What does my sister think of my recommendations? How much does our taste align? Interviewing the Monkey Baby – Fantasy edition!

Hello all! I have a very exciting post for you today… featuring my sister the ONE AND ONLY Monkey Baby!

Hi my precious bonbons- I hope you enjoy this discussion and my jelly belly thoughts!

Since she’s often the guinea pig for my recommendations (and we’ve spent an awful lot of the year locked in the same house together) I thought it might be cool to put it to the test! As you may know, I love seeing how my taste differs from other people and trying to be a bit more objective about the books I love. And, although this is a little close to home, you’ll still hear plenty of contrasting opinions from us!

To make this even more fun (for me 😉 ) I did this interview style! I’ll be the one in bold, asking the questions, while my lovely sister will be the one answering (henceforth known as MB). Hope you enjoy! Onto the interview…

Let’s start off with some of the big ones- what did you think of my recommendation for Laini Taylor? What do you think about her as an author?

MB: She’s a special human who writes magical content. Her romance is the mushiest. And she writes about cake- it’s so cute. I love Lazlo and moths.

But you hate moths…?

MB: Only in that world. She converted me to moths in that world- not in reality (in reality they’re the worst thing in the world).

And similarly, how do you feel about Katherine Arden’s Bear and the Nightingale series?

MB: I love the romance in that one, it’s really awesome. Their romance is so good between Vasilisa and the winter ice-freak. *Then mentions big spoiler that I’ve censored!*

I think the word you’re looking for is demon! 😂 You also loved Uprooted– I think that was even more to your taste than mine?

MB: It’s awesome. It’d be pretty cool to have magical powers to get dressed in different ways. That’s funky banana socks! I like Agniezka and the Dragon. The writing style is pretty and Novik ends it really well… *redacted for spoilers*.

And how about Night Circus? That became a favourite as well, didn’t it?

MB: Yeah that one is a favourite of mine, I love the magic. The circus is incredible. I wish there was a circus that existed like that. One that wasn’t just full of creepy clowns, because no one wants to go to a circus that’s just full of creepy clowns. Actually, on a complete tangent, I went to one at Winter Wonderland last year and that was actually pretty awesome. Getting close to that… well not really- 90% not there- but at least much closer than it used to be when we were kids, soooo.

*prompts her back on topic*

MB: In Night circus there are no clowns. And it’s just magical. And the romance was beautiful. And the ending is amazing… *starts speaking spoilers again*.

Hahaha you keep spoiling is the endings of books!

MB: It’s amazing- I can’t tell you anything about it- but it’s incredible!

Moving onto the Grisha Series- what are your thoughts about Shadow and Bone vs Six of Crows? You know I like Six of Crows better, but which do you prefer?

MB: Six of Crows was better. It was a more fleshed out story and the heist was better. The Grisha series was really good, but the romance was a bit meh. I actually wanted her to be with the evil one (spoilers).

It’s okay that’s not a spoiler- you didn’t say who the evil one was. I thought you preferred the shadow and bone series for some reason.

MB: No I really didn’t. As in I liked it a lot, but I thought he was a bit naff and I thought she was a bit naff by the end. Although her powers were really cool and I liked the fact *launches into a spoiler*… oh wait that was a spoiler.

Okay that’s quite cool- I thought we differed on that.

MB: Also Kaz is just the coolest- you can imagine he’s really cool in real life. (At the moment I’m mixing him up with another character in my mind- you know the magician from The Last Magician. He’s really similar. Kaz is better. But if you put them together it’s the best character)

Now we’re going onto a big topic- Throne of Glass. When it came to that we ended up on the same page- didn’t we? And we shipped the same people?

MB: Oh Dorian. She ruined that series. It had so much potential for so much cuteness! And how can you say no to a puppy? Dorian is a puppy and also he gives a puppy- how on earth do you choose anyone else when they give you a puppy? I don’t understand; it doesn’t make any sense. And Manon was awesome- that was a very clever addition- the whole witch thing was brilliantly done. Dorian and Manon should’ve been the main characters. She should make a whole separate book on Dorian and Manon. That would be the only book by her that I would read next… otherwise no. The only romance that she focused on was the one I didn’t care about.

The series fell off the tracks at the end.

