Monthly Monkey Mini Reviews – ahh it’s August 2020!

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Hello all! Last month was a little bit better (by 2020 standards 😉)- I’m happier being out of lockdown here in the UK and glad to say I got out a little more.

orangutan in the great outdoors

Plus, there’s always yoga to keep me more positive 😊

orangutan yoga

One thing I did learn is if I say I’m taking a hiatus, I need to actually do it! (but what are plans this year, amiright?!) So I didn’t take a proper break, I just got worse at blogging- whoops!

Anyway, as much as I’ve been enjoying talking TV these last few months, I didn’t watch anything in July except season 3 of the Crown… which admittedly was fun for all the wrong reasons. I mean, I enjoy the “history”, but wow, this season took some serious liberties. Case and point calling the ex-king, who was a rather famous fan of Hitler and the Nazis, a progressive?! I wouldn’t get so excited about him meeting with Emperor Hirohito either (a questionable historical figure who at the very least signed off on allying with, you guessed it, Nazis). So weird to glorify a man who was friends with fascists late into his life. My guess is the whole look-at-royals-marrying-for-love subplot (even if Wallis Simpson was a Nazi sympathiser) was paralleled with Charles/Camilla so that we don’t blame them for their affair. It also got a chuckle out of me when Wilson (made to mirror Jeremy Corbyn) was a leftie (lol). But whatever, the show is royalist propaganda… so what can we expect? (I’m just being a grouchy Brit, it was still very entertaining).

What MADE MY MONTH was Taylor Swift’s surprise album drop: Folklore! I didn’t love Lover, but thank goodness for Folklore. This was just what I (and millions of fans around the world) needed. It offers sensational storytelling, lovely lyrics and some much-needed escapism. I could go on forever and always about how Swift took it to another level here and how I was enchanted by every. single. song- but for now I’ll just say that this is what I’m going to be listening to well into august (also my god I think I have new favourite Swift songs and this might even knock 1989 off its perch of best album!)

alice network

The Alice Network– yes, after reading Huntress last month, I had to hunt down another of Quinn’s books and fortunately I was able to instantly connect with the Alice Network (and no I won’t apologise for terrible puns 😉). It was, as you can imagine, another brilliant historical fiction. Well researched, it brought two eras of history to life, this time focusing on WW1 and the aftermath of WW2. Quinn had excellent control of both the timeline jumps and the multiple povs, creating a compelling story I couldn’t stop reading. The one issue I had was that I personally wasn’t as keen on Charlie as a main character and so didn’t enjoy her perspective as much or fully buy into her romance. However, it was still a very satisfying read. Tense in all the right places and with a brilliant finale, Alice Network delivers a fast paced, gut-wrenching spy novel.

Rating: 4½/5 bananas

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loveboat taipei

Love Taipei– okay, I initially didn’t get why this was so underhyped, but by the time I got to the end, I understood. This had some seriously dodgy elements… and yet I still kinda liked it? I know, I know- that makes no sense, just hear me out (or don’t- I wouldn’t blame you 😉). This had a love square and so-called friendship that’s MESSY af- but it was also very immersive and I completely believed the characters were real. Especially the main character, who was torn between what she wanted and what her family wanted for her. I thought it had a strong opening, concept and felt connected enough that I went along for the ride (however bad it got). Not sure I’d actively recommend it, but I’ll admit I enjoyed most of it (though perhaps not super into the how the romance panned out).

Rating: 3½/5 bananas

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fountains of silence

Fountains of Silence– I had such mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, the crimes that occurred in Franco’s Spain is an important story that needs to be told. Plus, some of the perspectives were powerful- particularly Puri’s. On the other hand, it wasn’t the smoothest read. As much as I pushed through it pretty fast, it could be a struggle, because I wasn’t interested by all the minutiae and stories. A lot could’ve been cut for a punchier plot. The ending, especially, could’ve been tighter. And, while there was some strong writing, this was far from Sepetys best. It didn’t sparkle enough for me and I only got a hint of the Spanish setting. In short, I think it’s good this book exists, I just think it could’ve been better.

