Celebrating Fairy Tales From Around the World – Monkey Mini Reviews of a Time for Telling and a World of Fairy Tales

Way back in the last decade (*ahem* I mean last year 😉 ) I got into a discussion on fairy tales– defending them against the spurious claims that they aren’t diverse enough… which seemed somewhat ludicrous to me given there’s a whole world of fairy tales out there, outside the Western canon (I know, shocker 😉). Well, today I have the opportunity to prove my point further! Because while I was moving house, I came across a couple of old children’s books. Aside from fuelling a little nostalgia and thinking they’d be great for my nephews, I thought they were so lovely that they were worth sharing with all of you.

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Time for Telling– kicking off the collection on “The King with Dirty Feet”, I was instantly glad I’d taken this trip down memory lane. What’s great about this collection is how it walks you through simple concepts, like the origins of shoes, and elevates them. It makes the world a richer place. Add to that the wonderful illustrations by Sue Williams and I thought this book was a real winner! Another massive positive is how great the rhythm is for children- they’re written in a way that rolls off the tongue, designed to be read aloud. Some of my personal highlights were: “Loawnu Mends the Sky”, with its excellent imagery and patchwork of beautiful ideas; the “Clever Rabbit and King Lion”, because I can’t help but root for the underdog; and “The Great Rain” for its sheer magic. Of course, as with every anthology, there were a mix of stories, some of which I wasn’t as keen on, but overall, I thought all the stories were beautifully told and very much enjoyed the immersive experience.

Rating: 4½/5 bananas

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World of Fairy Tales– this immediately takes us on a voyage from Australia to the Arctic. Even better, these initial tales gave the feeling of the world waking up. From these origins, the stories then became populated with animals, mirroring an entire creation myth. As with Time for Telling, I had some personal favourites, including “Giants of St Michael’s Mount” and “Maui and the Great Fish”. There was also the added bonus of this having a few familiar tales, like “Beauty and the Beast”. I absolutely loved that this very much embraced the world of stories out there- not neglecting any corner. It was also quite novel that each of these tales came with explanations about their origins, really giving an interesting insight into cultures from which they arose. Now, I did feel this lent itself to a drier tone, which I imagine wouldn’t be as evocative for children. The smaller font also seems a little less kid-friendly. That said, the subtle illustrations had a real charm and I got a lot out of this as an adult. I’d say the order of these tales was the books’ greatest strength- beginning with the birth of the world and ending on a journey- as all good stories should.

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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Okay reviewing children’s books is a little out of my comfort zone- but I hope that sparked some interest! What I’d like to know today is if you have any favourite myths or fairy tales from around the world? Let me know in the comments!

Queen of Nothing Was Close to Everything You Could Want in a Finale

*Spoiler free*

queen of nothingAt least, in my opinion. I’ve seen a lot of people who felt pretty different to me. But, while I can understand (and even agree with) some of the complaints, for me those were only minor quibbles and didn’t ruin my enjoyment of this finale. My biggest disappointment here is that I don’t have more to say about it.

Especially cos it was so fast paced it was hard to take notes! Now, I will admit that at times, I felt like there wasn’t enough room for the plot to develop as much as it could have. This was particularly noticeable for me with a spoiler *significant death* that I won’t talk about in depth. I’ve heard it said that too much in this book happened off screen- and this is a good example of that- cos for a little bit I thought it was gonna be a fake-out death. But nope, it didn’t take long (cos nothing in this book took long) to realise that was definitely the direction the story was taking. Which was good (I often hate fake deaths) it’s just a bit of a symptom of this book that the events kinda whizzed by.

Another little issue I had with the pacing was that there could have been a bit more time spent enjoying these characters together- after all, this is the last we’ll be seeing of them. I would have enjoyed a bit more banter in the romance department- as it had in previous instalments- though I did enjoy the sweeter touch it had here. And I personally didn’t think a certain someone deserved a sort-of-redemption arc- it felt somewhat unearned (again, being vague to avoid spoilers). I rarely say this, however, I feel this could’ve benefited from being a tad longer.

