My Hot Take on Kingdom of Ash

kingdom of ash book cover

It’s safe to say this was one of my most anticipated reads of the year. As the long-anticipated finale in a 7 book series, my excitement to read this was sky high… so much so that I decided to go to a book event, got myself a signed copy and some other goodies beside- look how pretty!!

(no pics of the actual event sadly cos my camera is really crummy)

All of which begs the question: how could the book possibly live upto all the hype? Well, I’m pleased to say it did in a lot of ways it made me a very happy monkey. Although I won’t pretend it was everything I dreamed it would be (more on that later) I did come away pretty darn satisfied.

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From the beginning, Maas’ writing walked the thin line between decadence and accessibility. In an exquisitely balanced fashion, she drew on her reader’s emotions and went for some gutsy manoeuvres. Each torture scene was measured and well executed. With plenty of tension, the stakes were high, and every tweak of the plot felt like another turn of the thumbscrew.

What I especially appreciated about these scenes was how it allowed for a more intimate view of the villainess. Maeve telling her side of the story was particularly rewarding. While I was left unsure after Empire of Storms why she would abduct, instead of kill, our heroine, it made perfect sense here. The one flaw that this did open up- unfortunately- was that it repeated the reveal for Maeve’s true identity… the same one that was allegedly the vital piece of information we needed to read Tower of Dawn to get.

Now this led to its own set of problems. Suddenly, this whole setup (one which became an entire book I might add) was suddenly redundant, because Aelin had figured it out all on her lonesome. Which, *yay, goodie for her* but sadly this meant a lot of characters lost their purpose. Given that the cast was too large anyway, I wondered why this unnecessary plot point wasn’t trimmed.

It didn’t help that there were a lot of characters I’d lost interest in. As much as I had previously liked Nesryn and Sartaq, they may as well have been cameos in the book, because they added nothing to the story. And, something which came as much as a shock to me as it will to you, was that previous favourites like Lysandra and Aedion no longer held my interest. Part of my falling out of love with them came from the pettiness of their scenes- their fallout felt manufactured and most of their scenes were needless drama that could have been streamlined. But the other issue was that I struggled to care for so many characters once they were reunited with the ones I actually loved- especially if I’d only recently managed a grudging respect for them (*coughs* Chaol *cough cough*). I personally found that some new characters hadn’t earned the amount of attention they received (to be frank: Yrene) while some older characters were given short shrift. It certainly didn’t help that the perspective shifted at regular intervals (something that didn’t happen earlier in the series). At the event, Maas said that this was to frustrate the reader a little… and frustrate me it did. In fact, I found it easier to put the book down because of it.

Nonetheless, there were always characters I was desperate to see more from. Most notably my favourite couples: Lorcan/Elide and Manon/Dorian. For me personally, the Manon and Dorian scenes (together and apart) stole the show. Practically every Manon moment made me *squeal* with glee and every Dorian part made my heart melt. I especially liked the progression of their stories. The scene with Abraxos and Petra was a culmination of *everything* (more so even than the one with the Thirteen- which is also pretty spectacular given that if you’ve read the book you know exactly what I’m talking about). And each of Dorian’s victories was *the best*. Highlight for spoiler: in the whole book, my pity panged most for Dorian seeing his father’s sacrifice. And I loved seeing the explanation for why the king had no name.

True to form, the plot was very exciting. There was a lot mastery in that no scenes were wasted. I can see what Maas meant about not skipping anything out. My one issue was that a lot of these events could have been reordered for a bit more oomph. Especially when it came to the point where the plot hinged: the wyrdkeys. In my opinion, this major showdown happened too early and easily could have been saved to coincide with the final battle. Highlight for spoilery section: It would have been fine to have Maeve see Aelin lose her powers and not have her just mysteriously *know* anyway. I also felt that the betrayal of the gods was shoehorned in to “surprise” the reader that they’d still have to defeat him. I’d have been happy if either Erawan had been blasted into outer space like planned or the gods had lied about being able to get rid of him in the first place.

