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!

Monthly Monkey Mini Reviews – Let’s FREAK OUT cos it’s October 2021!

Hello all! Hope you had a great month! Mine was jam packed! And after all the lockdowns and everything we’ve been through over the last year, I have to admit I’m appreciating it more than ever. The little things like going to see friends, having meals out and going on day trips are a real treat. My favourite things this month include going to see LIVE MUSIC- which was especially great at the Blues Kitchen in Camden…

(I promised my sister I’d share a cartoon I did for her)

And I finally, finally got to return to the Royal Opera House to hear the Magic Flute 😊

Plus, I went the Warner Brothers Studio Tour, where I got to feel like a witch for the day. I don’t want to raise your expecto-patronums too much, but I enjoyed it even more than I thought I would. It was so good that I may do a post entirely dedicated to it!

Lastly, I went on trips to Bath and Windsor- which were both very unique (and cake filled) days 😊

The House in the Cerulean Sea– delightful and quirky and sweet, this romantic fantasy definitely gave me the warm fuzzies. I loved the writing style- it was simultaneously light and colourful. And the characters were really bright sparks. I especially loved the anti-Christ (and I’m not just saying this because I may never have this opportunity again 😉). I also really appreciated the story being told from Linus’ perspective, with an inspector’s eyes, introducing us to the world detail by detail. Through this, we uncover a whimsical world filled with wonder. We find a house that inspires imagination and a reality packed with magic. Slowly, as the story unfolds, he opens up to this beauty. For as much as he may seem like the boring middle manager type, we find he truly has a heart of gold and there is much more to him than a lot of people assume. It just goes to show you can’t judge by appearances- and I love that message! Of course, this book is a very obvious parable, which I don’t normally like, yet I was overcome by the cuteness factor here. I also did notice that this promised a fair amount of moral relativism… though it (thankfully) doesn’t deliver that in the plot. A joyous and romantic read!

Rating: 4/5 bananas

Rock Paper Scissors– I always enjoy Feeney’s books- and none more so than her latest. Showing that marriage is a dangerous game, this book is all about choices. Artfully using different points of view, the story follows Mr and Mrs Wright on their wedding anniversary. Yet, up in the Highlands of Scotland, something is about to go very, very wrong indeed. Genuinely tense and terrifying at times, the story had me gripped. And just when I thought I had all the answers, it turned at the last moment. Not everything was as it seemed on paper. I loved the sharp ending and I was very happy with how it all came together (well, as happy as you can be with a grizzly thriller). 

Rating: 4½/5 bananas

The Foundling– I really liked this book. It brought an area of history I knew nothing about to life. Once again, Stacey Halls focused on the plight of women in a meaningful and significant way. It was written with such kindness that I was unsurprised by the sweetness of the ending. I just find Hall’s books quite lovely. 

Rating: 4/5 bananas

Instant Karma– oof this wasn’t quite what I expected. I thought this was going to be about a girl who gets the power of delivering instant karma and that would be the central conflict of the story. INSTEAD, the story was centred on a biology project and an animal rescue centre… which would’ve been fine if that’s what I’d been expecting. To make matters worse, the instant karma, while a fun trick, didn’t really serve much purpose to the story. The actual plot was filled with twists that were easy to guess and not as exciting as the premise could have been. I felt like there was the outlines of two decent stories in this, but not enough to make one enjoyable book. It didn’t help that the most of the characters were insufferable- especially the protagonist. I barely understood her motivation throughout (I’ve never taken to characters who want to be successful purely for the sake of being successful) and found her lack of empathy infuriating at times. I also didn’t enjoy being in the company of some of the background characters- one of whom was painfully holier-than-thou. And even the nicest character- the love interest- does something utterly unforgivable. Not to mention the romance, which I didn’t see working out. While there were cute moments that made me smile, I couldn’t see what they had in common beyond raging hormones. Overall, this was fine, but didn’t possess the magic I hoped for. 

Rating: 2½/5 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!

Monthly Monkey Mini Reviews – Sleeping Through to September 2021!

Hello all! I don’t know about you, but August was a bit of a blur. I’ve been so busy that I couldn’t even say where the month went. What I can say for certain is that I enjoyed getting rained on in Rye 😉 Such a cute town, with quaint architecture and lovely places to eat! 😊

Okay, moving on to tv and movies… which I didn’t watch much- except rewatching Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (delightfully bonkers) and Cruella (delightfully wicked! Loved the aesthetic and music!)

Which just leaves me with the books I read!

Thursday Murder Club– this was just as fun as I thought it would be! Centred around a group of seniors who investigate cold cases, this quirky crime novel was absolutely delightful. What I most appreciated about it was how much heart it had. I liked the way that clues were used to tell individual stories, fleshing out characters, rather than simply moving the plot forward. One was so beautiful, it made me cry. I also liked how (almost) everything came together at the end, linking the ending to the beginning. A lot of fun and worth listening to on audio!  

Rating: 4½ bananas

Nightingale– Read this if you want your heart broken a million times over. This was a moving wonderfully done WW2 novel, focusing on the occupation in France. I listened to this on audiobook and was actually crying in the street because of it! And I didn’t even care! I just wanted my beloved characters to make it through to the end. The descriptions were so powerful and immersive, I felt like I was living their story. An absolutely beautiful read.

Rating: 5/5 bananas

A Kind of Spark– this MG book was simply perfect! The story of an autistic eleven-year-old who just wants to get justice for women who were persecuted in witch trials. In many ways, it reminded me of Wonder, telling kids okay to be different and stand out. I loved how this focused on friendship and family. A must-read for children and adults alike! 😊

Rating: 5/5 bananas

The Familiars– hubble bubble toil and trouble- this historical fiction had more than a hint of charm. Set in 1612 around the looming Witch Trials, I loved how this focused on sisterhood and friendship above all. I happily whizzed through the story, appreciating its subtlety. As the plot developed it became more tricksy and devilishly dramatic, until something had to give. The enchantingly ambiguous ending was brilliantly crafted and spelled my love for the book. I know I’m bound to read more from this author now!

Rating: 4½/5 bananas  

You and Me on Vacation– this one didn’t quite take off for me. While I found the concept fun- two friends who go on holiday together every year have one last chance to fall in love- I was mostly just irked by the storyline. I prefer rom coms where there’s actual obstacles and didn’t understand why these lovebirds weren’t together. I also didn’t like that Sarah- the male love interest’s on-again-off-again-ex- was made out to be the “bad guy”. She (rightly) gets upset that her bf goes on holiday with the female lead over and over again… and we as the reader know that said female lead has a crush on the bf and is constantly trying to break them up. So, it made it pretty hard to root for the female protagonist. Luckily, there’s no actual cheating, but it still felt ickily close to emotional cheating. And while it was good that the protagonist apologised for messing with this other girl’s relationship, it was resolved by Sarah saying “oh without you around as an obstacle we fell apart quicker”… which I didn’t like either. I’m just a bit tired of romances that let people off the hook for being shitty people just because. It tells me that they think love is simply wanting someone more (which seems more like entitlement and narcissism to me). It’s not a terrible book, but I felt like I needed a break from rom coms after.

Rating: 2½/5 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!