggest issues being that a very famous book (written at the same time) had the exact same plot twist- which is just unlucky. Since I could see various things coming, there were times when I was screaming at Nomi “don’t you know you’re a YA heroine?” Serina ended up being far more interesting to me, because she had so much more room for growth. Still, the dual perspective really worked for me and I definitely want to read more! I’ve already reserved the next one at my library 😊

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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in order to live

In Order to Live– I don’t have a lot to say about this autobiography from a young North Korean defector other than you should read it! Such an incredible and moving story, this is by far one of the best things I’ve read this year. It reduced me to a blubbering mess. There were two things that struck a chord with me the most: firstly, that there is only a one-year age difference between Park and me, which is a crazy thing to put in context; and secondly, Park talking about how Animal Farm and 1984 opened up her understanding of North Korea, which I think is so important for those who doubt the veracity of these works. This book could well be the puzzle piece linking Orwell’s prophetic vision with the real world. I know that Park taught me so much about the realities of living in a communist state and I believe it has the power to shake the world. I regret that I don’t have more to say, I was just too absorbed in it to write notes. So just read it, okay?

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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bright side

Bright Side– I’ve been meaning to read this Adult Romance for *years*- and I finally did it! Ever since I read Deanna @A Novel Glimpse’s glowing reviews and generally chatting about it, I bought it on kindle and was saving it for a rainy day. It did take me a while to get into the writing style, but I slowly but surely really warmed to the heroine and the cute (and sometimes steamy) romance. In fact, I defy anyone not to fall for the main character- she’s the kind of person guaranteed to make anyone smile! Buuut this is also the kind of story to drive you to tears (which seems like a bit of a theme this month 😉). Cos OOF- this gets emotional. So, thanks Deanna for that 😉 (just kidding, I love when books make me cry 😉 this is going down as one of the best book blogging recs! ❤ ). I absolutely recommend this if you like the genre- just make sure you have a box of tissues handy, cos you’re gonna need it!

Rating: 4½/5 bananas

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turn of the key

Turn of the Key– I’ve been really into thrillers the last few months and this one was high on my radar- because I loved the Smart House modern twist on Turn of the Screw– what a genius idea! And I have to say, that was the part Ware really pulled out all the stops. The creepy setting and chilling atmosphere was the book’s biggest strength. It was super addictive as well- the kind of thriller you won’t want to put down. As a retelling, it did have subtle hints of the original, including the unreliable narrator and unlikeable characters. I also appreciated some of the *bombshell* secrets along the way; some of those plot twists were insane! That said, it’s quite hard not to draw comparisons with the original and find this comes up short at times. One of the biggest draws of Henry’s narrative is the ambiguity- which I understand isn’t a massive selling point to the modern audience- so when the final reveal twist came… I wasn’t entirely behind it. Partly because I’m not a huge fan of that particular twist in fiction, but mostly because sometimes it’s better not knowing all the answers. Still, a really solid contemporary thriller:

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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call down the hawk

Call Down the Hawk– this book was like reading a dream. Everything is slightly hard to pin down- while you know there is meaning in there somewhere, if you can only grab it and pull it out, it’s kind of a trippy experience travelling through the narrative. From the mesmerising opening, the simply stunning writing draws you back into the world of the Raven Cycle. Except this sequel series is more focused on the Dreamer, Ronan, who just so happened to be my favourite character! I loved seeing some of the old gang- the Lynch brothers, Adam, Chainsaw and Opal all starred in this again. I did also come to like some of the new characters- especially Jordan Henessey- whose story was unique and fitting and took the plot in a good direction. Ultimately, I did enjoy this, though it was certainly an unusual read.

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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So, have you read any of these? What did you think of them? Or do you plan to pick any of them up? Let me know in the comments!

Creeping Round My Feelings for Queen’s Thief…

So, this is a series I ended up having *mixed feelings* about. All respect to the author for writing such a unique and interesting fantasy YA- but WOW there were some things about the plot in the second book that I can’t get my head round. I’m gonna keep away from spoilers for the most part, and any I do discuss will be hidden from view (you can highlight for them as always 😉 ). Just be prepared for a long one, cos I’m gonna reveal my deep, dark thoughts here…

thief

The Thief– this was by far my favourite of the series and I’d recommend it regardless of the rest of the series. It worked well as a standalone and I just had an awesome time with the audiobook 😊 On the surface, it’s a simple quest story, trying to steal ancient treasure… but it’s so much more than that! As a fantasy, it also reminded me of Cinda Chima Williams- in the best possible way- the fantasy is effective, yet the strength is really the plot and characters. Ahh the characters in this one were *the best*. Each and every one of them. The plot did admittedly have some elements of predictability, however, I *loved* each and every twist and turn. It didn’t matter that I guessed the ending, because I thoroughly enjoyed being proven right. Plus, the way it tied together was TERRIFIC! Certain bits and pieces snuck up on me and were a total surprise! *Applause* all round! I also absolutely love the way the setting and myths are inspired by Greek mythology and by Greece itself, but also manages to be very much its own thing. This is the kind of book that will leave you with a big smile on your face!

