Wacky Happy Books

Hello all! Hope you’re having a wonderful weekend! Inspired by Furiously Happy, I thought I’d do a post about some wackadoodle books. Plus tis the season and all that jazz- time for a little dose of pure joy! In no particular order…

witches abroad

Witches Abroad– I can’t not have a Pratchett on this list- and I’ve always found the witches stories the most bonkers of all the Discworld books (and that’s saying something). This one in particular is a satirical take on fairytales and is endlessly fun- so it’s a win all round!

Alice's_Adventures_in_Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland– how could I have a list about wacky books without including this? And who doesn’t love this flawlessly mad classic? Do I even need a reason for including this?

anansi boys

Anansi Boys– technically this comes after American Gods (although I read it first, because I’m a numpty that didn’t know that) so you should probably read that before this, but this is the one that made me fall head over heels for Gaiman’s work!! It’s wacky and funny and pretty ingenious- basically perfect for this list!

charmed life

Charmed Life– moving over to the sweeter and less crazy of the books on the list, I reckon Diana Wynne Jones deserves a shout. I don’t think I talk about this author nearly enough, considering my love for her work growing up. Her books are always wonderfully original, quirky and full of eccentric characters, so are all worth picking up. Charmed Life in particular brought me endless joy as a child, so I had to mention it here. Speaking of childhood faves…

phantom tollbooth

Phantom Tollbooth– I actually recently reread this one (thanks very much to the book voucher I found in a used book which inspired me to go into a Waterstones and nab a copy) and mannn I totally get why this blew me away when I was a little ‘un. Heck- it blew me away now! The story weaves in impossible directions and has such depth of imagination- there’s no doubt it’s a classic for a reason.

Importance_earnest_dvd

The Importance of Being Earnest– this is actually a *double* recommendation, because I not only recommend the hilariously witty play by Oscar Wilde, but I also highly suggest watching the 1952 movie version, because it’s basically one of the best adaptations of all time (not the modern version- it veers on the cringey side)

i partridge

I, Partridge: We Need to Talk About Alan– okay, so this might seem like the most random recommendation on the list, because a lot of people won’t know this character or have any reason to pick it up- which is why this is also a double (possibly triple) recommendation. Because Alan Partridge is a fictional character, first appearing on screens in Knowing Me, Knowing You (a parody chat show) and then I’m Alan Partridge (a mockumentary after the fallout). If you like comedy, and especially if you’re a fan of the Office, then this is SO WORTH IT (plus, it actually came first and in my humble opinion is actually better). Now I do recommend all of that for serious book pleasure BUT this is still a FANTASTIC parody of celebrity biographies in its own right- so definitely read it!

So do you agree or disagree with any of the books on this list? Do you have any of your own to add? Let me know in the comments!

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Monthly Monkey Mini Review – December

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WHOA IT’S DECEMBER! I can’t believe it… not even a little bit! But it’s snowing on my blog- which means it must be real 😉 And that makes this my last mini reviews of the year (although don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll have book reviews that roll over into 2018… gah how is it nearly 2018?!?) Anyway, onto the reviews!

furiously happy

Furiously Happy– For the most part this was awesome!! Some parts were hard for me personally to read and I get really queasy at the thought of taxidermy (I really really hate it). BUT I laughed *lots* at this book- so much so people were looking at me weirdly- so I highly recommend it!

4/5 bananas

small bananasmall bananasmall bananasmall banana

glass sword

Glass Sword– Oh my goodness this started out so slooowly. And in that weird there’s-tons-of-action-but-nothing’s-happening kind of way (yes that’s something I totally a term I just made up- but come on, how many action films have you seen that are just *explosion* *explosion* Oh yawn, looks like it’s another *explosion*) Anyway, I digress. I found this pretty meh for the most part- especially Mare- who I didn’t really believe in as a character. I thought I was definitely done with the series until Maven re-entered the story in person and livened it up. I think it’s only cos of him that the story actually felt like it picked up at the end.

