Monthly Monkey Mini Reviews – Wow, is it July Already?

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Wow, we’re firmly in the summer now, aren’t we? Where on earth has this year gone?

Actually, don’t answer that- the less said about it the better 😉

Having said that, June was pretty good and I’ll tentatively add that I hope July’s gonna be just fine too. As we’re coming out of lockdown here, I’m working more and getting to see the outside of these four walls for a change 😉 I’m (hoping) work is going to settle into something of a routine again soon. With that in mind, I’ve decided that I’m going to (try to) use July for a bit of a refresher, so I’m tentatively gonna say that I’ll probably be on the blog less. Not sure if I’ll take an *official hiatus*- kinda want to keep my plans casual at the moment (I think, if anything, the last six months has taught me that the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry 😉)

But while we are here, I did want to say another massive thank you to you all for helping me to get to 6000 followers. I’m doing a little celebration where I react to your assumptions about me– so if you’d like to participate feel free to add your comments to the celebratory post or on this one if you like 😊 (I’m having a lot of fun with the ones people have already made!)

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And I think that’s all the housekeeping for now! As I’ve been doing the last few months, lets talk about what I’ve been watching before we get into the books…

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Last Kingdom Season 4– by now, you may have heard me rave about this super entertaining show. And if you haven’t, you may be confused as to why I’m in Viking dress 😉 Based on Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Stories, this series tells the story of Uhtred of Babenberg as he tries to reclaim his birthright and you can hear me rave about the first few seasons here and here. Just like the other series, this was tense and delightfully surprising. What I loved about this season is that it simultaneously gave us resolutions we’ve been waiting years to see… only for the story to about turn and go in a completely unexpected direction. With new settings introduced, I was happy to see the ongoing development of characters and relationships. By pure chance, there was a sickness subplot- which frankly had me shouting at the screen why aren’t you social distancing?! Regardless, every episode was an adventure. The only thing left to say is that I really need to catch up with the books already, cos I’d love to see where the similarities and differences are.

Okay, that’s all I watched last month worth note (I know, I’m running out of TV!!) now let’s discuss some books!

silence of the girls

audiobook2Silence of the Girls– when I think about this book, the first thing description that comes to mind is lonnnng. Which doesn’t make sense, all things considered, since it’s a pretty short book. Perhaps this was in part because in the audiobook version, the narrator seems to savour every syllable, HOWEVER even speeding it up didn’t seem to take away the tedium. As much as I wanted to like this book, it just felt remarkably long-winded. So much is drawn out and dwelt on, in an attempt to make the reader more sympathetic to the Girls’ plight. Unfortunately, this doesn’t have the desired effect. In fact, I see this technique used quote a bit in fiction- but I personally never feel like excruciating pacing does anything other than bore me. Incidentally, the whole purpose of this book is to create sympathy for the Girls- as if the classic tale somehow leaves that out- except I never had trouble empathising with their plight in the original. In fact, Homer could draw tears from me with a single line in the scene with Andromache. So no, I wouldn’t say this book was necessary. The other problem is that the way this is told- going from tragedy to tragedy in muted tones- doesn’t allow for any catharsis. And, as much as Briseis was a boring voice for the narrative, I liked the voices of Achilles and Patroclus even less. Frankly, I also found the line “his story” wince-inducing- entirely missing the humanity of the original (and slightly bizarre considering it’s a myth). All that said, this is not a bad book (I know, that contradicts everything I’ve said, but it’s the truth). The writing had some balance and beauty to it. It achieved what it set out to- such that I cannot rightly give it below:

Rating: 3/5 bananas

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the rumour

The Rumour- Ahhh this is a frustrating one to talk about, because I can’t really say all that much without spoiling it, so this review will have to be entirely made up of whispers and hints. There was one aspect I wasn’t keen on throughout- but the last twist redeemed that for me. There was plenty of great characters and suspicion at every turn. The only other thing I can categorically say is that if you’re a fan of psychological thrillers, you should give this a whirl!

Rating: 4½/5 bananas

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house of salt and sorrows

House of Salt and Sorrows– another decent book that I just didn’t click with for some reason. In this case, I have murkier reasoning. For some reason, I imagined this would be a far more atmospheric read than it was, but, while the world had a hint of salt to it, it perhaps could’ve been peppered with more descriptions. It did have some good ideas and twists on the tale, yet the story itself felt a little convoluted. I also guess a lot of the story beats early on and wasn’t as impressed as I’d have liked. It ended up being more of a generic YA fantasy than I expected- which isn’t so much a fault of the book per se- it’s just that I tend to avoid those nowadays. Overall, this was pretty bland and could’ve done with more seasoning for my taste.

