Mini Review Monday #58

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 Win Lose Kill Die by Cynthia Murphy. Thank you so much to Harriet Dunlea at Scholastic for sending me an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

An explosive new YA thriller, from the author of Last One To Die.

The students at Morton Academy are high-achievers, selected based on academic excellence. So when a series of murders target the school’s brightest and best, the pressure is on. Someone is determined to stop at nothing to clear their path to the top. But who is it? And can they be stopped?

A high-school slasher with a lethal twist.

Perfect for fans of Karen McManus, Holly Jackson and Gossip Girl.

Publication Date: 6th January 2022

TW: death, murder, grief, drowning, blood, violence, cults, poisoning, graphic violence

Goodreads | Waterstones

My Thoughts:

Win Lose Kill Die is the type of book you should go into knowing very little and prepare to utterly lose yourself in this fast-paced, twisty and tricksy story. 

Murphy is fast becoming someone to watch within YA horror. I loved her debut Last One To Die and was truly excited for her next outing. Here, her opening line was one hell of a hook and quickly drew me in. Of course, once she has you, she never truly lets you go. I adored the atmosphere, pacing and tension here. It felt so claustrophobic and like everyone around was a threat. That was not helped by the sheer stack of bodies that began to pile up. This is a bloody book so I would be careful about getting attached. I love when books actually have these high stakes feel where you are unsure who is going to survive. All of this made for an incredibly fast paced and highly entertaining read. 

The mystery is so well constructed here. It’s no secret that I am a massive mystery aficionado and here Murphy pulls no punches. This is brimming over with interesting twists and turns that genuinely upend everything you thought you knew. Narratively, the interludes from the perspective of the murderer and murder scenes added an intriguing extra dynamic to the mystery. They felt like they were ripped straight out of a classic horror film with that sinking sense of dread and unnerving justification from the murderer themselves. Adding in that twisted, shadowy voice adds another layer of suspense and fear. I also adored the dark academia vibes of the mystery, complete with elite school and even more elite and mysterious secret society. Those are just my guilty pleasure and Murphy has created a very fascinating group here. 

Win Lose Kill Die is a duplicitous, conniving and thoroughly cunning book that merges horror and mystery into one spell-binding story.

Next up, I’d like to talk about Bitter by Akwaeke Emezi. Thank you so much to Bethany Carter at Faber & Faber Children’s for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Bitter is thrilled to have been chosen to attend Eucalyptus, a special school where she can focus on her painting surrounded by other creative teens. But outside this haven, the streets are filled with protests against the deep injustices that grip the town of Lucille.

Bitter’s instinct is to stay safe within the walls of Eucalyptus . . . but her friends aren’t willing to settle for a world that the adults say is “just the way things are.”

Pulled between old friendships, her creative passion, and a new romance, Bitter isn’t sure where she belongs – in the art studio or in the streets. And if she does find a way to help the revolution while being true to who she is, she must also ask: at what cost?

Publication Date: 15th February

TW: racism, police brutality, homophobia, death, violence, murder, blood, mention of conversion therapy, self-harm, abuse 

Goodreads | Waterstones

My Thoughts:

Bitter is one of those books that just captivates you. For a little while, I was utterly wrapped up in Bitter’s narrative and her determination to find a place for herself within this world. 

Pet came into my life earlier this year and captured my heart. Emezi’s writing was so evocative, passionate and ethereal at the same time. I really connected to the characters and this world, so when I heard about a companion novel, I knew I needed it in my life. I loved how much Emezi expanded upon this world and provided more context to the events of Pet. Bitter works at once as a standalone novel and as an enriching text supplementing and adding backstory to Pet. Every new element was so interesting and the dynamics massively shifted, making me want to reread Pet as soon as I can. 

Bitter is such a pertinent book. It burns bright in its exploration of activism, art and trauma. Emezi deals with so much in this contained space, bringing up nuanced discussions around each of these topics. The ethical dilemmas faced here are so complex and thought-provoking. Also the parallels between our world and Lucille are impossible to ignore. Emezi pokes at that dark heart that often hides within our society. By not shying away from these issues, they have crafted a really heartfelt and moving narrative that personally resonated so loudly with me. In particular, there’s a wonderful narrative about vengeance, justice and retribution that forms the core of the book and I think will spark so many necessary conversations. 

As with Pet, Emezi deftly creates these brilliant characters that you fall in love with within the space of a single page. They are all strongly defined and nuanced, with hidden depths to each of them. Bitter is a fantastic protagonist, with a lot on her young shoulders as she tries to navigate her space in this world. This is a book that really grapples with identity and community. The communities on display here are warm, welcoming and protective in their own way. They’re fundamentally driven by their ideologies and defending the values they all hold close to their hearts. 

Bitter is a firecracker of a book, laced with passion, drive and an unrelenting determination to face down the injustices of the world in order to create change.

Finally, I’d like to delve into Bright Ruined Things by Samantha Cohoe. Thank you so much to St Martin’s Press for sending me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

The only life Mae has ever known is on the island, living on the charity of the wealthy Prosper family who control the magic on the island and the spirits who inhabit it. Mae longs for magic of her own and to have a place among the Prosper family, where her best friend, Coco, will see her as an equal, and her crush, Miles, will finally see her. Now that she’s eighteen, Mae knows her time with the Prospers may soon come to an end.

But tonight is First Night, when the Prospers and their high-society friends return to the island to celebrate the night Lord Prosper first harnessed the island’s magic and started producing aether – a magical fuel source that has revolutionized the world. With everyone returning to the island, Mae finally has the chance to go after what she’s always wanted.

When the spirits start inexplicably dying, Mae starts to realize that things aren’t what they seem. And Ivo, the reclusive, mysterious heir to the Prosper magic, may hold all the answers – including a secret about Mae’s past that she doesn’t remember. As Mae and her friends begin to unravel the mysteries of the island, and the Prospers’ magic, Mae starts to question the truth of what her world was built on.

Publication Date: 15th February

TW: alcohol and drug abuse, coercion, death, homophobia/outing, suicide, suicide ideation, supernatural possession & slavery, violence, blood magic


My Thoughts:

As a fan of the Tempest and The Great Gatsby, the synopsis of Bright Ruined Things intrigued me, as Cohoe appeared to blend the two and add a dash of mystery to boot. This is a wildly entertaining and imaginative ride through these influences. 

The setting is at once this decadent Gatsby style island, a seat of privilege and power, while also being this darker Gothic style centre of death and destruction. That duality is at the centre of the book, as the overall struggle is essentially between temptation and redemption. Power rules everything, shown here through the use of magic. Unsurprisingly this magic has a darker side, kickstarting a series of mysterious events and deaths that Mae must follow along. The story here transforms into an intimate character study as we unpick the complex dynamics of this twisted, corrupt family. Everyone here has something to hide and their own desires intertwined with their motivations, leading to a suspenseful and intriguing atmosphere. 

Mae was an interesting protagonist. She has quite literally lived a sheltered life on this island, cocooned in this complex dynamic and family power struggle. At the start of the story, she is so naive and trusting. However, she sees everything that occurs, giving readers some fascinating pieces of the larger picture. That naivety and innocence fades as events unfold, but I liked how her spirit remained hopeful to the very end of the book. While she is fundamentally changed by these events, she still just wants to belong. It is that very pursuit of magic and its accompanying power that may lead to her downfall though. I loved how Cohoe kept this ethical discussion going throughout, culminating in an ambiguous ending with just a touch of romance and optimism. 

Bright Ruined Things is a wonderful reimagining of a classic tale, drawing from many literary influences to create a cohesive and original tale.

4 thoughts on “Mini Review Monday #58

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