Still, I did think there was too much going on in the last battle. For me, it would have made sense to put a number of players out of commission and not switch perspective at this crucial stage. Highlight for more spoilers: Elide saving Lorcan could have been early in this battle. Maeve could have consequently been torturing just Rowan, not three people at once. And, as well written as it was, I didn’t have a dog in the Erawan/Yrene fight scene if I’m honest. And as much as I liked Dorian getting his little victories- I’d have had him unconscious for the duration of the fight too. What I did like was Aelin riding in on the Lord of the North was wonderful. I liked that she was heroic as ever, that she retained her swagger and most of all her last words to Maeve. Basically, Aelin, Aelin, Aelin. There was one last flaw and that was that OF COURSE they killed the main villain and all the other enemies *run away*. Because this overused film trope isn’t overused

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After that, the ending was pretty much as expected. Highlight for lots of spoilers Happy happiness with a hint of happy-juice. Complete with that cliché that will piss off many fans of “oh I’m queen now, let’s have democracy”. Not to sound like a miserable bugger, but at the end of a saga like this, I think I could have handled a bit more loss. The thing is, whoever died would have annoyed fans, because let’s face it, the choice would have been between Dorian and Chaol. Now, as a lot of you may know, I’m totally biased, so you may think my choice of Chaol is tinged with that. NOT SO! (okay maybe a little) Hear me out- the reason why I’d have killed him off was because it would have been simultaneously tragic, what with the so much to live for, and yet also would have made sense since he’d reached a full character arc. Whereas Dorian is kind of needed to rule- because his useless brother would hardly be any good in his place, and he hadn’t yet fulfilled his romantic purpose (basically, if there was a half decent alternative ruler and he’d knocked Manon up, I’d have sobbed my little heart out, but agreed it was fair for him to go). So yeah, my main message is kill Chaol (#SorryNotSorry).

Other than that, I was amused to find that Maas was clearly on a Tolkien bender. The witches going to war was an amazing scene- but did anyone else find it reminiscent of “the beacons are lit”? Also “that’s no horn of Morath” felt like the arrival of the Rohirrim. Yet, even with some moments feeling derivative to me, I did like the fact that all the stories- the fae, the witches and the men- all tied into the theme of homecoming. That worked splendidly.

Ultimately, this was a tad too long and there were too many characters I wasn’t fussed about. There were some things I wish had been done slightly differently. That said, despite these kinks, I can’t deny I enjoyed a large proportion of this book. Plus I thought it was a massive improvement on book 5! Like many of the books in this series, it’s not perfect, but it’s certainly a wild ride:

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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

Monthly Monkey Mini Review – December

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Hello all! I know we’re a week in, but can anyone believe it’s already December? Like much of the rest of the year, November flew by for me, especially since I was so busy with my (vague) Nano plans. As a lot of you guys know, in the end I had a pretty successful writing month 😀

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I’ll admit, that took up a huge proportion of my month, although I also did go to La Bayadere and Simon Boccanegra at the Opera House- both of which were epic (although obviously I did not have as good seats as the way I’ve painted it 😉 ):

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(is it obvious at this point that I’m half interested in sharing what I do and mostly just into making these monkeys?)

Anyhoo, back to books, I didn’t read a tremendous amount last month, so only have a few mini reviews today:

autoboyography

Autoboyography– initially, I thought the one line concept wasn’t all that interesting- but as it went on I did get more into the premise. Mostly cos the execution was so good. The writing was inventive with the style and voice and definitely had me rooting for the characters. I ended up liking Tanner, for all his *do first, think later* attitude and being pretty keen on the rest of the cast… However, speaking of infatuation, I wasn’t too obsessed with the romance. It just felt too much like instalove for me and there was only one squeal-worthy moment. I also wasn’t crazy about how his best friend Auddy’s story arc- I kept thinking she was treated unfairly by the plot. She was set up as an interesting character- but all I kept thinking was what about her dreams? Her love? Her book? I can’t imagine a real life person as spunky as her would appreciate being faded into the background so much. Overall, it was not perfect, but I did enjoy it.