3/5 bananas

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king's cagew

King’s Cage– Much, much better! This had so much more of a dramatic start and had far more character development than the last one. And thanks to the multiple perspectives, there was also some added complexity. AT LAST it wasn’t just Maven holding my attention- although speaking of which he totally made everything better by making everything worse (and no, I don’t ship him with Mare, she’s far too boring for him still 😉 JK- I know he’s the villain… really…) However, I did feel a tad less invested by the end if I’m honest- it went off the boil a little. I just don’t care about the relationship between Mare and Cal- so I found the ending much more blah than I should have. Weird aside: it was this better instalment that actually makes me want to give up on the series- it was good, but not great, and I feel like I’ve got everything I’m going to get out of the story by now. 

3½/5 bananas

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ink and bone

Ink and Bone– This is by no means a bad book- the world-building is great annnd that’s about all I can say I liked. I was wondering for half the book if I was ever going to connect with the characters and when that didn’t happen after 200 pages, I thought maybe at least I’d be able to enjoy the plot. Sadly I just wasn’t into that either. So…

2½/5 bananas

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So have you read any of these? What did you think of them? And who else is panicking that it’s December already?!?! Let me know I’m not alone in that in the comments!

Replica: Double Trouble!

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Well hello! Today you’re in for more than a little DOUBLE TROUBLE because today you’re about to get a bananarific double dose of monkey!

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That’s right! My sister, the Monkey Baby, is back!

Meow 🙂

(Yes she’s completely barking mad 😉 )

And we’re about to do a review for a book about CLONING (seeing doubles yet?!) And, yes, I know some of you might be musing isn’t this topic a bit been-there-done-that… Well, if that’s what you’re thinking, then YOU WOULD BE WRONG! Because it has never been done this way before…

Monkey Baby: Dum dum dummmmmmmmm… unleash the cat

Very catty opening from the Monkey Baby! Anyway, Replica is more than a little special, as it’s a book you can read THREE WAYS– you can read either Gemma’s story then Lyra’s or vice versa or flip the book between chapters (I picked the latter). And I know that might sound gimmicky to some readers, but, trust me, IT’S NOT. The execution is so bloody marvellous that it was far from just being a cheap trick and was actually brilliantly clever. The dual perspectives meshed together perfectly, interlocking and yet keeping their individuality.

Monkey Baby: It is exceptionally fun to read it this way. Makes me feel like I’m hanging from the tree…. 

As you do. Anyhoo, Gemma and Lyra gripped me as characters right from the start. The tone of each girl was completely distinct that I felt the stark contrast in their lives. They mirror each other like poorly carved doppelgangers. Still, their stories were so distinct that I never felt like there was a main character or viewpoint- which was certainly intentional, because every time I flipped the book I wished I was back with the other character (in a good way)

Monkey Baby: Zis is true ya but Lyra is my favourite banana

Flicking back and forth between the two stories, I was struck by little similarities- like their tendency to bestow nicknames- and canyon-like differences between them. It stopped me being surefooted of anything and set me up to plunge into shocking twists and turns. Not only did the plot go from zero to sixty in a millisecond, it also created an air mystery and doubt to the story- you can’t be certain who’s who…

Monkey Baby: I dropped all my bananas in shock… poor bananas

What really took this to the next level for me was the literary references and the play with WHO is Frankenstein. I also appreciated the little ways stories like The Little Prince were woven into the plot- it just gave it a little something extra.

Monkey Baby: I don’t want to be Frankenstein!! ARE we all Frankensteins?!?!?!?!?! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO I’M THE MONKEYBABY

I did have one minor spoilery niggling complaint- and that was I didn’t buy the nurse Don’t Even Think About It’s character- simply because she was far too contradictory a creation. She was religious, so didn’t believe the doctor’s should be playing god, yet worked in the facility that created clones and also seemed not to care they were killing clones (even though most religious people I know believe life is sacred). Yes, yes, I know, odd thing to pick up on- it just opened up a lot of unanswered questions as far as I was concerned and could have been dealt with better elsewhere.

Monkey Baby: Do monkey’s even have a religion? Do clones? Either way that fruitcake was not believable.. hear hear sista!

Annnd one last problem was that it was not the most polished of endings- so it took me a moment to realise it was left open for a sequel.