All that said, I inhaled this book. The upside of that breakneck pace was that I couldn’t stop reading it. There were so many twists and turns in this tale- and as much tricksy fae drama as you could ask for! Plus, I really liked how the cliffhanger from the previous book was resolved.

Nit-picking aside, I have to echo what a lot of reviewers have said before me: this was a very satisfying conclusion to the series. We got a fair queen and a fair ending for the fair folk! And really, you can’t ask for more than that.

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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

Taking a Turn into the Beguiling Night Country

*Received from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review- but the gushing you’re about to see is all me*

night countryMany of you probably know how much I loved the Hazel Wood (and if you didn’t, here’s your daily reminder 😉) which is why I was nervously excited to read its sequel. Fortunately, while the first worked well as a standalone, there was much to appreciate about this second instalment.

Re-entering Alice’s world, the subtle opening worked its magic on me. Slowly it built up the mystery, hiding more stories within stories, and expanding into new territory. More than ever, Albert demonstrated that this isn’t just inspired by fairy tales, giving us that gothic touch that I admired so much in the original.

Best of all, the characters were still raw and real. The new characters were welcome additions, but I had felt there was room for growth for the two main leads- and that’s what we got here. I especially liked where the story took Ellery Finch. And I felt Alice, with some of her sharp edges blunted, felt more relatable to me here. In many ways, she was just a girl, out of place, trying to find her way, giving this a stronger coming of age element.

As with her debut, Albert’s writing talent shined through. There were so many stunning sentences and beautifully balanced images. Images that blew me away at times. And many, many ingenious references.

Now, despite masterful craft employed here, I have to admit that large parts of this weren’t as compelling as the first. Much of the structure felt meandering and formless. Personally, I felt it could have benefited from a tighter plot. I found I fell out the story somewhere in the middle…

…though luckily I was captured again by the end. Because when this book had me, it had me. Keeping me up well into the dark hours of the night, I found I was hooked by the mind-blowing and meta finale. All the threads that had spun out in the narrative drew together in a satisfying conclusion. Without delving into spoilers, I can safely say it delivered something special. Sure, it wasn’t perfect- but for all its flaws I was still left one satisfied monkey:

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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So, if you’re already a fan of the Hazel Wood, I think this is worth your time. And if you haven’t read the first one yet- then what are you waiting for?! Go ahead and read it!

Also I have to include this, cos *PRETTY*, just look at this UK edition:

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How gorgeous? Which edition do you prefer? Cos I can’t choose between them! And have you read this? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments! 

Counting down all the ways I liked (and sometimes didn’t like) 4321

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Told on a Dickensian scale, Auster’s novel is a story of the four possible lives of Archie Ferguson. Though I’d say this was ultimately satisfying, there were elements I had quibbles with. And just as Auster counts down the hours of each version of the protagonist, I’m gonna count down all the varying banana ratings I could give this book…

4 bananas

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While I didn’t initially understand what was going on (which is why I think a synopsis is helpful) I did end up liking how layered it was. I appreciated how it explored the concept of different choices having different effects and how different experiences can lead you down a different path. Each part of the fractured personality made the whole more intriguing. I also appreciated how it flipped around in time. The foreshadowing was done in such an interesting way, cos you had to remember which Ferguson this was going to apply to (and consider if it might refer to more than one Ferguson at once).

3 bananas

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That said, I had mixed feelings about the protagonist. Parts of his character I liked… others I didn’t (and I mean that in the sense that I got fed up with some of the Fergusons, spoiler: I started looking forward to some of them dying).