MB: The series itself was ehhhhh…. It got very political and it copied Lord of the Rings (but in a way where I thought “I know that you’re trying to do lotr but it’s not lotr and you’re not Tolkien, so… stop.”) I didn’t really appreciate the politics. The whole ending of we’ll now build a democracy… Sorry, ending spoiler. Of course I’m down for a democracy but why do you have to bring it into a fantasy world? It’s like, okay, I don’t care. Say it for a sentence, if you really must, but it went on for ages, banging home about it. We know democracy is good, we’re not stupid. I don’t think you can meet many people nowadays who say “you know what I really want to do is go back to the middle ages and just be ruled by royalty and not have any freewill. That makes sense”.

I’m also happy I got you into Kagawa- you read all the Iron Fey and the first two Shadow of the Fox books in lockdown, didn’t you? What did you like about those?

MB: Oh Kagawa! She’s great! Iron Fey- oh my god. What’s his name- the one with the dark hair- I’m gonna die if I don’t know- look it up!

(makes me pause to look up the name of the love interest)

MB: Ash! Ash is one of the best fairy prince characters ever. He’s just the coolest character and the whole journey to his soul is mind-blowingly good. That whole book is just… the best. Actually I don’t know why I sold it now I’m thinking of it, because I would happily reread it…

Except for the other half of the series is really meh, because she took the complete wrong path with the son. Because why why why did she have to make him evil. And then why does he have to be the (spoiler) the king of the in-between and he never has a romance. It should’ve been from his perspective. It’s just sad- they had potential to be really good- but I don’t really care about Ethan. He’s mortal and boring. But the first four were incredible.

I haven’t finished the Shadow of the Fox series- but the first impressions are that it’s cool. Yumeko’s the sweetest character and I like how she makes friends along the way. She’s a cute little fairy creature. She’s one of those little rabbits, a rabbit that makes friends, that makes you go aww.

I can’t remember what your thoughts were on Cruel Prince though? Did you like the conclusion?

MB: Oh oh ohhhhh! The first two were really good. I really liked the romance- they were a cute couple. And Jude’s obsession with getting power is really well portrayed. The whole sister thing is a bit messed up, but was well thought out. All of the relationships made sense. And I do think she ended it well. But I dunno, I think the third one was good- but it just needed MORE of it. MORE depth to the relationships. MORE to the plot. MORE fleshed out. It would just be juicier- if you don’t have any flesh in the apple, you’re not going to enjoy it). I’d still read more of her books, because I liked the whole fairy world that she created, with it being very tricksy and difficult to live in as humans.

Dipping our toes into sci fi, I also gave you Renegades- and since we’ve already talked quite a bit about that on here, I won’t make you repeat yourself. What I want to know is does it inspire you to try more Marissa Meyer?

MB: Oh Renegades was incredible. Yeah of course. There’s a whole other series… Oh her other stuff? Interestingly I don’t know if I can be bothered, just because there’s so many fantasy books and you’ve given me five more and I can’t think ahead. It depends what she writes about. Authors like Laini Taylor- heaven!– if she brought out anything, ANYTHING, I would read anything by you. For most authors it has to be about the topic. (Like Katherine Arden has written ghost stuff that I’m not interested in).

I was just wondering if you have anything else to say about it?

MB: Spoilers.

Also Adrian has the best power in the world. Although there’s Ronan. Adrian’s power vs Ronan’s power- oh lords- what would you choose?

That’s really hard.

MB: You can make anything in your dream and bring it out.

Or give yourself powers.

MB: It’s a little less dangerous if you have Adrian’s

That’s what I was thinking.

MB: Cos Ronan’s is really scary to be honest. And you’d have to have a lot of control. Whereas Adrian’s you don’t have to have that much control, you just have to get better at art, which is just a fun problem. Whereas Ronan it’s like “oh my god I have this insane amazing power and it could be amazing but it’s scary and beep”. If you could have full control of Ronan’s power possibly that could be better. But Adrian’s power is definitely the easier route.

We’re gonna talk about Raven Cycle now you’ve brought it up… I take it you like it?

MB: I thought it was pretty cool. And Blue and that posh boy Gansey- aww that was very cute. But I’m glad she did a whole spinoff on Ronan because he was the most interesting character.

It hasn’t always been plain sailing though, has it? Do you remember when I tried to get you into dark fantasy, like Sabriel?

MB: Yeahhhhh… nahhh… it wasn’t my thing. It wasn’t terrible, it was very well written, I was just like “yeah not into this”.

And you didn’t like Hazel Wood either- why not?

MB: Just no. I mean, incredibly written, very addictive, but not my thing. I don’t know why the heck you gave that to me.

I should’ve known better! (but at least you can be thankful I’m not giving you any grimdark…) You’re not as big of a fan of Carry On either, are you?

