Tag Archives: Kirby Heyborne

Book Review: Mister Monkey by Francine Prose (3/5)

17 May

This was yet another book that I had never heard of and probably never would have read if it weren’t for my book club. There are just far too many good books to read them all. Sometimes we need a kick in the pants to find the good ones.

Cover image via Goodreads

Mister Monkey by Francine Prose

Summary from Goodreads:

Mister Monkey—a screwball children’s musical about a playfully larcenous pet chimpanzee—is the kind of family favorite that survives far past its prime. Margot, who plays the chimp’s lawyer, knows the production is dreadful and bemoans the failure of her acting career. She’s settled into the drudgery of playing a humiliating part—until the day she receives a mysterious letter from an anonymous admirer . . . and later, in the middle of a performance, has a shocking encounter with Adam, the twelve-year-old who plays the title role.

Francine Prose’s effervescent comedy is told from the viewpoints of wildly unreliable, seemingly disparate characters whose lives become deeply connected as the madcap narrative unfolds. There is Adam, whose looming adolescence informs his interpretation of his role; Edward, a young audience member who is candidly unimpressed with the play; Ray, the author of the novel on which the musical is based, who witnesses one of the most awkward first dates in literature; and even the eponymous Mister Monkey, the Monkey God himself.

This book started off with a summary of the book-turned-play that the plot revolves around. That threw me a little because I thought the rest of the book would focus on an odd story about a family in New York adopting a monkey. I was beyond relieved when it didn’t. I liked the revolving narrator in the book and how the next narrator was connected to the previous story. I did think the skip to Eleanor was a bit of a stretch, but it still made sense. More sense than the Monkey God talking but not ending the book. I liked how certain phrases and ideas were repeated (unhappy love affair, Darwin, etc.) and how the play was at the center of the book but never fully spelled out and explained. You explore the story from all sides without seeing it and by the end, I think I could tell you the plot fairly well.

The characters were great in this story. Each one was well-developed and they were all very different as well. Though they were all touched by the play in some way, everyone was affected differently or less directly than others. I loved how flawed they all were, it was very realistic, especially Sonya. She was the one I related to most because I’m closest to her age and I have friends that she reminded me of. I thought Margo’s flaws were great, too, and Mario. Honestly, all the characters were easy to fall in love with. Except for Adam. He was the worst.

Like I said, Sonya was my favorite character. She seemed slightly stuck in a bad situation and as hard as she tried, she wasn’t finding a way to climb out of it. I felt bad for her and could understand why she had the problems she did with sleeping pills. I wanted her date to go well but that was a dud from the beginning. I felt really bad about her situation at work, too. Sometimes you get talked into a corner and there’s no good way out and that’s what had happened to her.

I admired Eleanor. There were times I’ve wanted to tell a kid that they’re out of line when a parent won’t, but she had the nerve to do it. I also respected that she held two jobs, one a passion and one a calling. It must have been exhausting but she did well for herself. She also seemed the most collected and happy with her life out of all of the characters.

Francine Prose
Image via the Dayton Literary Peace Prize

I found Ray’s story really interesting. The actors are really involved in the musical but Ray is, of course, intertwined with the book. I liked how he talked about the back story of the novel and what he really wanted to say with it to start. It was interesting to hear how the message had changed and become so diluted with edits that he didn’t feel as connected to it anymore. I think a lot of writers worry about that and it was interesting to hear Ray, someone who was made famous and rich off his story, lament it.

The chapter from the Monkey God rubbed me the wrong way. I think it would have been better at the end, but stuck before Roger’s chapter, it seemed odd. Plus, it took away from the smooth transition from character to character. Eleanor to Roger would have made sense, but Eleanor to a God to Roger was a bit much. It seemed strange to see into the future of some of the character’s we’ve explored before we finish with the present. I wish it had been removed completely, I didn’t need to know about Ray and Sonya’s futures.

The audiobook I listened to had dual narrators in Nan McNamara and Kirby Heyborne. I’m glad that they used two for the male and female narrators, it was more believable than Eleanor in a man’s voice or the Grandfather in a woman’s. I’ve heard Heyborne before because he narrated the Peculiar Children series. Both did well incorporate the character’s disappointment in certain parts of their lives and the heaviness of humanity that was hanging over them all.

The lives of these people touched without some of them ever meeting. Eventually, Eleanor and the Grandfather meet and Margo and Mario hit it off, but some will never interact and it’s great to see how small things that other people do can affect us. It was a cool concept to jump from one to the other as they’ve interacted and I had a great time guessing who would come next.

Writer’s Takeaway: The flaws that Prose was able to give to each character made them come alive. You’d think such heavy flaws would weigh the characters down but it didn’t. I loved conscious-heavy Mario and pill-popping Ray and feeling-old Margo. It made them much more real and having well-developed adult characters was important in this book focused on a children’s play and all the ridiculousness involved in that.

