Monthly Monkey Mini Reviews – December 2021!

Hello all! Can you believe we’re well and truly into the festive period?! But I have to say I’m loving soaking it up as much as I can this year! I’m trying to do more things that I enjoyed before the pandemic. Among a lot of things I’ve already mentioned, I’m excited to finally be going to art galleries again! And on that note, I went to the Wallace Collection for the first time to take a peek at the recently restored Swing by Fragonard.

This photo truly doesn’t do the piece justice! For such a small painting it sure does have a BIG IMPACT! Wondrously captivating and worth checking out if you ever get the chance!

In terms of tv, I’ve been getting well and truly wrapped up in the Wheel of Time. I know they changed things (which I don’t agree with) but I’m finding it easier to follow than Jordan’s writing, so I’m very into it. I just hope they continue making all the seasons of it so I don’t have to go away and read all the books (which, granted, I’m pretty tempted to do now anyway). And of course, I watched the second series of Tiger King– which somehow was even crazier?! Other than that, I’ve just been ploughing through the books!

Mrs England– and Halls has done it again! This is her best yet! With a hint of tragedy lurking in the background, this is a subtle take on the traditional English gothic. I loved the creepy vibes and atmosphere of the Yorkshire setting. More than simply a revival of the Victorian novel, this gives a new lease of life to the form. Beautifully written and with psychologically rich characters, this story recontextualises romantic notions of the past and reveals the dark truths behind classic “mad woman in the attic” narratives.

Rating: 5/5 bananas

Hunchback of Notre Dame– well this book is magnificent. Jumping straight into the euphoric high of the Feast of Fools, this story quickly descends into the drama of 15th Century Paris. Under the gaze of Notre Dame, we are slowly introduced to the principle and challenged with our perception of good and evil. Much of the dark side of humanity is on full display and so many characters are morally ambiguous. For this is far, far from the Disney version. Stunningly written- particularly with regards to the description of place- this was powerful reflection of humanity’s strengths and deficiencies. With expert mirroring of the beginning in its tragic conclusion, there is an air of inevitability from the start. It delivers its emotional blows as every great tragedy should.

Rating: 5/5 bananas

Owl Service– this is a bit of a new-old discovery. Someone I work with recommended I try Alan Garner books and WOW these books don’t mess about. Owl Service felt less like a retelling and more like it was possessed by a mythic force, like the legends of old were forcing their way into the story and taking control of the narrative. I liked the concept and the simplicity of the story. More than that, I liked how the characters weren’t mundanely pure and good children. Rather, they were little humans, full of the usual concurrence of good and bad. Way darker than any book I read when I was young, there’s enough creepiness in this to freak adults out (well, adults like me, who can only manage spooky stories in broad daylight 😉). Uncanny in the purest sense, I couldn’t help but feel like this was both unusual and oddly familiar. A masterstroke of mythical storytelling.

Rating: 4½/5 bananas  

Elidor– if I had to summarise this book, I’d say it was a realllly twisted take on Narnia. Except much like the more recent the Light Between Worlds, it deals more with the aftermath of being whisked away to a magical world. It makes you question what is left after a formative (and in many ways traumatic) experience. Taking the extreme example of reluctant heroes- if they can even be called heroes- it explores the genuine human response to asking children to bear the responsibility of the world on their young shoulders. And the result is bleak and hard to come to terms with. It’s a bold coming of age story; it’s the best of YA (written before YA existed). And it does so much of what modern books try to do now- but it does it with a greater profundity and without contrived conclusions. Like the best art, it doesn’t lead you to simple answers and doesn’t propagandise its message. Like the best myths, the meaning is layered beneath mists of magic. You’ll have to figure out how to interpret it for yourself.

Rating: 5/5 bananas

The Wedding Party– this vowed to be great fun- but just didn’t live up to its promise. I do love thrillers set at destination weddings- it’s that wonderful cocktail of high hopes and long held secrets and dashed dreams. And this had all those ingredients and more. The characters were delightfully detestable- the bridezilla obsessed with her image, the weirdly obsessive friend and the catastrophically selfish sister. BUT unfortunately, so much in a thriller hinges on the ending. And after being driven mad by these *awful* characters for hundreds of pages, I wanted to see someone get theirs in a dramatic way and for a good reason… and sadly this just fell flat. The twist of who died and who dunnit just didn’t live up to my expectations.

Rating: 2½/5 bananas  

Before I Go to Sleep– this didn’t quite send me to sleep… but it came close. Fairly predictable and a bit far-fetched, I wasn’t really sold on this story about a woman who wakes up every day with no memory. Granted I never really love amnesia stories to begin with- however this was an especially irritating example. Because I don’t have a problem with my memory, so leaving massive plot holes and contradictions doesn’t work for me. Even if you excuse them by saying the main character just didn’t remember telling other people vital facts. Also, I get that the protagonist reading from her diary was central to the plot, yet it hardly makes sense to have her reading it at crucial moments, when, say, she suspects there’s a potential psychopath on the other side of a door. Just leave- then read the diary. Make her think she’s made it safety before she settles in for an explanation. I’ll also never be a fan of villain monologuing at the end OR a weirdly unearned happy ending. And to top it all off, it’s really obvious to me this was written by a man trying to get inside a woman’s head, because women aren’t typically hyper-conscious of how much space our boobs take up. Stop being weird dude.

Rating: 2/5 bananas

The Appeal– a murder mystery like no other, this is a story you’re going to have to figure out a lot of it on your own. Told through a collection of emails, this crime novel forces the reader to put on their thinking cap and work through a series of clues. With interjections from two investigators, you can slowly come to the truth of who was murdered and why. I have to say I was ridiculously impressed by the format and style of the genius thriller. I was also very happy with myself for working out bits and pieces along the way. Normally, I might find it disappointing to guess twists, however in this case I was inordinately proud of myself and satisfied that I’d been reading between the lines closely enough to get some of it right! I whizzed through this so fast, having enormous fun along the way! I definitely recommend giving this a go if you enjoy mysteries, thrillers or just having a good time. I hope you get as much out of it as I did- break a leg!

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!