Monthly Monkey Mini Reviews – December 2020!

Okay, we’re moving into the final month of the year… and I’m ready to move on already. I ended up doing a project for work in November that just ate and ate and ate into my free time. Which means I don’t have a lot to report (other than I’m clearly stuttering through blogging right now). My plan at the moment is to end the year on a high… most likely just a sugar high 😉 Let’s not mince pies words, I’ve no idea what the last month of 2020 has in store, so I’m not going to promise anything! My only strategy is to keep calm and have a cookie…

Anyhoo, time to gorge ourselves on the great TV I’ve been watching…

The Queen’s Gambit this was the star of the month for me in TV! Like everyone with a Netflix account, I saw the advert, but didn’t think a drama about chess could hold my interest… shows what I know! I’m really glad I gave it a go, because this completely took me by surprise. Because it wasn’t just about chess (though that part was surprisingly amazing) it was an intense character study, focusing on the topic of obsession and addiction. All of which was captured in a way that made it feel like a real story. I loved the sumptuous setting, thought the lead’s performance was incredible and was impressed with the gripping storyline. I really recommend checking it out! (And all I want to know is whether the book is as good?!)

The Crown– well, I felt incredibly voyeuristic watching the Crown in season 4… which is my way of saying that, for all the inaccuracies, it was a strong season. Not just because the history around this is so fascinating, emotional and dramatic- but because there were some really good performances this year. I liked the take they had on Thatcher, thought showing Charles aging was a good idea and thought Diana was especially believable. The only episode I wasn’t keen on was the one about Fagan. I’m never a fan of turn-to-the-camera-and-preach moments, but this was made worse by the knowledge that the real Fagan couldn’t possibly have said all that since he was high on mushrooms, which messed with my suspension of disbelief. Other than that, it felt so realistic that a lot of the scenes this season made for uncomfortable watching. Yet, I can’t deny it was very addictive television.

The Plague– oof the subject matter for this one felt all too familiar. Okay, okay, we’re not dealing with the literal plague, but this was still pretty close to home. It’s incredible how this story not only crossed borders and has such depth of meaning in translation, but has also stood the test of time. It felt very universal. Trouble is, because of the current crisis, I did struggle to see the line between fiction and reality. I think I took a lot of this more literally than it was intended and lost (the probably considerable) metaphorical meaning. I’ll have to reread this again one day, when we’re not in the middle of a global pandemic.

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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Station Eleven– well, here was another book that was creepily like reality. So much so that I think the media used this book as their official guide on how to write about a pandemic. Anyway, I don’t know what made me pick this up in November, but I thought this was an impressive book. Again, I think this book might have been better if I’d read it before or after Covid. That said, there was a lot to appreciate about this book. I particularly liked how it flicked back and forth through time. And the story flew by at an alarming rate.

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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I Know Who You Are- ugh this is one of those books I really wanted to praise… and can’t. Because the twist made me feel a bit sick to be honest. I’m going to spoil it in one word for those that want to know: incest. I mean, I should’ve seen it coming, but also why would I have seen that coming?! Yet, despite the stellar writing, there were some serious flaws in the narrative early on. Cracks that appeared out of nowhere and stretched any semblance of believability. There was just so much happening that it got really far-fetched. I kept thinking “surely this can’t all happen to one person?” And yet, it did keep happening. And happening. And happening. It was less like being kept on my toes and more like being forced to do a dance over hot coals. I could barely keep up with this crazy conga of ideas-smashed-together. And then there was that ending… and goddamn. No.

Rating: 1½/5 bananas

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Loveless– I wasn’t in love with Loveless I’m afraid. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I have a love-hate relationship with Oseman, but I do enjoy some of her books more than others and this one wasn’t for me. The biggest barrier to my enjoyment is that Georgia is a *horrible* character. I can’t speak for things like authenticity, but I can say that I don’t really like people that use their friends the way she did. Experimenting on the bestie she knew had a crush on her was a big no-no. And just in case that didn’t leave enough of a sour taste, she’s also the kind of person that doesn’t know the *VERY BIG RED LINE* between someone saying something you don’t like and physical assault. Call me old fashioned, but assaulting a stranger doesn’t make you brave (*unless you think bravery is faceless jackboots). At the same time, she’s the kind of cowardly hyper-agreeable individual that can’t tell a girl sobbing in her arms that maybe just maybe she’s not happy and should make some changes. Another issue for me was that, while the voice sounded authentically teen, it did grate on me as immature, because they were supposed to be uni-aged. That said, it could just be that I’m old and aging out of the category, so take that with a pinch of salt 😉 The only reason I didn’t DNF this was cos I had to read on for Rooney and Pip’s relationship. Their relationship was worth every bit of page time (and should’ve had more). If that would’ve been the whole book, I’d have loved it.

