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 previously read and am now ready to share my full thoughts about.
First up, I’d like to talk about My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones. Thank you so much to Titan Books for sending me an eARC of this in exchange for an honest review.
Jade is one class away from graduating high-school, but that’s one class she keeps failing local history. Dragged down by her past, her father and being an outsider, she’s composing her epic essay series to save her high-school diploma.
The unifying theory of slasher films.
In her rapidly gentrifying rural lake town, Jade sees the pattern in recent events that only her encyclopedic knowledge of horror cinema could have prepared her for. And with the arrival of the Final Girl, Letha Mondragon, she’s convinced an irreversible sequence of events has been set into motion.
As tourists start to go missing, and the tension grows between her community and the celebrity newcomers building their mansions the other side of the Indian Lake, Jade prepares for the killer to rise. She dives deep into the town’s history, the tragic deaths than occurred at camp years ago, the missing tourists no one is even sure exist, and the murders starting to happen, searching for the answer.
As the small and peaceful town heads towards catastrophe, it all must come to a head on 4th July, when the town all gathers on the water, where luxury yachts compete with canoes and inflatables, and the final showdown between rich and poor, past and present, townsfolk and celebrities slasher and Final Girl.
Publication Date: 7th September
TW: sexual assault, trauma, gore, blood, suicide, self harm, violent deaths, child abuse, animal abuse, murder and suicide ideation
Stephen Graham Jones has done it again.
My Heart is a Chainsaw is another home-run from a horror mastermind. He expertly weaves truly terrifying moments with a socially conscious and fiercely intelligent tale that you won’t be able to forget.
Right from the menacing opening scene, Jones proves that he is a master of the genre. It has this incredibly intense atmosphere and charge to it that starts the domino effect of sprawling chaos, death and destruction. For me, it felt like a classic horror film opening and instantly filled me with dread. Very rarely have I read an opening that feels as perfect as this one. It’s blood-soaked, gorey and promises many more horrors to come. Jones is a master of crafting an exquisite atmosphere. He seems to channel the shadows that move in the dark and the glimmers of what lurks within them. Well done horror lingers on your mind, allowing you to create your own worst fears and Jones exploits this perfectly. Also, there’s a fervent exploration of societal issues, including a deep-rooted exploration of childhood trauma that seeps into all the blood and gore. I thought Jones explored this with such nuance and a unique lens that really stays with you. It’s not used as a cheap twist, more as a heart-breaking realisation that the reader has seen glimpses of all along.
Jones has truly smashed it out of the park once more with a slow-burning horror novel that fully immerses you inside the tangled and foggy mind of Jade before all hell breaks loose. I was absolutely fascinated by Jade and her horror film obsessed mindspace. Through this, Jones is able to interrogate conventions of the genre as Jade sees them present themselves in the events unfolding around her. It exposes the machinery whirring behind the tales and elements of predictability, only for Jones to constantly upend every expectation you may have. I loved the slower pacing, which became a masterclass of suspense and tension. You can feel the hair on your arm stand up at the menace of the oncoming storm, but you are kept waiting on the edge of your seat for it to arrive. This is next level brilliance that I adored. Of course, once the storm hits, you’re in for a bloody, gory madcap mess that you just fly through.
My Heart is a Chainsaw is another brilliantly immersive and introspective horror novel from a powerhouse of the genre.
Next up, I’d like to talk about Not Here To Be Liked by Michelle Quach. Thank you so much to Usborne for sending me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Falling in love wasn’t part of the plan. Eliza Quan fully expects to be voted the next editor-in-chief of her school paper. She works hard, she respects the facts, and she has the most experience. Len DiMartile is an injured star baseball player who seems to have joined the paper just to have something to do.
Naturally, the staff picks Len to be their next leader. Because while they may respect Eliza, they don’t particularly like her – but right now, Eliza is not here to be liked. She’s here to win. But someone does like Eliza. A lot. Shame it’s the boy standing in the way of her becoming editor-in-chief….
Publication Date: 16th September
TW: sexism, racism, bullying
Not Here To Be Liked combines a fierce and complex exploration of what it truly means to be a feminist with a heart-warming romantic contemporary. I guarantee you’ll end up falling in love with Eliza and Len.