Rating: 4½/5 bananas

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queen of attolia

Queen of Attolia– sooo this one made my *happy feelings* disappear. And I get it, the author wanted to go in a darker direction, but this is SO MUCH DARKER. I rarely get squeamish these days, but this book made me queasy. I’d say it was Game of Thrones levels of dark… except there was a senselessness to the violence that even Martin doesn’t achieve. Worse still, this then meant the book hit some major roadblocks. I did initially think that the trauma was being well handled- it felt nuanced and honest and I didn’t mind that not everything added up to a straightforward recovery story… That was until the story went off in a direction that *made no sense* and dove off a cliff as far as I’m concerned. I’m sorry to say this, because for so many people the romance is what they love about the series, but… WTF?!?! Thing is, there were ways this could’ve made sense for the overall plot and hate to love is one of my favourite tropes, HOWEVER there are limits. And highlight for spoiler: this bitch literally cut off his hand. Because HE SMILED AT HER! Once one party in a romance is flinching away from the other and legitimately terrified, it doesn’t come across as romantic. It didn’t help that the romance came out of nowhere (although I really don’t think there’s any way to make the love interest redeemable). And no, this isn’t the kind of situation where you can play it off as “aww they liked each other all along”. It’s not sweet; it’s demented. I wasn’t crazy about the switch from first person to third person (incidentally moving the series away from being about just one main character). One of the biggest problems is it tried to soften an aforementioned hard-ass, *evil* character- and I just thought that was a tall order in this case. Everything else, like the world building and the writing, was even better than the first- I was just so frustrated with that big plot point. I ended up a bit all over the place with my feelings for this book, because as you can tell there were parts I despised, it’s just… I was still emotionally invested, moved tremendously at times and liked a lot of the story elements. It didn’t hurt that it had a very good final twist too. Because I was split down the middle on this one, I gave it:

Rating: 2½/5 bananas

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king of attolia

King of Attolia– the good thing about this series is that they feel disconnected enough that I wasn’t totally put off by my negative feelings for the last one… The problem with this book was it wasn’t good enough in its own right to really grab my attention. The main character of this one was a guard and, *le sigh*, I never really fall for the stoic soldier type. Granted there were some entertaining elements- as much as I wasn’t interested in Costis, Gen was quite the performer. This did have clever plotting, but it was a sloooow burn and it didn’t feel like there was enough in it to warrant a whole book. Much of the story felt like build up for later books. I was mostly glad I read it, because I don’t know any other writer who pulls off political conspiracy as well as Whalen- the king could shock and play them off against each other in genius ways. I do think that if you’re more into court intrigue than I am, you’ll love this, so I wouldn’t write it off completely. But it wasn’t really for me. Sidenote though: loved the continued link to classics and the use of “wine dark sea” was the highlight of the book for me- bravo!

Rating: 3/5 bananas

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conspiracy of kings

Conspiracy of Kings– this was MUCH BETTER! I’d safely say, it was a return to the form of the original book. Sophos is, quite simply, more likeable and interesting and pleasant to read about. I enjoyed this immensely and found it far more engaging. While there was a lull in the middle, it picked up towards the end and I couldn’t stop reading. Again, this was about the political shenanigans, not just brute strength, which I have to say I greatly appreciated as an alternative to a lot of other fantasy. The twist was clever as well- and for once I didn’t suspect it! Ironically, my biggest complaint was that it didn’t have the stones to go in a darker direction. That’s right, I’m criticising it for not doing one of the things I didn’t like in the earlier book. There’s just no pleasing some monkeys 😉 To be fair, this was quite a different issue. Highlight for spoilers: this was one of those cases where the dead family members should’ve stayed dead- bringing them back served no purpose and cheapened the emotional costs of his failure. Because in this case there was actually a reason for this loss. It didn’t feel as senseless as the earlier brutality. On a more nitpicky note, I also thought that a lot of the people in this series have bizarre relationships. Too often, people don’t hate the people they should rightly hate. It wasn’t as bad as the issue in Queen of Attolia, but it was still noticeably strange to have certain people being all buddy-buddy. Still, most of the friendships were done well and I actually liked the romance here. RESULT!

