Once and Future Witches was Beautifully Crafted!

***I SOLD MY SOUL TO NETGALLEY FOR THIS COPY AND WOULD DO IT AGAIN***

***Received from Netgalley in exchange for review- but the blessings I will bestow on this beauteous offering are all from me***

once and future witchesCast your mind back to January. Before we all fell under the corona curse, I was blessed to read a wondrous book called Ten Thousand Doors of January. Such was the enchantment of the narrative, I was sure that no other book I read this year could surpass it… Until now. For, Once and Future Witches has utterly bewitched me.

Before we get started, I must confess I lost my notes for this review. No matter how much I hunted for them, those devilish scribblings couldn’t be found. Never fear, however- I shall scry my memories to tell you why you should read this wickedly clever twist on Arthurian legends and fairy tales. With legendary skill, Harrow roots this story in the oral tradition, telling of ancient tales resurrected and revived into something new (actually, given all that, it’s kind of fitting that my notes vanished into the aether).

Masterfully written, this has the kind of charm you cannot put into words. Dressed in darkness and showing off its witchy wares, this captivated me from the start. Weaving its magic steadily through the pages, I was cloaked in its mystifying atmosphere. Hinting at history, yet entirely made up- this ties threads together that don’t really belong in one story. It shouldn’t really work- and yet, as if by magic, they all blend together in a remarkable tapestry. In fact, the story snaps so many conventions in its crooked fingers, pointing us in a dazzling new direction… which I suppose just shows that some rules were made to be broken 😉

witchy monkey2I’ll admit, I’ve always had a soft spot for witches. Unconventional and with pinch of dubious intent, they feed my need for anti-heroines. And these were no exception! They weren’t your average “good girls” nor were they cackling caricatures- they were entirely fleshed out as individuals. Mirroring archetypes, they came to life thanks to their distinct personalities, steady development and most importantly their relationship with each other. Beyond the romances and friendships, my favourite part of this story was how it explored the complexities of sisterhood. Evil brews throughout the story- yet they learn to stand together in the face of it.

The plot was quite something to behold. For a spell, I did wonder where the story was heading. But ultimately, it comes full circle, setting a blaze of drama and thrilling me to the core. And there are real costs at the end of it. The results were haunting; it left a shadow in its wake.

Stories are layered atop of stories here. While some of these will be familiar, others are utterly unique. Covering the woman’s suffrage movement and more, this delved into areas I usually prefer not to see in my fiction… but given Harrow’s talent I can’t pretend to have been all that bothered by it. Whether I agreed with every bit of its themes or not, this was a tale that held a great deal of power. It enthralled me even in its gloom. It conjured more beauty than I ever could have imagined possible. And you really can’t ask for more than that.

Rating: one eye of newt, three dead mans toes, some serpents teeth…

Just kidding: 5/5 bananas of course!

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So, have you read either of Alix E Harrow’s books? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

Aurora Burning *BREATHED FIRE* Into the Series!

aurora burningHoly Cake! That was incredible! After the *astronomical* success of Aurora Rising, I had a feeling I would enjoy the heck out of the sequel… but I had no idea what a truly wild ride it would be. This launched the series into a whole other dimension of awesome!

A blast from the opening, we were given a quick recap from friendly robot Magellan and then we have lift off. Thrown right back into the action from the off! This time around, listening to the audiobook, I found the pace and tone even more intense.

Because what a plot that was! Tumbling, turning, freewheeling through space! This gives “space opera” a terrific new timbre. I loved that it was a more fantastical kind of sci fi- it’s the kind that really appeals to me! More than that, these two authors really know how to take traditional tropes and give them a fun twist.

Speaking of twists, this had more than a few hidden in its folds. While I guessed one, it was such an excellent plot point that the anticipation of its reveal made it all the more exciting. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop… and when it did it changed everything. So much so that I didn’t see all the other shocks coming. Just as I thought I was in safe territory, everything exploded. Dramageddon hit in ways I couldn’t believe!

Suffice to say, it was an ending to die for… And yet, for all that, it’s a surprisingly human story. Full of budding romances and deep relationships. Journeying through trauma and grief in a heartfelt way. Watching the characters grow in beautiful ways.

… And I cannot wait to see where they all end up! I LOVE the direction they took with this sequel- it certainly builds on everything that came before. By far one of the most fun reads of the year!

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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So, have you tried the Aurora Cycle? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

Monthly Monkey Mini Reviews – October 2020!

