King of Scars was close to flawless!

*Spoilers for Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows– cos I just can’t talk about this without mentioning them- so if you haven’t read those why not?!*

king of scarsReturning to the Grishaverse after two successful series was always going to be no small feat- thankfully Bardugo delivers an intriguing instalment that definitely made me want to read on. With Bardugo’s trademark elegant writing style, the story opens on a dark night that sets the scene for much of what is to come. We are soon reintroduced to an eclectic cast who are bound to have us rooting for them.

The titular character Nikolai is, of course, marvellous- for much of the book, I found his story about overcoming the monster within him was the most compelling. I was admittedly only invested in Nina’s story while the book explored her grief for Matthias and my interest in her storyline waned as the book progressed. That said, Zoya was a true dark horse for me- I initially didn’t warm to her but by the end I *loved* her!!! She quickly turned from a former antagonist to one of the most compelling characters of the series. Her backstory was done remarkably well and her plotline gave her a lot of chances to truly shine.

When I was around Nikolai and Zoya, the book flew by. Journeying with them into the Fold, I enjoyed their exploration of folktales and the brilliant twist around the midpoint that arose from this. I particularly admired how this allowed for the development of Grisha powers in a cool way. Also, the explanation for “why Grisha” is finally given (which gave me the sense Bardugo was answering a very old question). I’d definitely say that every plot beat fell precisely as it should, like a set of staged dominoes after a really good flick, which does lead me onto some more spoilery stuff that you’ll have to highlight to see…

The big finale twist isn’t much of a twist. The return of the Darkling is foreshadowed so heavily that it felt inevitable. That said, I did actually like that Bardugo doesn’t just tease doing something cool, she does it (which is a shift from her earlier books). Plus, on the positive side, I liked the how of the Darkling being brought back and didn’t see the betrayal coming. Still, I’m not quite certain I think bringing back a villain who’s already been defeated was the right way to go- although I will wait to see how it plays out in the next book before making my mind up. And to be honest, I’m just glad the same thing Matthias didn’t also escape death- firstly because two in one book would’ve been a bit much and secondly because I’m not keen on being robbed of my endings (especially when that ending really landed for me).

Overall, while imperfect as the king, this did give us a glimpse of shadows and divinity peeking through. I’d say this isn’t as good as Six of Crows, but it’s better than Shadow and Bone. And now I want the next one!

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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So are you into the Grishaverse? Have you read this? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

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Monthly Monkey Mini Reviews – September

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Well, August was both very quiet and ridiculously busy for me. The highlight was that for my mum’s birthday- where not only did we make plenty of cake, but we all got to fulfil a lifelong dream by going to see the Bolshoi Ballet’s Swan Lake. It was *magical* (I swear, if you’re ever within 100 miles of this, you should drop everything and go see!!)

monkey baby and orangutan at the opera0003

Funnily enough, it was a month of ballet, since my sister the Monkey Baby kindly wangled me a few free classes. Me and my two left feet weren’t any good, but I had fun (also I have turned it into an excuse to make another cartoon 😉)

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(I can safely say this is an accurate portrayal of how dainty I am IRL)

Anyhoo, I did read quite a lot buuuut I don’t feel passionate enough to review a number of them. So, *shrugs apish shoulders* only gonna just talk about a handful…

summer that melted everything

Summer that Melted Everything- I suppose this isn’t much of a hot take, but this book has the most beautiful writing. Somehow it comes across as natural, whilst also creating extraordinary imagery and transporting the reader beyond the bounds of this world. We are taken to another time and place, situated in a surreal landscape where anything is possible, and forced to reconcile ourselves with very real issues. I don’t know if this is a spoiler, but it’s not about the devil at all, it’s an exploration of the Aids crisis. And with that come some very interesting thoughts about the human psyche. Admittedly, there’s not much in the way of plot and an awful lot of this is designed to deliver the author’s opinion… and yet I was okay with that. It reminded me of Steinbeck. Sure, the author is opinionated, but when you can write like this, who cares? Now, I won’t suggest that all the opinions in the book are the author’s (obviously) but some of the views can’t be substantiated- it took the concept of sympathy for the devil too far for me when defending the indefensible- I just don’t see “have you ever lost control” as much of an argument. I do think, however, that it’s important to look into the heart of evil, if only so we know what not to do. And this was certainly a fascinating vehicle to take us on that journey. The story simmers from beginning to end, finally releasing in a cool torrent that takes the edge off. I’d say there are not many writers of this calibre in this generation, but really there aren’t many in any generation.