2 bananas

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It could also be a little self-indulgent at times. I’ve never been a fan of listing other famous books the character’s read- in a *look how smart he is* kind of way- and this rarely felt like an opportunity for intertextuality and more like using greater writers as a crutch. And there was also too much student politics. Which leads me onto…

1 banana

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Yet, my least favourite thing about the book was the skewed view of history. Beyond the basic (and far from ground-breaking) view that the domino theory was a bad military strategy, there never seems to be an attempt to grasp the existential struggle between communism and capitalism. All conflict is largely boiled down to being much the same (I got quite the kick out of the comparison between WWI and Vietnam, because, wait for it… war’s a waste of life- what a revelation). Even more irritating is what I can only describe as the “history in reverse” view of the Six Day War- once again ignoring the existential reality of the conflict in favour of post-colonial interpretation that this was a war of conquest (apart from being bafflingly historically inaccurate, this appears to be Auster injecting his current view of international affairs, breaking the historicity of the novel in a most jarring way). A lot of the mc’s worldview came across as pretty childish and largely based on a “Stick it to the Man!” worldview (often reflected in the mc having very little respect for other people’s property rights). Sure, one could argue this was Ferguson’s slanted view coming across in all walks of his life… but considering they don’t all have the same point of view, it was definitely an opportunity for a more nuanced reflection.

4 bananas

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All that said, the narrative threads came together exceptionally well and the ending was very satisfying indeed. Which is why I gave it:

Rating: 3/5 bananas

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So, have you read this? Do you plan to? What do you think of 4321? Let me know in the comments!

Monthly Monkey Mini Reviews – January: “There’s a million things I haven’t done…”

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🎵 …but just you wait… 🎵

Okay, if you haven’t guessed already, last month I went to Hamilton! And YES I want to sing its praises! Because, *wow*, I’ve not seen many things that have the power to reduce an entire audience to tears.

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Anyhoo, unfortunately for me, that title does have a bit of a double meaning, cos I’ve been very busy, not done a lot of blogging lately and you may have to wait around a little while 😉 As a lot of you know, I moved last month, and that was fine… until it wasn’t 😉 It didn’t help that I was without internet for large parts of the month. Plus, you know, end of the year running around. So, I’m trying to catch up (gonna try posting less to make more time). Thank you so much for all the well-wishers who wrote such sweet messages on my last monthly minis post- and please bear with me- I’ll be back to my usual bananas-self in no time 😉

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Children of Blood and Bone– well this is why I often skip the splashy YA titles these days- cos I found this just okay. While there some nice twists and turns to the story, it wasn’t anything we haven’t seen before (*especially if you’ve watched Avatar). The weakest point for me was the characters. Even though this is a hefty tome, I still managed to feel like the characterisation was not given room to breathe. Inan was by far the most interesting character… and yet, even with his internal conflict, I didn’t feel like his character was handled well (highlight for spoilers: dude legit murdered someone and burned a village to the ground!!). Sure I’d have been up for him getting some kind of redemption arc, but he actually needed to be given time to redeem himself and I don’t think he was right for the role of Love Interest! This was definitely a case of characters being led by the plot, not the other way around. Especially with regards to Zelie, who seemed to just hold the position of Typical Heroine. That said, I did fly through it. And the world building was something special- definitely the star of the show for me. Largely, I think this was just a victim of being too hyped and didn’t have that spark I expected it to. Still, while this isn’t a gamechanger, I can see why fans of YA fantasy would enjoy it.

Rating: 3/5 bananas

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truths and triumphs of grace atherton

The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton– okay, for starters, I’ve no idea why this was compared to Eleanor Oliphant in the description- because that’s not what this is. Yes, the heroine is an oddball… but that’s about where the similarities end. Grace may be strange, but she’s also unlikeable, self-centred, a music snob, uppity and difficult. It also wasn’t particularly heart-warming- not when so much of the plot revolves around cheating. Spoiler-that’s-not-really-a-spoiler: unsurprisingly the married man who cheats on his wife is a skeezeball- who’d have thunk it? 😉 I wasn’t particularly blown away by the friendships either- it feels more like everyone is there to help Grace out of her self-made problems and like she doesn’t do much for anyone else. Bad comps aside, this wasn’t terrible, it was fine. Plus, I did learn about cellos (though I refuse to spell it with an apostrophe- that’s too wanky, even for me).