Rating: 2½/5 bananas

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Majesty– I don’t have a great deal to say that I haven’t mentioned in my review for American Royals. This was just as fun, dramatic and entertaining as its predecessor! Picking up from where we left off, with a new American Queen, this launches straight into the action. And while this had some predictable elements, it still managed to surprise me! I loved that it didn’t go in the direction I expected and had plenty of exciting turns- particularly in the romance department. I enjoyed getting to know the characters even more than in the first one, as I was pleased with how far they’d come! Plus, I really like that this gives us the main antagonist’s perspective as well!

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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Labyrinth of the Spirits– I think like many people, I was sad to hear of Zafon’s passing this year. It made reading this all the more bittersweet. And it was already an emotional journey through the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. As you will know, I love this story, so it was wonderful to see its conclusion. While it has a slow start, the building tension made it feel pacey. Slowly but surely, it weaves the mysteries from the previous stories together, drawing us into a labyrinth of secrets. It’s such a complex and dark story that you could easily get lost- and yet, incredibly, there is a light showing the way. Zafon gives us answers to questions launched in Shadow of the Wind. I realised by the end that we had the string to find our way through all along in the palm of our hands. I’m just so glad this story ended on such a strong note. I can now say that, even though each book acts as a standalone, it also really works as a complete series.

Rating: 4½/5 bananas

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Winterwood- this was the very *definition* of atmospheric, autumnal reads. A witchy story that winds through a wooded path. Intricately plotted, it has a mystery that uncurls like a forest fire and must be devoured… before it devours you! It was so compulsive, I had to keep reading and reading and reading. I loved the stylistic originality of the writing as well- a few too many authors miss the mark trying to be unique with their imagery, but Ernshaw knows how to hang a single word on a sentence to give it a breadth of beauty. The multi povs were done well and the spells added a touch of charm to the characterisation. My one minor issue was that the romance was a tad fast- I felt like it needed more chemistry and a deeper connection. And yet, I also found the broad strokes of it lovely enough that it didn’t detract from the pleasure. I also saw one of the twists coming, yet it was the kind of story I can appreciate if it’s done well. And this was the kind of story that was done well.  

Rating: 5/5 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!

Alias Grace was a Gem Hidden in Plain Sight

I committed a cardinal sin with this book: I started watching the TV show first. I know, I know, that’s a crime as a bookaholic! Truth be told, I did it because I was on the fence over whether I wanted to try more Atwood. While I was impressed with her writing in Handmaid’s Tale, the actual story wasn’t for me. But then Netflix went and tempted me with this beauty.

Telling of a notorious murderess, this is an intriguing historical murder mystery. Pacey and languid in equal parts, I found myself racing to the end of the book and the show at the same time! (such that the two are blurred together in my mind). The lilting tone of the writing and the specificity of the imagery took me on a journey. My only issue is that Atwood has an aversion to speech marks for some indecipherable reason- the only consequence of which is to blur the words on the page. But otherwise, I was captivated.

Twining real life events with hints of the supernatural twists the tale into a unique patchwork-puzzle. Even with all the pieces, it’s impossible to solve… and for me that makes it a little bit special. The text never fully commits to vindicating or condemning Grace- and for me that is the perfect solution. I am sure there are feminist interpretations (indeed I’ve seen a few) that blame all the negative male behaviour for everything bad the women do… and yet neither the book nor the show fully commits to that argument. Which is a good thing- not least because this would take away the responsibility (and therefore power) of its female cast.

And, because of this ambiguity, I can’t stop thinking about it. I confess after finishing, I fell down an (unsatisfactory) research rabbithole, trying to get to the bottom of the true story! One thing’s for certain, Grace has been haunting me ever since I first caught her eye.

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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So, have you read this? Do you plan to? And what Atwood (other than the Handmaid’s Tale) would you recommend? Let me know in the comments!

Monthly Monkey Mini Reviews – November 2020!

Hello all! Looks like we made it to November- hopefully all in one piece! Nothing too freaky happened to me in October… except starting a new job- which caught me by surprise! (in a good way 😉) Like a lot of people, this year’s been a bit rocky financially, so pretty relieved to have some more stable work to see me out to the end of 2020. Sadly, on that note, I may have to take a few more breaks from blogging (gosh so reluctant to just say I’m going on hiatus!) I’d love to be able to catch up on everything I’ve been missing out online, but I guess I’ll just have to see what happens.

gotta go to work! 😉

Emily in Paris– there are a million reasons why I shouldn’t have enjoyed this: the stereotyping, the silly inaccuracies for cheap laughs, the *awful* (cheating) love triangle and the horribly unsympathetic lead… buuut I have to admit I had fun with it. It was a light, fluffy, silly rom com that made me laugh. So I’m sorry to the Gods of TV Taste- I enjoyed this more than I should have!