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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Ultimately, this series was unusually up and down for me. I can safely say I’m glad I read it- because it’s so different from a lot of the typical fantasy fare out there- although I still have serious reservations about some of the story choices. And while most of the characters were amazing, there were others I wanted to punch in the face (at the very least).

Phew- that was a long one- thanks if you stuck with it! Have you read this series? Do you plan to? And, I’m curious now, are there any romances you just can’t get behind? Let me know in the comments! 

Monthly Monkey Mini Reviews – November (with lots of *witchy* reads)

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I was definitely feeling the spirit of Halloween last month, that’s for damn sure! I went into full on witchy mode for most of my reading. I felt inspired to do the terrifying thing of starting out on Instagram (and am so grateful for the welcoming response I had from you guys!!!). And I even rewatched Hocus Pocus for the millionth time (because why the hell not? 😉). Some parts of the month I also managed to feel like hellish fiends were chasing me… but that’s a story for another day 😉 Right now, it’s time to talk BOOKS!

furies

The Furies– it seems I picked this up by a pleasant twist of fate. The Furies turned out to be an underrated, witchy read, perfect for this time of year. Opening on an intriguing snapshot of a mysterious death, I was quickly subsumed in the atmospheric and subtle setting. With a shivery, isolated feel throughout, the story held true to its promise of witchcraft, yet also delivering more of a mythic element I hadn’t expected, giving it a Secret History vibe. I will say, it does have some dark content, including sexual assault, but personally I thought it was handled well. I very much liked the descriptive writing as well and while not blown away by the more philosophical musings, I didn’t hate them. The one thing that kept me from being completely blown away was that I kind of hated everyone in the story by the end. It made sense in the context of the story that no one was likeable- it just unfortunately meant it didn’t fully cast its spell over me. That said, it was still a solid:

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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bone witch

The Bone Witch– this one was a bit more of a disappointment. Initially hooked by the concept of a girl accidentally bring her brother back from the dead and discovering her necromantic powers, I had high hopes for this. I did really like the poetic style to begin with and the way the dual narrators was done. Yet, what started off so well somehow failed to capture my heart. Despite the original opening line, the distant writing style made it hard to connect with the characters. Everything came across as so dispassionate that I struggled not to switch off. The middle reallllly sagged as well- and, to be honest, I was dead bored by the end. Which, I personally thought was a unique take, but get why it would turn a lot of readers off (I don’t want to get into spoilers, but let’s just say this is because you might see the protagonist in a different light…) When it came to world building, the Bone Witch totally killed it. When it came to everything else… not so much. Just on the basis of quality, I gave it:

Rating: 3/5 bananas

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small spaces

Small Spaces– if you’re looking for a cosy Middle Grade with spooky vibes, then look no further! I very much enjoyed Arden’s mysterious and fun and cute story. The writing style was sharp and funny. I really liked the characters as well- especially the spunky protagonist and the *amazing* dad. It was clever how it handled the topic of grief and the friendship side of the narrative made me smile. It was a super quick read though- so fast I didn’t have time to take notes 😉

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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book of hidden things 3

The Book of Hidden Things– I found out about this hidden gem on Zezee with Book’s blog- and I’m so glad I did! There was something strangely seductive about this book. A seemingly simple story about friends reuniting in their hometown of Casalfranco, it is given a touch of magical realism as they delve into the mysterious disappearance of one of their group. Told using different POVs, the writing gently lulled me into a false sense of security. Don’t be fooled though, there’s clearly more going on under the surface. The violence and wildness of the Southern Italian setting slowly reveals itself, until the subtle atmosphere fell away, and I realised there were far more sinister forces at work. I will say, there was a lot of mature and troubling content in this- so *all the warnings*, cos this is definitely not YA. And cos of that this won’t be for everyone. But all the messed-up stuff is exactly right for a book like this. These are characters evoking dark arts and getting tangled in an increasingly twisted tale… and that’s all I’ll give you here! It’s the kind of book where so much relies on ambiguity that I don’t want to give too much away. Just prepare yourself if you plan to read it- this has a sharp edge to it.

Rating: 4½/5 bananas

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So, have you read any of these? What did you think of them? Or do you plan to pick any of them up? Let me know in the comments!

Monthly Monkey Mini Reviews – October

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Phew- I’ve gotta admit my thoughts about this month were a bit like this for me…

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Thank goodness it’s October, the month of spookiness, pumpkins and maybe even a little controversy 😉 But, more on my blogging plans later! For now, let’s talk about the *ridiculous* amount of reading I did to get me through last month. As you’ll notice, I was not only on a MASSIVE thriller kick, but I also felt the need to talk about most books I read last month. So, strap in, it’s gonna be a long one!

death of mrs westaway

The Death of Mrs Westaway– such a strong thriller to start on! Let’s break it down:

One, the sorrowful opening had me intrigued, flying into that old magpie nursery rhyme many of us have ingrained since childhood and nesting layers of mystery.