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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astonishing colour of after

Astonishing Colour of After- whether you like this book will come down to how purple you can take your purple prose. Cos I shouldn’t even say “purple prose” for this- it’s more like a lilac-lavender-infusion of imagery. For me, not all the images worked, but when they did it was most definitely *astonishing*. When the language landed, it was exquisite. It allowed the story to soar above expectations. It nested in a family tree woven with lovely moments and messages. They were stitched together in a complex tapestry, a true work of art, which superseded nature in its beauty. I particularly loved the idea of being “changed by a ghost”, how the theme of memory was handled and the way this tied into culture. Having said that, there were times when it was a little overwhelming and clouded the simpler intentions of the narrative. And some of the plot wavered with superfluous narrative constructs- for my part, I’m beginning to tire of the “patriarchal/oppressive figure doesn’t want me doing art” trope- it’s a little tiresome and overdone (though I don’t doubt such ignorant people exist, I just wish protagonists would swiftly put forward a coherent argument against the view that *you can only succeed in the sciences*, rather than having a book-long unnecessary conflict with their otherwise reasonable parents). Personal opinions on that aside, this was a layered contemporary that deals with grief in a unique way and is well worth the read!

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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lock every door

Lock Every Door– this book unlocked a primordial fear of powerful creeps. I loved the story within the story aspect (I nearly always do 😉); I appreciated the unique (to me) setting. I raced through this rather gothic book as if I was genuinely trapped inside the Bartholomew. Now, I will say that I guessed the twist in chapter 1. In fact, I figured out the second twist midway and got every plot beat down before I got to it in the narrative. I can’t tell you why, for fear of ruining the entire plot, but it’s signposted and if you’ve read other books with a similar twist, you’ll get it too. Also, highlight for minor spoilers ahead, the main character is not the sharpest knife in the drawer- she was trusting to the point of absurdity, she let the obviously dodgy guy know she was suspicious and didn’t RUN when the alarm bells in her brain were already going off. Although I have the benefit of having read more than one book in my life- presumably if she was into modern thrillers to know that it’s always the privileged white dude these days 😉 If she’d had that knowledge, there’d have been no plot. Having said all that, I can’t fault the execution and have to congratulate Sager on successfully stealing a night’s sleep from me 😉

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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milkman

Milkman– oh the mixed feelings! I appreciated much of the themes and subject matter. The setting was particularly well done: the judgemental, closed community had a suffocating edge to it, the backdrop for the gossip gave the story a true feel of danger lurking, and the town’s inhabitants felt real. It definitely made me feel like I was in the thick of the Troubles. I was glad to have read this after having made my trip “over the water this year”. In spite of this strong sense of time and place, however, I can only give it credit for reminding me of a history worth caring about, rather than inspiring me to care in its own right. I was initially also taken by the writing style- I liked that it wasn’t quite literal and the ambiguity of using identifiers instead of names gave it a clever (and somewhat unsettling) lilt. Yet, as much as the writing style was distinctive, it also bogged down a lot of the telling. Much of the narrative came across as too convoluted and dense. Ultimately, it didn’t blow me away, but it’s not a bad book by any stretch of the imagination and it’s certainly pushing boundaries with the way it was told.

