Monthly Monkey Mini Reviews – Let’s FREAK OUT cos it’s October 2021!

Hello all! Hope you had a great month! Mine was jam packed! And after all the lockdowns and everything we’ve been through over the last year, I have to admit I’m appreciating it more than ever. The little things like going to see friends, having meals out and going on day trips are a real treat. My favourite things this month include going to see LIVE MUSIC- which was especially great at the Blues Kitchen in Camden…

(I promised my sister I’d share a cartoon I did for her)

And I finally, finally got to return to the Royal Opera House to hear the Magic Flute 😊

Plus, I went the Warner Brothers Studio Tour, where I got to feel like a witch for the day. I don’t want to raise your expecto-patronums too much, but I enjoyed it even more than I thought I would. It was so good that I may do a post entirely dedicated to it!

Lastly, I went on trips to Bath and Windsor- which were both very unique (and cake filled) days 😊

The House in the Cerulean Sea– delightful and quirky and sweet, this romantic fantasy definitely gave me the warm fuzzies. I loved the writing style- it was simultaneously light and colourful. And the characters were really bright sparks. I especially loved the anti-Christ (and I’m not just saying this because I may never have this opportunity again 😉). I also really appreciated the story being told from Linus’ perspective, with an inspector’s eyes, introducing us to the world detail by detail. Through this, we uncover a whimsical world filled with wonder. We find a house that inspires imagination and a reality packed with magic. Slowly, as the story unfolds, he opens up to this beauty. For as much as he may seem like the boring middle manager type, we find he truly has a heart of gold and there is much more to him than a lot of people assume. It just goes to show you can’t judge by appearances- and I love that message! Of course, this book is a very obvious parable, which I don’t normally like, yet I was overcome by the cuteness factor here. I also did notice that this promised a fair amount of moral relativism… though it (thankfully) doesn’t deliver that in the plot. A joyous and romantic read!

Rating: 4/5 bananas

Rock Paper Scissors– I always enjoy Feeney’s books- and none more so than her latest. Showing that marriage is a dangerous game, this book is all about choices. Artfully using different points of view, the story follows Mr and Mrs Wright on their wedding anniversary. Yet, up in the Highlands of Scotland, something is about to go very, very wrong indeed. Genuinely tense and terrifying at times, the story had me gripped. And just when I thought I had all the answers, it turned at the last moment. Not everything was as it seemed on paper. I loved the sharp ending and I was very happy with how it all came together (well, as happy as you can be with a grizzly thriller). 

Rating: 4½/5 bananas

The Foundling– I really liked this book. It brought an area of history I knew nothing about to life. Once again, Stacey Halls focused on the plight of women in a meaningful and significant way. It was written with such kindness that I was unsurprised by the sweetness of the ending. I just find Hall’s books quite lovely. 

Rating: 4/5 bananas

Instant Karma– oof this wasn’t quite what I expected. I thought this was going to be about a girl who gets the power of delivering instant karma and that would be the central conflict of the story. INSTEAD, the story was centred on a biology project and an animal rescue centre… which would’ve been fine if that’s what I’d been expecting. To make matters worse, the instant karma, while a fun trick, didn’t really serve much purpose to the story. The actual plot was filled with twists that were easy to guess and not as exciting as the premise could have been. I felt like there was the outlines of two decent stories in this, but not enough to make one enjoyable book. It didn’t help that the most of the characters were insufferable- especially the protagonist. I barely understood her motivation throughout (I’ve never taken to characters who want to be successful purely for the sake of being successful) and found her lack of empathy infuriating at times. I also didn’t enjoy being in the company of some of the background characters- one of whom was painfully holier-than-thou. And even the nicest character- the love interest- does something utterly unforgivable. Not to mention the romance, which I didn’t see working out. While there were cute moments that made me smile, I couldn’t see what they had in common beyond raging hormones. Overall, this was fine, but didn’t possess the magic I hoped for. 

Rating: 2½/5 bananas

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

When I Read the How and the Why

the how and the whyWhy hadn’t I heard much about this book? It is such a hidden gem! Centring on themes of identity, this tells the story of a theatre nerd teen trying to find answers about her adoption. It is an old-school coming-of-age story in the best way; it is the kind of story that wraps you up in its arms and gives you a great big hug! Listening to this audiobook absolutely made my heart sing!