MB: It was fine. You just hyped it up way more than it needed to be hyped. It was cute and it was funny, but it was essentially just a rewrite, so… (although every book is technically rewritten). It was good. It was funny- but it’s not Laini Taylor. (There’s a stream here. No one lives up!)

thankfully, though, you liked all the Cinda Chima Williams books I’ve lent you?

MB: I remember it being incredible and addictive and the romance was awesome. It was really clever.

Oh and I loved the Heir series! I thought it was so sweet. I thought the whole music bit was amazing because, well obviously… So so cool to have magic in the instruments.

Which is a good note to leave on! Thank you very much Monkey Baby!

And after that all-round bananas post, if you want to check out more from the Monkey Baby, she now has a blog up and running! (shockingly not under the title “monkey baby”) It’s got a lot of lovely lifestyle posts and excellent discussions about her area of expertise (music!) I particularly recommend her thought-provoking post on the disparity in music education, useful posts for budding musicians on improving your rhythm, a great post on whether there should be a division in the types of music studied, a lovely post on taking breaks and of course her marvellous post on making time to read!

And now I want to ask you lovely people- what do you think of my recommendations? Have you enjoyed anything I’ve recommended over the years? Is there anything you hated or were a bit more meh about? Let me know in the comments!

My Must Read Non Fic

If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know I didn’t use to be a massive non fiction reader. When I was younger I struggled to read any non fiction book from cover to cover. Then I started including non fiction in my yearly goals to make sure I got my fill. But now- this year- for some reason I can’t explain, I’ve been devouring the non fiction. Maybe it’s cos I got into memoirs last year, maybe it’s cos I can’t seem to click with a lot of my usual favourites this year. Either way, I thought it might be good to recommend a few of the very best non fic books I’ve read over the years. Books that are *vital*, that will shake you to the core, that will mean a lot to any reader. Now, while this won’t be a favourites list, I will say that my interests in non fiction are pretty niche, so be prepared for an unusual selection. But I hope you get as much out of these as I did:

Big Magic– I want to begin on a positive and empowering note- so what better place to start than with something that will spark your creativity? Insightful and inspiring, this was such an uplifting read for me. And it might just give you a kick up the backside if you need it 😉

The Art of War– one of the most spectacular books I’ve ever read. This is full of ancient wisdom that still feels very relevant. And while the title might suggest it’ll only be of use to military generals, I’d strongly recommend this to anyone writing a book or just needs to understand people a bit better. The advice is surprisingly universal.

Man’s Search for Meaning– I’ve gone on about this book so often, I almost feel bad… but it’s such a good book!! It made a massive difference to my own outlook on life. Frankl may have been through hell, however, he used it to empower others to find meaning in suffering.

Twelve Years a Slave– a heartrending, true account, sometimes I just think it’s important to understand history and look evil in the eye. Speaking of which…

Evil– this is in part to understand how and why other people do evil things, but also to understand our own nature as humans. In my view, that is the only way to truly prevent evil in all its forms. When I first started looking into moral psychology, this book was recommended everywhere and for good reason. Not only is it a thorough exploration in its own right, it’s also got a very good bibliography that you can use as a springboard for further research.

Ordinary Men– this is a book I found because of Evil (and other recommendations). Even though I knew it would be tough, I also understood that I had to read it if I wanted to truly understand how ordinary men can do evil things. As important as it is to remember victims, I’d argue it’s more important to understand how the human heart can be twisted to do the unthinkable. Lest we are doomed to repeat it.

Wild Swans– I’m not just recommending this because it’s emotional and moving and interesting- though it is all those things. It goes beyond personal stories to be an account of a historical era that, while recent, seems to have been quickly forgotten. We ought to know more about it.

In Order to Live– I was blown away by this memoir. It was both an incredible and universal tale of human endurance, giving us just a peek behind the fences of North Korea. Hearing of how Park not only persevered and survived, but also thrived was such an inspiration to me. It was impressive beyond belief.

Gulag Archipelago– even if you just read volume 1, I think it is tremendously important to understand the full scope and tragedy of communism. This is the definitive explanation as to why it did not work and why it could never work. It also demonstrates how the same tragedy repeated itself across borders and how the experiment fails the same way every time. I also personally found the parallels with 1984 astounding- which, interestingly enough, the previous two recommendations also explicitly referred to.

Communist Manifesto– because of my last two recommendations, this may be a surprise. However, unsurprisingly, this is not an endorsement of communism. Far from it. I believe that an honest evaluation of this creed is necessary. I trust people to check it out for themselves (and come to your own conclusions about whether it’s a good idea to denigrate human endeavour, family and freedom).