Rating: 3/5 bananas

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gentleman's guide to vice and virtue

Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue– well this is a bananas books- in some good ways and some not so good ways! Unpopular opinion time: this contemporary take on the Grand Tour is both fun and incredibly silly. While the romance is sensational, the rest is pretty much shocking. Granted all of this was given away in the marketing, but this book is scandalous by 18th century standards… in that I couldn’t buy that this was supposed to actually be the 18th century?! Kudos to the author for doing her research and creating an elaborate backdrop for her story, but this pantomime impression divided the stage into villainous representations of history, versus some 21st century ideals in fancy dress. And, as much as the writing occasionally made me chuckle, too often it had me laughing for the wrong reasons (apparently certain biological functions cure women of squeamishness guys 😉). Then there were the (*ahem* these guys totally didn’t step out of the 21st century) heroes. Monty is simultaneously foppishly adorable and entirely unlikeable. Felicity is so acerbic that there’s no chance of me reading the sequel in which she stars. And Percy was thankfully more than his laundry list of identifiers- although perhaps too idealised to feel real. There’s an ongoing joke about the boys being clueless and seriously THEY’RE FRICKIN CLUELESS (I envisaged them as modern-day trust fund babies… which didn’t help me make sense of the fact they’re still breathing by the end of the book). I also didn’t feel like they got proper character growth- rather we were dealt far-too-frequent “teachable moments” instead because *18th CENTURY IDEAS ARE BAD* (who’d have thunk it)- alas this isn’t a substitute since I was just as irked by their personalities at the end as the beginning (le sigh). Regardless, the plot did plod along reasonably well and that romance was ridiculously good:

Rating: 3/5 bananas

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Oof that last review got a little longer than I intended… Anyhoo, have you read any of these? What did you think of them? Or do you plan to pick any of them up? Let me know in the comments!

I am completely obsessed with You…

youThe book and TV show… why what did you think I meant? 😉 Kepnes infamous story about social media stalking in the modern age certainly grabbed my attention and now I’d like to share it with *you*. So, what can you expect from this book about a New York love affair gone very, very wrong?

Immediately, you will be struck by the unreliable narrator. Combining a biting wit with an exceptional use of second person pov, you will find the execution of this novel is top notch. This unique style allows for stand out characterisation and a story that captivates and horrifies in equal measure. Now, you might have seen a fair amount of criticism for the crassness and vulgar language… to which I say: what do you expect? Yes, a stalker and dangerous individual is less than polite and uses violent means to get his way. To me, anything else would be a dishonest representation of reality. Naturally, you will agree that it is unnerving to be this up close and personal to evil- but that is what really works about this book (admittedly the show has a different take… more on that later).

Another criticism you might have is that the characters are all pretentious a-holes. Which is true- but given that they’re viewed through the lens of a psycho stalker, you might be inclined to let them off the hook. Again, you will find this an ingenious way of letting you inside his twisted mind. Every portrayal he shows you will be warped beyond recognition and every barb he directs at others can be thrown back at him.

Either way, you will discover there’s something enigmatic about the distinctive writing. This voicey book gives you more characterisation than a thousand thrillers combined. You will come to see it as more of a character study than a typical story.

Most importantly, you will be compelled to the finish line as if someone is chasing you down a dark alleyway. Truth be told, you may find the plot fairly predictable- but that’s because when you’re trapped in a terrifying place with no way out, there really is only one way it can go down. All the bodies littered throughout make the ending inevitable. So if you are like me and you like *BIG* twist thrillers, you might not end up giving it 5*. But that’s okay, because you know it’s a great book regardless. And you may decide that, while you’re not sure you need a series of books in this vein, you’re still invested enough to check out the Netflix adaptation…

Okay, I’m gonna stop with the second person because you get the idea 😉 Also the voice is used slightly differently in the TV show. In fact, there were a number of distinctions between the book and the show: the timeline, the characters and even the relationship have all shifted. Most importantly, the more lovey dovey romance makes the show more of a deconstruction of rom coms than the danger of Social Media. While still present, the idea of stalking someone online is made light of at times when (for reasons I can’t fathom) Stalker Joe tells her he’s been following her?! Aside from the illogical tint this gives the story, I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of this take. I think that the ideas it was presenting, while not entirely in line with the book, were still valid critiques on society. Plus, on the more positive side, this did flesh out some aspects better.