Rating: 3½/5 bananas

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nevermoor

Nevermoor- The Trials of Morrigan Crow– people have been raving about Nevermoor for years- and I get why! What a clever, entertaining and funny work. The concept and world building were wunderful. The characters were really well drawn- there wasn’t a single case of a poorly sketched figure in sight- they all felt like real people. And wow that ending is basically the best! There wasn’t a single thing I didn’t like. I am so excited to continue on with this story and I think this is the most *perfect* book for kids since Harry Potter!

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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his and hers

His and Hers– this is a hard one to talk about, but an easy one to recommend. I loved how this thriller handled dual povs- it was so well done and absolutely added to the story. Flicking between Her perspective (an alcoholic, out of work TV presenter) and His (her detective ex-husband) we come face to face with a serial killer, as both are implicated in a spate of killings. As with all the best thrillers, this had plenty of “oh shit” and “wtf” moments. This pacey page turner delivers all the twists and turns. While I suspected some of them, there were many parts I wasn’t expecting. Most importantly, I had no idea whose story to trust. I did have some lingering questions, yet ultimately this really packed a punch.

Rating: 4½/5 bananas

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who did you tell

Who Did You Tell?– this was another solid thriller, featuring sordid secrets and a stalker. Again, I didn’t know how much of the narration to believe, with the focus on a recovering alcoholic. I really liked how this addressed the topic of alcoholism- cos it didn’t just use it as a crutch for the story or a convenience for the narrative. No, here it was about the trauma that is involved in substance abuse. This gave it some emotionality that I often don’t feel in thrillers. I also liked the slow reveal and clean structure. Plus, the final reveal was fabulous.

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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clap when you land

Clap When You Land– written in verse, this was another flawless contemporary from Acevedo. I was prepared for heartbreak, but not for how heart-warming it would be. Focusing on the aftermath of a plane crash that reveals explosive truths, this was surprisingly action packed and I whizzed through it. It went beyond simply dealing with the topic of grief to take the story to even greater heights. The characters were not just shaken, but re-shaped by events. It was a beautiful journey and deserves all the applause. I’m really into every single one of this author’s releases!

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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the library book

The Library Book– as you can imagine, a book that talks about how wonderful libraries are is preaching to the choir. So, unsurprisingly, I rather enjoyed this book of brief essays and stories about the glory that is the library. Being an anthology, there were of course parts I liked more than others (my favourite being the deeply personal one from Stephen Fry). It was amazing to read about all the ways it can change lives and the amazing benefits it offers. I liked that it put flesh on the bones of library life. Also, I rather like the reminder that LIBRARIES ARE A PLACE YOU CAN GET FREE BOOKS!! So, no, it wasn’t a life-changing read, but it was a little affirming. And yes, I know that there’s another more famous book (watch this space).

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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That’s all for now! Have you read any of these? Did you like them? Let me know in the comments! And I hope you’re all staying safe and well!

Sorcery of Thorns was a Spellbinding Success!

***I was given this by Netgalley in exchange for review- but the unabridged gushing is all me***

sorcery of thornsSet in a magical library, with the promise of plenty of drama and danger, I had a feeling I was bound to love Sorcery of Thorns… and I was right! Last year, when this came out, I was blown away by the sheer number of positive reviews. Just last month, I was delighted by Enchantment of Ravens and saw for myself the author’s potential- but nothing could’ve prepared me for the pure pleasure of this book. A perfect escapist read, I was instantly lost in this world of grimoires and demons.

The main character, Elisabeth, was charming, feisty and quirky. Her perspective felt refreshing and fun- and it certainly didn’t hurt that her ambition is to be a warden of the Great Library (let’s be real- I wish this was my life!) I didn’t just feel a connection to her, however- the love interest stole pieces of my heart and (surprisingly) a side character managed to run off with the rest of it!