I loved how Quach included these really nuanced discussions about feminism, the process of it and being more intersectional. Feminism requires constant education and a willingness to challenge your own misconceptions. In particular, I loved the discussion about being a ‘perfect’ feminist and not a ‘bad feminist’. Quach shuts down any notions of the latter, instead showing how allowing yourself to make mistakes and be just human in all your flawed ways is the way to be true to yourself. You don’t always have to change the world, instead you can just own your moment instead and change your own mindset. Notions of ‘bad feminists’ are also often linked to slut-shaming and other patriarchal ideas, which Quach really explores.
Eliza was a fantastic protagonist. She has a more unapproachable exterior, but this masks a deep love for her friends and family. There’s such warmth within her, but the layers around it have been built for her own protection. That’s why I really appreciated Quach still making her keep some of her more ‘unlikeable’ qualities at the end of the book. Eliza stays true to herself, but she also learns and grows over the course of the book. She is far from perfect, but that makes her all the more relatable. I also really loved her dedication and passion, with her heart and soul being poured into following her heart. Len was also an amazing character. I really liked as he slowly opened up to Eliza and the enemies to friends to maybe something more dynamic was so lovely to see. Their chemistry was incredibly tangible and their dialogue just sparkled.
Not Here To Be Liked is a book packed with humour and heart, but it doesn’t detract from the punch of its empowering central message.
Finally, I’d like to delve into To Break a Covenant by Alison Ames. Thank you to Rob Richardson at Melia for sending me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Moon Basin has been haunted for as long as anyone can remember. It started when an explosion in the mine killed sixteen people. The disaster made it impossible to live in town, with underground fires spewing ash into the sky. But life in New Basin is just as fraught. The ex-mining town relies on its haunted reputation to bring in tourists, but there’s more truth to the rumors than most are willing to admit, and the mine still has a hold on everyone who lives there.
Clem and Nina form a perfect loop—best friends forever, and perhaps something more. Their circle opens up for a strange girl named Lisey with a knack for training crows, and Piper, whose father is fascinated with the mine in a way that’s anything but ordinary. The people of New Basin start experiencing strange phenomena—sleepwalking, night terrors, voices that only they can hear. And no matter how many vans of ghost hunters roll through, nobody can get to the bottom of what’s really going on. Which is why the girls decide to enter the mine themselves.
Publication Date: 21st September
TW: death, animal death, gore, blood
To Break a Covenant is the type of book that sets itself inside your heart, only to tear it apart. It is an incredibly unnerving and fiendish gem that cries out to be devoured.
I absolutely adored Ames’ writing. Right from that atmospheric opening, I was hooked. Straight away the backstory of the tragedy and the supernatural stories surrounding it are set up in a spine-tingling manner. You know nothing good will come of this and yet, you still delve deeper. I loved how Ames wasn’t afraid to really go dark. This is not a book that holds back. It messes with your head and pulls you into the dark abyss of the mine, combining unreliable narration with shocking moments and the unnerving of something staring right back at you. This is honestly such a creepy reading experience. At times, it felt like something was slithering under my skin as the dread started to set in. The whole way through, you’re sat on the edge of your seat awaiting the inevitable doom and destruction.
This is an incredibly strong debut that plays expertly with atmosphere, tension and structure in a way that will entice and entrance any reader. Ames cleverly includes these serialised segments in between the main plot, which really add to the feel of the book and build up suspense and tension. They’re genuinely creepy and spooky segments that only become more horrifying after the final few pages.
Above all else, I fell in love with our central cast of characters. They all felt so well-developed and lovable. Found family is one of my favourite tropes and this group felt like the best type. They mesh together perfectly, but all still stand out with their own vivid personalities and personal growths. Of course, they all also start to interact with the mythos of the mine in their own ways, with little details and allusions only coming together later in the book. The romance that blooms as well felt so organic and tender, like the first flower blossoming in spring. There’s that tentativeness to it that feels so genuine and holds that last spark of innocence and hope in an otherwise dark landscape.
To Break a Covenant is a gorgeously dark and mysterious book that thrives on its seemingly inevitable doom and destruction. This is a horror novel unlike any other, creeping into your mind and twisting it just enough for you to remember its touch.