Rating: 3½/5 bananas

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captivate

Captivate– this took me quite a bit of the month to get through. When I picked it up I thought it was aimed at people who are somewhat socially awkward, but by the end I thought maybe it was more tuned to major introverts. Either way, I didn’t find a lot of it resonated with me. The conversation starters were a bit of fun, however, certain hacks like using people as your “riser” felt too weird to me. And this linked to an issue I continually have with self-help. A lot of self-help philosophy is based on a “what can I get out of this” mentality, whereas valuable moral philosophy centres on “what can other people get out of this” or “what can I give of myself”. Aka, it’s about what we can do for each other and selfless good deeds (can anyone tell I’ve been rewatching the Good Place lately?). While the mechanics behind both actions can often be the same, the intent behind it is very different, and I find it quite off-putting. Ironically, I also think you get more out of the selfless mentality than the selfish one. So, while this wasn’t terrible, there was nothing particularly groundbreaking about it and it fell foul to the usual demons of the genre.

Rating: 2½/5 bananas

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girl of ink and stars

The Girl of Ink and Stars– I will say this had beautiful writing and an alright story. The main issue for me was that the characters didn’t have enough depth. And because of that I felt it was aimed at people a bit younger than it was pitched at (although who even knows what age demographic YA is aimed at anymore). It was quick paced and didn’t do anything technically wrong- I just didn’t end up remotely enthusiastic about it.

Rating: 3/5 bananas

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list of cages

A List of Cages– okay I totally understand the hype around this book. It was beautiful, intense and moving. I loved the contrast in light and dark tones of each narrator. I don’t actually tend to read contemporaries on the topic of child abuse, but even if you’re like me, I’d make an exception in this case. It was wonderfully executed, emotional and had excellent characterisation. There were certain aspects of the crazy-dramatic ending I wasn’t completely sold on- but it (minor spoiler) did make sense to take the abuser out of the picture for the conclusion (though I’d have preferred jail time). Regardless, I definitely recommend it!

Rating: 4½/5 bananas

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Before I go, the marvellous Mim Inkling is hosting a bookish bingo this month in celebration of 6 months on the platform- it looked like a lot of fun, so I decided to participate. If you fancy joining in, all the details are here. I figured I’d do a wrap up at the end and maybe update a little as I go. I will say as a massive mood reader, it’s a real struggle to keep to a tbr, but so far for this contest/month I’ve read… Wicked Deep, One Day in December, After the Fire, Coco Caramel  and Shadow of the Fox. Although I might swap some of these out- I’m still hoping to squeeze this into my December reads:

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And that’s all for now! Have you read any of these? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

Where I recommend books everyone hates…

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Okay, hate is a strong word. And, I guess it’s fair to say that not everyone hates these books. Nonetheless, these are the books that I see getting *a lot* of bad reviews and have lower ratings than I’d expect… which unfortunately can really effect whether some people (*coughs* me included *cough cough*) pick it up or not. Now obviously what’s considered a low rating is pretty subjective- so I just used the magic of GR to organise my books by ratings and picked the ones where there was the biggest discrepancy.

facing the light

Facing the Lightrating 3.49– this one has the biggest difference between my rating and the general consensus. I like to think that the main reason for that might be because it’s not all that well known and the limited number of ratings are skewed because of that. Either way, I genuinely thought this was an intriguing and captivating book that deserves more attention.

broken things

Broken Thingsrating 3.6– I often consider Lauren Oliver underrated famous author- because she always has great sales, but mixed reviews. Anyway, you might remember my fairly recent review where I talked about how completely brilliant I found it.

