My Favourite (Chill) Fairy Tale Retellings

Today, I just wanted to share a super quick list of some of my favourite atmospheric, fairy tale retellings. All of these deliver on the wintry vibes- without you having to the hassle of going outside 😉

snow child

The Snow Child– it’s been a long while since I mentioned this exquisite historical fiction. Set in 1920s Alaska, it draws on the Russian fairy tale by the same name and delivers something utterly unique.

bear and the nightingale

The Bear and the Nightingale– also inspired by Russian folklore, this has a more fantastical touch and is set in an authentically medieval setting. If you’re in the mood for high fantasy, then I can’t give you a better recommendation for the winter months.

wolf in the whale

Wolf in the Whale– this is more inspired by a patchwork of different mythologies, stories and histories- which I think qualifies it to be on this list. Plus, it certainly delivers on the atmospheric quota- you’ll need to be nice and snug while you’re reading this, or you’ll catch a chill!

to kill a kingdom

To Kill a Kingdom– if you’re looking for something a bit creepier, then look no further! This deadly little mermaid retelling will cut you to the quick!

hazel wood

Hazel Wood– while not technically a retelling, it does draw on so many fairy tale motifs. Plus, it has a gothic edge to it too.

So, have you read these? Do you plan to? And what retellings give you the wintry vibes? 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!

Best Books of the Last Decade

Hello all! I wanna say something really funky about blogging in a new decade… but let’s be real, it’s gonna be much the same as before, mostly gushing about all the great books out there! And what better way to continue that tradition than with a post about all the best books in the last decade? (at least according to me 😉). I’ve seen a few people do this- so sorry if I don’t remember all the amazing posts out there on the topic- but I was particularly inspired by Kristin Kraves incredible post– so definitely check that out!

Because I didn’t want to overload the post, I tried to keep to just one book per author (I only broke that rule once, but who can blame me when Laini Taylor exists 😉). I’ve not included series that started before the decade either. And also, I feel like I have to point out I haven’t read *all the books* (as much as I’d love for that to be the case 😉), so this is far from an exhaustive list! Here are some of the ground-breaking, game-changing, mind-blowing books from the last decade:

2011

Daughter of Smoke and Bone– a forever favourite ever since I read it. Laini Taylor gives lyrical writing a whole new meaning.

A Monster Calls– this graphic novel made me so emotional! I never realised how powerful a graphic novel could be until I read it!

2012

Righteous Mind– such a thought-provoking book and- dare I say it- one of the most important non-fiction books of the decade.

Wonder– a great Middle Grade with a sweet message!

2013

Vicious– this was my introduction to Schwab and it couldn’t have made a bigger impact!

Ocean at the End of the Lane– Neil Gaiman delivers on nostalgia and fantasy in this beautiful book.

2014

Red Rising– what a bloodydamn brilliant book this turned out to be! The way I’d describe this series is basically Romans in space and if that sounds good to you, you simply have to read it!

Shadow of What was Lost– an underrated fantasy book that is the epitomes the best of the genre to me.

Through the Woods– this creepilicious book takes fairy tale retellings to a whole other level!

2015

Carry On– a Harry Potter parody with so much heart- this never fails to bring a smile to my face 🙂

In Order to Live– I read this just last year and it made a huge impact. An important memoir that gives insight into life inside North Korea- and what it means to escape it.

Illuminae– I had to include this because it is such a gamechanger. It took me a while to get used to the unusual format- but that ended up being one of the greatest assets to the story! Plus, it’s thanks to books like this that I fell so deeply in love with sci fi.

2016

Radio Silence– a book that has ended up meaning so much to so many people from different walks of life- and that is an impossibly impressive achievement!

My Lady Jane– this laugh-out-loud alternative history was not what I was expecting- it was better!

Homegoing– weaving individual, intergenerational stories into one seamless narrative is no easy feat- yet Gyasi effortlessly accomplished this with her masterpiece.

2017

Red Sister– another incredible fantasy- this one stands out to me because it doesn’t just have cool world building- it has real heart!

Bear and the Nightingale– inspired by Russian mythology, this exquisite historical fantasy won my heart with every beautiful word.

Strange the Dreamer– okay , I know I said I wasn’t going to put authors on here twice… but Laini Taylor deserves it! And this duology deserves its place on here just as much- its rich world building, lovable characters and dramatic plot all make this a wonderful reading experience.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine– Eleanor Oliphant was not the contemporary romance I was expecting- it was so much more! Quirky and emotive and with hidden depths, it easily is one of the standout books of the decade.