Hello all! I hope you all had a good month! Mine was… a bit up and down if I’m honest. I had some work-related-stress-that-is-now-resolved, but thankfully also managed to chill out…

Okay, maybe not the chilled, but I did get to go to the seaside for the day… 

And rather randomly, I went to Stonehenge as well…

So, I guess it’s swings and roundabouts! Here’s hoping Spooktober’s calmer than its name, because I think we’ve all had enough scares this year! 😉 But on that subject, I do have a couple of chilling things to review first…

Mr Jones- this is just a quick recommendation for people interested in historical movies. It’s a wonderfully shot, horrifying revelation of the Ukrainian Holodomor. I will say a quick warning that it is very graphic and disturbing– but worth watching if you can manage it.

Prussian Nights– sticking to dark and depressing (for the time being), this was actually darker and more depressing than I thought it would be. Told from the perspective of the Russians entering Prussia during WWI, this details their crimes, remarkably from the perspective of the war criminals themselves. For me, that makes it all the more worth reading if you’re at all interested in moral psychology and understand the importance of getting inside the heads of people that do evil things… If this is not a topic of interest, skip it. While not as hard to read as something like Ordinary Men, it’s not an easy read. I also found the verse-form, while making it more digestible, meant that it felt a bit jarring with the content.

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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House of Blood and Earth– I said a few months ago I thought I’d outgrown this author… and unfortunately I was right. While I did like the opening and found the world somewhat intriguing, I never quite clicked with it. I also didn’t enjoy the romance- it was less Feyre/Rhys and more Aelin/Rowan. It didn’t help that the story was mostly a straightforward murder mystery crossed with a paranormal romance- which isn’t the kind of story I gravitate towards. Despite the setting, it felt a little too mundane at times. To be fair, there were some killer plot twists and I can see why people liked it… just not my thing.

Rating: 3/5 bananas

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Blood and Honey– I’m afraid I was disappointed with this one too! It started off so sweet and tangy that I lapped it up, devouring page after page, until all I had to do was gulp down the final chapters. Unfortunately the joy had soured by that point, for the simple reason that the story didn’t need to exist. This is what happens when a story that could’ve been told in one book turns into two… and then three! Not only did this remind me of YA series of yesteryear, with its bloated middle book syndrome, the ending also left a bitter taste. Highlight for spoiler: we literally have the evil mother cackling madly and saying “this isn’t over!” as she leaves. I also wasn’t a fan of the gods intervening. It didn’t help that the plot was meandering and the romance already resolved in the first book- there just didn’t feel like there was as much at stake here… not when every single threat is resolved at the turn of a few pages. Other than the speed of the story, I’ve still no clue why this is marketed as YA, because the characters come across as being in their twenties… and very modern twenty year olds at that. It’s not the worst book in the world- but I can’t say I’d recommend it.

Rating: 3/5 bananas

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The Switch– I went into this with pretty low expectations, as everyone seems to think this isn’t as good as the author’s debut Flatshare… and yet somehow I thought it was even better? As fun as Flatshare was, I think this had the some even sweeter notes. The grandma-granddaughter switch made for just as entertaining a setup and the story adorably charming. I didn’t realise quite how invested I would get in the twilit romance- which was partly thanks to the fact that Grandma Eileen was basically the best character. I did really like how this dealt with deeper topics and found its resolution touching.  This was the definition of *FEEL GOOD*- which was just the ticket!

Rating: 4½ /5 bananas

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How To Stop Time– speaking of lovely stories- it looks like I’ve discovered Matt Haig! (I know, me and every other person on the planet 😉). There was a lot to love about this. For a book about stopping time, it sure whizzed by fast. I loved the multi-timeline structure- I was impressed by how well it flowed and how much it packed in. I felt a little bit mixed about the characterisation. The main character’s melancholic tone added some melodrama. And I wasn’t a fan of him meeting famous people throughout history- especially writers- as it felt like they all adopted Haig’s voice (bearing in mind, they left behind quite a lot of work, so we have a vague sense of what they might sound like/believe/say). It threw me out of the story, because I never bought it was them. And while I felt there could have been more time developing the second romance, I did like the first romantic storyline and liked the way it handled the father-daughter relationship. Ultimately, I had a great time with this quick read.