I enjoyed this book but wasn’t blown away or overly captivated. Three out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.


You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
Mister Monkey | Shelf Love
Buy Mister Monkey by Francine Prose | Ken Brosky, Author

Book Review: Hollow City by Ransom Riggs (2/5)

27 Jul

I was a little underwhelmed with the first book in this series, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, which I reviewed last year. But the book left off on such a cliffhanger that I decided I would eventually continue the series. Obviously I was in no rush. My husband and I had a nine-hour drive on our camping vacation so we decided to knock this one out. I’m left with much the same feeling.

Cover image via Goodreads.com

Cover image via Goodreads.com

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

Summary from Goodreads:

This second novel begins in 1940, immediately after the first book ended. Having escaped Miss Peregrine’s island by the skin of their teeth, Jacob and his new friends must journey to London, the peculiar capital of the world. Along the way, they encounter new allies, a menagerie of peculiar animals, and other unexpected surprises.

This lackluster summary is appropriate for this book, which has a serious case of ‘Second Book Syndrome.’ The first book introduced us to a ton of unusual characters and a cool underground world where the second one gave us a lot of throw-away characters and introduced too many new main characters. The idea of the first book being a story to string together the odd photographs was great, but the new pictures have entirely different people in them and seemed to necessitate adding another large number of characters to the second book. I didn’t find that necessary and it was a bit overwhelming. I was also highly disappointed in the ending. I thought it rendered the rest of the book pointless. I put the final one on my TBR, but at this point it feels like morbid curiosity than eagerness.

I found the relationship between Emma and Jacob really forced and disturbing. It diminished Emma as a character for me, which is unfortunate because she’s such a main presence in the book. For someone who seemed to be pining after Abe in the first book, she’s very quick to crush on the guy’s grandson. Plus, isn’t that creepy? I think it’s really creepy. The fact that it didn’t bother Jacob either got to me. He acted too much like a love-struck puppy for me and it seemed at odds with his authoritative leadership among the Peculiars. It was all too inconsistent for me.

Bronwyn became a very stand-out character for me in this book. I don’t remember her playing such a big role in the first novel, probably because she was too busy taking care of Victor. In this book, she takes care of everyone else. I thought it was a good development of her role.

I remember the rebellious feelings Jacob has. I remember how that felt when I was sixteen. I thought my parents were wrong about everything and were only trying to control me. But I realized they were right. I was better off staying away from dangerous people and being home rather than God-knows-where. If Jacob had just stayed put, would all of this have happened? Probably not. I understand why Jacob pushed against his parents, but I wish he’d take a little credit for what’s happened.

Ransom Riggs Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Ransom Riggs
Image courtesy of Wikipedia

I liked the menagerie. I thought those characters, though only two talked, were well-developed and I saw a purpose to having gone there and learning what they did. I’m glad Addison came back in the end because I think he could be a really good character to have in the final book.

The ending ruined the whole book for me. I’m going to talk about it now so skip to the end if you haven’t read this and don’t want to know what happens. Finding out that the bird wasn’t Miss Peregrine all along makes their whole journey to save her pointless. Without it, they would be lost and vulnerable on an island. Now they’re lost and vulnerable in London and we have a lot of other characters involved. I feel like nothing important happened in the book. There wasn’t a lot of character development to justify a circular plot. It makes me want to give up on the series, but I need to know that something substantial happens in the final book at the same time. So conflicted.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Kirby Heyborne. He is not the same person who narrated the first book in the series and I noticed the difference as soon as we started it. Heyborne did a fine job, don’t get me wrong, but I think I prefer the previous narrator. Though I did enjoy the droll sarcasm of Jacob in Heyborne’s voice. I was getting a bit sick of the accents by  the end because I was thinking that if I read the book, I wouldn’t have to deal with them. It was a bit cumbersome but helped keep the characters apart in my head.

The end of the book reminded me a lot of the end of Catching Fire in the Hunger Games series. There’s a war starting and even teenagers have to decide if they should stand and fight. In reality, it is teenagers who have to make this decision as young as eighteen (seventeen if you’re a wizard). Knowing what’s right and what’s worth fighting for is important and unfortunately for Jacob, it’s come down to life or death to push the issue for him.

Writer’s Takeaway: Characters, characters, and more characters! Way too many for me. I know Riggs likes using the vintage pictures to bring characters into his books, but I think it caused him to introduce too many. Not every picture needed to turn into a new peculiar in this world. It was overwhelming. I was given the general rule that if you can take a character out, to do it. Too many characters confuse the reader.

Not as engaging as the first but still well written. Two out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
Hollow City by Ransom Riggs | Gerrytology
Hollow City – Ransom Riggs | bellsiebooks
BOOK: Hollow City (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children Book 2) by Ransom Riggs (2014) | Senceless Pie
Book Review: Hollow City (Miss Peregrine Book #2) by Ransom Rigs | Eamo The Geek