Monthly Monkey Mini Reviews – November (with lots of *witchy* reads)

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I was definitely feeling the spirit of Halloween last month, that’s for damn sure! I went into full on witchy mode for most of my reading. I felt inspired to do the terrifying thing of starting out on Instagram (and am so grateful for the welcoming response I had from you guys!!!). And I even rewatched Hocus Pocus for the millionth time (because why the hell not? 😉). Some parts of the month I also managed to feel like hellish fiends were chasing me… but that’s a story for another day 😉 Right now, it’s time to talk BOOKS!

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The Furies– it seems I picked this up by a pleasant twist of fate. The Furies turned out to be an underrated, witchy read, perfect for this time of year. Opening on an intriguing snapshot of a mysterious death, I was quickly subsumed in the atmospheric and subtle setting. With a shivery, isolated feel throughout, the story held true to its promise of witchcraft, yet also delivering more of a mythic element I hadn’t expected, giving it a Secret History vibe. I will say, it does have some dark content, including sexual assault, but personally I thought it was handled well. I very much liked the descriptive writing as well and while not blown away by the more philosophical musings, I didn’t hate them. The one thing that kept me from being completely blown away was that I kind of hated everyone in the story by the end. It made sense in the context of the story that no one was likeable- it just unfortunately meant it didn’t fully cast its spell over me. That said, it was still a solid:

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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The Bone Witch– this one was a bit more of a disappointment. Initially hooked by the concept of a girl accidentally bring her brother back from the dead and discovering her necromantic powers, I had high hopes for this. I did really like the poetic style to begin with and the way the dual narrators was done. Yet, what started off so well somehow failed to capture my heart. Despite the original opening line, the distant writing style made it hard to connect with the characters. Everything came across as so dispassionate that I struggled not to switch off. The middle reallllly sagged as well- and, to be honest, I was dead bored by the end. Which, I personally thought was a unique take, but get why it would turn a lot of readers off (I don’t want to get into spoilers, but let’s just say this is because you might see the protagonist in a different light…) When it came to world building, the Bone Witch totally killed it. When it came to everything else… not so much. Just on the basis of quality, I gave it:

Rating: 3/5 bananas

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Small Spaces– if you’re looking for a cosy Middle Grade with spooky vibes, then look no further! I very much enjoyed Arden’s mysterious and fun and cute story. The writing style was sharp and funny. I really liked the characters as well- especially the spunky protagonist and the *amazing* dad. It was clever how it handled the topic of grief and the friendship side of the narrative made me smile. It was a super quick read though- so fast I didn’t have time to take notes 😉

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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The Book of Hidden Things– I found out about this hidden gem on Zezee with Book’s blog- and I’m so glad I did! There was something strangely seductive about this book. A seemingly simple story about friends reuniting in their hometown of Casalfranco, it is given a touch of magical realism as they delve into the mysterious disappearance of one of their group. Told using different POVs, the writing gently lulled me into a false sense of security. Don’t be fooled though, there’s clearly more going on under the surface. The violence and wildness of the Southern Italian setting slowly reveals itself, until the subtle atmosphere fell away, and I realised there were far more sinister forces at work. I will say, there was a lot of mature and troubling content in this- so *all the warnings*, cos this is definitely not YA. And cos of that this won’t be for everyone. But all the messed-up stuff is exactly right for a book like this. These are characters evoking dark arts and getting tangled in an increasingly twisted tale… and that’s all I’ll give you here! It’s the kind of book where so much relies on ambiguity that I don’t want to give too much away. Just prepare yourself if you plan to read it- this has a sharp edge to it.

Rating: 4½/5 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!

Winter of the Witch was *CAPTIVATING*

winter of the witchMany of you will know of my love affair with the Winternight Trilogy. A Russian fairy tale retelling, full of wonder and magic, it was only natural I fell head over heels for it. My admiration reached fever pitch with the second instalment, as it went to deliciously dark places and blew my mind with its intensity. Needless to say, I was eager for the finale. And *WOW*, it did not disappoint.

Thrown straight back into Arden’s wintery world, the story promised action and beauty from start. With writing as gorgeous as the last two books, this picked up immediately from where Girl in the Tower left off and felt literally darker from the outset. I was utterly absorbed every time I picked it up. Indeed, it was a most welcome return to the story.

Unlike the first two books, which almost felt like self-contained stories, this leaned heavily on the earlier narratives. Plotwise it was a completely wild ride. The story bolts forward from the first page, bearing enchanting little gifts…

…Only to throw you from the horse and break your heart a little. Because this gives us some seriously moving moments. From the romance to the family connections, this story didn’t let up for a second. Again and again, the narrative took risks and delivered on an emotional level that somehow surpassed the previous books. I don’t want to spoil anything, so all I’ll say is that it brought tears to my eyes more than once.

Beyond that, the story travelled into far deeper territory than I could have expected. Building on the previous world building, Winter of the Witch takes the reader into the realm of storytelling and dreams. Entering into the land of midnight, it feels like the heroine is moving around the globe like the second hand on a clock. In this patchwork country, the very notion of reality is questioned.