Two, the gothic vibes and overt links to Rebecca really worked for me, especially as we journeyed into Cornwall. Yet, don’t be fooled! It’s far from a straightforward retelling…

Three, the girl is the magician figure at the heart of the story- a tarot reader upturning the perfectly ordered world of the Westaways, reading more than she should in the cards.

Four, the boys on which the clues converge caught my eye.

Five, the silvery writing kept me engaged throughout.

Six, the golden promise of the premise, leading me down one path, only to about turn down another. I suspected the outcome early on, but Ware’s nicely played sleight of hand fooled me so that I couldn’t properly foresee the outcome.

Seven, all the secrets that unfold. Each one is more satisfying to uncover than the last. The one thing holding me back from rewarding this with all the bananas is that the perp is the *usual suspect*. Still, I’d highly recommend this:

Rating: 4½/5 bananas

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the woman in cabin 10

The Woman in Cabin 10– so the pitch for this thriller is pretty straightforward: Rear Window- on a boat! It’s a fun idea and kept me absorbed throughout, but I couldn’t say it made a big splash overall. Perhaps it was cos I was drowning in thrillers this month, yet a lot of this felt like it was treading water trying to be different and still felt samey. I wasn’t hugely taken with the mc and the twists didn’t really wash. Still, I do like how Ware weaves in inspiration from other sources and will keeping a keen eye out for more of her books:

Rating: 3/5 bananas

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last time I lied

Last Time I Lied– to tell the truth, this was my favourite thriller of the month. Reading this was pretty much a no brainer after Lock Every Door– and it certainly didn’t disappoint! Beginning with a powerful use of second person pov, I was instantly gripped by the descriptive prose and tragic backstory. As is the case in many thrillers, I wasn’t quite able to connect with the characters, but the plot more than made up for that. Last Time I Lied was compelling, unpredictable and led down slippery paths. Though I knew something bad would happen, I could never count on the whens, whys, hows. I was as lost as the protagonist. My attention dipped momentarily… only for the BIG TURN to pick up the pace again. The *freaky* turn of events grabbed my attention. I was practically shouting at the reveals. I had been led to believe I was in for a straightforward ending… but I was completely deceived. *WOW*- it blew my expectations right out of the water. All in all, this was a super summery thriller. Sager has now made a habit of keeping me up at night. I can’t lie: I want to read more from this author.

Rating: 4½/5 bananas

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final girls

Final Girls– with a cool horror-movie-themed concept and a gripping opening, I thought I was guaranteed another rollercoaster ride. Unfortunately, I found the flashback scenes far more interesting than the present-day narrative. I’ve mentioned before I have difficulty making sense of thriller-characters- and the protagonist’s boyfriend and mum were the best example of this- what the eff was up with their attitudes?! I mean, they spent the entire book thinking the mc ought to be completely normal after her ordeal, even though it was completely understandable that she wasn’t! I did like the unreliable side to the protagonist, especially since it blended well with her cookie-cutter façade. Still, I did enjoy the vast majority of the plot and where a lot of the breadcrumbs led. The problem is, I just wasn’t crazy about that final twist. Once again, I thought I could guess the twist… but I got it all wrong. Yet this time it was because the lead was buried too deep. After the more intriguing premise, highlight for spoilers, I felt the *here’s another random sociopath again* disappointing. It was just another guy without a proper motive. So, the bait and switch with the baddies felt unnecessary. I did like this book, but it wasn’t the best:

Rating: 3½/5 bananas

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wife between us

The Wife Between Us– I’m divided on my feelings for this book. It was particularly well written, had a strong premise and a great midpoint turn, alas- it just wasn’t the mind-blowing book I was hoping for. It was a typical thriller focusing on domestic violence. Nothing about it truly shook me to my core or shocked me. I could see a lot of the story beats a mile off. This was by no means bad, but I can’t see why the hype train was so wedded to this book 😉

Rating: 3/5 bananas

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witches of east end

Witches of East End- an atmospheric opening, a cool concept, a story I already liked from the show- what could go wrong? Well, sadly, a few things. Even though the show is a vague memory at this point, I did remember that some aspects were done better and I just preferred the TV take. I didn’t connect with the characters as much as I had when I watched the show. Fortunately, the plot did keep me on my toes. Since it was so long since I’d seen the show, I enjoyed the twists and turns throughout. And the ending definitely had a strong hook to make the reader want to pick up more… if only I had been more in love with the rest of it!