Not that this gives you a glossy-version of reality. No, this is the kind of contemporary that doesn’t hold back. This is not some fairy tale- it’s about realising the value of real life and coping with the hand you are dealt. Dreams don’t magically come true and that’s okay. Sometimes it hurts and that’s okay. Everyone, as it turns out, has skeletons in their cupboards (and their family trees). Personally (and I know this won’t be the case for everyone) I loved that this wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows the whole time- I think it’s a good thing to have a counterweight to the Hollywood narrative we’re often spun. Because life isn’t easy- but it sure as hell is beautiful.

And that’s what this book really shows. Hand’s book dances into the spotlight and announces to the world the importance of friends and family- with *jazz hands*. It is cute and sweet and full of forgiveness. It hits all the right notes emotionally. I just loved the little touches and the big finale… Which admittedly left me longing for more (/to go back to the beginning and start again!)

Overall, there was a lot more to this than I thought there would be. I’m grateful that this came into my life at precisely the right moment- it’s almost as if the entire world conspired to help me find it and the universe unfolds as it should…

Rating: 4½/5 bananas  

4.5 bananas 

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

Monthly Monkey Mini Reviews – Sleeping Through to September 2021!

Hello all! I don’t know about you, but August was a bit of a blur. I’ve been so busy that I couldn’t even say where the month went. What I can say for certain is that I enjoyed getting rained on in Rye 😉 Such a cute town, with quaint architecture and lovely places to eat! 😊

Okay, moving on to tv and movies… which I didn’t watch much- except rewatching Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (delightfully bonkers) and Cruella (delightfully wicked! Loved the aesthetic and music!)

Which just leaves me with the books I read!

Thursday Murder Club– this was just as fun as I thought it would be! Centred around a group of seniors who investigate cold cases, this quirky crime novel was absolutely delightful. What I most appreciated about it was how much heart it had. I liked the way that clues were used to tell individual stories, fleshing out characters, rather than simply moving the plot forward. One was so beautiful, it made me cry. I also liked how (almost) everything came together at the end, linking the ending to the beginning. A lot of fun and worth listening to on audio!  

Rating: 4½ bananas

Nightingale– Read this if you want your heart broken a million times over. This was a moving wonderfully done WW2 novel, focusing on the occupation in France. I listened to this on audiobook and was actually crying in the street because of it! And I didn’t even care! I just wanted my beloved characters to make it through to the end. The descriptions were so powerful and immersive, I felt like I was living their story. An absolutely beautiful read.

Rating: 5/5 bananas

A Kind of Spark– this MG book was simply perfect! The story of an autistic eleven-year-old who just wants to get justice for women who were persecuted in witch trials. In many ways, it reminded me of Wonder, telling kids okay to be different and stand out. I loved how this focused on friendship and family. A must-read for children and adults alike! 😊

Rating: 5/5 bananas

The Familiars– hubble bubble toil and trouble- this historical fiction had more than a hint of charm. Set in 1612 around the looming Witch Trials, I loved how this focused on sisterhood and friendship above all. I happily whizzed through the story, appreciating its subtlety. As the plot developed it became more tricksy and devilishly dramatic, until something had to give. The enchantingly ambiguous ending was brilliantly crafted and spelled my love for the book. I know I’m bound to read more from this author now!

Rating: 4½/5 bananas  

You and Me on Vacation– this one didn’t quite take off for me. While I found the concept fun- two friends who go on holiday together every year have one last chance to fall in love- I was mostly just irked by the storyline. I prefer rom coms where there’s actual obstacles and didn’t understand why these lovebirds weren’t together. I also didn’t like that Sarah- the male love interest’s on-again-off-again-ex- was made out to be the “bad guy”. She (rightly) gets upset that her bf goes on holiday with the female lead over and over again… and we as the reader know that said female lead has a crush on the bf and is constantly trying to break them up. So, it made it pretty hard to root for the female protagonist. Luckily, there’s no actual cheating, but it still felt ickily close to emotional cheating. And while it was good that the protagonist apologised for messing with this other girl’s relationship, it was resolved by Sarah saying “oh without you around as an obstacle we fell apart quicker”… which I didn’t like either. I’m just a bit tired of romances that let people off the hook for being shitty people just because. It tells me that they think love is simply wanting someone more (which seems more like entitlement and narcissism to me). It’s not a terrible book, but I felt like I needed a break from rom coms after.