This intriguing idea was further developed in the characterisation. What I especially liked about this aspect was how it presented the idea that magic can drive you to distraction- if you change too much reality, you might forget what is real. Not only did this present a brilliant consequence for magic, it also allowed for so much of the main character’s growth and forced her to push herself to the limit.

And Vasya isn’t the only one who’s stretched here. Every character is challenged- including some of the more demonic beings. Which allows for another interesting development: this story creates confusion over what is and isn’t monstrous. This presents such a nuanced, clever take on monsters in fairy tales. It’s a point of eye-widening genius; it’s a powerful take on the complexity of good vs evil.

Above all, the story presents a notion of unity. Not only does this tie together the strands of the first and second books, but it also draws this in line with historical events. Incredibly, Arden answers some of the questions I’ve seen about the first book, especially pertaining to the representation of Christianity as opposed to Paganism. This is particularly subverted by Sasha’s role as priest- which I was kind of remiss not to mention in my last review – especially as he plays an even greater part here (also I can’t be the only one to have been remind of Alyosha Karamazov- which made him an instant favourite 😉 ). In the end, the concepts were married together superbly and, at least for me, everything clicked into place.

Ultimately it was a sensational end to a sensational series. I believe I had a fair amount of faith in this finale- but even so, it was better than I ever could have imagined. All the wishing wells, genies and shooting stars in the world couldn’t have conceived something so magical. If you’re looking for a fairy tale retelling, this is quite simply something you need to check out. It’s very rare for me to give a whole series all the bananas- and yet here we are:

Rating: 5/5 bananas                               

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Also look how pretty all my books look together:

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So is anyone surprised that I loved this? 😉 And have you read this? Do you plan to? What do you think of the Winternight series? Let me know in the comments!

Girl in the Tower was *ENCHANTING*

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

girl in the towerAnd dark, and scary and made me feel all tingly. For anyone that doesn’t remember all the way back to December, I fell absolutely head over heels for Bear and the Nightingale, the first in the Winternight Trilogy. So when I received a last minute ARC for the second one, there was actual screaming, guys. And when I got to the end of this, well, let’s just say this raised my love to practically fever pitch.

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Straightaway I was plunged into Arden’s atmospheric world. With stunning visuals, chuckle-worthy dialogue and mysteries building, I found myself sucked straight back in. Most of my notes devolved to just “WOW” and “AMAZING” pretty quickly. Cos let me tell you, everything about Arden’s writing is wonderful. The haunting style made me shivery and weak at the knees.

From the outset, I felt a creeping sense of dread and that didn’t let up until the crazy-dramatic end. You know that cliché “I hadn’t realised I’d been holding my breath”- well I exhaled (loudly) when I got to the end and I hadn’t realised I’d been holding my breath- so there you go, proof it actually happens. I was so absorbed in the good old fashioned storytelling that I didn’t notice. Nor I did I notice the night ticking away until it was Crazy O Clock in the morning and the story was done (whoops).

Timeless and magical, the plot loops round, playing with strands of the story and then joining the threads. When I could finally see the full tapestry, my face cracked into a smile of pure joy– it’s been a while since I’ve seen chronology twisted so successfully. This seemingly slight touch allowed minor characters to step more into the spotlight, which was excellently done. Carefully, characterisation through the eyes of others and through the smallest of gestures, brought the world more vividly to life. Little things, like the humorous horse character, made my toes curl in pleasure.

And speaking of pleasure, the romance in this book melted my heart. There were only hints of romance in the previous book and, even though I discussed it offline, I’d been scared of scaring it away- but man I wanted this. I don’t know where it’s going, since there’s a terrifying combination of miscommunication and magic involved, but I’m loving the slow build so far. Arden sure knows how to take her time.

I also loved the direction Vasya took in this book. She’s certainly grown into an increasingly wonderful heroine. As with the last book, I loved her unconventionality, her cleverness and how unusual she was (including her looks). She’s such a great role model for anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider. And what made her even more powerful was the presence of a truly killer villain. He both mirrored her and reflected back her goodness with darkness… and I won’t say any more for fear of spoilers. But he’s a good un (well, technically bad 😉 )

What was incredible was how much more complexity and scope there was to Girl in the Tower. There were multiple layers to the story and I felt like there was so much more under the surface, waiting to be discovered. I honestly don’t feel like one review could do it justice (I can already see that I would benefit from rereading this story). One thing I will say that I enjoyed the most about this book was the elements of appearance vs reality. The hidden world of folklore, tucked out of sight for most people, gave the impression that there was more to this reality than meets the eye. I really appreciated how that theme bled into the narrative, the character’s gestures even and the portrayal of different beliefs. I marvelled how the unseen and the seen blurred together at moments, in a way that screamed UNCANNY and UNSETTLING. I revelled in what could be regarded as a clash of civilisations.

