Recent Reads That Fill Me With Joy!

Because we all need a little burst of happiness sometimes!

Get a Life, Chloe Brown– this is the book that inspired me to make this post! It’s the kind of fun, funny and sweet story I will always gravitate towards (just like how I like my love interests 😉).

Tweet Cute– I don’t talk about this book enough!! This hate-to-love YA is full of friends, family, romance… And most importantly: it comes with EXTRA CHEESE!

Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry– okay yes, that title doesn’t sound joyous, but it’s filled with positive messages about hope and love and being truthful. I loved the way the characters come together as a family and find their place in this messy world of ours.

Anxious People– this may seem like an antsy novel about a bank robbery- and it’s a story that speaks to the intrinsic value of humankind. Believing in the basic humanity and goodness of us all, this inherent optimism is what makes this book memorable.

House in the Cerulean Sea– quirky and fun and uplifting, this is more than just a fantastical romance. It’s about finding and creating an oasis of love in the world- and picking up this book transports you there!

The Salt Path– a memoir about homelessness is perhaps not the kind of book you think of when you want something joyful… and yet a story about finding the drive to persevere, even in the toughest circumstances, is truly awe-inspiring. This, coupled with the descriptions of nature, fill me with a quiet kind of wonder and delight. A book like this gives me such a hunger for life.

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse– speaking of hunger, I’m putting this on the list just for the cake 😉 Plus, reading this book was like getting a great big hug from the universe!

And that’s all I have for today! What do you think of these books? And what books fill you with joy? Let me know in the comments!

Monthly Monkey Mini Reviews – Making it to March 2022!

Hello all! Well looks like we’re full into 2020 part 2 2022 now… and yikes. I tried to emerge from hibernation earlier in the month…

And I went to the most incredible Van Gogh portrait exhibition, showing the many faces of the artist…

But then the world imploded and I got the flu, so I think I might just return to bed for the rest of the year 😉 Anyway, all of that is to say why I’ve been awol and explain why I didn’t read/watch nearly as much this month. But I still have plenty to say about the media I did consume, so buckle up!

Inventing Anna– a patchy, disjointed job, this tries to tell the story of a real-life con artist who pretended to be a German heiress. Yet, with poor framing for the flashbacks and too much sympathy for the devil of the tale, this didn’t quite create the allure I hoped. While there are some tense scenes and good performances, this misses the juicy opportunity to tell a salacious and near-unbelievable tale. Centring this on the journalistic investigation didn’t work for me personally. Given it was such a high-profile case and we had the information about what kind of person Anna Sorokin was at the start of the show, it wasn’t much of a mystery, so why frame it as such? You absolutely need to go into this knowing as little about the case as humanly possible… which isn’t possible for the huge number of people who already know the story. This removed so much of the tension from the story. It also didn’t help that the journalist character was fundamentally unlikeable. No shade to the real journalist, but this fictionalised version is an obsessive workaholic who’s oddly resentful about her impending motherhood and unethically befriends her subject. Fundamentally naïve, much of the plot hinges on the contrivance that she for no apparent reason believes Anna could be telling the truth. She was also used to push a bizarre #girlboss narrative, where women have to work twice as hard to be taken seriously and can’t make any mistakes (which is a frankly absurd theme to put in a show about a woman defrauding her friends). Which leads me onto my biggest question of all: why was this show so sympathetic to Anna? Anna was not a girl trying to make it in a man’s world- she was a fraudulent sociopath. And this show just loves propping her up at the expense of the actual victims (it’s no wonder so few came forward- the victim blaming and shaming is real). I find it really odd that this show seems to cheer her on to the bitter end. There was a lot of potential here- sadly it did not live up to it. 

One of Us is Lying– This is basically PLL done right! Not gonna lie, this is one helluva adaptation! While the book- a teen cross between Breakfast Club and Agatha Christie- didn’t entirely win me over, this show definitely did. Addictive and a little tense, this was a sharp Netflix flick. They took the original and improved upon it- and *spoiler warning* I liked how it implied it was going in a Murder on the Orient Express direction, when really it’s And Then There Were None. And where I wasn’t head over heels for the characters in the original, the actors certainly brought them to life and the writing gave them more depth. Bronwyn especially came across as more likeable. There were a couple of whiny side characters I could’ve done without, but overall, I was sold.