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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The Humans– I liked this even more than How to Stop Time. This is the story of an alien falling in love with humanity. It kept making me laugh out loud- which is rare for a book! Haig had such a clever use of voice here, I couldn’t help but sympathise with the narrator… even though logically there were reasons I shouldn’t have. That’s his genius. I also loved the characterisation here- even seemingly insignificant side characters gave the story so much heart. I can safely say this was *out of this world* 😉

Rating: 4½/5 bananas

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The Other Woman– the author pulled a fast one on me with this one… and I loved her for it! That’s exactly what I want out of a thriller! What makes it even better is I had all the clues at the very beginning and guessed the direction it was going… only to be completely blindsided. Jones certainly knows how to toy with her readers. I’m not going to say anymore than that (thrillers are so hard to review without spoilers!) other than to say give it a spin if you fancy a quick romp.

Rating: 4½/5 bananas

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That’s all for now! Have you read any of these? Did you like them? Let me know in the comments! And I hope you all had a good month!

My Battle with War of Art

war of artOof this was a painful one for me to read. If you liked it, then more power to you, but for me this was an uphill battle from the start. Look elsewhere for positive reviews, because I’m going to go all in on this one. I don’t want any fights to break out, I just found this book ridiculous. Something (well a lot of things) really rubbed me the wrong way here.

My issues started with the childish personification of “Resistance”. And, no, that’s not my capitalisation. The author does that to make it seem Oh So Very Important. To me, this idea that “People have Resistance” didn’t come across as especially profound. It just seemed like a rather juvenile way to say sometimes people procrastinate. Well, that’s how the idea starts out- it gets a lot more ludicrous.

Within a short amount of time, the author proceeds to call *EVERYTHING* “Resistance”. If you’re out walking your dog, that’s Resistance. If you’re having sex, that’s Resistance. And if you’ve got a mental health problem, well guess what? That’s Resistance. Thankfully he does acknowledge some mental health problems are real (and not marketing ploys like other issues)… buuut also calls them Resistance. Great expert analysis there.

Who am I kidding? This guy knows jack shit about anything. Look, I get it, self help books tend to be light on facts- however this takes it to a whole other level! He plucks statistics like “70% of doctors think there’s nothing wrong with their patients” out of his arse and I’m over here thinking WORKS CITED?! I mean, even if that wasn’t an opinion, I’d like to know where he got that figure from. I also don’t think opinions should be stated as facts by the way- for instance I get that he hates critics, yet sadly for him it’s not true that no one successful ever critiques anything. Still, my favourite of his hilariously wrong “facts” was this:

“You know, Hitler wanted to be an artist. At eighteen he took his inheritance, seven hundred kronen, and moved to Vienna to live and study. He applied to the Academy of Fine Arts and later to the School of Architecture. Ever see one of his paintings? Neither have I. Resistance beat him. Call it an overstatement, but I’ll say it anyway: it was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas.”

I hate to burst his bubble about Hitler, but a quick google search could have corrected this assumption. Hitler painted plenty- although, as is typical of narcissists, they’re not up to much. Perhaps- and you can call this an overstatement if you like- if Hitler hadn’t been a raging psychopathic narcissist he wouldn’t have started WWII. Or maybe Hitler was resisting his Resistance and following his dreams- after all, according to this author, foisting your opinions onto the world could also be living up to your potential 😉 And if all that sounds silly, that’s because it is. I’m taking this book as seriously as that paragraph deserves.

What makes this even more ludicrous is how so often the ideas put forward are later contradicted. For instance, you know how I mentioned that he called sex Resistance? Well you can also be Resisting having sex (so I suppose that’s resisting resistance?) Early in the book, he says not to worry about what you’re writing, as long as you do it (BTW that’s how you end up with books like this in the world). He feeds into one of my pet peeves of favouring money over fulfilment; he talks about obsessing with craft over writing… BUT THEN decides to go full-on kooky in the final part. Look, I may not agree with being purely practical, yet you can hardly call people precious when you invoke the Muses. That’s about as flighty an idea as you can get. It’s just so unbelievably hypocritical.

Would I say there’s nothing of value in it? No, but frankly I don’t want to go digging through mud, looking for the occasional (cheap) gem. Even if I agreed with one or two of the ideas (like not giving into victimhood and continuing on after success) I’m afraid it’s too little, too late. Frankly, if I’d never heard those ideas before (which, obviously I have cos they’re not very original) I wouldn’t have taken them to heart coming from this terrible book.

I found this so lazy that I’d guess it was far more effort for me to read than it was to write. It was grandiose and pompous, while at the same time being utterly mundane. It may not be the worst book in the world, but I can’t give it more than:

A banana peel!

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Yeah that was a little harsh- I’m sorry! Some books just wind me up! Have you read this? Did you get more out of it than me? Do you (still) plan to read it after my review? Let me know in the comments!