Rating: 3/5 bananas

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ruin of kings

Ruin of Kings– Eh, this didn’t blow me away. I found the flipping between timelines and povs an interesting touch, building some suspense and layers of world building nicely… However, I ultimately don’t think it added to the story, which made it feel like a bit of a gimmick. To my mind, using a complex structure like that should be more purposeful (although, happy to hear from someone who could tell me, what *was* the point of that?). And for all the intricate plotting, I was still able to guess a great many of the twists early on. Other than that, my main sticking point was that I struggled to connect with the characters. As much as I was entertained by the plot, now more than ever I need to feel a strong, visceral reaction to the people I’m reading about… All of this is to say, I didn’t personally love this book, but there’s no reason other’s wouldn’t.

Rating: 3/5 bananas 

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the huntress

The Huntress– well, I looked for it all month, but I finally found an absolute winner thanks to the brilliant Beware of the Reader, who suggested it to me and reviewed it so beautifully on her blog! This exquisite historical fiction, tells the story of Nazi Hunters going after the one and only Huntress. Like a Russian Doll, the narrative is nested in different timelines. Characters are slowly revealed and developed, as they circle each other in figure eights, giving the reader a sense of each personality in turn. And wow, what stories- they soar and loop and leave you breathless… until at last we come to the dramatic conclusion. Moving and mysterious, this made for a truly memorable read.

Rating: 5/5 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’re all staying safe and well!

Monthly Monkey Mini Reviews – Just About Made it to June

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Well there goes another tumultuous month where I’ve had both more and less work… (no that isn’t a contradiction and yes that makes total sense!). Cos of that, I’ve been falling behind on blogging a bit. Annnnd it’s just a weird time overall- so much so I don’t really know what to report anymore- do you? 😉 I haven’t watched as much on the small screen lately- though I do have one *awesome* recommendation coming right up…

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love wedding repeat

Love Wedding Repeat- well this was a pleasant surprise and *exactly* what I/we needed right now. I was expecting a straightforward rom com- but this was a lot more entertaining! Funnily enough, in many ways this was a fun spoof of weddings, showing us what it’s really like… (and dare I say showed us what we’re not missing out on 😉). Genuinely hilarious, with some great characters and charming acting- I highly recommend this if you fancy a (tv) trip to a destination wedding… or even if you don’t!

And that’s all I’ve got in terms of films! Luckily, I have been reading a fair amount:

letters to the lost

Letters to the Lost– this had a great premise, beautifully executed. Two characters are brought together by letters at the side of a graveyard. Now, I will admit, I have read similar things before (which, after I spelt out the concept, feels more surprising). That said, it was very well done- the writing is wonderful and the story captures the theme of grief. The characterisation was especially strong, with everyone feeling like real people. What I particularly liked was how they felt close to stereotypes- but ultimately defied that in a refreshing way. I do recommend this if you’re looking for more contemporary, though I (marginally) preferred Call it What You Want.

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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exquisite

Exquisite– okay, I’m just gonna get the clichéd pun out of the way: this was exquisite. It’s true. I can’t help saying it! I discovered this brilliant book over on Meggy’s marvellous blog and I’m so excited to say Exquisite more than lived up to expectation! I loved this on a line by line level- the writing and references are beautifully crafted. More than that, it was an incredible psychological thriller. From the offset, this was excellent at building mystery. The story starts in a women’s prison, with the knowledge that one of these women harmed the other… yet we don’t know which one it was or how. So begins a journey into the obsessive minds of two protagonists as they fall in love, knowing full well that this love turns toxic before the end. Both characters take turns at likeability, making for a genius presentation of narcissism, placing the mask of deceit on each of them. Only over time, tiny inconsistencies are revealed and the disguise is lifted. While there are parallels in each of the tales, I began to sense that one of the narrators is gaslighting the reader. Then as the story draws to a close, it begins to get surprisingly meta. No spoilers, but this has a book within a book in a most unique way. By then, you know where the story is heading- but the creep factor is up and that compels you to the end. It is the kind of chilling that makes your go cold… as in, my tea literally went cold, cos I was so absorbed in this book I forgot to drink it!