Get a Life, Chloe Brown– I knew this was going to be a good time right from the off! With its humorous tone and distinctive characters, I could see this romance was written with such joy. I really liked the emotional beats to the story as well, dealing with some deeper issues like emotional abuse and chronic pain. What’s interesting is both of those problems share the commonality of not being believed or understood. Having this couple work through their problems together really worked, especially since they were able to find common ground and empathy. These are characters with real emotional scars, helping each other to heal. I loved that. The only thing I wasn’t crazy about was the sex scenes- but other than that it was a pleasure to read and I definitely want to check out more from this series!

Rating: 4/5 bananas

Heartstream– this was a little too tRiPpy for me! Sold as a black mirror style story for teens, this dystopia is far less streamlined than I would have liked. Based around a girl who has become internet famous through an app that lets you share your emotions, this explores the concept of obsessive fandom. Intersecting with flashbacks to two teen superfans of a boy band, it’s pretty clear what this book is getting at (don’t get too into your fandoms kids!) Except that it’s a little odd how extreme this book becomes and why it’s so intent on demonising teen girls for fangirling. Going on tumblr doesn’t necessarily lead to kidnap, stalking and arson… at least I’ve never seen anything like that! And those are just a few of the bonkers things that happened in the book. Because I haven’t even addressed all the heartstream stuff. Forgive me if this review is confused- unfortunately the plot was all over the place! And while the themes tangentially link the stories (and *spoiler alert* an “I am your father moment), the stories don’t actually intersect that well. It would have been more interesting to connect the stories through the invention of the app perhaps- but the app ends up becoming a plot device to prove how honest the main character is being… which kind of goes against the story’s critique of marketing authenticity?! To me, the creepy af app was the interesting part of the book- yet it felt like the author didn’t know what to do with it. Oh and guessing the plot twists was the work of a moment. Overall, while this was fast-paced and entertaining in the way only an overdramatic teen drama can be, I also thought it was a load of nonsense. Points for effort, if not execution.

Rating: 2½/5 bananas

Aurora’s End– ach this didn’t set my heart afire as much as Aurora Burning. Mostly because I don’t love time travel stories and this was all about time. Unfortunately, with most of the characters stuck in a loop, it took a lot of the urgency out of the story… even with a ticking time bomb. I did like some elements- like seeing how paths were made to intersect both in the past and the future. There was a decent amount of setup for this premise and it paid off in some ways. And let’s be real, even if this wasn’t the perfect end to the series, I still adore all of the characters and will root for them to the ends of the earth- and beyond! I’m pleased I waited (wayyy too patiently) for the UK release of the audiobook, because the full cast and effects brought the story to life!

Rating: 4/5 bananas

The Wild Silence– Raynor Winn has a power with words unlike anyone else and her memoir the Salt Path took me on a journey like no other- which is why I absolutely had to pick up the follow up! This follows Raynor and her husband after they embarked on their coastal walk when they were homeless. Living in Cornwall and with her husband getting a degree, this follows their subsequent adventures. From farming to more walks to writing her book, this non-linear biography builds on the first book. I particularly liked how captured the process of her writing the Salt Path, showing us that she did it to capture the memories for her husband as he struggles with progressive memory loss. Written out of love for him, my own memory of the story has become all the more beautiful. It shows how she will go to the ends of the earth for her husband- and that is how they end up on another hike, this time in the timeless landscapes of Iceland. Full of descriptions and history and love for the land, this frozen setting offers us something new. It not only helps you get in touch with nature, but also with the way it carries ancient echoes of the past. Because of course, like its predecessor, this is a book with more to say. This is a memoir focusing on memory and loss. Flitting between timelines, it is a recording of life. Listening to this book on audio, I came to feel as if I was walking in her shoes. Coming to the very edge of the world and confronting the hardest parts of life. And I feel like with every step, I am rooting for them more.

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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

Let’s Discuss: Maybe You Should Talk to Someone

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

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

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

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

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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

Monthly Monkey Mini Reviews – July 2021!