One by One Piqued My Interest

***Received from Netgalley in exchange for review, but the upbeat ramblings are all me!***

one by oneBeing stranded in the snow-covered alps with a group of people that hate each other sounds pretty close to the ninth circle of hell. No spoilers ahead, but that’s pretty much the vibe of Ruth Ware’s spin on And Then There Were None. To give you a quick snapshot, One by One gives us an inside peek at a tech company retreat that goes horribly wrong. And as you might suspect from a book with such strong Agatha Christie vibes, this has some pretty wild twists and turns.

Isolated in at a ski chalet after an avalanche, it’s the perfect setting for a claustrophobic thriller. Even though I was reading it in the summer heat, I caught chills. The atmosphere totally transported me. I was locked into these character’s heads, not knowing who I could trust and where it was leading.

Very quickly, the story freefalls Off-Piste. People start dying. There’s real tension as the pace picks up and the tenuously forged alliances go downhill. The plot plummets over the edge as it races towards a heartstopping conclusion.

Each of the POVs worked for me. They led me down one path, only for me to discover I’d been led astray. My allegiances shifted with the narrative. I loved snooping inside the main character’s heads and thought their perspectives were fascinating. One by one, their secrets get revealed… until there were none.

Speaking of nosing into other people’s business, that’s along the lines of what this tech company does, listening to celebs music taste along with them. While I didn’t relate to this social media aspect completely (I’m much too uncool for all that) I have to admit it added a salaciously soapy dimension. I couldn’t look away.

Ultimately, this ticked so many boxes for me. Thumbs up!

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Rating: 4½/5 bananas

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And that’s all I’m going to give you! Do you plan on reading One by One? Have you tried Ruth Ware before? Let me know in the comments!

Choice Words About Chosen Ones

chosen onesWell, this was a little bit disappointing. When I first heard the concept, I was psyched: I loved the idea of chosen ones in their post-saving-the-world days. It was a great idea and I was hearing promising things. And I had high hopes as I flew through the initial pages… yet sadly that fell a little flat by the end.

When the book first got going, I thought wow Veronica Roth has really matured from her Divergent days. We were given some articles to hint at characters and give us a clue about the backstory. I especially liked how these snapshots contrasted the protagonist’s actual perception and issues with PTSD. I thought it drew on the idea of trauma and its consequences really well.

But then that kind of disappeared into thin air. The story began to be about the death of one of the Chosen Ones and stopped trying to detangle the concept of life after heroics. It just dragged through a mystery and adventure that I couldn’t bring myself to care about. I was surprised (and a little let down) to find it was more about defeating a Big Bad than anything else. It just felt somewhat generic and the reveals were underwhelming.

Not only was I disappointed with the direction of the plot, I also didn’t care for the characters. Matt didn’t have much depth. Nor did the other male lead (whose name I’ve forgotten). And for all Sloan’s prickliness, she was pretty flat. I never found her likeable enough to get invested in her struggles. I also felt like the structure of “oh they saved the day before” only served to make me feel like I’d missed all the good bits in their development.

So, no, I’m not going to leap off a roof and jump on the hype train for this one. It wasn’t nearly as interesting as I thought it would be and it certainly wasn’t memorable (which hopefully explains all the gaps in my review 😉)

Rating: 2½/5 bananas

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So, have you read this? What did you think of it? Did you like it more than me? Let me know in the comments!

Monthly Monkey Mini Reviews – Swiftly Moving into September!

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Hello all! I’m coming out of a bit of a tumultuous month- and not just cos of the scorching heatwaves one minute and thunderstorms the next. Personally, I thought the universe was over-relying on pathetic fallacy to write the story of my life right now 😉 That said, some cool things happened, like getting to see my brother for the first time in a year and a half 😊 In terms of reading, I’ve been mercilessly DNFing (which I’ll talk about more soon!) Yet, even with all those duds, I did still manage to read some good stuff and made it to 1500 books read on Goodreads!!! And also, to top it all off, this happened:

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I’m so glad to have made it this far and thankful to everyone that’s stuck with me!

Alrighty then, let’s get to talking about what TV and books I’ve been into this month.