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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stranger on the beach

The Stranger on the Beach– I have a real thirst for thrillers at the moment- luckily books like this are quenching it. Initially, if you’d have told me I’d love this book, I’d have said you must be pulling my leg. I wasn’t at all keen on the writing style: the use of past tense was done in such a foreshadowy way that it was kind of annoying. Still, I felt a storm brewing, and had to read on. It wasn’t until the first lightning bolt twist that I understood… Annnd it frustrates me no end to write a review like this, but I really can’t say much more for fear of spoilers. All I can say is every device is here for a reason and each revelation comes like a thunderclap. Everything that didn’t make sense at the start is clear by the end. This one snuck up on me like a stranger in the night… and was much cleverer than I gave it credit for.

Rating: 5/5

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school for good and evil

School for Good and Evil– I really liked the premise for this one: two girls, who get whisked off to a fairy tale school to be either good or evil. What I appreciated even more is how nothing is as it seems- especially in terms of characters. Chainani takes the concept of the villain being the hero of their own story and runs with it (and prepares to do battle with the idea!). I also liked how successfully (and uniquely) the author did the underconfident “reluctant” heroine as a counterbalance. It was an interesting way to tackle the topic of good and evil with some complexity, even for children, though it did leave some questions unanswered. This did sag a little in the middle for me and I saw the ending coming- but I still enjoyed it. And, to be fair, I think I’d have enjoyed it a great deal more as a kid.

Rating: 3½/5 bananas

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ella enchanted

audiobook2Ella Enchanted– As you guys may know, I have a real soft spot for Cinderella retellings- and this one was especially special! It upped the magical content, the world building and the spirit. I loved how spunky and defiant Ella was in this- even under a curse where she has to be obedient. I also happened to listen to the audiobook version of this, which I particularly enjoyed and thought was really well done. The way the various fantasy languages were performed added an extra fun flavour. One thing I really liked- and this is entirely down to personal taste/isn’t the most popular opinion- is that I liked how different this was to the film adaptation, cos it means I feel like I can appreciate both of them for what they are and that they don’t detract from each other. Regardless of whether you’ve seen the movie, I do think this offers a unique perspective on the traditional tale! As a diehard Cindy fan, I was satisfied 😊

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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poet x

Poet X– experimenting with form and language, this is a story of a girl finding her voice through poetry… and it’s told through a series of poems! I personally liked the use of verse and interesting imagery choices (I was tempted to imitate it for this review, but I can’t write poetry for toffee 😉). I was pleasantly surprised to find how strong a sense of character, development and even plot that we got in this structure (and in the limited space). Definitely worth checking out if you like YA contemporary. Plus, I also read her more recent book and liked it even more- review to come soon!

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’re all staying safe and well!

Monthly Monkey Mini Reviews – May

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Phew- April’s over! And I’m feeling a lot calmer this month (though I’m still sick of being in lockdown). Things aren’t exactly easier, especially on the workfront, but I’m feeling a little bit more chill about it (most of the time haha!) And *fingers crossed*, I’m hoping to be able to have better news to share next month. In terms of what I’ve been up to… well it’s party like we’re in a pandemic baby! That means occasional painting and long walks in the country- WOOHOO! 😉 As you can imagine, I’m also watching more TV and movies, which is why I thought I’d do some quick mini reviews for those first- *SURPRISE!* Here are some quick recommendations (that you’ll most definitely be aware of and don’t really need me to tell you to watch them):

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tiger king

Tiger King– I had low expectations for this- but enough people recommend it and… here we are! Like everyone else in April, I was swept up in the audacious entertainment and pure escapism of this *bonkers* documentary. I can safely say I’ve never seen anything else like it. And, best of all, it’s really fun to theorise about (so, if you did watch it, I want to know- do you think Carole Baskin murdered her (ex)husband and fed him to the tigers!? Was Joe Exotic Guilty? What do you think??)

spiderman into the spiderverse

Spider Man into the Spiderverse– what a beautifully made movie! I’ve wanted to see this for ages and I’m glad I finally did, cos yeah, I get what the fuss is about. I won’t go as far as to call it my favourite animated film, but it is gorgeous to look at! And storywise, it has some awesome twists and turns. It never leaves you hanging! And not only is it a well-woven tale, it also has some great characters. So yeah, definitely recommend getting stuck into this one 😉

frozen 2

 