Monkey Baby: VAT are you talking about? It felt finished to Moi

Ooh err… Looks like I just got told. Still an excellent read:

4½/5 bananas

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5 bananas from me meow :p

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

5 Star Predictions

(or rather books I think will get all the bananas)

I’ve seen this around quite a bit and I love the idea… even though this is probably a bad plan cos I don’t usually like to hype things up in my mind. Still, I reckon these are books where I can’t help but think I’m going to love them or at the very least really, really enjoy them. So let’s get to it, shall we?

strange the dreamer

Strange the Dreamer– I actually own this book and have for a while- still not read it yet, partly because I’m rereading her other series, but mostly because I think it’s going to be amazing and I want to devour it all in one go.

book of dust

Book of Dust– Ditto- I own this, but am scared to start it. This is pretty much guaranteed 5 bananas from me, just because I am SO GRATEFUL to Pullman for writing this companion book to one of my ALL TIME FAVOURITE series. (In case you can’t tell I’m excited for this!)

wolf by wolf

Wolf By Wolf- Annnnd yes I own this too. In fact I put it on my tbr, because I saw Kat’s  awesome review and thought “I’m gonna love this”. It’s been sitting on my kindle since then and I haven’t picked it up for two reasons 1) I think I’ll love it and as you might be able to tell from the last two books on here, I have a tendency to save books I think I’m going to really love because if I read it, it’ll be over, then where will I be?) and 2) because as much as I want to read it the subject matter is a *little* off-putting- so this is probably the one on the list that’s most likely to be hit or miss.

iron gold

Iron Gold– Okay- finally a book on here I don’t own… But that’s only cos it’s not out yet 😉 I am so PSYCHED for this though and I literally cannot wait to get my hands on it (knowing me though, I’ll buy it straightaway and then leave it on my shelf till the rest of the series gets released #standard)

girl in the tower

Girl in the Tower– I know it’s getting to the point where I mention this every few posts, but I AM SO LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS! (I seriously need to write my review already to explain WHY exactly I am freakin’ crazy over this series… ah well, you’ll have to wait and see) Either way- can’t wait to get my mitts on this!

And that’s it! Also what book on your TBR do you think you’re likely to give 5 stars too? Let me know in the comments!

Why Not Five Stars?

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To infinity and beyond!

(Or rather- why not 5 bananas?)

I’ve been doing this a while and one question I’ve had a few times when I post a 4 banana review is: why didn’t you give this 5 bananas?

Now of course I could do some soul-searching, tear my hair out because AM-I-BEING-MAJORLY-UNCLEAR and wonder WHAT THE HELL IS UP WITH MY REVIEWS… but in all honesty, this is a very fair question and I can be totally calm about answering it (*freakout was for theatrical affect only… mostly*). Because sometimes it may not be totally obvious why a book- that on the surface level seems near perfect- didn’t get five stars from me. And, honestly there’s good reasons for that (I hope- otherwise it’s back to the drawing board and the aforementioned angsty soul-searching 😉 )

scooby doo mysteryThere was something missing– and sometimes it’s hard to articulate just what that *something* was… because, well, it was missing. So I don’t know what it was, do I? It’s a mystery to me…

 

 

confused_lion_kingSometimes I might have been thrown by a handful of comments that niggled away at me– like woodworm or termites or maybe something less serious (the bug imagery’s a bit extreme for a 4* tbh) and even though I tried to brush it aside it’s ended up riddling the book with doubt about how much I liked it. Now it’s pretty rare that I won’t say if this was the case, but there are times when I’d have to go into a whole lot of political theory and I seriously can’t be bothered because aghh it was one comment (okay, yes I do have these freakishly strong reactions to random lines in books, but I can occasionally curb my inner nitpick- not often, just sometimes)

whateverMaybe it just wasn’t unique enough. I’m sure as readers we all have tons of stories lodged into the back of our minds- the more we read, the harder it becomes for a book to clinch that coveted OMG spot, just by virtue of the fact that we can compare it to so many other stories.