Rating: 2½/5 bananas

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

Howling My Appreciation for the Wolf Hall Series!

wolf hall bookI have to admit, I was really reluctant to try the Wolf Hall series. Though I’d heard nothing but good things from friends, fantastic fellow bloggers and colleagues, the first chapter is so brutally heavy going that I didn’t think I could make it through the first book, let alone the densely written stonker of a series. Still, after I was recommended it for the millionth time, I had a brainwave to try out the audiobook. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learnt from my recent foray into audiobooks, it’s that they’re terrific for tackling tomes. And whaddya know?! I fell hook line and sinker for this series.

After biting the inside of my cheek through the torturous first chapter, I was off. Taken far beyond the bounds of my imagining, deep into the heart of court life in Tudor England. It wasn’t so much that I could picture the setting- I was there body and soul. The richly depicted world, stitched together with exquisitely precise descriptions fully transported me. I felt like I walked alongside Thomas Cromwell, following to where his intelligent eye snagged. Picking over every detail for intrigue that would later become relevant.

For this is a story that is layered in a way that beguiles. Through the narrative, you are given hints and told to suspect every cast member- and yet it is always a surprise to find what is lurking in the round each corner. It is a story that builds on its tension and intricacies with every turn of the page, blotting out your expectations. It is, in short, a masterpiece.

Characterisation is where this series shines. I love how well Mantel paints psychological portraits with such subtle strokes. Each line on Cromwell draws us deeper into his psyche, illuminating his intelligence and strength, yet also the shadows of his vulnerability, humanity and even guilt.

And in some ways her portrayal of Anne Boleyn is even better. It’s an intriguing depiction- not quite like any other version I have seen before (and yet isn’t that always going to be the case for such an enigmatic figure as Anne?) Personally I really enjoyed this manipulative Anne, with her bursts of narcissistic rage, who has met her match in Cromwell. Strangely more captivating still is her transformation in Bring Up the Bodies as she tightens the noose around her own neck (spoiler alert 😉). While she sees the danger, she only digs her grave deeper, acting like a guilty woman. It’s almost as if she wrote the perfect script for her own demise. For me, it is the perfect depiction of a rise and fall.

bring up the bodiesOf course, so much of Cromwell’s own story hinges on this. He must continue to rise- or he will fall. It is an inevitability of a self-made man. And it is woven into the plot. Mantel is frequently careful with her words, giving the slightest hints of foreshadowing. Blink and you will miss them. We sense the tragedies waiting before they hit. We know that everything could turn on a dime. And that is precisely what happens in Bring Up the Bodies.

Every piece of the puzzle slots into place. The carefully laid out chess board marches to its bloody conclusion. It is sudden and entirely predictable- as all the best stories should be. It was acted out, just as Cromwell planned.

mirror and the lightNonetheless, there is a greater hand guiding the players. And that is the well-known fate of Cromwell, where the story winds up the story in The Mirror and the Light. Here, the languid pace slows even more, which makes sense as the stage lights dim. And yet, while I think it is an overall good conclusion, the time taken to tell it was not entirely necessary. It does not help that without Anne, the series suffers. But, I would not miss this ending- if nothing other than to feed my addiction. There is a sense that it circles back round to the start and that everything was leading to this point.

Wolf Hall dug its claws into me and recalled my passion for historical fiction. Beneath history there is a wealth of stories and Mantel is magnificent at telling them.

Rating: 4.5 bananas

So, have you read some or all of the Wolf Hall trilogy? What did you think of this beast of series? Let me know in the comments!

Heart Principle Struck an Emotional Chord

***Received from Netgalley in exchange for review- though the book-love is all me***

After falling head over heels for Hoang’s Kiss Quotient and Bride Test, I calculated a high probability of loving every single book she releases. Which is why I jumped at the chance to read The Heart Principle as soon as possible! Naturally, I wasn’t disappointed.