Characters who weren’t given a proper voice in the book (understandably) did finally get their chance to speak for themselves. I liked that while Peaches made more sense as a character, the tv version didn’t remove her shades of grey. I also loved Blythe and Ethan- as different as the latter was to the book counterpart. Most significantly, we actually got her perspective. And it’s good- it’s very good. She gets to be a far more well-rounded character and her life is given importance its so lacking in the book- which makes the impact of the narrative greater still. I liked that they even had her talk to herself in the second person- it was a nice touch.

Having said that, the show’s desire to fill in some aspects meant that the things Joe does make less sense sometimes. There was more of an attempt to make him likeable and misdirect the viewer into thinking he’s not an entirely terrible person. For instance, he genuinely cares about Paco, which felt strangely out of character for me as someone who’d read the book (and was the first major indicator that the book and show were going to be different entities). Again, I wasn’t quite convinced whether I liked that he was more sympathetic. On the one hand, it made him less predatory… but on the other there was more of an unnerving sense that this could really happen to anyone. It didn’t hurt, either, that unlike the book closing off its ending, the show had a chilling end that left me wanting more.

Ultimately, I found the show just a bingeable as the book was a page turner. Sure, they were different, but this didn’t impact the quality. I gave both the book and show:

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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

Quite the Saga

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Wow- this is quite the rollercoaster, isn’t it?! For all those unfamiliar with this series, I’d describe it as Romeo and Juliet in space, with some family drama thrown in and plenty of epic battles… have I missed anything? Like I said, there’s *a lot* going on here- in the best possible way.

Now, I don’t expect this to be for everyone. While the artwork is distinct and striking, it is graphic at times. Sometimes I even found the violence bloodier than was necessary- but this will come down to personal taste- and I can’t argue with its inclusion because it certainly fits with the savage aspect of the story. Reading this is truly like entering another universe.

The design and fact the frame structure alone set up the epicness of the series. There’s certainly a lot of scope here- in time, space and cultures. For me, it’s had its ups and downs. I have personally enjoyed some volumes more than others. But when it’s good- it’s good. Often, I have found myself too absorbed to take notes. I really got into it by volume 3; by volume 4 I was gasping at the wild twists. Vaughan has taken the story in so many unexpected directions- despite the fact there’s plenty of foreshadowing, I truly have no idea where it’s going.

The characters are particularly well done. I adore Marko and Alana- their relationship is so compelling and I’ve been rooting for them the whole time. But it doesn’t just stop at the romance. The way the story is handled allows for so much character development. I found this especially the case in volume 5- which both pushed the characters to their limits and drove the plot on. I will say, there were times, such as in volume 6, I felt the narrative got a little side-tracked with its supporting cast. Yet even if the story sagged in some volumes, it always picked up with a dramatic twist or a new turn.

By volume 7 it had gotten *super emotional*. I mean, *oof* that one hit me in the *feels*. And that’s what this series does best: it delivers in each and every volume with the gut-wrenching finale. I have no idea how my heart has coped with this story so far- and how I’m gonna make it through to the end when it comes! This does not shy away from difficult topics.

Fair warning though, there’s quite a lot of ideological stuff in this series. Now, I personally don’t get too bogged down on that when a story is of such a high quality as this, but I know some people might have a problem with that. Still, there were aspects I really liked and nuggets of wisdom along the way- I particularly liked a lot of what Heist’s perspective in volume 3:

“The advice “kill your darlings” has been attributed to various authors across the galaxies… and Mister Heist hated them all. Why teach young writers to edit out whatever they feel most passionate about? Better to kill everything in their writing they DON’T love as much. Until only their darlings remain”

Ultimately, I’ve found this an engaging and unique series- it’s been well worth the read. My average rating (so far) is:

4/5 bananas

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So, have you read this series? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments!