 

can't get comfortableOr maybe my experience reading it wasn’t tucked up in the perfect spot with pleasant-yet-not-overbearing instrumental music lulling me into a state of calm… Okay I don’t actually need that to enjoy a book- still sometimes I can be tired and distracted and a book needs to do *a lot* of work in order to WOW me. (FYI this is the one I’d ask author’s, on my site or others, to assume is the reason every time 😉 )

banana gifSo, okay, it wasn’t perfect– but hey, there’s nothing wrong with that! I said this in my post about negative reviews and it’s worth repeating: it’s a scale. Just cos something didn’t scream THIS-IS-PERFECTION to me doesn’t mean it wasn’t great- especially since according to my very well thought out rating system, four stars is still awesome sauce with a side of bananas. Speaking of screaming…

 

chill slothIt didn’t make me squeal gleefully. Yes, this is an actual requirement for 5 bananas. I’m a squealer. Not just over books, I think I must have squealed a gazillion times in cutesy tv shows like Once Upon A Time which I’m back watching again… but I digress. Basically the book might be objectively brilliant, but if it didn’t push me into the stratosphere it’s not going to get top marks from me. I’m probably looking something like this sloth though…

tasteGenre bias? And yes the question mark is deliberate, cos I’m not sure about this one. I mean it’s not consciously done anyway. Looking at my book ratings though, I can see there is a clear bias in what books are more likely to get the best ratings. Fantasy and classics are just more likely to produce the aforementioned squeals… whereas contemporary and non-fiction draws the short straw. I have given a couple of books in my less-favoured genres 5 bananas before, but it’s super rare. Yet I feel like this is fair, because at ultimately the whole point of ratings is to showcase taste. So if my personal preference for certain genres is what pushes up my ratings for certain books, then I’m okay with that.

So what do you think? Do you sometimes have trouble articulating why a book didn’t deserve all the bananas/stars? If not- can you teach me some tricks so I don’t get asked this again? 😉 And do you have your own reasons why a book might not be classed as *perfection*? Let me know in the comments!

Close Reading Analysis – “To Autumn” By Keats Part 2

close reading to autumn keats part 2

Okay, so if you haven’t read the piece I posted earlier today, I basically decided to give some tips on how to do a close reading. But cos I did all that prep, I decided I may as well actually write the thing. Hopefully all the English Lit students can forgive how rusty I am 😉

“To Autumn” by Keats reads much like a love letter. Addressed to the season, it both evocatively captures its spirit and evokes the poet’s mixed feelings of the transience of time.

Nature is heavily personified though sensory imagery, capturing the intense devotion of the poet.  Pursuing the “sweet” taste and the synesthetic “treble soft” voice of nature, Keats writes as if to a lover. Thus the poet highlights the quality of the season- its beauty and “budding” fertility. As the poem progresses, other characteristics, such as “Thy hair soft-lifted by winnowing wind”, are highlighted. This uplifting personification raises Autumn to an almost godlike status, with the ability to “bless/With fruit” and offer a season of plenty.

This devotion to the subject feeds into the song-like quality of the poem. With a lilting iambic pentameter, the poet uses a natural rhythm and rhyming structure to create a sense of musicality. Furthermore, the soft sibilance and alliteration of the opening line- “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”- gives the tone a gentle quality. Keats moreover incorporates sound imagery in nature’s own symphony of “bleats” and “whistles”, emphasising a oneness between art and the natural world.

However, by stanza three, the song becomes a melancholic “wailing choir”. The tone turns elegiac, recalling images of death so that by the end “the small gnats mourn”. For all the sense of timelessness captured in the bees’ belief that “warm days will never cease”, time flows away “hours by hours”. Thereby, Keats captures the transience of the time period, caught between notably distinct seasons of life and death. It is the oxymoronic in between moment of the “full grown lamb” and consequently full of uncertainty over who “lives or dies”.

Additionally, the cyclical nature of the poem is stressed by the inclusion of other seasonal elements. The fecundity of summer that “o’er brimmed” with supplies is contrasted with a winter-like hibernation, “drows’d with the fume of poppies”, which is simultaneously inviting and toxic. It captures perfectly the contradiction of terms that is Autumn- where “barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day”. In this alternating plosive and sibilant alliteration, Keats creates a transformative contrast of sound and sight imagery, demonstrating the paradox at the heart of the poem.

Yet for all the progress of “To Autumn” from life to death, the poet alludes to a hope beyond its ending. In the double entendre of the “swallows” in the final line, the poem returns to the consumption of the start, reviving the lively “ripeness” of the opening in a circular manner. Here then is the allusion of closure, as the song trails off and the bird imagery, symbolic of resurrection, elevates the reader to the further possibilities of heavenly “skies”.