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

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

Rating: 4.5/5 bananas

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

Rating: 4/5

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

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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

Rating: 4.5/5 bananas

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

Rating: 3/5 bananas

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

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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

Mid-Year Freak Out 2021!

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

BEST BOOK YOU’VE READ YET IN 2020

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

BEST SEQUEL YOU’VE READ SO FAR IN 2020

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

NEW RELEASE YOU HAVEN’T READ YET BUT WANT TO

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

MOST ANTICIPATED RELEASE FOR THE SECOND HALF OF THE YEAR

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

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

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

BIGGEST SURPRISE

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

FAVOURITE NEW AUTHOR

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

NEWEST FICTIONAL CRUSH

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

 NEWEST FAVOURITE CHARACTER

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

BOOK THAT MADE YOU CRY

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

BOOK THAT MADE YOU HAPPY

Pumpkinheads, Road Trip and the Tea Dragon Society!

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

FAVOURITE BOOK TO FILM ADAPTATION

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

MOST BEAUTIFUL BOOK YOU’VE BOUGHT THIS YEAR

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

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

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

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

Books to Warm You Up This Winter

This post started accidentally- I was trying to come up with a list of wintry reads and I got really distracted by a fantasy book *with the exact opposite vibe*. And that made me think of how much I could do with getting wrapped up in some hot and cosy reads right now- and I’m sure many of you agree! These aren’t full-on summery books, but they could add a little spice to your reading this winter 😉 So now that you’re all warmed up, let’s jump into it! Starting with the book that inspired this post…

Crown of Feathers- this book is burned into my memory. It’s classic high fantasy, with great world building, plenty of magic and phoenixes (!!!) I just want to dive back into this story as soon as possible! If you need a bit of escapism and to get all fired up, then this is the book for you this January!

Echo North– by contrast, this wintry retelling does have a more wintry vibe. However, reading it recently gave me the warm fuzzies. I loved the way family aspect, the main character and lilting tone. And the book mirrors are *exactly* what I could do with right now!  

The Secret Countess– okay, okay, I’m mentioning this book for the millionth time, so I’ll be quick! Opening in Russia and with its fairy-tale-esque style, this book has a cool and cosy feel. After all, Ibbotson is the queen of heartwarming stories.

Sense and Sensibility– nothing says cosy to me more than Austen. And to me, this is one of the cosiest examples, with a beautiful sister relationship and romances, it’s perfect to run away with this season (and even mentioning it is making me want to reread it! 😉)

Little Women– I mean, sisterhood, character growth, romance, family, *Christmas*… if these don’t warm the cockles of your heart then maybe you should try the next book on the list…

Afterlife of Holly Chase– yes that’s right: a retelling of A Christmas Carol. And I know that it’s post-Christmas, but I think we could all still do with some of that joyous spirit! I’m confident that a story all about reforming Scrooges will do the trick!

I Capture the Castle– I have to admit, this is a book I’ve shared as a summery read before, but it actually starts when things are distinctly chillier. And the mix of seasons and romantic setting all warm me up inside… making it perfect for this list. (Also, for me, it has a strong note of nostalgia!)

The Secret Garden– this is another throwback I find super cosy! Featuring the change of seasons, this will remind you that spring and summer are always just around the corner!  

Unhoneymooners– steamy romance in a hot location- need I say more?! If you need an exotic getaway right now, then this enemies-to-lovers romance will hit the spot!

From Lukov with Love– heating things up even more, let’s talk about another rivals-to-romance book (with a distinctly colder setting). Thanks to its ice skating motif and cute love story, it’ll tick all the boxes if you need to feel chilled out and hot-and-bothered at the same time!

Heartstopper– and finally, I thought I’d end with a cutesy romance. You can’t go wrong with Heartstopper if you need something light and fluffy!

And that’s all I’ve got for now! Have you read any of these? Do you have any cool and cute reads to warm me up this winter? Let me know in the comments! 😊

His Dark Materials Book Series: A Glowing Review

This series will always give me chills. Not only because of the atmosphere and the setting, but because this story quite simply stole my soul when I was a child. It was my first foray into darker fantasy and it was a gamechanger. It didn’t patronise me or give me unrealistic expectations about reality- it told the truth.