Frozen 2– I was actually surprised by quite how much I liked this one. While I enjoyed Frozen, it’s by no means a favourite, and so I thought it was really cool that I liked this more! I’ve heard some criticism about it, but I actually liked Elsa’s character development in this. And I felt it built on and answered some of the unanswered questions left over from the first film. Having seen this, I get how (and why) this has to be more than one film. All the songs were delightful (even the one about how we’re all gonna die… yeah this really took some risks!) Plus, it happened to have one of my favourite tropes- going out into the unknown and coming back changed. And yes, there is quite a lot of exposition here, but this is Frozen, so I let it go 😉

Annnnd that’s about it. In terms of reading, I’ve been in a bit of a slump (which I’m trying to be forgiving of), so there aren’t going to be too many this month. Let’s get to it:

unhoneymooners

Unhoneymooners– this was a fun hate to love story and just the ticket right now! It especially worked for me that all their antagonism was based on a long-standing misunderstanding (which makes *so much sense* in context). Oddly enough, while I enjoyed the romance, the best part for me was the (thoroughly unromantic) DRAMA at the end. What can I say? Apparently, I read romance books to see people get mad at each other… That said, I think this is upbeat and really strikes the right tone if you need something entertaining.

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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slaughterhouse 5

Slaughterhouse 5– Argh I didn’t know this was stream of consciousness when I picked it up! I was lulled into it by the amazing opening line and first chapter… but it soon became really disjointed and I just hate this writing style- sorry! It didn’t help that a lot of this was a diatribe (and I’m not a fan of moralising books either!) Plus, while I’m not anti an anti-war message, *drops voice to a whisper* I didn’t think this was nearly as ground-breaking as he thought it was. I kinda get why this is popular and my sister the monkey baby liked it… but it just wasn’t for me.

Rating: 2/5 bananas

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reading lolita in tehran 

Reading Lolita in Tehran– wow, Nafisi has a beautiful way with words. The second I picked this up, I felt the atmosphere of suffocating beauty. I understood her love of words and books. I felt transported to Tehran, like I was in the room with the book club, like I was walking around in her memory. It was an incredibly evocative memoir. The one issue I did have was that the structure could be a little disjointed, so I got a little lost at times. That said, I very much appreciated her the way her interpretation of literature tied into the text. In fact, it was almost better that the title book (Lolita) is one I don’t like. While I’ll always struggle with its content, Nafisi opened my eyes to its subversive and defiant heroine, and I respect that. More so, I respect what a brilliant teacher the author is to bring me this fresh understanding!

Rating: 3½/5 bananas

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call it what you want

Call it What You Want– This was a surprising delight. I picked it up and I found myself so wrapped up in the story that I finished it in one sitting- the first time that’s happened in ages! The characters and conflicts were so well done that they felt real. And even though this was a contemporary, there were no easy answers or comfortable resolutions. In fact, this was a layered narrative, feeding in mythic elements from tales like Robin Hood, while also embracing real world issues. Of course, the downside of such a thematically rich and complex contemporary is that there wasn’t as much finality to it as I might have liked. Still, I enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would and I’d say that’s a success… but you can call it what you want 😉

Rating: 4½/5 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’re all staying safe and well!

Monthly Monkey Mini Reviews – April

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Well now that we’re living in the end times/our dystopic nightmares/a peculiar alternate reality, it feels a bit odd to talk about books… and yet we all could’ve guessed that us bookworms were bound to bury our heads in books as things fall apart 😉

I myself have been putting together an end of the world playlist (including: End of the Line, Over and Done With, Thriller etc.) and been bunkering down to read (sod all else to do anyway, since most of my work has been put on hold and most of us are currently under house arrest).

spam jail

In all seriousness, I hope you and your families are all okay, wherever you are in the world ❤ Thankfully everyone I live with is in good health, though I’ve had other issues created by this ongoing crisis, which have taken me away from blogging. So, thanks for all your patience and for continuing to stick with me ❤

Now that the (somewhat unusual) life update is out of the way, let’s get back to the books, shall we?

sea witch

The Sea Witch– this was a decent, if ultimately uninspiring retelling of the Little Mermaid. While I appreciated the use of Danish, giving the story some much needed authenticity, other aspects of the writing were a little colourless. Plus, parts of the story drifted by a little slowly. That said, I did like some of the twists and how it took the story in a darker direction than I anticipated. Yet, I will say that after that one bold turn, it seemed like the ending could have gone to greater depths. Instead, it sort of washed over me and left me wanting. Not a bad book by any means, but not brilliant.