Rating: 3/5 bananas

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beastly

Beastly- well this is another one where I’d seen the adaptation first, buuut I ended up preferring the book to the film! Success! Given that this is a retelling, I don’t suppose it mattered much that I already knew the story. Besides, I thought this was a spunky, modern take on the classic. While I’m not usually keen on text-speak, I did like how it was used here to spark a bit of humour. The story also felt deeper than the movie- yes, the message of inner beauty being more valuable was repetitious- but at least it made more sense than in the Hollywood version where everyone was conventionally attractive throughout. I particularly preferred the book’s ending- it had some nice, unexpected turns and was more dramatic. All in all, I didn’t go in expecting anything fresh, so was pleasantly surprised to find this blossomed into a sweet romantic YA.

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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beowulf.jpg

Beowulf– this was *hands down* the best book I read all month. This exquisite translation by Seamus Heaney gave me a newfound respect for his work and I owe thanks to the fantastic Joelendil for recommending it to me. I absolutely adored the way the alliterative language leapt off the page and painted a vivid picture of the past. While I don’t personally know Old English, I found it fascinating to have a bilingual edition, because I could easily compare individual words and phrases. The story itself was a lot more entertaining than I thought. Every part worked in tandem to create thrilling tension and awe-inspiring drama. This took me to grim depths and dragon-soaring highs. I cannot recommend it enough!

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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eugene onegin

Eugene Onegin– there was a lot to like about this: the story, the character and Pushkin’s conversational tone all shined through in Roger Clarke’s translation. Sadly though, something does feel lost in this rather literal translation. Something of old Russia is evoked, but not as much as I’d have liked. I felt like I was only getting half the wonder, a glimpse of the beauty, a fraction of the emotion. Ah well, not every translation can all be as good as Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf. It was still worth the read.

Rating: 4/5 bananas 

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So, have you read any of these? What did you think of them? Or do you plan to pick any of them up? Let me know in the comments!

Monthly Monkey Mini Reviews – September

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Well, August was both very quiet and ridiculously busy for me. The highlight was that for my mum’s birthday- where not only did we make plenty of cake, but we all got to fulfil a lifelong dream by going to see the Bolshoi Ballet’s Swan Lake. It was *magical* (I swear, if you’re ever within 100 miles of this, you should drop everything and go see!!)

monkey baby and orangutan at the opera0003

Funnily enough, it was a month of ballet, since my sister the Monkey Baby kindly wangled me a few free classes. Me and my two left feet weren’t any good, but I had fun (also I have turned it into an excuse to make another cartoon 😉)

ballet monkeys

(I can safely say this is an accurate portrayal of how dainty I am IRL)

Anyhoo, I did read quite a lot buuuut I don’t feel passionate enough to review a number of them. So, *shrugs apish shoulders* only gonna just talk about a handful…

summer that melted everything

Summer that Melted Everything- I suppose this isn’t much of a hot take, but this book has the most beautiful writing. Somehow it comes across as natural, whilst also creating extraordinary imagery and transporting the reader beyond the bounds of this world. We are taken to another time and place, situated in a surreal landscape where anything is possible, and forced to reconcile ourselves with very real issues. I don’t know if this is a spoiler, but it’s not about the devil at all, it’s an exploration of the Aids crisis. And with that come some very interesting thoughts about the human psyche. Admittedly, there’s not much in the way of plot and an awful lot of this is designed to deliver the author’s opinion… and yet I was okay with that. It reminded me of Steinbeck. Sure, the author is opinionated, but when you can write like this, who cares? Now, I won’t suggest that all the opinions in the book are the author’s (obviously) but some of the views can’t be substantiated- it took the concept of sympathy for the devil too far for me when defending the indefensible- I just don’t see “have you ever lost control” as much of an argument. I do think, however, that it’s important to look into the heart of evil, if only so we know what not to do. And this was certainly a fascinating vehicle to take us on that journey. The story simmers from beginning to end, finally releasing in a cool torrent that takes the edge off. I’d say there are not many writers of this calibre in this generation, but really there aren’t many in any generation.