American Vandal– I watched this because I was obviously craving something a little more serious 😉 I loved how this sent up true crime documentaries. I still think that Sadie is the best for critiquing the way true crime doesn’t care about the victims- yet this did make compelling arguments about how filmmakers can expose people unfairly, ruin lives and not really help anyone in the long run (especially if society already has it in for them). Not just because it offered an interesting commentary on how so many of these documentaries can be unethical, but because it was a remarkably compelling story in its own right (even if the main mystery was “who drew the dicks on teacher’s cars?”). And it was all the more entertaining for being completely over the top!

City of Girls– after reading a couple of Gilbert’s great non-fiction books, I’d been hoping to read her fiction for some time now, because I hoped it would hold the same charm for me. Sadly, this did not live up to expectations. My biggest issue with City of Girls was that it basically read like a modern story with a vintage veneer. For all the costumes and hints of setting, I felt like too many characters were out of step with the time period. And while I loved the voice, because its expressive tone created so much character, I ultimately found the protagonist incredibly unlikeable. Sometimes this isn’t such a big problem- however in this case she was such an unconscionable cow that I was cheering on the person chastising her.

Rating: 2½/5 bananas

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Inheritance– in this compelling memoir about discovering the secrets of her DNA, Dani Shapiro hands down the details of her life story. Part detective story, part journal of self-discovery, this is one of the most intriguing non fiction books I’ve ever read. Reading this, I was constantly annoying my family with exclamations of “oh my god!” (so beware reading this in a public place). On a personal level, it’s hard not to empathise- yet it also raises ethical quandaries that are not so easily put to rest. Do donors have a right to privacy or children have a right to know? It is no small thing to consider- especially if the potential cost is the lives of these very children. Then there are the questions of nature vs nurture- for if you find out your father is not your biological father, then who made you who you are? Surely both inform your identity in some way? Finally, and most significantly, there is an attempt to get to the root of one of life’s biggest issues: who am I? And I guess it was this central issue that made me relate- despite how unusual her story was. I couldn’t help but identify with her struggles to connect with her identity. I definitely knew what she was talking about when she referred to veiled anti-Semitism. Much of this hit me like a gut-punch. It’s a powerful and fascinating read that I would definitely recommend. Nonetheless, I have to warn you, even though the mystery of her parentage is solved by the end: the puzzles at its heart linger will linger long after you turn the last page.   

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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The Wife Who Knew Too Much– after reading Michele Campbell’s Stranger on the Beach, I knew this would be a strong thriller. And I was right… to an extent. For much of the book, I had no idea where this was going. I loved some of the legal drama woven in, but it dragged in the middle and I wasn’t quite clear on whether I was fully invested in the story. Yet, the author really hits the accelerator at 80%, taking a bit of a wild turn off a freeway. I was impressed with how much smart the twist was and liked the motive more than I expected. I especially loved how the title plays with you and has many different meanings. Ultimately it wasn’t my favourite journey, but I liked the destination.

Rating: 3½/5 bananas

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Spinning Silver– I’m struggling to weigh up my thoughts about this one. There were so many delicate threads that wove into an intricate design. There’s love, monsters, adventure, friendship and family- all seamlessly stitched together. Standing back from it I can see Novik certainly knows how to spin an elaborate tale! The author has such a talent for taking the villains of a tale and turning it around- and doing this with Rumpelstiltskin is a far more remarkable feat than Beauty and the Beast. What I especially liked was how the original was revealed to be simply the blood libel in disguise- which I had not realised before. Still, I did end up fairly conflicted about the Jewish aspect of the story- since writing another ugly-Jewish-girl-with-money story doesn’t exactly challenge stereotypes. But while I may have been a little sensitive to this, I don’t want to be too critical, especially as I am aware of the historical reality (ie Christians were not allowed to lend money and Jews were often not allowed access to any other profession). Plus, it’s an interesting enough spin. On balance, this was an excellent book, just perhaps not quite the right fit for me.

Rating: 3½/5 bananas

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Ninth House- I’ll confess I took a risk reading this, because I wasn’t that sure I’d like it. I love the author, but have never been into horror. That said, with all the hype, the pull was to great to resist. And, even if it’s not my usual cup of tea, I’m glad I gave it a go! Straight away, I could see it was a good job this was classified as adult- it’s exceptionally dark. As has been widely discussed, there is a graphic rape scene that is hard to read. However, having read it, I can’t believe Bardugo was called out over it- maybe people should spend more time getting angry at the people that do evil things, not the people that write about them. Despite all the gore, what actually stood out was the story. Pacey, intriguing and hinging on different timelines- I was wowed by how it all came together. In fact, I was feeling pretty slumpy when I picked it up and still whizzed through it in a day! Galaxy, while dark and edgy, has enough shine to keep me interested. Darlington was considerably more fascinating than I first thought as well. But really it was all about that plot and killer ending for me.  