And while the world is easily one of its biggest draws, it’s no question that the plot also delivers a punch. Pacey from the enigmatic opening to the turn of the last page, I felt like I was leafing through the layers of this story with every chapter. Part murder mystery, part coming of age tale, part romance, this has a little of everything to satisfy readers of all stripes.

For me, the writing held just the right level of enchantment. With a lovely refinement, it made me laugh and hit me in the *feels* when it had to.

The narrative also manages to raise interesting ideas- which I also appreciated in Rogerson’s previous work. Here, she doesn’t just explore the brilliance of books themselves, but how they make the reader stronger and more resilient. This is penned into the protagonist’s development in such a way that makes her feel simultaneously special and relatable. It bookends the beauty of libraries in an exceptional way.

As you can tell, my love for this book is no fiction. There’s something simply joyous in this YA fantasy. If you’re looking for a little time away from our world right now, I highly recommend stepping into this book about books!

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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Have you read this? Did you have as much fun with it as I did? Let me know in the comments!

Finding Inspiration in Big Magic

big magicAfter devouring Eat Pray Love earlier this year, I was craving more from Elizabeth Gilbert. Enter: Big Magic! I’d heard good things- but, wow, I was not prepared for how much I would love it. It’s just pure, sparkly *inspiration* in book form. It’s safe to say, Big Magic had cast its spell over

Bringing forth magic of creativity, there’s a hint of euphoria in this book. It sweeps you up in equal doses of optimism and tough love. Much like with Eat Pray Love, I adored Gilbert’s self-awareness and humour. I couldn’t help warming to her all over again and feeling like I was being taken on this journey by a good friend.

No doubt, like any guidebook for the (chaos that is the) creative mind, bits and pieces of this book will be relevant to different people (or at different times of the creative process). I personally felt called out for my perfectionism (described as fear in a mink coat) and welcomed the long-deserved kick up the backside. I’m positive that every creative will see parts of themselves reflected back at them here (and will benefit from the honest assessment).

I also liked the quirky analogies and unique ways of reassessing your mindset- such as asking yourself what you’d be doing in the apocalypse, so that you can know if you’re on the right path (which, you know, we can all kinda answer now that it’s rolled around 😉).

There were a whole bunch of great takeaways- which I’m going to paraphrase and you may want to skip over if you plan to read this:

  • I LOVED her point that yelling at creativity is like yelling at a cat- it has no idea what you’re talking about and you’ll just scare it away- VERY TRUE!!
  • I also agreed with her mantra: “Everything sucks some of the time”. There’s no such thing as a perfect job (and I think it’s not healthy to be in the mindset that there is).
  • She said no one is worrying about what you do with your life- which is great advice and reminded me of some advice my grandpa gave: no one is worrying about what you’re doing when they put their head on the pillow at night
  • And we have to keep pushing forward, no matter what!
  • Her point that people shouldn’t strive to be the suffering artist is so apt- writing is something to be enjoyed (and even in writing misery, it should be to untether your soul a little). I do not think it’s healthy to chase darkness around the world (it’ll catch up with you eventually anyway). I always think if you feel like you can’t write something dark, write something fun- the world needs more joy! I very much appreciated the quote: “Love over suffering always”
  • Plus, I liked her advice to lighten up!
  • And, by the way, “It ain’t your baby” (I’m certainly guilty of describing my work in those terms, but it’s not healthy!)

This book brought me joy and laughter- and most importantly it brought me hope. It taught me to have a fierce trust in myself, knowing I will fail and that’s okay. On a personal level, I’ve learnt something this year about how simply turning up can make a huge difference to your life (although the great irony is that then we all found ourselves locked up, so I guess occasionally the universe likes to have a laugh at my expense 😉). However, the point still stands! You can’t win anything if you never play the game (just make sure you wear a mask and bring hand sanitiser 😉). I feel like this was a kick in the right direction.

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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So, have you tried a little bit of BIG MAGIC for yourself? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

Supernova was superb!