hazel wood

Hazel Woodrating 3.62- while this isn’t the lowest rating on the list, I do unfortunately see a lot of negative reviews for this, particularly saying that it “wasn’t worth the hype”. Now that hurts my soul a little cos I genuinely loved. Here’s the thing, I get why this is hit or miss for people. The writing style and pacing aren’t going to be for everyone- BUT I highly recommend giving it a go, because it’s atmospheric, beautiful and deeply rooted in the fairy tale tradition. For its cleverness alone, I think this book deserves to be read.

horrorstor

Horrorstorrating 3.61– this is another one where I understand the hit or miss reviews- annnd totally disagree with them. Say what you want about the abrupt ending, it makes a certain amount of sense to leave a ghost story a little unresolved. Also, this completely delivered on what promised: it was funny, innovative and suuuuuper creepy.

how i live now

How I Live Nowrating 3.58-okay this is the one on the list that I really get why it’s not so well loved. It’s got some deeply shady stuff going on… but for some reason it worked for me. Sure, it’s strange; yes, it’s a little mad- however for book set at the end of the world that makes a lot of sense. Plus, beyond its dodgy post-apocalyptic aura, it’s a story of characters I really came to care for and is an exceptionally moving story. Fair warning, it’s not going to be for everyone- and yet I recommend it anyway.

And now, because Classics don’t always get a fair rep on social media sites/blogs, I’m gonna include some books that get a fair amount of hate, but you should read anyway:

heart of darkness

Heart of darknessrating 3.42– this is by far the lowest ratings I’ve seen for something I’ve given 5 bananas… and I get that. It’s a peculiar book, with somewhat obscure writing and some questionable content. However, once you dig a little deeper and find that kernel of meaning at its centre, you’re sure to have a rewarding reading experience.

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Turn of the Screwrating 3.44– I have absolutely no idea why that rating is so low. And I’m stumped by the reviews, cos there doesn’t seem to be a general consensus of why people don’t like it (just lots of reasons I’d put down to personal taste, like writing style, content, etc). So I’ll just say why I do like it. Turn of the Screw is one of my favourite classics because it has one of the best unreliable narrators ever written and the answered of mystery over what the actual eff happened. For me, the unending questions surrounding this book, coupled with elegant prose, makes it a slice of perfection.

canterbury tales

The Canterbury Talesrating 3.49– this is another one that makes me go *ouch* when I look at the rating. Look, I get that it’s hard to read for modern audiences- but to look at it on that level alone will mean you’re missing out on some of the best characterisation in literature!! And some really complex stories! Also, a useful tip if you are struggling with this is to read it aloud.

crucible

The Cruciblerating 3.56– okay, I get that Arthur Miller can be a little on the nose with his messaging. And I’ve been told plenty of times even by fans of Miller that this isn’t his best work- and yet I still recommend it for the tension and drama it produces.

catcher in the rye

Catcher in the Ryerating 3.8– alright, I’m breaking my rules of going based on ratings here, cos it’s fairly high. The reason I’ve included Catcher in the Rye is the sheer amount of hate I see for this book around and how every time I mention it, people say that they don’t. And that’s absolutely fine- I even understand why people hate the protagonist and aren’t crazy about the plot (or lack thereof). HOWEVER no matter the hate towards this book, I think there are things we can all recognise are done well. Salinger’s classic is one of the smartest reflections on teenagehood and an exceptional example of creating a character through voice. Like it or loathe it, Catcher in the Rye can teach you a lot about writing and reading between the lines of an unreliable narrator.

Alrighty then- do you agree or disagree with any of my choices? Do you love any unpopular books? Let me know in the comments!

Thunderhead was a resounding success!

thunderheadA lot of you guys might remember how much I loved reading Scythe earlier in the year- well Thunderhead came along and blasted the previous book out of the water. From the dramatic opening, the reader was re-submerged in Shusterman’s EPIC world building, and led through a tempestuous plot. The stakes are higher and more keenly felt, the storyline clapped back at any criticism I had of the first one, all of which leading up to a truly *explosive* finale. Even if I’d had the power of the Thunderhead itself, I could never have seen that ending coming.