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 all had a good month!

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!

The Noughts and Crosses Adaptation Drew a Blank

*Spoilers for both the show and the book*

Full disclosure: my opinions are entirely biased due to my love for the book. If I didn’t adore the series so much, I might have enjoyed this, so take my opinion with a pinch of salt. Unfortunately, this was just one of those times where I felt like constantly whining “but the book was soooo much better!” Even if there were parts of the show that were somewhat compelling, I couldn’t get past the changes enough to appreciate it.

I really should’ve predicted that I wouldn’t like this when I got (unreasonably) irritated by the description of the world as “dystopian” (suggesting that the show was tilting away from the alternate history model to make a different kind of social commentary… something that I was soon proved right about). From the opening shots centring on the subject of police brutality, I could tell we were in for a very different story. Already, I could see this was a more modern take on the novels, but I couldn’t quite get my footing as to how different it would be.

You see, initially I was rather taken with the world of the show. While I had the vaguest impression of the setting from the books, the showrunners went to a lot of trouble bringing Albion to life. With its African music and bright visuals, I was immersed in this alternative Britain, seemingly modelled on South Africa during apartheid. While there were some inconsistencies, like a jumble of different accents, I did get a clear sense of place. I can safely say this was a vast improvement on Blackman’s world building… it’s just a shame about everything else.

callumMy first major issue came from Callum. Instead of having the humble ambitions of going to school, he now wishes to join a military academy. Now, I get that they had to adjust aspects of the story to suit the screen, but this was already a leap too far. It immediately takes away his character arc of being a sensitive and intelligent boy, pushed to violence. Of course, even with him in this new role, they can’t fully commit to him being violent from the start. The writers tried very hard to shoehorn him into his original arc, but without any sign of his original personality… which just made me beg the question why make this change at all?

There is much the same issue with Sephy: her personality has been completely neutered. Aside from being a do-gooder and occasional terrorist sympathiser, she doesn’t have a whole lot going for her. Unlike her book counterpart, we don’t get to see what a scrapper she is or any of her interests (beyond Callum). Worse still, with the characters aged up, her naivety isn’t really excusable. In the book, Sephy loves her father, yet slowly realises what he is truly like. Here she comes across as just a bit thick for not seeing through him. Which leads me onto…

noughts and crossesWTF is going on with the rest of the characters?! Jasmine Hadley is not nearly distant enough; Kamal Hadley apparently has mind control powers (cos I’ve no idea how he somehow convinces everyone to do his bidding). And everyone is oddly redeemable- even Jude. There’s no sense of real development, because from the beginning we know Dorne is the real villain and thus all the other character’s evil deeds can (conveniently) get pinned on him. Everything is more black and white in this version, with far fewer shades of grey. Forget the nuance and tragedy of the book- it’s been brushed away for far less satisfying commentary and lacklustre conclusions.

And on that note, the plot is a mess. While I liked some aspects of the romance (because in this case remembering the book made it easier to enjoy) it moves way too fast. The twists about Kamal and Jasmine Hadley are revealed too soon. Vital characters, like Lynette, are written out. Instead we get waste-of-time subplots, like Yarrow Hadley. Then there are another million pointless changes- that only every make the narrative worse. For starters, there was the “blanker” incident, which the Authentic Observer has already done a great video about. Plus, there’s the time when “gentle” Callum fires live rounds at a crowd of noughts, including his brother (?!?!) And the fact that Jude bombs a hospital instead of a shopping centre (??!?!) And for some reason there’s a lot of speeches in the trial explaining said terrorism… which apparently persuade the judge to go easy (?!?!) And to top it all off that Callum doesn’t choose to go after Sephy OR choose to save Sephy until he knows she’s pregnant OR make any significant choices (beyond the supremely dumb one of going off to live in the woods with a pregnant girl… let’s see how long that lasts 😉).

Naturally they also had to change the ending. I could see from the start the showrunners weren’t bold enough to kill off Callum. And clearly they found other aspects of the story too problematic as well- which is disappointing, not because I wanted to be emotionally scarred (as I was with the book), but because the dark elements were something that stood out in that case. Blackman didn’t talk down to teens or give us the longed-for happy ending, just because that’s what’s expected. She had the courage to tell a story that wasn’t easy, that didn’t make us comfortable, that offered only glimmers of hope.

jude noughts and crosses 2Weirdly, the show’s preachy speeches and teary melodrama demand you take the story seriously. And yet, for all that, it’s less powerful. Putting forward the argument that the world is unjust is far less powerful than showing injustices unfolding. Blackman had the courage to put the story and characters first- and the message was more impactful for it. This adaptation put the message first and butchered the heart of the story. Sadly, the only tragedy here is how much this failed to live up to a beautiful book.