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Hello all! I’m SUPER psyched to talk about the conclusion to Marissa Meyer’s epic superhero series! And you know what that means… it’s time to bring back my Marvellous Monkey suit:

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Kicking off with Renegades, amping up the tension with Archenemies, I had high hopes for this one- and I was far from disappointed. Supernova was the kind of book I looked forward to picking up every time I put it down- which is rather a rare thing for me at the moment.

I’ll admit, this had something of an imperfect start, with the main characters consistently not figuring out some rather obvious secrets. That said, I did understand why they might plausibly not want to see the truth staring them in the face (even if it was frustrating at times!) Luckily this was all just setup for an *explosive* plot. When we finally got their reactions to the big secrets, all was forgiven (well at least from my perspective 😉)

In terms of that plot all I can say is WOW! It my breath away. With blockbuster action and showstopping exploits, this book was an experience. I loved where it took the characters and how the relationships evolved- all the way to the bitter end! This wasn’t just a rollercoaster ride- this went full speed off the tracks and in directions I couldn’t have predicted. Especially where it took the subplot murder mystery of who killed Adrian’s mother- highlight for spoilers: yes, it was what we expected, but I loved that it also wove in the idea that we create our own enemies and have to overcome our own fears.

Sure, there were also treacheries I did see coming- but even they were satisfying because they were built up so successfully and didn’t go for the straightforward solution. I was happy to see that this finale still played with nuanced ideas about good and evil- showing the Renegades true colours and talking of redemption for Anarchists. The power of the ending came from how it delivered on every promise of the premise- and gave us a few extra gifts besides!

Ultimately, I’m flying high with satisfaction for this series. I’m delighted that there’s finally an exceptional YA superhero series out there- and I’d love for there to be more!! (at the very least, I’d suspect a spinoff from Meyer sometime in the future)

My rating: 4½/5 bananas

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And of course, because I shared this series from the beginning with the Magnificent Monkey Baby, I’d like to ask her join us for a moment to tell us what she thought:

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Supernova is a banatastic book!!! Literally! It’s insane but in the most amazing way! It takes such epic twists and turns but feels so satisfying. I love the dynamics between the characters and how they each grow. Also the sheer shmushyness between Adrian and Nova is heart-warming and even sideline characters manage to pull on your heartstrings. It is superbly well done. There is a moment or two where I wanted to knock Adrian on the head because I couldn’t believe how stupid he seems to be (I thought he might have lost all his wits) but those moments are thankfully brief and don’t take away from the awesome storyline and the amazing conclusion to this SUPER Series!

Monkey Baby’s Rating: 4½/5 hearts

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Well you heard it from both of us- we found it an exceptional finale! What do you think of this series? Have you got to the superb ending? Do you plan to read it? Let me know in the comments!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

silence of the girls

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

Rating: 3/5 bananas

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the rumour

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

Rating: 4½/5 bananas

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house of salt and sorrows

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

Rating: 3/5 bananas

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ruin of kings

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

Rating: 3/5 bananas 

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the huntress

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

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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That’s all for now! Have you read any of these? Did you like them? Let me know in the comments! And I hope you’re all staying safe and well!

Enchantment of Ravens Had A Certain Charm

enchantment of ravensWell this book was an unexpected pleasure. While I’m always hearing great things about the author’s more recent release, Sorcery of Thorns, I feel like Enchantment of Ravens has flown a little under the radar… which is why I wasn’t expecting to like it quite as much as I did.

From the off, there was a subtle sense of intrigue, creating a little whimsy in the world building. I was instantly captivated by the writing style and charmed by the characters. Traced out just enough to have a sense of form, there was an air of the unknowable about them, making them all the more intriguing.

I loved the carefully laid brushstrokes to the world building as well. There was an element of threat in the wild nature of the Fair Folk and I loved this conception of them. The story played with the idea of costly immortality, of the sorrow of living forever without being able to change and of the grief attached to this eternal death. To me, it was especially impressive to see this slowly woven into the narrative, painting quite the picture through simple actions of a fair folk being unable to do something as simple as cooking. It showed me how human creativity is our greatest asset. Of course, in terms of details, elements of the Craft could certainly seem surface level- however I was personally surprised and delighted by this level of depth in a seemingly simple YA fantasy.