 

Jane the Virgin- seasons 1-4– this is basically all I’ve been watching this last month. I started in season 2, cos I’d already watched (and enjoyed) the first season about a year ago. While I haven’t finished it, I’ve no doubt I’ll love where it ends up, cos this is just the tonic for a overly dramatic 2020! And speaking of drama, this has it all. Inspired by a lot of South American tv tropes, this packs in action, romance, family themes, cultural elements and a little bit of humour. Just like a telenovela, this makes me gasp one minute and cry the next. Admittedly, I don’t normally love all the tropes (highlight for spoilery examples: amnesia and back from the dead in particular). And this even centres on a love triangle for crying out loud! BUT this is one of those times when I can make an exception, because in each case, I totally get why the trope is there. They’re partly used to pay homage to the fun genre of telenovelas, partly to deconstruct them. Plus, everything is geared to forcing Jane to choose between the two men (whilst putting her in a position where it was in no way her fault that she had to choose in the first place!) Basically, it’s not just fun, it’s clever. I also love the characters- from Jane as the main character to the slightly antagonistic Petra. Even Mateo has a big role to play. And, a bit random, but I tried (and failed) to learn some Spanish a while back and it’s been so great for me to just listen to the language to see what I can pick up. Highly recommend this if you just need something to kick back and relax with!

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Crave– speaking of a bit of fun, I wasn’t exactly craving a vampire book, but I did feel like some paranormal YA. Plus, the sassy voice promised a little bit of bite and I thought why the heck not. In some ways I was rewarded for my optimism, flying through this faster than a vampire bat could launch itself at an unsuspecting victim. I liked how it didn’t take itself too seriously and how there was a more logical structure to the story than Twilight. Still, on the subject of Twilight, it did mirror that infamously sparkly tome in a way that wasn’t very subtle, so I could see the reflection a little too clearly. And I really wasn’t sold on the corny romance. Nonetheless, there was an interesting final twist that had me somewhat intrigued. Not sure if it’ll be enough to get me to read more- maybe if I’m feeling like the living dead again when it comes out 😉

Rating: 3/5 bananas

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Beach Read– what a fun beachy read! The story of two rival writers in a small town, this doesn’t just deliver an entertaining hate to love romance, it also ends up being a love letter to books and writing. I loved how this went from rivalry to romance at a delightful pace. And the chemistry *sizzled* off the page. I also liked how this handled the topic of grief, exploring how sometimes we just don’t know the people we love. This managed to deliver some heartbreaking moments and put a big smile on my face. For me, it was a beautiful example of how to balance a bright, bubbly read with just a hint of the blues. Dare I say it’s the perfect beach read, with or without the beach!

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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Sharp Objects– I’m going to try and not be too cutting for this one, because there were parts I liked. It was sharply written, yet the plot was blunted by being a little too obvious. In this small-town secrets story, a reporter returns to her home town to investigate the murders of two little girls. There were a couple of good twists a long the way and an especially excellent final reveal. It made sense of the earlier plotholes. However, I did feel like there could have been more of a punch to the final reveal. And, another thing that stopped me loving this on a personal level was that of the descriptions made me a little queasy (I forgot quite how graphic Flynn can be). I do recommend it, just perhaps don’t expect it to be too edgy.

Rating: 3½/5 bananas

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Weekend Away– this would have simply been an enjoyable thriller that took me on a quick spin around Lisbon… if not for the creepy last second twist that I ended up thinking about for days after. There’s a lot to explore here. I liked the basic premise of two friends going on a weekend away and only one comes back (*dun dun dun*). What made this especially good was the execution. The characters and their relationships are slowly revealed a bit at a time. I especially liked how it built up the profile of the antagonists and the threat they posed. One thing I wasn’t keen on was how the main character was pretty clueless- but it did make sense and helped the plot progress. The best thing was that there was enough drama to keep me flying through the pages. Ultimately, it was exciting and suspenseful with an explosive finale.

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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the flight

The Flight– this was slightly more of a letdown. It’s not a bad book by any means, it just didn’t wow me. It didn’t have that compulsive quality that keeps me whizzing through the pages. It didn’t take me to new heights because it was a little too pedestrian. The biggest issue for me was that it was more interested in telling us that domestic abuse is wrong than telling an interesting story. Frankly, I thought it was preaching to the choir. It didn’t help that the pacing felt a little bumpy- jolting between a quick takeoff and a rather slow middle where we were told one of the dual perspective’s backstory. It often vacillated between far-fetched and mundane. I also didn’t think it stuck the landing- while I quite liked how it linked up, it didn’t exactly blow my mind. Though it was a solid book, I felt like this just didn’t fulfil what I look for in a thriller. I need something a bit pacier and with enough intrigue to send me into a tailspin.

Rating: 3/5 bananas

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That’s all for now! Have you read any of these? Did you like them? Let me know in the comments! And I hope you all had a good month!

Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Wasn’t Quite Harmonious, But Held a Tune!