And the characters! Too often, the protagonist in MG is perfect. They have no faults and they act as a mere conduit for the action- but not so with Lyra! Lyra was not a typical child heroine- she had flaws and a seemingly paradoxical personality. She felt like someone I might actually know. And she wasn’t the only one bringing the story to life- as with the children in the story, the adult heroes and villains and parents were all morally grey and oh-so-very human. I saw then that this was a book that wasn’t prepared to talk down to its audience or treat children as stupid- the whole point of this book is to give you the freedom to think for yourself.

his dark materialsBut I’m getting ahead of myself with this reminiscing. Let’s bring this back to the present tense and what finally spurred me on to do a reread- and that’s the adaptation. As I’ve said before on this blog, I do really like the show. A lot of the acting is spot on- we have the best Mrs Coulter, Lord Asriel and Lee Scoresby we could ask for. And the style is vivid and memorable.

… and yet it wasn’t the same. Because as much as I have talked about the darkness in the story, the flipside is that His Dark Materials also has a lightness to it, capturing the ephemeral beauty of childhood. Lyra herself is more innocent (and considerably less angsty) in the books. And Lyra’s Oxford, while having a dark underbelly, also gives off a sense of magic and wonder and enchantment. All of which felt a little lacking in the show.

For me, this highlighted some of the subtlety of the book. Critically, while there are hints that things are even darker in the story, it is often cloaked by a layer of ambiguity. The greatest horrors of the book are not described in visceral detail- but rather hinted at and glossed over and subtly worked into the prose. Fundamentally, this gives the sense you are seeing the story through a child’s eyes. And, as a child, it made the story feel all that closer to home, whilst simultaneously shielding me from the full implications. As an adult, it’s creepier and all the more shudder inducing (ironically as a child Pullman was talking a little over my head- but I didn’t know that at the time!) And, of course, I realise that the show is a different medium and perhaps it was impossible to represent this on screen- nonetheless it is a pity to be missing this element.

Oddly enough, despite what I said about the show was not as light, there were element in the book that were even darker. For instance, Lyra is dealing with a significant amount of trauma in the second book, which (in my view) turns her wilder than ever. It’s not prettied up for the reader- it’s harsh and it’s realistic. We feel just as lost as Lyra as we search for the bridge between the first and third stories. FurthermoreWill takes on the mantle of murderer more readily in the book and even threatens to kill Lyra… which she believes. And yet neither of them think of this by the end of the story, because children are prone to bursts of hyperbole. For me, there’s something about this callous honesty that really captures the childishness of the characters. Lyra and Will- for all their attempts at mimicking adulthood- don’t know what they’re doing. And this is so important to the plot.

Because the ignorance with which they act carefully draws the link with Paradise Lost– toying with the theme of original sin, the pursuit of knowledge and the fight for freewill (far bigger themes than your average children’s books). As a coming-of-age story, it’s remarkable and unique. And the deeper you get into the series, the more complex its philosophy is. The betrayal becomes not just a betrayal of others- but a betrayal of the self. Lyra loses a part of herself- and yet also undergoes a necessary trial that’s part of growing up. She acquires knowledge- and yet that knowledge comes at the cost of a new awareness. Yet this is shown to not be a bad thing at all: growing up is hard… but a wonderful (and sometimes beautiful) experience. As much as children can seem clear-eyed, the wisdom of age shines as a brighter promise. And, as Pullman identifies, anything worth having is worth working for.

Now, of course, it’s not perfect (though I would not expect that from true art 😉). It is certainly of its time, with its hints of post-modernism and militant atheism. And yet I truly respect this book for its candour. It does not moralise or deliver a utopian propagandistic conclusion- it leaves the final thoughts up to the reader.

And that’s why I keep recommending these books. And that’s why this is one of my all-time favourite series. And that’s why I’ll happily SHOUT FROM THE ROOFTOPS IT’S GOING TO BE A FUTURE CLASSIC. His Dark Materials is a glorious series.

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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

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