Uplifted by Skyward!

*Received from Netgalley in exchange for review- but any into-the-stratosphere level of gush and (bad) space puns is all me*

skywardWhen I got approved for this book, it’s safe to say that I pretty much lost my head I was so excited! I mean, I have endless respect for the author’s writing and this space adventure was one of my most anticipated reads of the year. Needless to say, I was on board!

And then we had lift off! And *wow* I was carried away by the immediacy of the voice and the fantastic characterisation of the lead. Spensa’s personality leapt off the page, waved off all the competition and roundhouse kicked my butt to attention! If ever there was a character who literally grabs you and pulls you into the story, it’s her! She was so spirited and zesty and funny- it was easy for me to fall for her. Her turn of phrase (or I should say the author’s command of her character) was particularly hilarious.

I was soon propelled on by the mysteries embedded in the story. As we delved deeper into the background of the world, it quickly became apparent that there were hidden notes and plot points hiding behind the stars. There were beautiful snippets of stories within stories, family histories and a universe of secrets. The world building wasn’t just a passenger for the plot either- it played a massive role in the narrative (which of course I can’t mention cos of *spoilers*- but whether you guess the twist or not, it’s a good one!) This is the kind of story that takes you along for the ride- it rises and falls and swerves unexpectedly. All culminating in a stunning ending- but, in my enthusiasm, I’m getting ahead of myself.

One of the best things about this tremendously action-packed book is how character driven it was- and not just by the aforementioned sensational protagonist. Each supporting member of the cast pulled their weight- which is pretty tricky to do in space 😉 They were not just well drawn or there to serve a purpose- they felt fleshed out and real. This was largely thanks to so many of them being inversions of clichés and designed to turn tropes on their head (my favourite example being Nedd, the not-so-stupid stupid character). All of them played their role perfectly- creating friction and tension for Spensa- and then surprising her (and us) in equal measure. I was legit cheering them on by throughout! There wasn’t a single dud character- even the antagonist was both thrillingly threatening and fascinatingly human. And, of course, I had my usual soft spot for the AI 😉

I also adored the way this handled larger themes, like the question of following your programming versus being defiant. It raised so many questions and was entrenched in complex philosophical ideas. There were so many details and exquisite writing choices- ultimately it all came together in a harmonic new world symphony, an out-of-this-world experience, and made me starry-eyed with wonder. Plus, it was the kind of self-contained story that leaves you satisfied, yet hungry for more! There’s no doubt in my mind this is going to be a future sci fi classic. Can’t wait for the next one! Obviously:

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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So, have you read this? Are you planning to? (seriously- if you haven’t already- do it!! You won’t regret it!!) And who else is psyched for the sequel?! Let me know in the comments!

The Wolf by Wolf Series Has Some Impressive Storytelling Chops!

In a world, where every villain is a Nazi, I introduce to you… a book where all the villains are Nazis 😉 But wait! This one’s slightly different to your average book- because this is set in an alternative reality, where the Nazis won WW2.

Things kicked off in Wolf by Wolf in a strong fashion. With incredible pace and writing that was nothing short of magnificent, Graudin introduced our heroine, a genetically modified Jewish girl, on a mission to kill Hitler- sounds good right? Well, I’ll admit there were some teething problems for me when it came to world building (possibly because I often struggle with alternative history- something about my brain leaves me totting up all the details and wondering “but could it have happened this way, really?”). For me personally, though this won’t be a problem for everyone, the story snagged on a few details:

  • hitler-nein-nein-neinFor starters, if the Nazis had won, I don’t think there’s any version of the Third Reich that didn’t mean more fighting and more flames and more death camps.
  • While there were points when the Allies could have lost, Hitler, poor strategist that he was, never could have taken over the world (let alone held it). This was something Graudin pointed out in her notes, but pointing something out doesn’t solve the problem. Aside from the instability of the regime, the idea that Hitler was somehow superhuman (propagated by Aryan propaganda) was smashed to bits long before the Allied victory with his incompetent decision making. In fairness, the book does a lot to dispel this myth (which I can’t get into for spoilery reasons)- nonetheless posing the idea baffled me for large portions of the first book.
  • Lastly, I liked when Japan was used as a setting, yet the whole Nazis wearing kimonos thing is beyond ridiculous- Nazis weren’t known for appreciating other cultures.