On Liberty– whether you agree with this or not, I feel like it’s important to understand the founding principles of a lot of Western political systems. I think this is a great place to start.

Righteous Minds– given the gulf that exists between political classes right now, I’d say there’s never been a more important time to read this. Explaining why different people react differently to the same information and why people might have different political inclinations, I think this could be really useful for people looking to reach an understanding. In my view, this book can help people move towards productive conversations and see each other’s perspectives. I reckon we could all do with this in our lives.

Woke– and since we’re ending on a political note, then I must once again talk about THE MOST IMPORTANT BOOK OF OUR TIME! This book will CHANGE YOUR WHOLE WAY OF THINKING! You will see what A GODDESS TITANIA MCGRATH IS! (okay, for the record, this is satire, don’t make the same mistake as that bookshop that took it too seriously 😉 but I do think it’s a must-read, because there’s no greater cure for all the *bonkers* in the world than a little bit of laughter!)

So, have you read any of these? Do you agree with me? Disagree? Have any MUST-READ books to recommend? Let me know in the comments!

Recommending Books I Didn’t Like

orangutan list

Well, I’ve been a bit negative lately, so I thought it would be a good idea to try and turn things around. I was completely inspired by an amazing video by Elliot Brooks over on booktube to start recommending books I don’t like. And since I always say that other people might like books I give 2 bananas, I thought it was time for me to put my bananas where my mouth is and recommend some books I don’t like… or something that sounds less like I’m just stuffing my face 😉 And I’m gonna try to do it all while standing on one leg not insulting any of these books. Wish me luck!

love_in_the_time_of_cholera

Love in a Time of Cholera– an exquisitely written book with distinct characters- I just didn’t like it because I hate stream of consciousness- but if that’s your jam, I’m sure you’ll love it!

mrs dalloway

Mrs Dalloway– similarly, no one can dispute that Woolf was an incredible writer (her twists on imagery is second to none), but I just can’t stand stream of consciousness.

sun also rises

The Sun Also Rises– again, I’ve made no secret of the fact I’m not a fan of pared-down writing. In fact, I’ve spoken at length about how I think there’s a Fitzgerald-Hemmingway divide– people tend to like one or the other! So if you’re not a fan of Fitzgerald, chances are you’ll love this. Plus, even I, with my biases, can see that the characterisation is incredibly realistic and fascinating.

lonely hearts hotel

Lonely Hearts Hotel– oof it hurts my soul that I didn’t love this book, because O’Neill is a very talented writer- I’m just not her target audience. This may well be for people who love post-modernism.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian

Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian– there were a number of reasons why I didn’t click with this book: namely that I was too old for this middle grade and it felt too rooted in American culture for me to get- sorry! But if you are the target demographic, it’ll probably work for you (goodness knows the ratings on Goodreads suggest as much!)

dune

Dune– another one that pains me to admit I didn’t like! Dune is *classic* sci fi material- I just couldn’t get on with the writing style! But if you want interesting ideas, this is the way to go.

Watchmen_HC

Watchmen– I’ve never been able to figure out why I didn’t like this one (even though I thought Moore’s other famous graphic novel, V for Vendetta, was incredible). Perhaps if you give it a go it’ll work better for you- there’s plenty of people that’ll tell you it’s a classic!

Steelheart

Steelheart– this one is *super easy* to recommend because 1) I love Sanderson 2) it’s brilliantly written and 3) the plot is amazing. The only reason I didn’t love it is because I personally didn’t connect with the characters- but that’s no fault of the book! So, if you’re looking for a genius take on superheroes, you can’t go wrong with this!

magician's guild

Magician’s Guild– kind of cheating, cos I ended up loving this series- but that’s why I continue to recommend the first one even though I didn’t like it! It gets so much better!!

The_goldfinch_by_donna_tart

Goldfinch– I personally didn’t connect with this because of its length, but having read (and adored) the Secret History, I’m actually pretty keen to revisit the Goldfinch. Regardless of whether it ends up being for me or not, I think Tartt is a class act and worth reading.

communist manifesto

The Communist Manifesto– yeahhh I’m going there, cos why the heck not? I’m definitely not recommending that you become a communist, but I trust people to check it out for themselves and not take my word for it that it’s *bad* (looks like I failed at not insulting the books on this list 😉)

Gosh that was a challenging post to do! Do you agree or disagree with my choices? (I know I’m certainly questioning everything I’ve written here 😉) And do you have any books you didn’t like that you’d recommend? Let me know in the comments!