I quickly got tangled up in Anna’s story: a violinist going through burnout and a breakup- yeesh! That’s a helluva lot to have on your plate. But, enter hot motorbike-riding Quan and we have ourselves a love story waiting to happen.

While Quan has all the trappings of a bad boy, he’s the kind of cinnamon roll that makes your heart sing. It’s actually rather ironic that the “nice guy” her family approve of is a TOTAL JERK. Looks can be deceiving- and it didn’t take long for me to be making *heart eyes* at her new beau.  

Yet as romantic as this was, I felt like in some ways that took a backseat to Anna’s personal journey. Because this is really about being blocked creatively and struggling to do the thing you love most in the world. Because how do you even deal with not being able to do the thing that defines you? For me, this was a punch in the gut, cos oof I hardcore relate to feeling like this. It got me thinking about all the things I’ve been grinding my teeth over lately. And of course, this gives the answer that you have to find a way back to the pure joy, the love, the happiness… but, as the Heart Principle shows, it’s not simple. You don’t just feel ready one day, pick up the bow and the music comes. It takes time and turning up and a lot of deep breaths before you get there. And I really appreciated how patiently the story traced over the notes and melodically made its way towards healing.

What’s great is how personal this story is. Beyond her individual difficulties, she’s trying to navigate her relationship with her family. Trapped by their expectations of her, I felt her agony as she tried to balance being a good daughter and being true to herself (particularly after her recent autism diagnosis). As much as she wants to be understood, she also wants to take control of her own life. And that’s not an easy path to navigate. Through the narrative, Anna breaks down the problem into individual bars, playing through them, circling back, until she finally makes it through the whole piece. I really liked how raw and honest this was. I felt like I got to know the characters in such an intimate way.

Another beautiful addition to Hoang’s collection, I was certainly swept up in this story. Can’t wait to be carried away by another of her romances!

Rating: 4/5 bananas  

So, have you read any books by Helen Hoang? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

Monthly Monkey Mini Reviews – August 2021!

Hello all! I had a really lovely month and hope you did too 😊 Been really busy, which is why I’m super late with this post, but let’s just overlook that 😂 Luckily, I’ve been out and about a lot more- the highlight of which was going to see a friend in Cambridge!

I also watched a couple of great movies last month…

A Simple Favour– this film was stylish, slick and a lot of fun. It wasn’t what I was expecting- in a good way. I thought it’d be a generic thriller about a missing woman, but this was a lot about the face we show to the world and influencer culture. It ended up poking fun at the way we see each other and how fickle our judgments can be. There was a lot more to the characters than meets the eye and was digging it (like a detective digs up clues lol 😉 #BadJokeAlert #I’mGoingAllInOnThisSocialMediaTheme #ButIDon’tKnowHowToHashtag)

Little Italy– sometimes you just need a deliciously cheesy rom com. It’s like a big, beautiful slice of pizza- comfort food at its best! And this did make me smile 😊. Focusing on a food fight that creates a feud between two Italian families, this was a (very) light-hearted take on Romeo and Juliet. Peppered with humour and a big dollop of awws, this was a really cute story. I did like the relationship between the two leads- though I actually enjoyed the romance between the grandparents more! Oh, and of course, the big side of watching this movie was it made me sooo hungry! Don’t make the mistake of watching this without a pizza of your own!

And now onto the books…

White Eagles/Firebird– I listened to these novellas on audiobook. Both of these were exciting, tense-filled dramatizations of being female fighter pilots in WW2- and I loved every second of them! White Eagle for me had a lot of heart and Firebird BLEW ME AWAY with the twist ending! Definitely recommend these for quick historical YA.