Going beyond the world, I did feel the plot could be a little all over the place. The romance, for instance, leapt into action and then bizarrely slowed down to a snail’s pace. And I wasn’t convinced that there was a clear line to the plot. Still, I did enjoy the banter and aspects of the love affair. And, ultimately, I did like the way it ended and everything was tied together.

Overall, while this wasn’t the perfect book, it had so much potential! If you take a step back, you can see the beauty in it. I definitely have to admire this work as a while and have high hopes for this truly talented author.

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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So, have you read this? What did you think of it? And have you read or do you plan to read anything else by this author? Let me know in the comments!

Bookish and the Beast was a Beautifully Freeing and Redemptive Read!

*I received this from Netgalley in exchange for review- but the *gushy feels* is all me!*

bookish and the beastYou guys probably know by now that I love fairy retellings. Yet for some reason I rarely get locked in to Beauty and the Beast retellings- well this was the exception! I’ve been really enjoying the “Once Upon a Con” series so far, for all its wondrous geekiness and cuteness- but this took that love to a whole new level. I was hoping that it would hit the spot right now… and it did! It turned out to be *exactly* what I needed.

Starting with an extract from the series’ fictional show, Starfield, we’re given a little sampler of the sweet story to come. From the enemies-to-lovers vibes here and the quirky meet cute, I knew I was going to fall hard for this book. With masses of misunderstandings and a low-key Pride and Prejudice feel, I developed a real attachment to the romance.

Part of my love for this stemmed from admiring the main character, Rosie. Not only is her name, Rosie Thorne, basically the best, but I also liked how she handled the difficult hand she was dealt. There were some particularly moving moments about grief that gave the narrative another dimension. I also couldn’t help but relate to her as a massive reader 😉

I also liked how the love interest was both understandable as the Beast-like character- yet is also given room to grow. And the other additions to the cast were greatly appreciated (particularly the Gaston insert). And this even had a fantastic father figure- which you don’t get enough in contemporary.

Oh and of course, this had some cool concepts and detailed layers from the fandom aspect. I always enjoy how each of these books builds on the Starfield universe- I look forward to finding out more about that as much as the new love story!

Throw in some delightfully geeky references, some chuckleworthy scenes, a pang-inducing budding relationship… and you get the kind of book that left me starry eyed. This didn’t just deliver on the “aww” moments- it gave me all the *feels*! It was wonderfully adorable and surprisingly rewarding.

Above all, I could tell that the author cared deeply about this one- it came across in the emotionality and joy of the narrative. It was precisely the escapism I needed right now and my favourite of the collection so far!

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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And if you’re craving more fairy tale retellings from this series, feel free to check out my reviews on Geekerella and Princess and the Fangirl

So, have you read any of the books in the “Once Upon a Con” series? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

Monthly Monkey Mini Reviews – Just About Made it to June

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

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love wedding repeat

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

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

letters to the lost

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

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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exquisite

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

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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stranger on the beach

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

Rating: 5/5

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school for good and evil

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

Rating: 3½/5 bananas

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ella enchanted

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

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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poet x

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

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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That’s all for now! Have you read any of these? Did you like them? Let me know in the comments! And I hope you’re all staying safe and well!

Getting to Know the Sociopath Next Door

sociopath next doorNot everyone loves the Sociopath Next Door. If you look at the ratings on Goodreads, you’ll see some very unfavourable opinions and a fair amount of criticism. So, I was pretty surprised to find how much I appreciated this book for its fascinating assessments, analyses and case studies. Sure, I didn’t like everything about it and didn’t agree on every point, yet I found it captured my attention from the offset and gave me plenty of insightful information to mull over.