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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astonishing colour of after

Astonishing Colour of After- whether you like this book will come down to how purple you can take your purple prose. Cos I shouldn’t even say “purple prose” for this- it’s more like a lilac-lavender-infusion of imagery. For me, not all the images worked, but when they did it was most definitely *astonishing*. When the language landed, it was exquisite. It allowed the story to soar above expectations. It nested in a family tree woven with lovely moments and messages. They were stitched together in a complex tapestry, a true work of art, which superseded nature in its beauty. I particularly loved the idea of being “changed by a ghost”, how the theme of memory was handled and the way this tied into culture. Having said that, there were times when it was a little overwhelming and clouded the simpler intentions of the narrative. And some of the plot wavered with superfluous narrative constructs- for my part, I’m beginning to tire of the “patriarchal/oppressive figure doesn’t want me doing art” trope- it’s a little tiresome and overdone (though I don’t doubt such ignorant people exist, I just wish protagonists would swiftly put forward a coherent argument against the view that *you can only succeed in the sciences*, rather than having a book-long unnecessary conflict with their otherwise reasonable parents). Personal opinions on that aside, this was a layered contemporary that deals with grief in a unique way and is well worth the read!

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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lock every door

Lock Every Door– this book unlocked a primordial fear of powerful creeps. I loved the story within the story aspect (I nearly always do 😉); I appreciated the unique (to me) setting. I raced through this rather gothic book as if I was genuinely trapped inside the Bartholomew. Now, I will say that I guessed the twist in chapter 1. In fact, I figured out the second twist midway and got every plot beat down before I got to it in the narrative. I can’t tell you why, for fear of ruining the entire plot, but it’s signposted and if you’ve read other books with a similar twist, you’ll get it too. Also, highlight for minor spoilers ahead, the main character is not the sharpest knife in the drawer- she was trusting to the point of absurdity, she let the obviously dodgy guy know she was suspicious and didn’t RUN when the alarm bells in her brain were already going off. Although I have the benefit of having read more than one book in my life- presumably if she was into modern thrillers to know that it’s always the privileged white dude these days 😉 If she’d had that knowledge, there’d have been no plot. Having said all that, I can’t fault the execution and have to congratulate Sager on successfully stealing a night’s sleep from me 😉

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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milkman

Milkman– oh the mixed feelings! I appreciated much of the themes and subject matter. The setting was particularly well done: the judgemental, closed community had a suffocating edge to it, the backdrop for the gossip gave the story a true feel of danger lurking, and the town’s inhabitants felt real. It definitely made me feel like I was in the thick of the Troubles. I was glad to have read this after having made my trip “over the water this year”. In spite of this strong sense of time and place, however, I can only give it credit for reminding me of a history worth caring about, rather than inspiring me to care in its own right. I was initially also taken by the writing style- I liked that it wasn’t quite literal and the ambiguity of using identifiers instead of names gave it a clever (and somewhat unsettling) lilt. Yet, as much as the writing style was distinctive, it also bogged down a lot of the telling. Much of the narrative came across as too convoluted and dense. Ultimately, it didn’t blow me away, but it’s not a bad book by any stretch of the imagination and it’s certainly pushing boundaries with the way it was told.

Rating: 3/5 bananas

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gentleman's guide to vice and virtue

Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue– well this is a bananas books- in some good ways and some not so good ways! Unpopular opinion time: this contemporary take on the Grand Tour is both fun and incredibly silly. While the romance is sensational, the rest is pretty much shocking. Granted all of this was given away in the marketing, but this book is scandalous by 18th century standards… in that I couldn’t buy that this was supposed to actually be the 18th century?! Kudos to the author for doing her research and creating an elaborate backdrop for her story, but this pantomime impression divided the stage into villainous representations of history, versus some 21st century ideals in fancy dress. And, as much as the writing occasionally made me chuckle, too often it had me laughing for the wrong reasons (apparently certain biological functions cure women of squeamishness guys 😉). Then there were the (*ahem* these guys totally didn’t step out of the 21st century) heroes. Monty is simultaneously foppishly adorable and entirely unlikeable. Felicity is so acerbic that there’s no chance of me reading the sequel in which she stars. And Percy was thankfully more than his laundry list of identifiers- although perhaps too idealised to feel real. There’s an ongoing joke about the boys being clueless and seriously THEY’RE FRICKIN CLUELESS (I envisaged them as modern-day trust fund babies… which didn’t help me make sense of the fact they’re still breathing by the end of the book). I also didn’t feel like they got proper character growth- rather we were dealt far-too-frequent “teachable moments” instead because *18th CENTURY IDEAS ARE BAD* (who’d have thunk it)- alas this isn’t a substitute since I was just as irked by their personalities at the end as the beginning (le sigh). Regardless, the plot did plod along reasonably well and that romance was ridiculously good:

Rating: 3/5 bananas

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Oof that last review got a little longer than I intended… Anyhoo, have you read any of these? What did you think of them? Or do you plan to pick any of them up? Let me know in the comments!

Monthly Monkey Mini Reviews – August

 

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Well somehow we’ve managed to whizz through July- the month Wimbledon and strawberries and cream!