I’m really curious- how many of you have read the series or seen the show? What did you think of either of them? Let me know in the comments!

My Ultimate NoTPs – Sinking all the Fictional Ships

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Typically speaking, I’m the kind of reader that agrees with the author/creator when it comes to romances- whether I like them or not, it’s what the author intended and therefore tends to fit best with the story. But on those rare occasions that I don’t agree, well, I have some STRONG opinions. Which is why I decided to talk about some of my *ultimate NoTPs* (is this a real term, or did I just make it up?) I’m gonna try not to repeat myself too much from my romance fails in fiction tag– so this should be uniquely contentious 😉. Also, for the most part this’ll be about books, however, I fancied talking about some TV ones too, such as…

brooke lucas one tree hill

Brooke and Lucas, One Tree Hill (yes, I’m asking you to cast your minds back a decade or two)- CONTROVERSIAL OPINION: I never liked Brooke Davis. For me, her “growth” involves plagiarism (she steals Peyton’s designs, sticks them on a shirt and gets applauded for it… why?!). To be honest though, Lucas’ relationships didn’t interest me because I was all about Naley.

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Gale and Peeta and Katniss, Hunger Games– I know this was a big deal, but I just didn’t care. I didn’t get invested in either of the romances- I was far more interested in the children fighting each other to the death and oppressive government (you know, what the book is actually about? 😉)

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Jacob and Bella and Edward, Twilight– they all suck.

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Fanny and Edmund, Mansfield Park– even if I could get over the fact they’re cousins, I wish Austen had let *just one* of her heroines end up with the morally ambiguous character (and given them a redemption arc). Just once.

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Tonks and Lupin, Harry Potter– everyone’s got at least one couple they don’t ship from Harry Potter. And, though I’ve mentioned Ron and Hermione a bunch of times, I actually find this one irks me more… though not for entirely rational reasons. To be perfectly honest, I thought Lupin was gay (yeahhh we’re going into serious head canon now). Plus, I don’t get how someone can run off and leave their pregnant wife in a war if they really love them (which is probably the more rational reason why I don’t ship them).

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Jon and Dany, Game of Thrones– I’ve mentioned this before, but this was pretty badly done, especially in the last season, so it’s earned another mention. This is one of those bizarre situations where this was head canon for me… but the second it happened my brain went “oh no! oh no no no!!” This should have stayed in the dark recesses of fan’s minds.

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Jem and Tessa, Infernal Devices– I was a *serious* Will and Tessa shipper. I actually don’t know why I have it in for Jem, but I really did (I know, it makes no sense, cos he’s a sweet character, buuut at the same time he goes after his bestie’s girl and NOT COOL MAN). This frustrated me even more cos it almost never happened.

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Chaol and Celaena, Throne of Glass– he didn’t respect her *at all*. He was always going on about how horrible it is she’s part fae and that she needs to suppress it (isn’t that the equivalent of racism in the context of their world?!) Plus, I just hate Chaol so…

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Alina and Mal, Shadow and Bone– most boring couple of the list award! I have very little to say about them other than the fact I didn’t see them fitting together- particularly since they’d known each other for years, he showed no interest, then only liked her when she got hot.

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Gen and the Queen of Attolia, Queen’s Thief Series*highlight for massive spoiler warning*: SHE CUT OFF HIS HAND!!! WTF?!? He’s traumatised by her and flinches at her every touch- how do they end up together? This is by far the most bizarre and badly matched couple- and I’m sorry but I don’t understand why people are into this romance. At all.

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Aang and Katara, Avatar the Last Airbender– ahh my ultimate NoTP!! I briefly touched on this in my review of the series and always planned to get into it more at a later date… so here we are (yes, the reason for me writing this post was an excuse to rant about something, are you surprised?) I’m sure this will piss off people who watched this as a kid/really ship it, but I *hated* it. Firstly, they have zero chemistry (yes, it’s not escaped my attention we’re talking about a cartoon, bear with me 😉). The romance scenes always felt like a mix of forced and random, especially since she treats him like a little brother for most of the show. Which makes sense, since he’s prepubescent and she’s a teen. And, what messes with my head even more, is when people say “oh but the age difference isn’t really so bad, because even if he looks 12, he’s really 112”- how does this help?! That’s even less appropriate!! Regardless, he has a very childish view of her ie “I like her, I kissed her, she should be mine”. Dude, she’s a person (okay, character). Who frequently seems to be conflicted and uncomfortable with his romantic attention I might add. But it felt like this was about what Aang “deserves” as a reward for saving the world- taking away the autonomy of an *awesome* character and doing nothing for her own arc. And I know, I know, people can say I only feel this way cos my ship (Zutara) didn’t sail (which maybe true, yet to be fair was set up by one of the writers as endgame), but forget my fan “entitlement” for a second- what about all the “nice guys” that feel entitled to women’s affection because they’ve been “nice”? As much as I loved the character, Aang with Katara reminded me of Mr Collins saying: “you said no, but you really mean yesss”. It just realllly sucks that a great show ended on this note (though, as I said in my review, it didn’t ruin the series for me).

