Mini Review Monday #36

I’m sharing another instalment of my Mini Review Mondays, the most recent 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 talking about three darker books that all draw on elements of mystery and have unique methods of storytelling.

First up, I’d like to talk about Mina and the Undead by Amy McCaw. Thank you so much to UCLan Publishing for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

New Orleans Fang Fest, 1995.

Mina’s having a summer to die for.

17-year-old Mina, from England, arrives in New Orleans to visit her estranged sister, Libby. After growing up in the town that inspired Dracula, Mina loves nothing more than a creepy horror movie. She can’t wait to explore the city’s darkest secrets – vampire tours, seedy bars, spooky cemeteries, disturbing local myths…

And it gets even better when Mina lands a part-time job at a horror movie mansion and meets Jared, Libby’s gorgeous housemate, co-worker and fellow horror enthusiast. But the perfect summer bliss is broken when, while exploring the mansion, Mina stumbles upon the body of a girl with puncture marks on her neck, clutching a lock of hair that suspiciously resembles Libby’s…

Someone is replicating New Orleans’ most brutal supernatural killings. Mina must discover the truth and prove her sister’s innocence before she becomes the victim of another myth.

Publication Date: 1st April

TW: blood, death, murder, addiction

Goodreads | Waterstones

My Thoughts:

Mina and the Undead is a fascinating, blood-drenched and wild ride through a supernatural, yet all too human mystery that centres around obsession and power. 

McCaw starts off with a bang, with an interesting and intriguing first chapter. I loved the whole homage to classic horror films and their terrifying villains, brilliantly presented through the whole haunted house immersive experience. It just sets the stage so well for the devilish chaos about to ensue and sets that tone that balances horror with touches of comedy. 

I really appreciated how McCaw wastes no time in getting into the mystery. You get enough time to have a sense of the characters, but then you’re straight into the action. The presence of evil is tangible and constantly surrounding Mina from the start. The dastardly twists and turns that follow are nothing short of great. This genuinely is a very engaging and brilliant YA murder mystery, with superntaural touches and flourishes that harness the essence of the Gothic genre and transforms it for today’s readers. The plotting is stellar and the pacing is spot on. You have this moments to breathe and become more invested in the characters, but you never feel entirely comfortable, as another gory surprise is often waiting around the corner. 

I felt that the setting, both geographically and time wise, really enhanced the story. New Orleans is a place steeped in myth and legend, allowing for that blurring between fantasy and reality to be all the more enticing. The setting just adds this extra level of atmosphere to the enticing mystery shrouded in secrecy and filled with vampirical vibes. Time wise, I loved all the 90s pop culture references, feeling like knowing nods to the reader. It just helped me really enmesh myself in this wonderfully wicked world Mina finds herself in. 

Mina and the Undead’s biggest strengths are in its charming characters, well-imagined setting and compelling plot.

Next up, I’d like to talk about the intricate and quietly moving Everyone Dies Famous in a Small Town by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock. Thank you so much to Faber Children’s for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Come on a journey across the rural American West…

Meet the teenagers who live in the small towns across these states, separated by distance, but whose stories are woven together in the most unexpected of ways.

Whether they are brought together by the spread of wildfire, by the priest who’s moved from state to state or by the hunt for a missing child, these incredible tales blaze with secrets, rage and love.

A novel like no other, this intricate, intense and beautiful book will take your breath away.

Publication Date: 20th April

TW: grief, cheating, drug use, sexual assault, child sexual assault, kidnapping, fire, murder

Goodreads | Waterstones

My Thoughts:

Everyone Die Famous in a Small Town is such a complex and intricate woven story that I marvel at the skill it took to pull it off as well as Hitchcock does. 

At the heart of this book are realistic, human and very different reactions to grief. This is a deeply sad and touching story that you gradually piece together as you glimpse into different peoples’ narratives. The connections between characters and stories make this such a three-dimensional, layered and complex story. It really examines the butterfly and ripple effects of actions, be they big or little and how their implications ricochet across so many other lives. 

This is a nuanced and rich tapestry of human life, greatly defined by trauma and fire. There’s a range of portrayals of reactions to trauma and different traumatic events that occur. For me, the overarching narrative that is slowly revealed was moving and really hit home. These stories are shocking, saddening and enraging but others are full of love and hope. 

Most characters you meet are deeply flawed and battling dark memories and events within themselves. They are nowhere near perfect, but they are incredibly human and realistic. Each of their voices rings clear and stands out from one another. Collectively, they echo human experiences of love and loss, often marked by the hallmarks of traumatic events and with the smoke of fire hanging over each of them. Thematically, fire looms large over this book. It grows from a small flame into a raging inferno by the book’s end. It symbolises those growing ripple effects and a total exposure of the truth that gradually leaks through. 

Everyone Die Famous in a Small Town is a quietly beautiful, multi-layered and incredibly thought-provoking story.

Finally, I’d like to shout about the wonderful Madam by Phoebe Wynne. Thank you so much to Quercus Books for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

For 150 years, Caldonbrae Hall has loomed high above the Scottish cliffs as a beacon of excellence in the ancestral castle of Lord William Hope. A boarding school for girls, it promises that its pupils will emerge ‘resilient and ready to serve society’.

Into its illustrious midst steps Rose Christie, a 26-year-old Classics teacher and new head of department. Rose is overwhelmed by the institution: its arcane traditions, unrivalled prestige, and terrifyingly cool, vindictive students. Her classroom becomes her haven, where the stories of fearless women from ancient Greek and Roman history ignite the curiosity of the girls she teaches and, unknowingly, the suspicions of the powers that be.

But as Rose uncovers the darkness that beats at the very heart of Caldonbrae, the lines between myth and reality grow ever more blurred. It will be up to Rose – and the fierce young women she has come to love – to find a way to escape the fate the school has in store for them, before it is too late.

Perfect for fans of Margaret Atwood and Madeline Miller, Madam is a darkly feminist tale with an electrifying cast of heroines you won’t soon forget.

Publication Date: 13th May

TW: Suicide, arson, death by arson, arranged marriage, teacher-student relationship, terminally ill parent, grooming, racism, rape, mention of abortion

Goodreads | Waterstones

My Thoughts:

Madam is a dark, Gothic gem of a book that I will be recommending fervently. 

I adore feminist retellings of classical tales and really appreciated how these complex tales of women were woven into the text. On top of that, the discussion they were able to have as a result of these texts were really illuminating in the wider context of the book. This is a story where you have to pay attention to the small details, those hidden within the gorgeous writing of the book and I loved piecing together the puzzle. Dark Academia is a fascinating genre to me and I particularly love when it gets a feminist spin. 

This is a book that pivots on what it excludes from the narrative just as much as what it includes. It trades on secrets and shadows, mysterious movements in the dark that keep you utterly enthralled. It harness the best aspects of the Gothic tradition and weaves them into something newly exciting and dangerous. The horrors that lurk within this world are just as prevalent within our own. Part of me spent much of the novel just screaming at Rose to wake up and see what was going on around her. That’s the worrying part though, this kind of danger stares us straight in the face. It’s enmeshed within the very fabric of society and asks what people will have to sacrifice in order to cement themselves within it. 

From the start, you have a strong sense of what you’re in for, but you cannot guess the full extent of the wild ride ahead. The opening is incredibly strong, with a horrific and spine-tingling overtone to it. You know this is a book that will be characterised by death, in many differing forms. There’s the scene at the start of death, but there’s also a more insidious form of death that erodes your sense of self and entire personality to nothing. 

Madam is an eerie, unsettling and darkly feminist book that will chill you to the bone.

10 thoughts on “Mini Review Monday #36

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