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(obviously, this is not an accurate portrayal: if I’d been at Wimbledon, especially if I’d been playing, I think people might have noticed the giant orange primate 😉 still sometimes these cartoons act as wish fulfilment and it was a great tournament!)

I did take a step back from the blog last month, for some not-so-serious-but-still-a-pain personal reasons. But I’m happy to have squeezed in my giveaway– if you haven’t seen it yet and would like to enter there’s still time!

mythos

Mythos– wow- Fry has a real way with words- no wonder he’s such a national treasure! He awes you and makes you chuckle and delights you with his stories! It was a pure pleasure to read and appealed to my classicist heart. He knows so much, about so many topics- which I’ll admit at times was a bit of an *information overload*. But that’s not a bad thing- it gave me plenty to think about. I loved how the myths were woven together- he drew connections wisely, teases more to come, and ultimately entraps you in his wondrous tales. Whether I agree with every take is somewhat irrelevant, cos as Fry states, retellings shift the narrative to suit the teller. No two people will come away with exactly the same impressions from the originals- and so each telling is recreating them from scratch. And I love that idea as a basis for this project. Plus, I believe he leaned on Ovid, so I can hardly complain 😉 Mythos was a real treat and I’m very much looking forward to the sequel.

Rating: 4½/5 bananas

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behind her eyes

Behind Her Eyes- oh the mixed feelings!! I was initially really taken in by this story. I liked the clean, easy writing style. I appreciated the switching timelines to create interest and tension. The jagged edges of secrets were poking through the narrative from the start. I guessed only bits and pieces of where it was heading. BUT- and here’s the kicker- there’s a reason you won’t be able to guess it all. Because the twist breaks all the rules of a thriller by being completely unbelievable. Maybe it’s the fault of knowing genre conventions to well, or maybe it’s just knowing enough about the topic of astral projection that this was wayyy too far beyond the realms of plausibility for me. So, sure, they were right to market this as #WTFThatEnding, because you’ll never get it before the end- but that’s because it doesn’t have a logical answer (I saw the most brilliant review on GR if you want an edgier take) I’m trying to avoid being spoilery, because I feel like this is something I could have done with knowing before getting into the novel. My warning to future readers is: don’t go into this book looking for realism. There’s a chance you might like this if you’re expecting something a bit more paranormal. You might find it fun if you’re along for the ride and don’t think too much about it (or secretly believe lucid dreamers have superpowers- fun fact: I’m a lucid dreamer, so unless I missed that day “in training”, there’s no magic to it 😉 ). Personally, while I was gripped throughout, I ended up feeling cheated, which is why I only gave it a slice of banana over 3*:

Rating: 3¼/5 bananas

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the marriage pact

audiobook2The Marriage Pact– this isn’t the worst book ever and would understand if people enjoyed it… that said I’m about to do nothing but bitch and moan about it. For starters, I listened to this on audiobook and my enjoyment was somewhat impacted by the fact that the voice actor did made every female character sound super cringey. A slightly bigger problem, however, was that THE CULT ASPECT MAKES NO SENSE. And that’s not a spoiler, because a) it couldn’t be anymore stereotypically cultish if it tried and b)  they jokingly call it a cult when it’s introduced. What’s bizarre about that is they pretend to have a back-and-forth debate over whether it is in fact a cult throughout the book- as if there’s any room for disagreement. What’s EVEN MORE bizarre is that, though they know it’s a dodgy organisation from the off, they join anyway?! Why would anyone want to be part of a club which dictates the minutia of your relationship? Exclusive or not, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to sign up. Aside from the odd party (emphasis on the odd- cos you can expect to be weighed, measured and found wanting at one of these auspicious events). I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure cults are sneakier at getting their claws into people and I’m baffled that this wasn’t more thought through. Anyway, as you might expect from their jumping headfirst into this shitshow, the main couple is a pair of bloody idiots. I particularly hated Alice- especially as she was so often framed as “perfect” and then falling short of that perfection (obviously). Add in antagonists who are all “the ends justify the means” clichés and you have a truly terrible cast. Yet the thing that really lost me was when this got faux philosophical- I mean, this is a silly thriller about a highend cult- call me crazy but I’m not looking for deep discussions about the “purpose of marriage” here. It didn’t help that the whole premise of what makes a good marriage came from a flawed vision of the unattainable Hollywood-style romance and I couldn’t help but think of Dr Jordan Peterson saying “what makes you think you want a relationship so you can be happy?” (it’s far more fascinating what he has to say on the matter, I can assure you, but the gist being research indicates relationships fail if they’re too negative BUT ALSO if they’re too positive). Anyway, back to this bonkers book, the ending was also spectacularly stupid: simultaneously predictable and underwhelming. There were a lot of more interesting places this idea could have gone. I did agree with the choice they made- which (since we’re getting all faux philosophical) basically came down to “do you want to be powerless and free or powerful and authoritarian”. For me, the answer’s a no-brainer. Just like my rating:

Rating: 2/5 bananas

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magic bites

Magic Bites– I enjoyed this, though I’m not sure it was totally for me. I can say for certain that it’s really well written and I get why people love it. Kate Daniels was a very cool character, with lots of personality in her voice. The story really came to life for me when Curran was introduced. The one thing (that I noticed) as a flaw was that there’s a lot in this world to get your head round and it’s kinda all dumped on your plate at once. Still, I had a great deal of fun with this:

Rating: 3½/5 bananas

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summer of impossible things

The Summer of Impossible Things- what exquisite writing this has! And what a concept! There’s a mysterious film to this story, which had me turning page after page with increasing intrigue. The magical realism aspect totally worked for me as well. I’m not sure that I can pin down the wonder of the story in words. I will say, some of the subject matter weighed heavily on me and I guessed where it was going- but it was worth the journey regardless. It also had a surprisingly happy ending. Ultimately, it may not have been a story built on entirely possible things, but it was beautiful.

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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the flatshare

The Flatshare– I wasn’t sure about this at first, but I ended up loving the quirkiness and ENJOYED THE HECK out of the story! I particularly loved how they bonded through notes- it was such a clever idea and gave it a modern love story feel (whilst buying into the age-old romance concept of having people fall in love through the written word and loving each other for who they are inside). For that alone, this was utterly heart-warming. It helped as well that the subplots were deeper than I expected. In terms of character, I wasn’t sold on Leon’s choppy voice to start with- yet found it grew on me and characterised him well. It also did a great job of contrasting Tiffy’s bubbliness, which came across in every bouncy sentence. Their meet-cute was hilariously sweet as well. The only real downside for me was that Justin was a little cartoonishly evil. Other than that, this was an entertaining summer fling- definitely recommend for romance lovers!

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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the woman in black

The Woman in Black– this was deliciously creepy and compelling. Mysteries unfurl in the misty atmosphere as Hill draws us through her wickedly dark tale. Be warned: there’s no great twist or trick, just tragedy. Still, while this is not the most shocking story- it is the telling of it that makes it special. The writing was impressive: all the work was being done under the surface, legs kicking where you can’t see and all you have is the impression of floating through this magnificently drawn setting. The voice was like an apparition, thrilling and powerful throughout; the descriptions were vivid and tinged with horror. I lived in fear of each turn of the page and fresh encounters with her. I’ll admit I had trouble reading this one at night; I can safely say the Woman in Black had me thoroughly spooked- so job well done!

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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Phew, that was a little longer than usual. Some of those reviews definitely got away from me! So have you read any of these? What did you think of them? Or do you plan to pick any of them up? Let me know in the comments!

The Kiss Quotient and the Bride Test add up to a marriage made in heaven!

 

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Well, I have something to confess: I had a bit of summer fling last month and discovered a new favourite romance author. We’d better dive straight into these mini reviews, before I get all hot and flustered about this (now-not-so) secret love affair…

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The Kiss Quotient– wowee- this was love at first line! I read this in one sitting and let’s just say I was more than simply satisfied! Not only was this super steamy at times, it also made me unreasonably emotional. Because this was more than a top-notch romance: it delivered time and again on so many other levels. I think it’s the first time I have ever read a romance featuring an autistic lead and that aspect to the story blew me away. Added to this, I really liked how the family aspect and friendships were developed. This enjoyment was multiplied by exciting themes like the fake dating trope and even touched on the pressures of being single. The only reason this wasn’t a full-length review was that I was too absorbed in it and forgot to take notes. Happy to report, this one definitely lives upto the hype!

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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bride test

The Bride Test– obviously once I was done with Kiss Quotient, I bounced to the next available book in this loosely connected companion series. Now, while I didn’t love this quite as much, I can safely say this gets really romantic!! Perhaps more so even than its predecessor. It was emotional. It was heartwarming. And it ended in squeals, lots and lots of squeals. And I LOVE-LOVE-LOVED how these books aren’t just about the romance- they are also about character growth. These are such well-rounded books centred around wonderful characters. As well as this, I have to say that I love how personal these stories are for Hoang- I appreciated reading these in the acknowledgements and it certainly shines through in the writing. All in all, you can’t go wrong with either of these. If you’re into romance like me and you pick these up- well you’re in for a treat!

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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So romance fans- have you read either of these? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!