Okay- phew- glad I got that out of my system! Do you agree or disagree with any of these? And what romances do you not ship? Anything particularly juicy? Let me know in the comments!

Monkey at the Movies: TV Roundup! #2

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It’s been a while since I talked about my TV habits– and to be honest that’s cos in the last 6 months, I’ve only watched 4 shows of note… which is why I’ll be recommending them all today. Seems like a good time to kick back and relax 😊 Let’s just jump into it!

Lucifer– I watched the pilot a few years ago, but I wasn’t crazy about it… until I tried it again. Two episodes in and I was hooked! It was more fun than I’ve had in a long time with a TV show- it reminded me of old seasons of Supernatural. I mean, it’s a buddy cop show… with the devil! And if that puts you off, hold on! Because who doesn’t love a good redemption story? And who is a better candidate for that than the one and only Lucifer Morningstar. I absolutely adore the concept and the execution is perfect. The chemistry between Lucifer and Chloe is amazing. The first series was entertaining as hell, the second had a beautiful ending and the third had an incredible plot (though some of the stuff with Pierce was annoying). There was a death I never thought I’d mourn as well- but it really got to me! Plus, there was so much Gaiman, which I loved! Looking forward to catching the last two seasons on Netflix when I get the chance 🙂

Poldark (season 5)– this is the kind of show where I legit cry at every episode. Now, I will admit this was an unusual season, because it wasn’t following the books anymore annnnd it wasn’t perfect. Gonna get a bit spoilery, so be warned. I for one wanted to see the finale tie into the plot that had been going on all season- perhaps have the end link up with the fact the villains had been involved in the slave trade and have their demise be tied into the abolition of slavery. Instead, that whole plotline was kind of irrelevant and it reverted back to the whole fighting France plot- which worked in some ways, it was just a shame it felt a bit old hat at this stage. The pacing wasn’t great either- since George’s madness kept hitting the on-off switch. Still, it was as emotional as ever and there were some real highlights to the season- especially with Caroline and Ennis. So, while I’d say the last season could’ve been better, I’d definitely recommend this series as a whole.

Keeping Faith– I loved this series. Focused on a mysterious disappearance that leaves a loving wife and mother in the lurch… and in increasing danger! It was emotional, moving, entertaining. The story builds and builds, until the dramatic finale. All the acting was amazing- even the children- who are often the weak link yet here shine with some of the best performances. The heroine is *the best*- a nuanced woman, which we rarely see on tv. She’s a mum, she’s accomplished and she’s unapologetically female. The landscape, scenery and atmosphere star as well- really showcasing the beauty of Wales. Many critics were surprised that this seemingly small Welsh thriller ended up being such a huge hit- especially since it was shared pretty much by word of mouth- but I think that’s why it did so well. There’s no frills, no funny business, just good old-fashioned storytelling- and there’s not much more you can ask than that.

His Dark Materials– this. is. the. perfect. adaptation. I’ve waited *forever* to see a good version of one of my all-time favourite fantasy series and THIS WAS IT!!! I am so grateful to finally get to watch this- so you’ll just have to forgive the gush!! I’m not actually someone who is hypercritical of the old adaption- though there were obvious things wrong with it if you’re a fan of the books. As Pullman said, there wasn’t enough room in that movie. Thankfully, the story is given space to breathe here and it’s glorious for it. There is so much to love about the BBC’s His Dark Materials. I adored so much of the casting- McAvoy is an *awesome* Asriel, Lin-Manuel Miranda brings swagger to the role of Lee, Ruth Wilson is chilling as Mrs Coulter and I think the new Lyra is incredible!! Just amazing!! I did like the old cast, but I am *so happy* with this one!! The graphics are beautiful as well! I also love the foreshadowing and crossover with The Subtle Knife– that’s a sharp touch I wouldn’t have thought they’d include. It seemed determined to make me cry every episode as well. I’m just completely buzzing about this!

So, have you seen any of these? Do you plan to? And have you watched any amazing TV lately? Let me know in the comments!

I am completely obsessed with You…

youThe book and TV show… why what did you think I meant? 😉 Kepnes infamous story about social media stalking in the modern age certainly grabbed my attention and now I’d like to share it with *you*. So, what can you expect from this book about a New York love affair gone very, very wrong?