Rating: 3/5 bananas

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toffee

Toffee– toffee really is the perfect metaphor for this book. This deals with some tough topics- including dementia and abuse- which can be tricky to chew on. BUT I defy anyone not to melt when confronted with this story. There is a soft edge to this hard narrative and I found it incredibly moving and very sweet. The writing style contained a bit too much fragmentation for my liking- but ultimately this was a solid book and worth reading for YA contemporary fans. I can see why it’s lauded.

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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mrs dalloway

Mrs Dalloway– this one’s not easy to review… it certainly wasn’t easy to read! I will start by saying that I get why Woolf chose the stream of consciousness style for this- it gives the narrative a sense of urgency and movement and immediacy. And perhaps one could argue that this is more conducive to an intense emotional reaction… though that wasn’t my experience of the book in the slightest- cos I didn’t enjoy it at all. While the language was undoubtedly beautiful, especially with regards to imagery, it was so disjointed that it wasn’t even a remotely pleasant reading experience. Sometimes sentences meandered off in meaningless directions; headhopping felt like part of the course. It felt like I was witnessing a slice of chaos- and personally I prefer a little order to (even artistic) chaos. Because of this, it largely felt incoherent and irritating to me. And for that reason, I just couldn’t give it any more than:

Rating: 1½/5 bananas

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Ah well, I’ve now finally finished the damn thing and can unhaul it 😉

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Dead Voices- I enjoyed this sequel more than I expected- especially considering how well the first one worked as a standalone. But this did exactly what a successful sequel should, mostly focusing on characters, giving them room to grow. The plot played out like a perfect game of chess and I really appreciated the solution. I felt like the Small Spaces was more focused on an emotional resolution, whereas this was a little more brainy. Plus, this got *bonus points* for maintaining that SuPeR CrEePy atmosphere.

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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So, 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!

10 Reasons to Carry On with Wayward Son

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I know I promised my last review would be the last of the year… but I managed to squeeze in Wayward Son before the end of the year and just needed to SQUEE!! And keeping with the tradition of its predecessor, which I reviewed back when this blog was just a baby, I simply have to write a list telling you all why I loved it! Consider this an unexpected (but hopefully rewarding) sequel. So, here are the reasons you should pick this up:

#1 If you loved the first one. And why wouldn’t you? Carry On was an ingenious and heart-warming parody of Harry Potter that I will recommend till the end of time!! As I mentioned way back when, it was the kind of story that left you satisfied but wanting more… which is why I’m delighted Rowell came back to this world and continued on. There was room for more- and that’s what we got here! And if you’re in any doubt about whether the standalone needed a sequel, have no fear…

#2 The premise for this was perfect. I knew I was in for a treat when I saw that the story opens with an epilogue- pitching you a story that starts after the war has been won. Yes, this is the story of what happens to the hero once the last page has been turned and we’ve been assured of their happily ever after. This is the sequel we never knew we needed (but boy did we need it!).

#3 Fortunately, the plot was hella entertaining. I loved the meandering twists of the roadtrip; I was grateful for the more American feel (some of which I unfortunately can’t talk about cos spoilers!). Needless to say, there was more than enough excitement to keep me going.

#4 The world building was expanded upon really well. I particularly liked how it’s only Americanisms that work as spells in America. This was especially cool, because it showed how Normals, with their language, give mages their power. And in case that wasn’t enough, this book had (more) DRAGONS! (frankly, I’m a sucker for that)

#5 I also loved the references. I’m guessing the title is a nod to Supernatural- which YAS I AM HERE FOR IT! It works beautifully! Think season 2, when you think the story is all over… then somehow the story rises from the ashes (we’ll pretend that show isn’t still going and that metaphor totally works 😉). Point is, I really enjoyed a lot of the gags. Speaking of…

#6 It’s funny! The humour alone makes this an absolute pleasure to read. That said, sometimes there was a dark edge to that light touch, because…

#7 This book has hidden depths. Because sometimes carrying on after hardship isn’t easy- yes, the big bad is gone- but there are other kinds of humdrum villains lurking. Rowell had a wonderful quote to sum this up: “Bad things happen, and then they stop, but they keep wreaking havoc inside of people”. I can’t tell you how much this spoke to me; I just want to *applaud* it.