Well this is an odd one to talk about.

ballads of songbirds and snakesAs many of you will know, this is the Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is the Hunger Games prequel, focusing on (future evil President) Coriolanus Snow’s role in the tenth Hunger Games. As you can imagine, telling the story from the future baddie’s point of view caused a bit of a stir: would we lose his character in a bid for sympathy? Would this attempt to redeem an irredeemable character? I had my own reservations when I heard about it and was consequently less enthused to pick it up. And the verdict? Pretty mixed if I’m honest.

Despite all the pre-publication controversy, there was no need to fear him being turned into a hero. I read him as a straight-up anti-hero. He’s just as unsympathetic as a protagonist as he was an antagonist… which isn’t necessarily a good thing. Mildly sociopathic and manipulative, he’s the same old Snow we know and hate. As much as it was a bold choice to tell the story from Snow’s perspective, I’m not sure it paid off. No matter what hardship he was facing, I found it impossible to relate or root for him (in fact, I just kept thinking he kinda deserved it).

Still there were parts I really did like- especially how it showed the games being developed. When I heard it was about the tenth hunger games, I had my reservations, because I thought that it would just be a rehash of the games Suzanne Collins had already written about. Not so. At this stage of Panem, with the Capital and Districts very much in the shadow of the civil war, the games (and the concepts behind them) are a work in progress. It’s not just interesting to see Snow play his part, it’s fascinating to see the theories that go into it (not sure it makes a whole lot of sense to have your underclass in a constant state of conflict rather than making them think they’re at peace, but I’ll let that slide, cos I don’t think evil masterminds always come up with the best policies for running a country). I did like that the timeline meant it raised moral questions for the organisers- like the fact that this was the children of rebels rather than rebels themselves. I also liked how it hinted, rather than showed, future developments. The subtler nods to the original made it feel more like its own story. The one part I wasn’t super keen on was how only 2/3 of the book were about the games- it just felt a little jarring when that stopped.

That said, even with the issues I had with the structure, the writing was strong. And I also liked the side characters. Though I wasn’t much taken my Coriolanus or the not-very-fleshed-out Tigress, Lucy Gray had an edge to her and I loved the Grandma’am.

All these elements left me satisfied enough with this Hunger Games prequel, so I’ll feed it:

Rating: 3½/5 bananas

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Have you read Ballads of Songbirds and Snakes? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

Normal People Tried Too Hard to be Special

normal peopleThis is kinda awkward because I completely forgot that I said I’d never read this… But when I saw it was available on Overdrive, I didn’t remember that and curiosity got the better of me. Whoops. And the worst part about that is, as I predicted, it wasn’t for me. Initially I was quite struck with the story and got really into reading it- sadly by the end I thought it was a pretty pedestrian literary-prize-bait. Go figure.

In fairness, I did find the opening chapters quite promising. I thought the way it handled bullying and captured feelings of isolation was realistic. And I could see why the two lovebirds couldn’t just be with each other… at first. The problem was the story got very samey after a while. I normally don’t have a problem with the miscommunication trope, but it was the constant mix-ups that started to grate on my nerves and make me question why can’t you just act like normal people? Why do you have to bring other people into your drama?

In that vein, it seemed like part of their “specialness” was that they were dysfunctional. Because as the title suggests, these aren’t Normal People. No, they’re the most *special snowflakes*: Marianne is “not like other girls” and Connell is “not like other boys”. Although, they’re both pretty much like every pretentious person with a humanities degree I’ve ever met. They’re the kind of people you feel bad for, cos no one likes them, but you also secretly get why, cos you don’t like them either. They’re the kind of insufferably pretentious people that get to call work a “social construct”, cos for them the concept is demeaning (and they have the luxury of being picky). And they’re the kind of egotistical people that never have to recognise they’re the ones in the wrong.

That’s the most infuriating part about the book. Both of the leads have pretty flat character arcs, never truly having to experience failure and brushing off most criticism (just to make the same mistakes). And amazingly, even though they constantly cheat on people and live only for themselves, it’s the world around them that’s messed up. Unlike the best stories with an unchanging protagonist, no one in the story is inspired to change- because who would be inspired by them? This lack of growth seems rooted in Rousseau’s “people are born perfect” philosophy aka society is the corrupting factor (conveniently alleviating culpability for terrible people). Which brings me onto my next problem…