Rating: 4/5 bananas

The Catch– this thriller was a bit ridiculous. The Catch is about a father suspicious of his daughter’ fiancé who seems too good to be true- so of course this had obvious Taken vibes. For spoilery reasons I’ll keep to myself, the father doesn’t quite come across as Liam Neeson. In fact, I was convinced he was THE CREEP. And that ambiguity in a book like this could have been a good thing… but I’m just not crazy about characters, even in thrillers, stalking other people because they have “a feeling”. The other thing that bugged me was how frickin dumb all the characters are. There’s a point in the story that’s supposed to feel all claustrophobic, like the murderer is closing in on them and there’s nowhere to run… except that the character has a phone and lots of options!! Instead, said character decides the best thing would be to go to an isolated place with the person THEY ALREADY KNOW IS A KILLER!!! It doesn’t make any sense!! I have to admit though, as silly as this story seems, it was absolutely entertaining throughout. Kudos for keeping me reading when I was feeling slumpy! 

Rating: 3/5 bananas

House of Hollow– bold and bloody brilliant. Now if you’ve been around a while, you know I don’t like anything horror… but this completely broke all my rules. Because this was perfection. Gorgeously written and creepy af, this supernatural ghostly story had me all-a-tingle. Atmospheric from the start, I felt like I was knee-deep in the world Krystal Sutherland created. I even thought she did a fantastic job of nailing the North London setting and Celtic Scottish feel (which I say as someone who has lived in both places!) The only thing- and this is the tiniest of nitpicks- that pulled me out of the story was the amount of smoking in pubs (that’s been illegal since 2007, so I’m not sure when this was supposed to be set given all the social media?) Barring that, cos it doesn’t actually matter, this was a glorious read. I loved all the Hollow sisters- and definitely felt a deep connection to a literature boffin eager to find the right answer in a text! 😉  There was something simply intoxicating about House of Hollow. And that cover is to die for.

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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

Malibu Rising was BLAZING HOT!

Hot off the press, Taylor Jenkins Reid newest novel burns bright. With a sizzling start, in 80s Malibu, we catch the embers of a rager. Before we can even get our head above water, we know things are going to end in flames.

Introduced to four famous siblings, hosting this party, slowly getting to know their distinct personalities, as their pictures build up in waves. From their tumultuous origin stories to the present riptide that sweeps them up, it becomes apparent that this is a book about heartbreak. Surprisingly for a book about surfers, there’s zero chill- which is more than fine by me.

Because below the glossy surface of the writing, there is immense depth to this book. More than I ever expected. There’s such a whirlpool of emotion, I was thrown off balance and sucked under. Here’s a story that takes you far out to sea, showing all the ways a heart can hurt. And damn, it resonates.

Summery and frothy, the story fizzes like champagne. In typical Reid fashion, it’s utterly unique and so totally her style. Evocative and powerful, I could practically taste the salt, sand and sun of her words. And, without taking any easy turns, it delivers an epic ending.

Rating: 5/5 bananas

So, have you read Malibu Rising? Do you plan to? And do you also love Taylor Jenkins Reid novels? Let me know in the comments!

Lights, Camera, Action: Survive the Night Rolls into Twisty Territory!

***Received from Netgalley in exchange for review- but the excitement featured is all me***

*Fade in*

Let’s set the scene: it’s the 1990s, it’s night and our main character is in a car with a man who may very well be a serial killer. It doesn’t help that she has a history of “seeing movies in her head” aka she’s not sure of what’s really playing out before her eyes. And if that sounds tense to you, you’d better climb in cos it’s gonna be one crazy ride.

Told uniquely in a movie-script style, I found it hard to be certain what was really playing out. With such an unreliable narrator, it’s easy to feel lost in the dark. I will admit that the style was somewhat distancing, making it hard to connect to the characters. Yet nonetheless I was gripped, as the story swerved in maddening directions and drove towards a bonkers conclusion.

As if through headlights, I could see some of the dangers coming, but Sager still pulled some curveballs. And WHAM-BAM-THANK-YOU-MA’AM those twists sent me into a tailspin! Skidding off into something of a melodramatic end, it may not have pleased every reader, but I have to say I was satisfied.

So, expect something a little bit larger than life, because this homage to movies does not hold back.

*Fade out*

*End credits*

4/5 bananas

Have you read this? Do you plan to? Are you a fan of Riley Sager novels? Let me know in the comments!

The Ivies was a Killer Read!