Immediately, you will be struck by the unreliable narrator. Combining a biting wit with an exceptional use of second person pov, you will find the execution of this novel is top notch. This unique style allows for stand out characterisation and a story that captivates and horrifies in equal measure. Now, you might have seen a fair amount of criticism for the crassness and vulgar language… to which I say: what do you expect? Yes, a stalker and dangerous individual is less than polite and uses violent means to get his way. To me, anything else would be a dishonest representation of reality. Naturally, you will agree that it is unnerving to be this up close and personal to evil- but that is what really works about this book (admittedly the show has a different take… more on that later).

Another criticism you might have is that the characters are all pretentious a-holes. Which is true- but given that they’re viewed through the lens of a psycho stalker, you might be inclined to let them off the hook. Again, you will find this an ingenious way of letting you inside his twisted mind. Every portrayal he shows you will be warped beyond recognition and every barb he directs at others can be thrown back at him.

Either way, you will discover there’s something enigmatic about the distinctive writing. This voicey book gives you more characterisation than a thousand thrillers combined. You will come to see it as more of a character study than a typical story.

Most importantly, you will be compelled to the finish line as if someone is chasing you down a dark alleyway. Truth be told, you may find the plot fairly predictable- but that’s because when you’re trapped in a terrifying place with no way out, there really is only one way it can go down. All the bodies littered throughout make the ending inevitable. So if you are like me and you like *BIG* twist thrillers, you might not end up giving it 5*. But that’s okay, because you know it’s a great book regardless. And you may decide that, while you’re not sure you need a series of books in this vein, you’re still invested enough to check out the Netflix adaptation…

Okay, I’m gonna stop with the second person because you get the idea 😉 Also the voice is used slightly differently in the TV show. In fact, there were a number of distinctions between the book and the show: the timeline, the characters and even the relationship have all shifted. Most importantly, the more lovey dovey romance makes the show more of a deconstruction of rom coms than the danger of Social Media. While still present, the idea of stalking someone online is made light of at times when (for reasons I can’t fathom) Stalker Joe tells her he’s been following her?! Aside from the illogical tint this gives the story, I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of this take. I think that the ideas it was presenting, while not entirely in line with the book, were still valid critiques on society. Plus, on the more positive side, this did flesh out some aspects better.

Characters who weren’t given a proper voice in the book (understandably) did finally get their chance to speak for themselves. I liked that while Peaches made more sense as a character, the tv version didn’t remove her shades of grey. I also loved Blythe and Ethan- as different as the latter was to the book counterpart. Most significantly, we actually got her perspective. And it’s good- it’s very good. She gets to be a far more well-rounded character and her life is given importance its so lacking in the book- which makes the impact of the narrative greater still. I liked that they even had her talk to herself in the second person- it was a nice touch.

Having said that, the show’s desire to fill in some aspects meant that the things Joe does make less sense sometimes. There was more of an attempt to make him likeable and misdirect the viewer into thinking he’s not an entirely terrible person. For instance, he genuinely cares about Paco, which felt strangely out of character for me as someone who’d read the book (and was the first major indicator that the book and show were going to be different entities). Again, I wasn’t quite convinced whether I liked that he was more sympathetic. On the one hand, it made him less predatory… but on the other there was more of an unnerving sense that this could really happen to anyone. It didn’t hurt, either, that unlike the book closing off its ending, the show had a chilling end that left me wanting more.

Ultimately, I found the show just a bingeable as the book was a page turner. Sure, they were different, but this didn’t impact the quality. I gave both the book and show:

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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So have you read or watched this? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

Monkey at the Movies: Avatar the Last Airbender Television Show

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*Wow*- I waited wayyy too long to watch this, didn’t I? Let me back up a second. It’s no secret that after Game of Thrones ended (in the worst possible way imaginable) I was feeling pretty distraught and uninspired by TV. So I settled down to watch a classic… and I was not disappointed.

monkey avatarFrom the opening visuals, I knew this was going to be quite the experience. The artwork is literally stunning and the set up incredibly promising. With these gorgeous images, we’re thrown into a fascinating fantasy world, where people have the power to control the elements. Not to get too in depth about the premise (because a lot of people will know it) but essentially it’s set after the Avatar who can control all the elements disappeared and the Fire Nation took control. And let me be the first to say, that simple sentence could never do the world building justice. This not only has one of the most intricate magic systems imaginable, as the story goes on, it develops a deep mythos for each location it explores. Having watched this now, I can safely say I have no idea why anyone would try to reduce all this down into a (terrible) movie- it was always doomed to be a mess.