#8 Plus, there was plenty of character growth. People (*ahem* characters) don’t just stop growing when we’re done reading about them- life goes on- and this is a testament to that. Every single character had an arc- which I really appreciated. Some, like Agatha, who you might’ve written off were writing themselves back into the narrative. Simon was struggling, but as lovable as ever. Penny has her own heartache to deal with. There was even *the mysterious new guy*… who I guess we’ll have to wait and see about 😉And of course, there was the dead gorgeous Baz, who always manages to be the life and soul of the party. I particularly liked how the villains integrated into the story and acted as a real foil to their personal issues.

#9 As you might have expected, love was in the air. In typical Rowell fashion, there was hints of a budding romance and then there was the existing relationship… which, again, I can’t spoil for you. Let’s just say it was rocky at times, but I will go down this ship dammit! Baz and Simon are IT for me!

#10 For all the ups and downs, this series was just so much fun!! Wayward Son really carries on the tradition. It was a stonkingly good sequel and I was tremendously satisfied with it. I will happily throw away all my bananas for a chance to read another one! *Here- have my bananas- have ’em all!*

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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Worth every one! Have you read this series? Do you want to *squee* with me about it? Or do you plan to read it now? Let me know in the comments!

Toll Chimes Out with a Terrific Ending

tollHello all devoted banaholics! Today, in what could very well be the last sermon review of the year, I’m gonna be sharing my thoughts on the last in this dystopic YA trilogy. Many of you might be familiar with the cutting-edge concept of Scythe and the resounding success of its sequel Thunderhead: humans have achieved immortality has been reached, so a select group of people are in charge of population control aka killing people off. Now it’s safe to say, the Toll was largely a booming triumph, but I can’t say this will entirely be a ringing endorsement, so maybe cover your ears if you’re not here for any negativity.

First of all, I found it a bit slow to get going. The opening felt largely like it was reminding the reader what had happened in the last book and setting up new characters, which was fine… I just felt like I was waiting for it to really get going.

However, once the story hit its stride, it was tense, gripping and the toll on our main characters was immense. Highlight for minor spoiler: I have to say I was really grateful when our heroes returned to the fold- the story just wasn’t the same without them! And the romance was one of the best things about this book! I just loved the way this series forged connections between characters.

The world was still one of the books strengths… though some parts were so far left of field they went a little off the deep end for me (alas, I’m not into new age zealotry, but whatever floats your boat I guess). That said, there were things I appreciated even more in this finally instalment. Especially the names of all the Scythes- from the more on the nose ones like Curie, to the clever twists on Goddard, but mostly the one I liked all the more was Rand after having read her work this year.

Now to get into more *spoilers*. There were a few other issues that left me pondering. While I think the Thunderhead had an interesting role as a god-like figure, as Krysta @Pages Unbound points out, presenting the AI in a questionable way, I still felt like it was too positive an outlook. Though the characters overcome their human overlords, this doesn’t exactly fulfil that typical dystopic YA trope of undoing all the authority. We’re still left with this benevolent dictator, which they fly off into the sunset/space with. I wasn’t quite decided on whether I liked this outcome- especially since I ended up questioning why the main villain was even still the main villain (I just didn’t feel like he had a strong enough motive other than “MWHAHAHA I WANT TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD!”). Personally, I just think the Thunderhead could’ve taken over the role of villain in book two and been done with it.

Anyway, back to non-spoilery section, that was just my personal take. Despite all this, I found the book very compelling. The plot launched into some high stakes drama and really had lift off as we got into the last part of the book. Thus, I still recommend this series and give you these commands:

Thou shalt take my gripes with a grain of salt 😉

Thou shalt read this series

Thou shalt enjoy this series

Thou shalt find it hard to put these books down

Thou shalt continue to think about this series long after you have turned the last page

So sayeth the Great Ape 😉 Now I shall award it the honorific bananas:

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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