In terms of the characterisation, I was happy to see the characters stay true to form. I was also loving the new Scythe names: Lucifer and Anastasia. My only teeny tiny gripe was that I could have done with a little bit more focus on the characters. It was great that this didn’t sacrifice pacing like the first book, but  one of the things I loved there was the evolution of their personalities-and, while I really felt for them here, that growth kind of fell by the wayside.

That said, all credit has to be given for the sensational world building. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- it is absolutely marvellous how this series characterises the setting. What Thunderhead did was take the best parts of Scythe– its originality and scope- and really ran with it. I especially liked the Unsavouries element to this one. Obviously though, I would be remiss not to discuss the uproarious inclusion of the Thunderhead.

Whereas in the first book there were diary entries from Scythes, this sequel upped the game considerably by including the Thunderhead’s musings. That was a stroke of genius. As one might expect from an all-knowing AI, the Thunderhead came across as MAJORLY CREEPY. Slight spoilers: I suspected from book one that it might go in the direction of this AI being a benevolent dictator, playing god with his subjects, and I wasn’t disappointed. I appreciated how the Thunderhead toyed with humanity- especially when it came to the Scythdom- both recognising its corruption and letting it cleanse itself. I loved the minor manipulations as much as the big ones. There was an element of control in everything it did and a sense of a grand plan for humanity… which created a sense of foreboding for this book and the rest of the series. And after this, I really can’t wait to see where this all goes in the next instalment!

Overall, this was a sensational sequel with no hint of middle book syndrome. The writing, as always, was top-notch and the story was even sharper than the first book. This series holds so much promise and I for one have a sneaking suspicion I’m going to like how this all wraps up!

Rating: 4½/5 bananas

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So have you read this? Do you plan to? What do you think of this lethal series? Let me know in the comments!

The Exciting Prospect of Failure

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Hello all! Hope you’re having a great Sunday! I just wanted to do a quick personal post today where I talk about how my not-quite-Nano writing month went. Despite my title, I didn’t actually fail with my goal this year. In fact, I exceeded it. I managed to do 10/12 of my planned chapters- and even polished off another chapter yesterday… which brought my WIP to (hopefully) an explosive end.

happy-runningTo give this WIP a little background, it’s taken 8 years since I came up with the idea to come to this point where I now feel like I have a complete story. To put that in context of what it means to me, well, this is not only the last book in a trilogy, but also my sixth manuscript to date. So as you can imagine I’m feeling a lot of *feels* right now: liable to burst out in a happy dance at any moment, mildly shell shocked (that finale was not sunshine and rainbows and kittens, in case you’re wondering), but mostly optimistically nervous about what comes next.

Because, of course, it’s not over. As you’d expect from a first draft, there’s quite a way to go- fragments of the story I forgot to tell and new bits of the narrative to articulate. Before I started on this book, I knew there were issues with the series I wanted to tease out, but while I was writing I discovered sneaky little plot points that really needed my immediate attention. But I couldn’t exactly turn around and fix them- I knew I had to finish what I’d started first.

train crashIt’s an interesting experience to know that you’re working on something that’s gonna need an overhaul. Especially as a compulsive editor like me. Usually flaws like these would make me want to stop what I’m doing there and then. I’m certainly no stranger to hacking away at a manuscript until it feels a little closer to right. But this was like deliberately driving a runaway train into a ravine- with one eye on the prize and one gazing wistfully back at the start and knowing it could all be somewhat more spectacular (and yes, the runaway train metaphor is definitely what I’m  going for- my characters are total trainwrecks and the outcome of their actions is a complete disaster 😉 ).