Blackwing– mind-blowing, atmospheric and different- for that alone I would have loved this series. Yet, what makes it special is the complex characters at its heart.

2018

Circe– beautifully written and poignantly thought out, this retelling of the Odyssey is magnificent in that it not only perfectly interprets the original, it also elevates the story to new heights. I doubt we’ll see another retelling like this- unless of course Miller writes another 😉

Sadie– my absolute favourite read last year, Sadie is a gut wrenching and powerful book. I particularly recommend it on audiobook!

Hazel Wood– there’s something very special about this book. A gothic fairy tale, it draws you in to a story within a story and takes you places you could never dream.

Seven and a Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle– ever since I read this groundhog day murder mystery, I’ve been mulling it over. I didn’t think it was perfect- but it sure as hell stands out!

2019

Daisy Jones and the Six– this was also especially awesome in audiobook form- this book boasts one of the most realistic casts of characters I’ve ever read. And I adored the rock ‘n roll setting.

Wolf in the Whale– a very unusual fantasy that draws on the little known history of Vikings landing in Inuit land- I can safely say I’ve never read anything else like it.

So, what did you think of these? And do you have any books from the last decade you’d like to add? 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:

night country uk

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

4321

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…”

monthly mini reviews version 2

🎵 …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.

hamilton

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 😉

children of blood and bone

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!

Bookish (and some non bookish) Resolutions for 2020

Happy New Year! And welcome to the new decade!

fireworks new

Doesn’t 2020 sound like the year sci fi from the fifties is set? Shouldn’t we all be flying round on hoverboards by now?! Ah #goals. Sadly, I am not a scientist in any way, so all I’ve got are some resolutions about books and the like 😉 A lot of them may be quite similar to the last few years, but I find putting them up here helps keep me motivated. Still, there’s also a few new ones thrown into the mix, to keep things interesting. Let’s get into it:

2020 resolutions

Bookish

number 1

Read more non fic!

I’m just gonna recycle my goal of reading 10 new non fic books (though by rights I should probably up this number, after managing 15 last year, but I want to be a bit more realistic about it) Hopefully this year I’ll actually get to Wild Swans!

number 2

Read more challenging books!

Again, I’m using the same rule of trying to tick 10 more books off my challenging reading list. And since I didn’t quite make it last year, seems like it’ll be a challenge (and maybe this’ll be the year I finally read Jung, dammit!)

number 3

Read more poetry!

Okay, this is also the same as last year, however, I’m gonna clarify that I’m including epic poems as well as poetry collections.

number 4

Read more plays!

This one comes courtesy of not knowing what my mum is talking about half the time 😉 I don’t really enjoy reading plays as much as watching them, but needs must (plus my mum has a stonkingly big collection I should really take advantage of 😉)

number 5

Do some rereading!

Self-explanatory really. And I’m keeping to my 5 rereads number as well. Here’s just some of the books I fancy rereading:

Non Bookish

number 6

Do more art!

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I’m taking this out my mid year’s resolutions- but this time I want to actually keep track of it- no idea how I’ll measure this though…

number 7

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Do more yoga! Likewise, this was in my mid year’s resolutions- yet I actually want to get through those three yoga challenges! Wish me luck! (I’m gonna need it 😉)

number 8

Start a new writing project!

monkey typewriter

I’m deliberately keeping this a little vague, cos I’m not really sure what I want to achieve in my writing this year. I’d very much like to plan a new project… but I honestly don’t know if this’ll be doable. Plus, I’m halfway through a different project at the moment (so logically speaking my goal should be to finish that- I just feel pretty confident of doing that early in the year without making that a resolution). Soooo I guess I want this resolution to be a kind of place holder for *some kind of writing goal*

number 9

Sort through box of stuff

So, when I moved, my sister found a whole pile of stuff at the last minute that I’d not seen in half a decade… (*sarcastic yay*) which means I gotta sort through it… (*sarcastic yay*)

And that’s about it for now! I also have a bunch of (admittedly not so exciting) personal goals this year… and so I had to really resist the urge to add a bunch more. For now, I think this is a realistic number… hopefully!

What do you think of my resolutions this year? Do you have any resolutions you plan not to do? Let me know in the comments!