Rating: 3/5 bananas

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eat pray love

Eat Pray Love– I often don’t like to talk about memoirs, because it feels too much like critiquing someone else’s life, but I got so much out of this, I thought it was worth sharing. Upbeat and positive, I instantly warmed to the author and was happy to take a globetrotting trip with her! I loved the locations, each offering something different: Italy fattens you up with joy; India gives you the opportunity to open your mind; Bali offers friendship… and more! Admittedly, I didn’t connect with some parts, because I’m not a very spiritual person (despite loving yoga) but I still found reading this was a surprisingly positive experience. More than anything, it fed my wanderlust and makes me ache to travel more… though for now I think we’ll have to be satisfied with books!

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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this is how you lose the time war

This is how you lose the time war– the only downside to this compact time travelling story is that it whizzed by so relatively fast, I felt like I didn’t lose any time at all! Despite its length, this was packed with things to love: it had a compelling concept, awesome opening, beautiful writing, wonderful references and heartstopping romance. I heartily recommend giving it a go- whether you like sci fi or not.

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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queen of ruin

Queen of Ruin– well it’s never a good sign when you get to the last page I thought “at least it’s over”. I really liked the first instalment in this duology… but unfortunately this didn’t live up to that- either conceptually or in terms of character. It felt like this story was just tacked on to round off all the events of the last book- which, while often the case with YA sequels, was disappointing to say the least. Unlike the Grace and Fury, where I was impressed with the characterisation, this had no character progression. Apparently, the characters had done their developing in the last book, so didn’t need to go anywhere emotionally here. The romance was pretty much sorted at the end of the last book, so it was no surprise how it all resolved here. And all the other plotlines were resolved very quickly (though they took longer here to get going!). The only “new” aspect for this book was characters taking inopportune moments to jump on the occasional soapbox- which I didn’t appreciate. Nothing about this made me buzz with excitement and it left me a little cold.

Rating: 2/5 bananas

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sometimes I lie

Sometimes I Lie– well this was an unusual read. When Alexa Donne mentioned it on her channel, her impression seemed to be “I’m not sure what to make of it”, so I thought I’d read it and see what I made of it… and I think my conclusion is I’m not sure what to make of it! It was well written and twisty and unpredictable. Even if I felt like I got a handle on it at times, the story would turn in the next moment and go in a different direction. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it- it was a little too dark to say that- but I do think it was a strong and memorable thriller. In the end I settled on…

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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the guest list

The Guest List– I was surprised by how much I liked this. At a remote island off the coast of Ireland, where guests have gathered for a wedding, readers are invited to witness to a murder. Introduced to multiple perspectives, we are given a sense of the bride, the groom and many of the partygoers. As the story progresses, flipping from timelines before and after the murder, it soon becomes apparent that many characters have more than a few reasons to commit a serious crime… and we still don’t know who the victim is yet! Compelling throughout, the tension amps up, until we’re given more than a little slice of satisfaction. This was a masterclass on how to lead a reader on a merry dance. I do pronounce this book a worthy thriller!

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!

Monthly Monkey Mini Reviews – March ON!

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Hello all! I’ve had a bit of an interesting, non-stop, busy month. Unfortunately, I had some computer-related-frustration- which messed with blogging (again! I’m sorry!). Fortunately it’s all resolved now and I also did manage to get round to seeing lots of family and friends and doing plenty of monkeying around…

monkey's tea party

(yes, I have just been waiting for the excuse to draw a monkey’s tea party 😉 )

In terms of reading, February started out even more slumpy, until I picked up the *earth-shattering* Wild Swans (review to come), and got my reading-mojo back! So, let’s get on with the reviews!

recursion

Recursion– I really liked the premise of people suddenly finding they had false memories and it was especially cool to see it presented as a contagious disease. Initially, I was raring to go and got sucked into the distinctive dual perspectives. Now I will admit, I didn’t feel like this momentum carried through the whole book. For me, the middle flagged as (minor spoiler) it lacked tension when I knew that the characters could go back and erase parts of the story. Fortunately, it did get exciting again towards the finale and ended on a beautiful note. Not as good as Dark Matter, but still an enjoyable read.