But this is all just background- I haven’t even got to the plot yet! While episodic in the most rewarding way imaginable, each season builds upto epic conclusions. In a ride as wild as soaring on a flying bison, we’re lifted off the ground and taken to new lows. There are times when the audience is rewarded for their patience; there are times when expectations are subverted- in the best kind of Empire-Strikes-Back way. The characters win and lose- keeping you on your toes! And I mean really lose- because it often feels like victory comes at great cost (and let me remind you this is a kid’s show!!)

In terms of individual episodes, it’s hilarious at times, devastating at others. Having mentioned all the fantastic finales, you’d think they’d be my favourite episodes- not so! The one that stands out to me the most (and a fan favourite) is the Tales of Ba Sing Se- an intensely character driven episode which will make even the most stone-hearted of earth benders tear eyed. I also thought Ember Island Players was one of the best recap episodes in the history of TV.

zukoAll of this said, I haven’t even mentioned the best part of the show: the characters. From Katara to Toph to Sokka, it has a strong cast of supporting characters. There are amazing villains; there is a hero you can root for- one whose struggle to be the Avatar ties in with the fate of the world. I loved how he had to make sacrifices in order to reach the end of the story and it was never an easy path for him. On the subject of difficult journeys, my favourite character (perhaps predictably) was Zuko- I found him fascinating from the off: his backstory intrigued me, the promise of a potential redemption kept me hooked and every choice the character made had me on the edge of my seat. And I especially liked Azula as his foil. It’s because of characters like him that this show has such a reputation for amazing character development.

I’m also delighted to say this show had a beautiful ending! The justice meted out certainly gave balance to the magic in this universe. I will quickly say that the only thing in the entire show that I had an issue with was how the relationships turned out. At the risk of annoying old fans of the show (who are no doubt still licking their battle wounds from shipping wars of a bygone age) Aang/Katara *at all*. This isn’t just because my ship didn’t sail (le sigh) it was because I thought it came across as forced and I disliked such an awesome female character being reduced to the hero’s reward… But I don’t want to bog down the end of this review with this- though I’ll definitely get into it at a later date- because this wasn’t ultimately detrimental to my enjoyment. There is so much to this show that I loved that I simply can’t cover it all. I wouldn’t feel reasonable giving this masterpiece of television anything less than:

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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So have you seen this? What did you think of it? And when did you join this party? Let me know in the comments!

My Top 5 Austen Adaptations

I’ve been in a really romance-y mood lately… which has led me down an Austen adaptation rabbithole. Watching and rewatching a crazy amount of these has got me thinking about which ones are my favourites and I thought it would be fun to share them with you lovely people. Quick note: it’ll be glaringly obvious to fans that Mansfield Park is missing- that’s not cos there aren’t any good versions, it’s cos (as is no secret) I’ve never liked the story. Now that’s out of the way, onto the list!

 

BBC Pride and Prejudice- to my mind, this is THE BEST adaptation of anything, ever! Yes, this is my completely biased view 😉 I tend to rewatch this every. year. (thank you Beebs for including this in your boxsets!) This is, in every sense of the word, PERFECTION. The acting, the first class writing lifted from the book, the wonderful choice of locations… this is always going to be my favourite.

BBC Sense and Sensibility- so, confession time: I’m not hugely fond of the movie version- though it has some sensational performances from the likes of Alan Rickman and Hugh Grant, I feel like the story could’ve done with a bit more space to breathe. Which is why I was so excited to check out the new(ish) BBC adaptation- and I wasn’t in the least bit disappointed! I watched this for the first time recently and almost felt the need to rewind and watch it all again. The acting and writing was brilliantly done- but most importantly this hit me right in the *feels*!

Emma 1996- this might be an unpopular opinion, because I think most people prefer the TV version (which is understandable, because that’s a great version too). In truth, I don’t know why I love this version so much- especially since I often prefer the TV serials for Austen, given they allow the stories to develop over a greater time span. That said, I simply LOVE the performances in this- particularly Jeremy Northam who is my definitive Mr Knightley (who, yes, just happens to be my favourite Austen love interest).

Northanger Abbey– even if this wasn’t the only Northanger Abbey version that I’ve seen, it’d make the list, because it’s a lot of fun! It’s completely different to a lot of other Austen adaptations, playing on some of the themes in quite a hilariously modern way, upping the imaginative gothic levels and heroines’ fantasies… and for some reason this rather tickled my fancy.

Persuasion 1995- I watched this most recently and I was delighted with it. I’d seen a more recent version and wasn’t quite blown away (especially disappointing because at the time I watched it I probably would’ve classed this as my favourite Austen). I was so happy with this version however and would definitely recommend it for those looking for an Austen fix! 

Have you seen any of these? Which are your favourite Austen adaptations? Let me know in the comments!