Ultimately, this book took everything about the first book and made it better. No middle book syndrome here- only pure, unadulterated bliss. I’d read a few reviews and thought “pff could it be better?”- the answer is yes, yes it could and it was. And I must say it was perfect with hot chocolate and Bailey’s after an exhausting day 😉

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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

AWESOME Authors I Discovered in 2017 *and* Am Looking Forward to Reading More From

Technically this was a Top Ten Tuesday topic… buuut it’s not this week’s, so this is a fail 😉 Ah well, pish posh, who cares about rules when it comes to sharing great books? I certainly don’t. And I really wanted to do this topic, because there’s nothing I like more than talking about AWESOMENESS (aside from griping about suckfests… moving on…). Besides, it was this or talk about *nothing* for Nothing Day (yes that’s a thing to, happy Nothing Day everybody!)

Anyhoo enough rambling- gonna try to not repeat myself too much from my best of 2017 post, although it can’t be entirely avoided 😉 Here’s some amazing authors I discovered in 2017:

solzhenitsyn

Solzhenitsyn– I’m beginning to sound a lot like a broken record when it comes to the Gulag, but that’s not the only book I read by Solzhenitsyn last year. I started off my journey into the Siberian wastes with One Day in the Life of Ivan Densovitch and that motivated me to continue reading. Speaking of Siberia…

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Ruta Sepetys– WOW what a writer. Of the two books I read by her last year, I preferred Salt to the Sea to Between Shades of Grey, but either way her stories pulled me in and were impossible to forget. There’s no question that I want to read more by this author.

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Agatha Christie– two things happened on my blog last year relating to Christie: 1) I announced that I had zero intention of reading her work and… 2) I actually read her work. I have since seen the error of my ways and plan to read more soon 😉

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S. K. Tremayne– gosh Tremayne reminded me reignited my zest for thrillers… I have to read MORE!

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“Alan Partridge”– I read two books by “Alan Partridge” last year- I don’t think I’ve ever laughed at a book so much. It’s easy for me to say, considering that there are hilarious (yet totally mundane) asides on getting a car into gear in these books, that Steve Coogan could literally put out *anything* for this character and I’ll read it.

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Robin Hobb– it took me long enough but I finally read Assassin’s Apprentice last year! And as some of you may know, I was so blown away it that I ended up going a little crazy, reading both the Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies in one go… Yeah, it’s no wonder I got a bit Hobbed out by the end of my massive binge. Still, though my appetite may have been dampened temporarily, I want to *jump right back up on that horse* and continue reading in 2018!

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Mark Lawrence– I read a very respectable 4 books by Lawrence last year and they were all fantastic fantasies- now I want MORE… Lucky for me Grey Sister is out this year 😉

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Ed McDonald– Blackwing was certainly one of the best debuts I’ve ever read- WOWEE- you can make a safe bet that I want to read the next one!

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Katherine Arden– what list about 2017 would be complete without Arden? You all know by now how much I loved Bear and the Nightingale (if not, hi nice to meet you, I’m the Orangutan Librarian and I loved this book). So naturally I’ll be reading and reviewing Girl in the Tower soon- watch this space.

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Eowyn Ivey– gorgeously atmospheric and beautifully written- I adored how this was a fairytale retelling woven together with a historical setting. I will definitely have an eye out for her other books!

Phew- managed to only repeat 3 from my top ten! Have you read any of these? What’s the best author you discovered in 2017? Let me know in the comments!

Bear and the Nightingale was *MAGICAL*

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I am in love. Head over heels, butterflies in the stomach kind of love. Once in a blue moon I come across a book where everything just clicks for me- and that’s it, I’m a goner. Honestly, I read this last month and tried to compose myself before writing the review- yet I’m clearly still not composed.

I don’t think I’ve read a book like this in years. To say it captured the essence of fairy tales would be an understatement. By the miraculous stroke of her pen, Arden not only transported me back in time to the historical landscape of Russia, but also to a child-like state of wonder. Reading this was more than a window into another world- while I was reading I knew what it is to hold magic in my hands.

Some books feel like they take on a life of their own. They’re so atmospheric and absorbing that it reminds you why you love reading in the first place. This was one such book. The style was both rare and a rediscovery of that charming, youthful feel I used to get when I read books by the like of Ibbotson, Funke and Zafon. It was both utterly unique and reminiscent of childhood favourites for me.

And yet this was so clearly a fairy tale for adults. Nothing is sickly sweet or over the top- in the words of Goldilocks, it was “just right”. From beginning to end, I was more than a little wrapped up in the snowy-blanket warmth of Arden’s exquisite storytelling. I was transfixed as, layer upon layer, the storm brewed on the pages, enchantment unfolding behind a glassy veneer of reality, until finally it broke in an epic conclusion. An ending which, thankfully, was both satisfying and opened the door for potential sequels (the second book is coming out this winter!)

This is without a doubt one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. So if this sounds good to you, then go away, read it, and thank me later 😉

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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I don’t know where I first came across this book, but I do want to thank Danielle for her spectacular review which prompted me to finally pick get a copy! And if you’re like me and already obsessed with this, I also recommend the great interview/review over on Mischenko’s site and Liis’ view on it as an Estonian.

And that’s all for now. Have you read this? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!