Rating: 3½/5 bananas

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the stranger

The Stranger– what an intense and brilliant little book. With a compact style, that captures every detail like a snapshot, Camus’ existential novel simultaneously delivers clarity and is impossible to pin down. On the surface, it allows us to see through the eyes of a man accidentally drawn into a murder. Yet, this doesn’t just present us with a guilty man, but instead shows us a man condemned for his honesty. All of this is delivered with a lightness of touch and a hint of black humour. Uniquely fascinating and refreshingly insightful, it is a short book that packs a punch. I also have to give props to the translator, Sandra Smith, because it was very well done.

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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book of atrix wolfe

The Book of Atrix Wolfe– well, I’ve finally done it- I’ve finally caved to the McKillip recommendation (courtesy of Bookstooge, among others) AND I’M SO GLAD I DID!! This is so gosh-darn beautiful. Written with such ease, there’s a magic to this style. This is the best kind of old school fantasy: it has the mythical edge and dreamlike quality I crave. Because of the fairy-tale-feel, there were times that the style felt a little distant, but I’d definitely say McKillip is something special regardless and am looking forward to reading more!

Rating: 4½/5 bananas

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winter rose

Winter Rose– obviously I wasn’t content to leave it at just one McKillip book and I was drawn to this almost immediately. An unusual tale, told in a uniquely compelling voice, I was once again lulled by the beauty of McKillip’s writing. More so even than Atrix Wolfe, there was a fairy tale element to the story- yet here it felt like there was less of a fantastical scope and more of a focus on personal stories. I will admit there were some aspects that left my heart panging, which prevented me from giving it all the bananas. Ultimately however, this emotional journey, through a wintry wood, gave me chills.

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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what the wind knows

What the Wind Knows– I was instantly intrigued by the concept of this book: a woman travelling back in time to discover her ancestral heritage… as a fan of history, romance and fantasy, it sounded very promising! But, not always having enjoyed genre-benders and being a bit of a stickler for historical accuracy, I did have some trepidation going in. Fortunately, this surpassed all my expectations. Even with the hint of magic, it’s got the historical realism down. Drawing on real life events and people, Harmon guides the reader back into an authentic and believable past. The writing was graceful and captured the Irish setting; the inclusion of Yeats’ extracts really worked to evoke the themes. I definitely felt for the characters throughout and found that everything came together in the end. All in all, well worth the read.

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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american royals

American Royals– OMG I knew I was going to have fun with this from the second I heard the concept- but this book can take a bow- cos it was even more royally entertaining than I was expecting! Set in an alternative version of the USA, where instead of a presidency, George Washington became the first king of America, this tells the story of modern-day royals. Think the Crown meets Gossip Girl. From the prologue, it promised to be a juicy read, and it doesn’t let up throughout! In a rompy, fun fashion, this packs in plenty of drama, schemes and romance. I *loved* how authentic the world felt- capturing something of the modern monarchy and American politics. And if all that sounds good to you, I highly recommend picking it up!

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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heartstopper 1

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Heartstopper volumes 1 & 2– well be still my beating heart, this was exceptionally cute. This charming story does exactly what it says on the tin: gives you heart palpitations. The romance was sweet and they were quick reads- so much so that I did think that in both cases there could have been more to the plot- but ultimately, I very much enjoyed them. I also especially liked the links to Radio Silence. And, above all, the artwork was gorgeous!

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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wilder girls

Wilder Girls– It’s safe to say I went near wild for this book 😉 The writing was sharp and to the point, stripped down to the essentials in an exquisite way. Reminiscent of Lord of the Flies, rather than a direct retelling, the story presents twisted concepts that turn the girl’s school setting on its head. I loved how the subtle characterisation worked and the relationships build over the pages. Plotwise, it was gripping and thought-provoking, yet something held me back from absolutely loving the ending. I guess I liked revelling in the chaos more than some of the answers 😉 Even so, really recommend this for everyone that’s been missing YA dystopia. And I would like to take a moment to appreciate that gorgeous cover- cos *WOW*!

