With recent events, I could not be silent. On my Twitter is a range of resources and I’ve linked here a thread of bail funds to support protesters who are arrested for demanding justice for victims of police violence. I’ve also linked to the two official GoFundMes for George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter Carrd and 74 bail funds. I will be doing this on every post. If you have the funds to donate, please do but if not, please support and uplift Black voices and sign the petitions.
If you can, please consider purchasing these books through Hive, where you can choose an independent bookshop to send a percentage of the money made from the sale directly to the shop. Please also support the Inclusive Indies campaign here to save independent publishers who publish diverse books.
I’m sharing another instalment of my Mini Review Mondays, after continuing it earlier this year! In case you haven’t seen any of my previous posts, I do ‘mini’ reviews of books that I’ve read, loved and usually promised to review ages ago.
Today, I’ll be reviewing three wonderful books that I got to read early and all of which come out recently. I’ll review them in order of publication date and then alphabetically by the title. Kicking it off is the Boy in the Red Dress by Kristin Lambert, which the lovely Samuel Bonner at Penguin Random House sent me via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
New Year’s Eve, 1929.
Millie is running the show at the Cloak & Dagger, a swinging speakeasy in the French Quarter, while her aunt is out of town. The new year is just around the corner, and all of New Orleans is out to celebrate, but even wealthy partiers’ diamond earrings can’t outshine the real star of the night: the boy in the red dress. Marion is the club’s star performer and his fans are legion–if mostly underground.
When a young socialite wielding a photograph of Marion starts asking questions, Millie wonders if she’s just another fan. But then her body is found crumpled in the courtyard, dead from an apparent fall off the club’s balcony, and all signs point to Marion as the murderer. Millie knows he’s innocent, but local detectives aren’t so easily convinced.
As she chases clues that lead to cemeteries and dead ends, Millie’s attention is divided between the wry and beautiful Olive, a waitress at the Cloak & Dagger, and Bennie, the charming bootlegger who’s offered to help her solve the case. The clock is ticking for the fugitive Marion, but the truth of who the killer is might be closer than Millie thinks..
Publication Date: 12th May
TW: death, homophobia, racism, sexism, murder
Lambert had me hooked from the very first page, instantly grabbing my attention and never really letting me go from there. As this is a mystery, it proves tricky to review without giving too much away, but I will try my best!
The character were all really well-crafted and three-dimensional, feeling incredibly real and relatable. Lambert’s writing shone through them with sparkling dialogue and believable relationships. It’s relatively fast-paced, but allows moments for the story to breathe and for us to get to know the characters that bit more. The setting feels rich and vividly imagined, so much so that you can practically inhale the smoky perfume of the speakeasy.
This is an #ownvoices LGBTQ+ historical mystery and you can really feel that in the seamless representation within the book. The Cloak & Dagger feels like this safe space where people can be their true selves and it feels like a family. A lot of the time historical fiction centres around white heteronormative voices and it’s refreshing to have loads of casual LGBT+ representation, while also including characters of colour and discussing the intersections of these identities. Olive, one of my favourite characters, disucsses white privilege with Millie and how her race and sexuality intersect. Lambert doesn’t shy away from addressing racism, police brutality and homophobia; it is far from a romanticised view of the past and hammers home how sadly these issues are still alive and present in modern day society. A lot of the book discusses themes of family, loyalty and love in such a brilliant way.
In terms of the mystery, I thought it was really well-plotted with some great twists. As a bit of a mystery aficionado, I devour a lot of thrilling stories but The Boy in the Red Dress really stood out amongst the rest for me.
Next up, I’m talking about the wholly original YA contemporary: Again, Again by E Lockhart. Thank you so much to Lizz Skelly at Bonnier Books for sending me a finished copy in exchange for an honest review.
If you could live your life again, what would you do differently?
After a near-fatal family catastrophe and an unexpected romantic upheaval, Adelaide Buchwald finds herself catapulted into a summer of wild possibility, during which she will fall in and out of love a thousand times—while finally confronting the secrets she keeps, her ideas about love, and the weird grandiosity of the human mind.
Publication Date: 2nd June
TW: cancer, grief, drug use, addiction, self-harm, death
Lockhart never fails to take what you think is going to be a simple tale and completely upend it. Again, Again is no different in this respect, providing an inventive and refreshing take on the contrived love story that you may be expecting.
This is a quiet story, full of heart and discussion of family and the pain of loss. I think it’s important to clarify that it’s not really a romance, it’s more about the bond between siblings and forgiveness. I sped through it over the course of an evening, finding myself getting wrapped up in the story and losing track of the world around me. So, basically, the perfect escapism for right now.
Lockhart’s writing is thoughtful and charming, drawing you in and making you feel welcome. Adelaide is such a likeable, easy to relate to character, who is heartbroken and trying to piece herself back together. The book is really centred around her growth and recovery, with the romantic elements forming a secondary shell. I really liked reading the different outcomes of each event on the page, which didn’t feel repetitive, rather highlighting how one small decision can change everything. I’ve always been fascinated by the ‘butterfly effect’ and Lockhart brings it to fruition in a really clever way for me. Nothing is easily resolved, making it somewhat of a bittersweet but hopeful book that asks ‘What if?’ a thousand times over.
This is a quieter, emotional YA contemporary that really demonstrates what an endlessly inventive author Lockhart is.
Finally, I’m going to talk about the unsettling YA mystery Little Creeping Things by Chelsea Ichaso, which the amazing Rob Richardson at Melia sent me an ARC of in exchange for an honest review!
When she was a child, Cassidy Pratt accidentally started a fire that killed her neighbor. At least, that’s what she’s been told. She can’t remember anything from that day, and her town’s bullies, particularly the cruel and beautiful Melody Davenport, have never let her live it down.
But then Melody goes missing, and Cassidy thinks she may have information. She knows she should go to the cops, but she recently joked about how much she’d like to get rid of Melody. She even planned out the perfect way to do it. And then she gets a chilling text from an unknown number: I’m so glad we’re in this together.
Now it’s up to Cassidy to figure out what really happened before the truth behind Melody’s disappearance sets the whole town ablaze.
Publication Date: 2nd June
TW: death, arson, gaslighting, manipulation, murder
Yet again, I’m reviewing another mystery! Little Creeping Things was another book that grabbed my attention straight away and drew me into a twisted world of secrets, lies, murder and arson. Ichaso spun such a tangled web that managed to distract me from the shocking truth.
I really enjoyed getting to peer inside Cassidy’s complex, fractured mind and how unreliable she was at times. It was a welcome change from some of the cookie-cutter protagonists and made it a very interesting reading experience. In particular, Ichaso blends a lot of the reality with flashbacks of trauma and intercuts of fantastical moments. For me, this added to an excellent, nuanced exploration of trauma, reputation and manipulation. All of this adds to the perpetual, unnerving sense of paranoia that underlies the book, making you feel uneasy and constantly on edge. You feel as though you can’t look away from the page, keeping up the intrigue. It’s far more of a psychological mystery for me, really digging into Cassidy’s psyche in order to unravel the dark mystery.
Cassidy’s voice is absorbing and you soon become invested in her life. There’s many elements of YA contemporaries interspersed with the central mystery, including some romantic tension. Ichaso presents a knotty clump of suspects and red herrings that keep the plot relentlessly marching forward. I really liked the setting and how it almost felt like its own character of the small town, with a spooky forest and tight knit communities bristling with secrets. It felt claustrophobic, amplifying that sense of paranoia.
The twists are really well done, complicating the story and forcing you to re-examine events from a fresh perspective. The final reveal was smart and eerie, pushing me over the edge of uneasy into shock and suspense.