The strange part of all this was that- even though I knew I was writing something that would inevitably have to change- I wasn’t deterred or put off. In fact, the prospect motivated me. Last year I talked a little about how failing is when you learn the most– and this year I realised it’s more than that. It’s the mistakes that keep you going. I’m looking forward to rectifying all the kinks and details I got wrong and I can’t wait to implement all the thrilling modifications I’ve come up with. Striving for something better is what keeps me on the edge of my seat when it comes to this story; it’s what makes me want to forge ahead with all the new ideas I have for the future. That’s just one of the great things about writing I guess: there’s always something new to explore, even in old worlds. Although, I’ll admit, right now I’m going to shove said manuscript in a drawer and not think about it (much) for about a month.

And that, folks, is a wrap! So did you participate in Nano this month or in years gone by? And if you write, what gets you motivated to write more? Let me know in the comments!

All the Endings: Books Finales that *WOWED* Me

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So I mentioned yesterday that I’m being a bit introspective at the moment and thinking about endings. A lot of books are about the journey- but let’s face it, the ending can often make or break a book. Since I’m upto that stage in my WIP, I started to fret about the kind of endings that leave me dissatisfied, but while I was writing the piece I realised there are a lot more endings that blew me away than let me down. And since this seems to be such a great procrastination tool, I decided I should do a counter-post and share some endings I’m utterly enamoured by:

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Poison– no spoilers, but loved the inventiveness of the book and unexpected ending blew me away.

emperor of thorns

Emperor of Thorns– completely bold, completely perfect- this ending was everything you could want from a series finale.

golden son

Golden Son– I love a good cliffhanger- it’s a special kind of torture to have to wait between books when everything’s on the line- I’m weird I guess 😉

Heir-of-Fire-UK

Heir of Fire– what was I saying about cliffhangers? 😉 It was an emotional end to an emotional book. This happens to be my favourite of all Maas’ books- and that’s cos the drama didn’t let up for even a second. And while the conclusion resolved a lot that went down in the book, it set up plenty for the next instalment.

broken things

Broken Things– kind of spoilery, but this is kind of my answer to the issue with TFIOS ending. I love when books are a little meta- especially when that means they mirror an aspect of a book within the book.

harry potter and the chamber of secrets

Chamber of Secrets– this is my favourite HP ending. It has the best mystery and reveal in the series in my opinion. And I simply adore how it was executed.

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Daniel Deronda– I love how realistic this felt at the same time as meting out justice for the characters. While the flawed heroine didn’t get exactly what she wanted, it made sense to me. And the perfect hero got exactly what he deserved. It felt so right.

persuasion

Persuasion– I’m a sucker for a happy ending and no one does that quite like Austen. This for me is the most perfect of all her creations in that regard, because it feels the most earned.

memoirs of a geisha

Memoirs of a Geisha– in a similar vein this appealed to the romantic in me. I love how this book is devoted to the idea that love can work out in the end.

tess

Tess of the D’Urbervilles– I also really appreciate books on the other end of the spectrum and frankly this is that. It’s perfectly tragic.

we were liars

We Were Liars– this heartbreaking finale made me absolutely break down- and I can’t say anymore because of *spoilers*- it’s best to go into this book blind and see for yourself.

count of monte cristo

Count of Monte Cristo– not only does this deliver exactly what you want, it also deals with a complex moral in a clever way.

shades children

Shade’s Children– this is the kind of ending that I used to just pick up and read on its own over and over. Because it’s just perfection. The twist towards the end was great, but really the best moment in the whole book is that flash forward.

anansi boys

Anansi Boys– I always love the way Gaiman shifts the story around a twist- and this is no exception. In fact, this was the book that made me fall head over heels for Gaiman’s work. And that ending- I wasn’t expecting that at all- *mindblown*.

noughts and crosses

Noughts and Crosses– it kind of had to end this way- but OH MY HEART! I will never be over it.

strange the dreamer

Strange the Dreamer– of course, Laini Taylor had to make it onto the list- because this is how to do an ending. I love how it felt both foreshadowed and sudden!

And that’s all for now! Do you agree or disagree with any of the books on this list? And what’s your favourite endings? Let me know in the comments!