The damn politics. Okay, we all know I’m biased and hate politics randomly inserted into my fiction… but guys this was on a whole new level of stupid. Cos these characters that are the kind of idiots people that think dictators like Castro are cool. Nothing says progressive like firing squads, amiright? 😉 Also, Connell is casually a Marxist, because obviously we need more positive representations of Marxists in the media (to wipe out all the blood they’ve spilled in the last 100 years). We wouldn’t want anyone getting the wrong idea (that they’re just as murderous as Nazis). Sorry, not in the mood to be a Marxist-apologist right now. Not with the harm that this ideology *continues* to do. On the funnier side, this also had the Trinity College free speech society actually inviting a Neo Nazi Holocaust denier- which was such a strawman way of dismissing people who are pro-free speech that I found it kinda amusing.

conversations with friendOn the plus side, I did think this was infinitely more readable than Conversations With Friendsyet had a lot of the same pitfalls. There’s still no speech marks and no reason for it. I suppose if Rooney used them, the writing would lose its “specialness”, and we don’t want that. Because there’s not much else to report on the writing front. As with her other work, I didn’t get much of a sense of place, just felt like I was told we were in Ireland. On that note, Rooney did explore telling in an interesting way, having us find out Connell has depression from his filling in a form… which is different I guess (though not necessarily good).

fifty shades of greyI wasn’t impressed with much else in the book. As I mentioned, the main characters are *special*, so that kinda makes everyone else surplus to requirements (because, don’t you know, when you’re the hero, the rest of the world just revolves around you?) Even the subplot about an old friend’s suicide is there to make you feel sorry for the main character (the guy that died and his family are only visible in the periphery). Worse still, subplots like domestic abuse were explored in a superficial way with cartoonish perpetrators. I also hated the fact it was linked to sadomasochism (because apparently we’ve not moved past Fifty Shades of Grey). I also thought that Lorraine was barely sketched out- ironically for a leftist work, she is merely identifiable as a mother and cleaning lady. How forward-thinking.

Much like the book, I’m going to end on a lacklustre note, not with a bang, but the whimper of a deflating balloon. It was better for me than Conversations with Friends– however not by much.

Rating: 2/5 bananas

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So, dare I ask, have you read Rooney’s work? Did you enjoy it? Do you have different perspective? Let me know in the comments either way!

Monthly Monkey Mini Reviews – ahh it’s August 2020!

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Hello all! Last month was a little bit better (by 2020 standards 😉)- I’m happier being out of lockdown here in the UK and glad to say I got out a little more.

orangutan in the great outdoors

Plus, there’s always yoga to keep me more positive 😊

orangutan yoga

One thing I did learn is if I say I’m taking a hiatus, I need to actually do it! (but what are plans this year, amiright?!) So I didn’t take a proper break, I just got worse at blogging- whoops!

Anyway, as much as I’ve been enjoying talking TV these last few months, I didn’t watch anything in July except season 3 of the Crown… which admittedly was fun for all the wrong reasons. I mean, I enjoy the “history”, but wow, this season took some serious liberties. Case and point calling the ex-king, who was a rather famous fan of Hitler and the Nazis, a progressive?! I wouldn’t get so excited about him meeting with Emperor Hirohito either (a questionable historical figure who at the very least signed off on allying with, you guessed it, Nazis). So weird to glorify a man who was friends with fascists late into his life. My guess is the whole look-at-royals-marrying-for-love subplot (even if Wallis Simpson was a Nazi sympathiser) was paralleled with Charles/Camilla so that we don’t blame them for their affair. It also got a chuckle out of me when Wilson (made to mirror Jeremy Corbyn) was a leftie (lol). But whatever, the show is royalist propaganda… so what can we expect? (I’m just being a grouchy Brit, it was still very entertaining).

What MADE MY MONTH was Taylor Swift’s surprise album drop: Folklore! I didn’t love Lover, but thank goodness for Folklore. This was just what I (and millions of fans around the world) needed. It offers sensational storytelling, lovely lyrics and some much-needed escapism. I could go on forever and always about how Swift took it to another level here and how I was enchanted by every. single. song- but for now I’ll just say that this is what I’m going to be listening to well into august (also my god I think I have new favourite Swift songs and this might even knock 1989 off its perch of best album!)

alice network

The Alice Network– yes, after reading Huntress last month, I had to hunt down another of Quinn’s books and fortunately I was able to instantly connect with the Alice Network (and no I won’t apologise for terrible puns 😉). It was, as you can imagine, another brilliant historical fiction. Well researched, it brought two eras of history to life, this time focusing on WW1 and the aftermath of WW2. Quinn had excellent control of both the timeline jumps and the multiple povs, creating a compelling story I couldn’t stop reading. The one issue I had was that I personally wasn’t as keen on Charlie as a main character and so didn’t enjoy her perspective as much or fully buy into her romance. However, it was still a very satisfying read. Tense in all the right places and with a brilliant finale, Alice Network delivers a fast paced, gut-wrenching spy novel.