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 – Lovin’ a Little February

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Well, January was a peculiar month for me and I’m pretty glad to be jumping into February. Been a bit busy in work/life, which meant (horror of horrors) I ended up falling into a *dreaded book slump*. And, equally bad, I just couldn’t keep up with blogging. I really want to promise that I’m going to do better this month buuuut I have family coming to stay for a week, soooo we’ll see. I do have some great posts planned- so monkey *fingers and toes crossed* that I can get to them! Okay, now all that’s out the way, let’s get to the good stuff:

art of war

Art of War– this is easily one of the best things I’ve ever read. Really, I cannot state that enough. Informative, thought provoking and surprisingly poetic, there’s no end to what you can learn from this legendary work. Every word is so valuable that I ended up highlighting everything (which, admittedly, is not the smartest thing to do, especially since it made my notes unreadable 😉). There were so many gems, which, being a fantasy dork, I enjoyed applying to random fictional battles in my mind. For instance, I really don’t think Jon Snow understood this rule in the battle of the bastards: “By holding out advantages to him, he can cause the enemy to approach on his own accord; or by inflicting damage, he can make it impossible for the enemy to draw near”. Of course, this is the kind of book perfect for anyone interested in politics or strategy- but what’s brilliant about the Art of War is how it can easily be applied to across all fields and to life in general. So, if you’re a person living in the world, then this is the book for you!

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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beautiful fran laniado

Beautiful– who’s up for a beauty and the beast retelling from the perspective of the fairy who puts the curse on the prince?! Well you should be! By fellow blogger, the lovely Fran Laniado, this retelling has a unique concept and definitely fulfils it. One of the best things about Beautiful is the consistent, fairy-tale-feel to the tone. Plus, I liked the humour throughout. There was a bit too much exposition for me personally, which slowed down the plot, especially getting to the inciting incident. But overall, I loved the original take and thought it was a great point of view to tell the story from. This was a fun, quick read for anyone who likes fairy tale retellings!

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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stillhouse lake

killman creek

Stillhouse Lake/Killman Creek– I’m going to save people a lot of bother and say that you basically have to read the two books together. Because I didn’t know that going in and felt like Stillhouse Lake was a little incomplete. That said, if you do read both books, you’ll be left satisfied. This is definitely a gripping and entertaining and intense thriller- with some wild turns! I will say that I listened to the audiobook for the first one and the narration was so good that I ended up enjoying it more, so if you can manage it, that’s the way to go!

Rating: 3½/5 bananas

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serpent and dove

Serpent and Dove– ooh this was deliciously dark. I was so glad the author decided to actually explore the concept of evil witches- it made the line between good and evil murkier. And the writing was bewitching- from the opening line I was under its spell. I also really liked how French culture and history was integrated into the world building. My one quibble with the book- which stopped it being a 5 banana read for me- was how bonkers some of the plot points were. I thought the marriage twist was a little absurd and the villain’s monologue was too much (it was the kind that actually gives the heroine a reason to fight back). For the most part though, the story was a lot of fun. Even if some ideas were obvious, there was enough here that was unique to help me fly through it.

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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uprooted

Uprooted– I’m not the first person to say this and I won’t be the last: this is a very beautiful book. Enraptured from the start, I found myself drawn to the immersive, folkloric world. I loved the characters- who felt simultaneously believable and fairy-tale-esque. I wouldn’t say this was easy going though- it’s a dense book, which takes you on many twisting journeys and feels a little disjointed at times. I did like the plot, but sometimes it felt all over the place. Still, well worth the read and I *finally* get the hype!

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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beneath a scarlet sky

Beneath a Scarlet Sky– it took me a while to get into this, because it has an unusually calm start for something set in WWII. That said, it soon gets explosive, dramatic and emotionally charged. I found the people in this book fascinating (I hesitate to call them characters since they’re based on real people). I particularly thought we were given a vivid picture of the Nazi officer. And I really liked the musical motif throughout. From Boogie Woogie to Nessum Dorma, these refrains left a lasting impression when coupled with historical events. I wasn’t wholly bowled over by the last part, where it gave a rundown of where everyone ended up, but I do understand why that was necessary to bookend the story. Ultimately, this was a worthwhile 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!

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

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

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

Rating: 4½/5 bananas

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

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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

Monthly Monkey Mini Reviews – January: “There’s a million things I haven’t done…”

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🎵 …but just you wait… 🎵

Okay, if you haven’t guessed already, last month I went to Hamilton! And YES I want to sing its praises! Because, *wow*, I’ve not seen many things that have the power to reduce an entire audience to tears.