In conclusion, “To Autumn” both transcends and embodies the season. It embraces the inevitable whilst also looking beyond. Personifying nature, Keats lovingly muses over this contradictory time period, with its possibilities and its uncertainties.

(Final tips, make sure to always include an introduction and conclusion even if it’s just a rushed couple of lines like mine 😉 Also note to self: quit rushing things 😉 )

Man, I’m not gonna lie, that was tough. It’s been years since I’ve done one of those, but I hope it was interesting/helpful. Also what would you like to see in the future? Let me know about that in the comments!

And cos I haven’t said it, I hope all of my American friends had a lovely Thanksgiving yesterday!

Close Reading Analysis – “To Autumn” By Keats (Including Exam Tips 😉 ) Part 1

close reading to autumn keats part 1

So this is an experiment of sorts. Eons and eons ago, I was chatting with Jackie over @DeathByTsudonku and she said she’d like to see what an analysis of a book looked like. Now, my annotated books are a mess I can barely decipher, but I thought I might do something that could actually be helpful to high school students (and anyone else who’s interested) and breakdown how to do a close reading in English Literature. I think this’ll be especially fun cos I’ve done sooo many examples of bad analysis before- I guess it’s time for me to be (semi) serious? And cos poetry is the easiest (in my opinion) for close readings, I went ahead and picked something seasonal. Hopefully it’ll be a useful resource- if not… well Keats is awesome, so you’ve not lost anything.

I’ve tried to show this in stages so it’s both legible and comprehensible (obviously there’s no way it’s this neat in an exam 😉 ) Okay let’s get into this before I chicken out.

First step: read the poem. (No joke!) Read it once through without any analysis, picking out only a few perfunctory details. I recommend starting with form and structure, just because it gives a nice overview, like so:

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Second step: Now you go to town on it. Start picking out imagery, style, sounds, themes, basically anything that jumps out at you. Here’s a transitionary picture to give you an idea of how this might be built up:

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And here’s the final version:

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Underneath that I’ve written a few general categories for what the analysis falls under- this is a somewhat unnecessary step, because I wouldn’t normally colour-code something like this, but it should give you a clearer idea of how I get to the last planning step.

(And cos the scanner cut it off the last two categories are death/life and sensory images)

Final step: Using the categories and themes you should be able to come up with basic ideas of what the poem is about. Summarise points in about 5 bullet points- these will be the subject of each paragraph:

(I’m doing this without the guidance of a question, but in a lot of exams there will be one- it’s the same idea, you will just need to answer the question in five points)

  • Fecundity and beauty emphasised- sensory imagery focuses on nature (subsequently life and death)
  • Song to a lover- personified nature- almost religious devotion- elegiac. But what begins as focusing on another, becomes focused on the self. Internal structure of poem reflects song-like qualities.
  • Cycles of life and death- seasons- “hours”- conscious of time- Keats always conscious of time- autumn of life- at peace/making peace with death
  • Season of birth and death- cusp of both- it is full circle in the poem- and all the seasons are wrapped up in one- from summer through to spring- structure.
  • Allusion of closure- actually anti-climactic- fades out- has no real ending. Ecclesiastes: “Everything has its season” recalled here- “lives or dies”- hints at the uncertainty of death and religious overtones in birds- symbolic of resurrection ie rebirth.

(I’ve decided to keep this in the rough form, because even though this is untidy, it gives you more of an idea of how this would work. Also don’t be surprised if you don’t use all the ideas you write here)

Make sure you do this planning stage- unless you want to get halfway through your essay and realise that the poem was about something completely different. One tricky thing is getting the timings right in exam conditions- it’s worth calculating this beforehand (like I mean when you get the syllabus, not five minutes into the paper). I’m not sure of the timings for GCSE/A Level currently, but say you had an hour long exam with one question on a selected text and another on close reading, it would be about half an hour on each, five minutes for each paragraph, five minutes for planning. Adjust accordingly.

You are not going to want to repeat all the information from the analysis, so be selective with examples (helpful tip for exams: preferably pick the more technical examples, but not if you’re uncertain of the correct terms- also learn the correct terms 😉 ) From this you can already see there are *tons* of personification elements to the poem- so it will probably be unavoidable to talk about more than once, but try not to go overboard. Tune in later if you want to see what the actual essay would look like- either way, have a lovely day!