Rating: 4½/5 bananas

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loveboat taipei

Love Taipei– okay, I initially didn’t get why this was so underhyped, but by the time I got to the end, I understood. This had some seriously dodgy elements… and yet I still kinda liked it? I know, I know- that makes no sense, just hear me out (or don’t- I wouldn’t blame you 😉). This had a love square and so-called friendship that’s MESSY af- but it was also very immersive and I completely believed the characters were real. Especially the main character, who was torn between what she wanted and what her family wanted for her. I thought it had a strong opening, concept and felt connected enough that I went along for the ride (however bad it got). Not sure I’d actively recommend it, but I’ll admit I enjoyed most of it (though perhaps not super into the how the romance panned out).

Rating: 3½/5 bananas

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fountains of silence

Fountains of Silence– I had such mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, the crimes that occurred in Franco’s Spain is an important story that needs to be told. Plus, some of the perspectives were powerful- particularly Puri’s. On the other hand, it wasn’t the smoothest read. As much as I pushed through it pretty fast, it could be a struggle, because I wasn’t interested by all the minutiae and stories. A lot could’ve been cut for a punchier plot. The ending, especially, could’ve been tighter. And, while there was some strong writing, this was far from Sepetys best. It didn’t sparkle enough for me and I only got a hint of the Spanish setting. In short, I think it’s good this book exists, I just think it could’ve been better.

Rating: 3½/5 bananas

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nevermoor

Nevermoor- The Trials of Morrigan Crow– people have been raving about Nevermoor for years- and I get why! What a clever, entertaining and funny work. The concept and world building were wunderful. The characters were really well drawn- there wasn’t a single case of a poorly sketched figure in sight- they all felt like real people. And wow that ending is basically the best! There wasn’t a single thing I didn’t like. I am so excited to continue on with this story and I think this is the most *perfect* book for kids since Harry Potter!

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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his and hers

His and Hers– this is a hard one to talk about, but an easy one to recommend. I loved how this thriller handled dual povs- it was so well done and absolutely added to the story. Flicking between Her perspective (an alcoholic, out of work TV presenter) and His (her detective ex-husband) we come face to face with a serial killer, as both are implicated in a spate of killings. As with all the best thrillers, this had plenty of “oh shit” and “wtf” moments. This pacey page turner delivers all the twists and turns. While I suspected some of them, there were many parts I wasn’t expecting. Most importantly, I had no idea whose story to trust. I did have some lingering questions, yet ultimately this really packed a punch.

Rating: 4½/5 bananas

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who did you tell

Who Did You Tell?– this was another solid thriller, featuring sordid secrets and a stalker. Again, I didn’t know how much of the narration to believe, with the focus on a recovering alcoholic. I really liked how this addressed the topic of alcoholism- cos it didn’t just use it as a crutch for the story or a convenience for the narrative. No, here it was about the trauma that is involved in substance abuse. This gave it some emotionality that I often don’t feel in thrillers. I also liked the slow reveal and clean structure. Plus, the final reveal was fabulous.

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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clap when you land

Clap When You Land– written in verse, this was another flawless contemporary from Acevedo. I was prepared for heartbreak, but not for how heart-warming it would be. Focusing on the aftermath of a plane crash that reveals explosive truths, this was surprisingly action packed and I whizzed through it. It went beyond simply dealing with the topic of grief to take the story to even greater heights. The characters were not just shaken, but re-shaped by events. It was a beautiful journey and deserves all the applause. I’m really into every single one of this author’s releases!

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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the library book

The Library Book– as you can imagine, a book that talks about how wonderful libraries are is preaching to the choir. So, unsurprisingly, I rather enjoyed this book of brief essays and stories about the glory that is the library. Being an anthology, there were of course parts I liked more than others (my favourite being the deeply personal one from Stephen Fry). It was amazing to read about all the ways it can change lives and the amazing benefits it offers. I liked that it put flesh on the bones of library life. Also, I rather like the reminder that LIBRARIES ARE A PLACE YOU CAN GET FREE BOOKS!! So, no, it wasn’t a life-changing read, but it was a little affirming. And yes, I know that there’s another more famous book (watch this space).

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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That’s all for now! Have you read any of these? Did you like them? Let me know in the comments! And I hope you’re all staying safe and well!