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Anyhoo, unfortunately for me, that title does have a bit of a double meaning, cos I’ve been very busy, not done a lot of blogging lately and you may have to wait around a little while 😉 As a lot of you know, I moved last month, and that was fine… until it wasn’t 😉 It didn’t help that I was without internet for large parts of the month. Plus, you know, end of the year running around. So, I’m trying to catch up (gonna try posting less to make more time). Thank you so much for all the well-wishers who wrote such sweet messages on my last monthly minis post- and please bear with me- I’ll be back to my usual bananas-self in no time 😉

children of blood and bone

Children of Blood and Bone– well this is why I often skip the splashy YA titles these days- cos I found this just okay. While there some nice twists and turns to the story, it wasn’t anything we haven’t seen before (*especially if you’ve watched Avatar). The weakest point for me was the characters. Even though this is a hefty tome, I still managed to feel like the characterisation was not given room to breathe. Inan was by far the most interesting character… and yet, even with his internal conflict, I didn’t feel like his character was handled well (highlight for spoilers: dude legit murdered someone and burned a village to the ground!!). Sure I’d have been up for him getting some kind of redemption arc, but he actually needed to be given time to redeem himself and I don’t think he was right for the role of Love Interest! This was definitely a case of characters being led by the plot, not the other way around. Especially with regards to Zelie, who seemed to just hold the position of Typical Heroine. That said, I did fly through it. And the world building was something special- definitely the star of the show for me. Largely, I think this was just a victim of being too hyped and didn’t have that spark I expected it to. Still, while this isn’t a gamechanger, I can see why fans of YA fantasy would enjoy it.

Rating: 3/5 bananas

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truths and triumphs of grace atherton

The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton– okay, for starters, I’ve no idea why this was compared to Eleanor Oliphant in the description- because that’s not what this is. Yes, the heroine is an oddball… but that’s about where the similarities end. Grace may be strange, but she’s also unlikeable, self-centred, a music snob, uppity and difficult. It also wasn’t particularly heart-warming- not when so much of the plot revolves around cheating. Spoiler-that’s-not-really-a-spoiler: unsurprisingly the married man who cheats on his wife is a skeezeball- who’d have thunk it? 😉 I wasn’t particularly blown away by the friendships either- it feels more like everyone is there to help Grace out of her self-made problems and like she doesn’t do much for anyone else. Bad comps aside, this wasn’t terrible, it was fine. Plus, I did learn about cellos (though I refuse to spell it with an apostrophe- that’s too wanky, even for me).

Rating: 3/5 bananas

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toffee

Toffee– toffee really is the perfect metaphor for this book. This deals with some tough topics- including dementia and abuse- which can be tricky to chew on. BUT I defy anyone not to melt when confronted with this story. There is a soft edge to this hard narrative and I found it incredibly moving and very sweet. The writing style contained a bit too much fragmentation for my liking- but ultimately this was a solid book and worth reading for YA contemporary fans. I can see why it’s lauded.

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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mrs dalloway

Mrs Dalloway– this one’s not easy to review… it certainly wasn’t easy to read! I will start by saying that I get why Woolf chose the stream of consciousness style for this- it gives the narrative a sense of urgency and movement and immediacy. And perhaps one could argue that this is more conducive to an intense emotional reaction… though that wasn’t my experience of the book in the slightest- cos I didn’t enjoy it at all. While the language was undoubtedly beautiful, especially with regards to imagery, it was so disjointed that it wasn’t even a remotely pleasant reading experience. Sometimes sentences meandered off in meaningless directions; headhopping felt like part of the course. It felt like I was witnessing a slice of chaos- and personally I prefer a little order to (even artistic) chaos. Because of this, it largely felt incoherent and irritating to me. And for that reason, I just couldn’t give it any more than:

Rating: 1½/5 bananas

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Ah well, I’ve now finally finished the damn thing and can unhaul it 😉

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Dead Voices- I enjoyed this sequel more than I expected- especially considering how well the first one worked as a standalone. But this did exactly what a successful sequel should, mostly focusing on characters, giving them room to grow. The plot played out like a perfect game of chess and I really appreciated the solution. I felt like the Small Spaces was more focused on an emotional resolution, whereas this was a little more brainy. Plus, this got *bonus points* for maintaining that SuPeR CrEePy atmosphere.

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 – 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!

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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…

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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!