I think I could’ve liked the first installment more if I hadn’t been distracted by this. Still, even if I had trouble suspending my disbelief, this didn’t deter me from continuing with the story. Although I saw some of it coming, the finale of Wolf by Wolf was so exhilarating, I knew I had to read on. I made a brief detour into the novella Iron to Iron, but while the writing was as incredible as the other two books, I unfortunately I found the story a bit of a waste of time, since there really wasn’t any new information here or purpose to the story.

However, when I entered the last lap of the story, Blood for Blood, I was happy to see this was where the narrative really hit its stride. All the highs and lows were in the right place; I was on the edge of my seat, feeling the roar of tension around me. The mounting drama had me engaged and ending was as explosive as you’d want. And it didn’t hurt that it tugged on all the heartstrings! Sure, parts were predictable, yet ultimately I got everything I wanted out of the story. And I found, because of that, I had an easier time just getting lost in the world and not in the minutia of history. Like all the best series, it ended on a high and you can’t ask for more than that!

Overall, I gave this series:

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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

The Seven and a Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle Tots up to a Terrifically Unique Read

evelyn hardcastleI’ll admit, when I started this book, I didn’t quite share the same convictions as some of its fans, but once I’d finished… well, I can assure you that had all changed. Let’s rewind a little, shall we?

Despite the intrigue of the opening, my confusion matched the narrator’s and I couldn’t figure out what on earth was going on. This meant that I took a lot of breaks in the beginning. I had to keep reading and rereading things to make sure I was following everything. There just seemed to be too many elements to hold onto and I wasn’t sure it was for me. I had trouble suspending my disbelief and just falling into the peculiar endless party of the story.

Now, I will admit, a part of the problem was that I had been told to go in blind… this didn’t work for me. I feel like I’d have been better off with a brief synopsis and knowing that it was a Groundhog Day style murder mystery (that’s all I’ll tell you, because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who would rather go in knowing as little as possible). At 20%, my befuddlement was so great that I simply had to read the blurb. It didn’t entirely clear things up, but at least I got a sense that it was building to something.

Still, I found the story oddly compelling (emphasis on the odd!) I was impressed by how many threads Turton wove in seemingly meaningless directions. I became entangled in the plots, looking for clues everywhere, trying to find my way out of this maze. There was the figure of Evelyn Hardcastle, darting half-seen from page to page. There were the houseguest’s secrets, spun into curious mysteries of their own. I felt like I was wading through an intense fog, until finally, around day 4 it began to clear and I finally started to grasp the narrative. Once I was halfway through, a spark was lit, and I couldn’t put it down.

Then, the twists came. Unexpected and bold and totally different. It transformed the story from the repetitious to the spectacular. To say I was impressed would be an understatement. My notes became filled with oohs and ahhs!! And my goodness- what a finale! It revealed a fascinating concept behind the story- which admittedly did raise some questions for me- so highlight for spoilers here… I will say that parts of the conclusion left me troubled- as much as I love a redemption arc, I don’t really see how Anna is completely off the hook, given a lot of the agency is with the narrator, and I think it would’ve made more sense for her to do more to save herself. That said, I do really, really like the idea of forgiveness setting you free. From the perspective of the narrator’s character, it’s the perfect arc. And ultimately, I’m a little too bedazzled to totally care about that aspect.

So, if you are like me, and a little bit baffled by this book to start with, stick with it, because the seemingly baffling beginning is redeemed by the ending.

Rating: 4½/5 bananas

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