Mini Review Monday #28

I’m sharing another instalment of my Mini Review Mondays, the last of which was last week. 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’m focusing on three fantastic books that are all either already released or are upcoming releases and I will organise them in order of publication date. For today, I’ve got a mix of genres, from contemporary romance to a shadowy high school clique and a dark, fairy-tale infused lyrical mystery.

Kicking things off is the strangely enchanting YA mystery, Lies Like Poison by Chelsea Pitcher. Thank you so much to Laurie McShea at Simon and Schuster for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Raven, Poppy, Lily and Belladonna were best friends, once. They would’ve done anything for each other. Even murder…

So Raven’s friends make a vow – to brew a lethal tea to get rid of his wicked stepmother once and for all. But when someone gets cold feet, the plan is off.

Three years later, Raven’s stepmother is found dead. Only belladonna is found in her tea…

Someone is lying.
Someone committed murder.
But who…? 

Publication Date: 3rd September

TW: grief, death, abuse, drug use, gaslighting, implied sexual abuse, extremely controlled eating, shooting, murder, blood

Goodreads | Waterstones

My Thoughts:

Lies Like Poison’s strengths really lie in its complex, core cast of characters, who form a tangled sort of found family. There’s so much to be said about LGBTQ+ found family and how it shows that you can form your own supporting community around you.  

Pitcher weaves a dark sort of modern fairytale throughout the story, which pays homage to the grim roots of the original tales that have now been sanitised and romanticised in modern media. Here, this is no Disney cartoon, tapping into heavy topics and delving into the dark recesses of the human psyche. It maintains the edge of the original tales, while also ensuring that it stays fresh and modern. Pitcher delivers a tale for now, where the heroes make their own destiny and the princess doesn’t necessarily have to end up with the prince.  

This was a unique YA thriller in the way that Pitcher blended fantasy and reality, to the extent where the line was often blurred. By deftly combining the two, it gives the whole book this mystical quality that lends itself perfectly to the fairy-tale vibe. Her writing is lyrical but never feels fanciful, rather elevated and fascinating. I enjoyed how she used multiple perspectives so we could gain an insight into each of these complex characters and their interwoven relationships, but it is also told through the third person, so there’s always this slight sense of alienation and therefore a little less trust.  

From the start, you are instantly intrigued and want to discover more of this elaborate tale. Teasingly, Pitcher slowly gives you pieces of the wider story through some tiny hints and details that will later be devastating. There’s layers and multiple strands to the story and indeed several mysteries to solve.  

Lies Like Poison is a serpentine story that will keep you under Pitcher’s spell. 

Next, I would like to talk about the delightfully insightful Charming as a Verb by Ben Philippe. Thank you to Harper 360 for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Henri “Halti” Haltiwanger can charm just about anyone. He is a star debater and popular student at the prestigious FATE academy, the dutiful first-generation Haitian son, and the trusted dog walker for his wealthy New York City neighbors. But his easy smiles mask a burning ambition to attend his dream college, Columbia University.

There is only one person who seems immune to Henri’s charms: his “intense” classmate and neighbor Corinne Troy. When she uncovers Henri’s less-than-honest dog-walking scheme, she blackmails him into helping her change her image at school. Henri agrees, seeing a potential upside for himself.

Soon what started as a mutual hustle turns into something more surprising than either of them ever bargained for. . . .

Publication Date: 12th November

Goodreads | Waterstones

My Thoughts:

This book hinges on Henri and his drive to succeed at all costs. His charisma and wholly human flaws shine through the page so strongly, making it hard to not want to connect to him. It’s so driven by his motivations and actions, so Philippe ensures that you connect to this only too human figure. His voice is so authentic and witty, creating many hilarious moments. Watching his character develop and grow is one of this book’s many strengths. Then on the flipside, we get the strong, fierce and equally driven Corinne. They define the saying of opposites attract, bringing out the best and worst qualities in each other at times. Corinne is more introverted and intense, making for some interesting dynamics between the two. 

There’s a really adorable and believable romance, which has great chemistry and dialogue snapping back and forth across the page. You just root for them to succeed, but their actions get in the way. I appreciated how these actions had real consequences and were always addressed though.  

A major focus of the book is the application process for college and how competitive it is. I really enjoyed how Philippe highlighted the inherent inequalities in the system and how it benefits those who already have privilege. In particular, those with wealth and prior connections have access to certain advantages that others will never be able to obtain. This is tackled head on and discussed in great depth, highlighting the sheer imbalance and unfairness of the system. This leads Henri to make some bad decisions and while they’re not justified, the context for them is vividly realised and understood by the reader.  

Charming as a Verb is a heartfelt, refreshing change from the standard YA rom-com, with humanely flawed characters and an exploration of the price of success. 

Finally, once again courtesy of Harper 360, I want to delve into the tricksy and mysterious These Vengeful Hearts by Katherine Laurin.

Whenever something scandalous happens at Heller High, the Red Court is the name on everyone’s lips. Its members–the most elite female students in the school–deal out social ruin and favors in equal measure, their true identities a secret known only to their ruthless leader: the Queen of Hearts.

Sixteen-year-old Ember Williams has seen firsthand the damage the Red Court can do. Two years ago, they caused the accident that left her older sister paralyzed. Now, Ember is determined to hold them accountable…by taking the Red Court down from the inside.

But crossing enemy lines will mean crossing moral boundaries, too–ones Ember may never be able to come back from. She always knew taking on the Red Court would come at a price, but will the cost of revenge be more than she’s willing to sacrifice?

Publication Date: 11th December

TW: deception, paralysis, bullying, blackmail, cheating/adultery and past car crash

Goodreads | Waterstones

My Thoughts:

The premise of These Vengeful Hearts initially drew me with its mysterious quality and promise of an exploration of vengeance. I am a sucker for a dark secret society and this was no exceptions. 

It delivered all that and so much more.  

Laurin captures the essence of high school drama perfectly, with secrets and scandal galore. There’s a darker edge to it though, as the plot delves deeper and deeper. I also really liked how complex Laurin made the main female characters, rather than relying on stereotypes of the genre. Ember herself makes for a great protagonist, initially driven by revenge for her sister but also showing capacity for change and growth over the course of the story.  

As a mystery, These Vengeful Hearts hits the mark dead on. Laurin packs in the twists and turns, with ever more shocking reveals and an ending that doesn’t neatly wrap up every plot thread. There’s plenty of room for more scandal and secrets to burst out. I liked how it was unconventionally open and flew in the face of many expectations of the genre. The pacing was constantly quick, leaving you little room to draw breath and ensuring that you stayed glued to the pages. This helped me fly through the book, making it a quick and entertaining read to devote an afternoon to. Laurin’s use of consummate tension helps too, with Ember’s every step down a dangerous path leaving you wanting to know what would happen next. She perfectly balances the line between realistic and over the top, with everything feeling plausible. It makes for an addictive read that would easily lend itself to a Netflix series; it has that same bingeable, glossy feel to it.  

These Vengeful Hearts is a glitzy, scandalous read akin to if Mean Girls, if it had a tantalising mystery at its heart.  

6 thoughts on “Mini Review Monday #28

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