I will say that some information could be misleading if taken at face value- if you’re familiar with statistics around anti-social personality disorder, you may be aware that:

  • 4% figure usually refers to anti-social personality disorder includes narcissists, who are not nearly as dangerous
  • According to The Psychopath Test, most sociopaths/psychopaths are drawn to the thrills of crime and are in prison, thus the percentage is more like 1% of the general population have anti-social personality disorder.

So yes, I would agree that part of this is sensationalised (or, to be more generous, not as developed as it could be. For instance, there also could have been some discussion of the prevailing view of the difference between psychopaths being born and sociopaths being “made”).

That said, I did like hearing some ideas I hadn’t come across before. The most fascinating concept for me personally (which I have now seen discussed elsewhere) is the idea that anti-social disorder could develop out of attachment disorder, rather than abuse per se.

Interestingly, one of my biggest contentions with her argument was her discussion on the fault lines of pure reason, where Stout expressed the idea that conscience runs counter to logic, which is not something I personally agree with… And yet, by the end of the book, I found we were both on the same page, as Stout expresses how acting ruthlessly does not bring you more of the good things in life. Ultimately, she proves time and again that dominating others brings nothing but destruction (and, frankly, that assholes get what’s coming to them). With her view that love brings you happiness, the book ends on a surprisingly hopeful note- and that was both unexpected and worthwhile.

Okay, so then why has this book provoked such a negative reaction? Well, I couldn’t help but look at some of the popular reviews and respond accordingly. Here were some of the critiques of the book and my takes on them:

Argument 1: the book is a witch hunt. It encourages people to identify sociopaths in their midst.

My take: I didn’t see this as saying *all* evil people are sociopaths- it was merely identifying some cases. In fact, she gave examples of how a compassionate person could make decisions that were not always compassionate. Thus, I would not say it is fair to say that this attempts to explain away all of human hurt, just some of it. Of course not everyone is a sociopath- but some people are and it is useful to identify that (or at the very least be wary of certain behaviours).

Argument 2: it divides people into two classes

My take: well, you could make this argument about any disorder or condition. If you were to talk about the mindset of a depressive, for instance, you might compare it with someone who is not suffering from depression. Indeed, it can also be helpful in treatment- in CBT, getting someone with depression or anxiety to look at things from another angle can be helpful. Therefore, I think it is perfectly reasonable to differentiate between those who have a condition and those who do not. It’s also important to note that sociopaths are not victimised by someone analysing the condition- to believe this would be to miss the real victims (ie those who are manipulated and abused).

Argument 3: It was too broad sweeping at times.

My take: I’d partially agree- as I pointed out before, this book wasn’t perfect. I’d definitely have to chime in on the fact that the “three lies and they’re a sociopath” is a weak test. But then, I also assumed that the author meant big lies- not white lies- which leads me to my main contention with this argument: use your common sense. Likewise, asking for mercy may not always be coming from a manipulative place… but it could be. Clearly, not every liar or layabout is a sociopath- but the ones who repeatedly manipulate might be. To that end, I think reading this book could offer valuable insight to potential victims.

Now, I think that covers the main complaints. I can understand having issues with this- it is not a perfect work. I personally have been reading/listening to psychologists speak more on the subject and think there is *a lot* more to explore. After my continued research, I would discourage anyone to take this as a gold standard on what sociopathy means. Still, I do think that the overly critical takes have missed the entirely hopeful message about love. And that is a shame.

Rating: 4½/5 bananas

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So, what do you think? Do you agree with my analyses or do you have another point of view? Let me know in the comments!

Monthly Monkey Mini Reviews – May

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

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tiger king

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

spiderman into the spiderverse

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

frozen 2

 

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

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

unhoneymooners

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

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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slaughterhouse 5

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

Rating: 2/5 bananas

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reading lolita in tehran 

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

Rating: 3½/5 bananas

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call it what you want

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

Rating: 4½/5 bananas

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That’s all for now! Have you read any of these? Did you like them? Let me know in the comments! And I hope you’re all staying safe and well!