Who wouldn’t kill to get into an Ivy League College? Well, most people obviously 😉 But at Claflin Academy, there’s plenty of suspects when a student with a coveted place at an Ivy is brutally murdered. With biting humour and plenty of drama, Donne’s new YA thriller instantly grabbed my attention and refused to let go.

From the juicy opening, the tension sizzles. The voicey style gives you a direct insight into the main character’s point of view and helps you get to know her (largely irredeemable) cohort. As the twists came thick and fast, I couldn’t stop reading. I had to know everything.

Because this group of teens have more than their fair share of secrets. There’s no way I could have seen all the twists coming- which was precisely what I wanted from this book. And then there was the big reveal- *highlight for spoilers*- DAMN Donne did the secret sociopath well. It’s breadcrumbed nicely, but not too obvious. Personally, I also loved the motive, because it’s not straightforward jealousy (which I think some people have misunderstood). It’s actually a pretty clever reason.

For me, the ending completely hit the mark. I liked that it wasn’t too clean. Again, a bit spoilery, but I don’t know why people expected the main character to grow in this one- it’s not that type of story. I liked that this didn’t hold back and went with the boldest outcome. I don’t want my thrillers to pull their punches.

There is politics in the book- but for once I didn’t find it entirely off-putting. Perhaps this was helped by the fact it was in first person. And that her views only add to Olivia’s characterisation as an insufferable hypocrite (did I mention that the characters aren’t all that likeable?)

This was everything I want in a YA thriller. And of course, it was dead fun.

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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

Loudly Proclaiming My Thoughts on the Quiet At The End of the World

When I started reading this book I was lulled into a false sense of security. Initially, I believed it to be a cleverly done concept, following the aftermath of a pandemic that caused human infertility. As gloomy as the setting was, I found myself absorbed by the melancholic tone and intriguing ideas. And if nothing else, I appreciated the schadenfreude that our current apocalypse situation wasn’t quite as dire. I liked how it engaged with archaeology of the present, mining social media to uncover both individual histories and an entire global reaction to a crisis. While it lacked some prevalent aspects of our recent reaction to a pandemic (eg humour), I was impressed that the author had been able to predict how some people would react to an existential crisis. I liked the social media acted as a time capsule for this moment. I thought it was showing us a Black Mirror style possibility of people turning to apps to fill the void inside themselves.  

… except that was not where it was going at all. Because when the twist came (*spoiler warning*) that the world was inhabited by the robot-baby devices created to help with feelings of loss, the last two humans on earth decide to advocate for robots as the next stage of evolution. You see, in the story, human extinction is a shame, but not the end of the world, because robots would be more responsible with the planet- yay?!

To me, this is entirely nihilistic and human-hating. There is a heavy-handed implication that people shouldn’t have been so selfish as they went extinct and should have thought about keeping the robot babies “alive” (whilst ironically showing that the robot babies are prone to the same foibles, so aren’t exactly an upgrade). There is the oh-so-typical modern guilt imposed upon the reader that humanity should repent its existence. Then there is the message that humanity can just be replaced and isn’t worth fighting for- which didn’t sit well with me- because, well, I love humanity.

To my mind, this narrative speaks to a deep sense of self-loathing. Any attempt at nuance is drowned out by this underlying emotion. I know there are people out there who think that robots would make an adequate (or even superior) replacement to humanity- yet I am not one of them. I do not think that an entity that shares the same consciousness, but have a different aesthetic, would be an improvement. I do not think that immortality, giving an endless amount of time to achieve less (and without any of the moral qualms to hold it back), would be an improvement. I do not think that a human’s value goes bone-deep.

I think to go down this “perfectionist” line of argument is somewhat dangerous. I think it is troubling to suggest the world would be better off without humans. And it is most disturbing to see this idea presented to teens without any kickback. When one reads YA like this, it is unsurprising that so many young adults are depressed and anxious. I would have been- if I wasn’t so infuriated.

I respectfully disagree with the author calling this “uplifting”. It seems more death cult-y to me. Though the author clearly has talent, I was less-than-enamoured by the end:

Rating: 2/5 bananas

So, dare I ask, what did you think of this book? Have you read it? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!