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 These Deadly Games by Diana Urban. Thank you to Wednesday Books for sending me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
When Crystal Donavan gets a message on a mysterious app with a video of her little sister gagged and bound, she agrees to play the kidnapper’s game. At first, they make her complete bizarre tasks: steal a test and stuff it in a locker, bake brownies, make a prank call.
But then Crystal realizes each task is meant to hurt—and kill—her friends, one by one. But if she refuses to play, the kidnapper will kill her sister. Is someone trying to take her team out of the running for a gaming tournament? Or have they uncovered a secret from their past, and wants them to pay for what they did…
As Crystal makes the impossible choices between her friends and her sister, she must uncover the truth and find a way to outplay the kidnapper… before it’s too late.
Publication Date: 1st February
TW: murder, death, cyberbullying, violence, gaslighting, blackmailing, blood, panic attacks, domestic abuse, anorexia, racism, grief
These Deadly Games is a nail-biting, thoroughly entertaining and fast-paced read that zips along through its claustrophobic story.
From that first sentence, Urban had me hooked. I loved the fake death in the game and it instantly set the tone for the entire. It was slick, sinister and unexpected. Also, it highlighted the inclusion of gaming and the gaming communities in the story. This was such a fun way to show the dynamics of the friendship group and their motivations. I really enjoyed the group and the way they bounced off each other, with pretty snappy dialogue and that well-worn feeling of comfortability around one another. That competitive edge is already present, with a few potential relationship hints present as well. Of course, after everything is laid clear, that first scene takes on an entirely new meaning.
I really enjoyed All Your Twisted Secrets and was excited to delve into Urban’s latest offering. Yet again, this was an engrossing and well-plotted mystery, with so many twists and turns up Urban’s tricksy sleeve. The stakes are constantly being raised, as the book delves into darker and darker territory. Urban’s twists were so well done, genuinely surprising and upending everything I thought I knew. They added so much depth and nuance, with plenty of secrets to be unveiled. This is emphasised by the two alternating timelines, between the mysterious events of their past. For me, this was the most chilling part of the book. I had to know what happened all those years ago. Although I had a terribly sinking feeling about it, the eventual explanation provides a solid structure through which you can understand everything that’s happened and the entire dynamics of the friendship group.
These Deadly Games is a sharp, snappy book that constantly stays on the razor-edge of tension and suspense.
Next up, I’d like to talk about Ophelia After All by Racquel Marie. Thank you so much to Rob Richardson at Melia for sending me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Ophelia Rojas knows what she likes: her best friends, Cuban food, rose-gardening, and boys – way too many boys. Her friends and parents make fun of her endless stream of crushes, but Ophelia is a romantic at heart. She couldn’t change, even if she wanted to.
So when she finds herself thinking more about cute, quiet Talia Sanchez than the loss of a perfect prom with her ex-boyfriend, seeds of doubt take root in Ophelia’s firm image of herself. Add to that the impending end of high school and the fracturing of her once-solid friend group, and things are spiraling a little out of control. But the course of love–and sexuality–never did run smooth. As her secrets begin to unravel, Ophelia must make a choice between clinging to the fantasy version of herself she’s always imagined or upending everyone’s expectations to rediscover who she really is, after all.
Publication Date: 8th February
TW: homophobia, racism
Ophelia After All was such a breath of fresh air and a slice of queer joy that brought such hope and happiness to my heart.
This was such a wonderful coming of age tale, complete with an exploration of identity and sexuality. It was just so joyful and inclusive. The way Marie wove in such a heartfelt tale of finding yourself and your place in the world was exquisite. You can just feel the authenticity and emotion poured into the pages and that translates so well. Occasionally, you pick up a book and know it’s going to help so many people. This book is one of those rays of sunshine that I know I will not stop recommending to people.
I loved how on the face of it, this is a romance novel and the romantic elements are excellent, but this is really about Ophelia herself and her journey. Ophelia was such an excellent protagonist, with her tenderness and passion coming across so strongly. You just root for her and fall in love with her, wanting her to find happiness. In fact, the entire friendship group has such distinctive personalities and is dealing with their own issues, which are explored with sensitivity and care. There’s always a thread of hope running through as well, which I really appreciated. Queer narratives and those of POC are often characterised by suffering, so it’s a welcome change to see joy.
Marie explores intersectional identities, particularly with sexuality and being a person of colour. This discussion is nuanced, sensitive and clearly comes from a place of love and respect. I loved how casually inclusive this book was, but how it also highlighted intersectional issues and didn’t shy away from talking about prejudices.
Ophelia After All is a wonderful tale about family, friendships and finding yourself. Marie has an exquisite voice and I’m excited to see what she does next.
Finally, I’d like to delve into A Far Wilder Magic by Alison Saft. Thank you so much to Hachette Children’s Group for sending me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
In the dark, gothic town of Wickdon, Maggie Welty lives in an old creaking manor. Maggie’s mother is an alchemist who has recently left town, leaving Maggie with just her bloodhound for company. But when Maggie spots a legendary ancient fox-creature on her porch, her fate is changed forever. Whoever tracks down and kills the hala in the Halfmoon Hunt will earn fame and riches – and if Maggie wins the hunt, she knows her mother will want to celebrate her. This is her chance to bring her home.
But the rules state that only teams of two can join the hunt, and while Maggie is known as the best sharpshooter in town, she needs an alchemist.
Enter Wes Winters. He isn’t an alchemist … yet. Fired from every apprenticeship he’s landed, this is his last chance.
Maggie and Wes make an unlikely team – a charismatic but troubled boy, and a girl who has endured life on the outskirts of a town that never welcomed her. But as the hunt takes over, the pair are drawn together as they uncover a darker magic that may put everything they hold dear in peril…
Publication Date: 17th March
TW: antisemitism, death threats, racism, animal injury, animal death, gore, parental neglect, emotional abuse, panic attacks
A Far Wilder Magic is one of those books that just captures your entire mind and casts a spell over you.
This was just such an interesting story. Saft has crafted this delicately beautiful and gorgeous story, complete with such an original magic system and mythology. I loved the way she wove in elements of the real world into this immersive and well-crafted world. It’s such a rich and creative story. I just got lost in this imaginative, immersive world. For a little while, Saft took me away to this Gothic tinged world to tell me a softly wonderful love story hidden in a world of shadows and monsters.
Here, the true monsters are unequivocally in human form. The discussion around racism, immigration and anti-Semitism was woven in really well, showcasing the ugliness and abhorrent nature of these attitudes and how they carried over into actions. It provokes some dark moments that are thought-provoking and horrendous to read at times. However, ultimately this is such a visceral and emotional tale, full of tenderness and love. The intimacy and pure magic in Saft’s words bring this heartfelt story of loneliness and family to live with such vivacity and warmth.
Both Margaret and Wes need to find somewhere and someone with whom they truly belong and can be themselves. I really loved both of our protagonists and their drive to obtain their desires, though these are complicated by their personal and familial relationships. Margaret is someone brought to hold an icy shell over themselves from the sheer hatred she’s encountered from the wider community and her own mother. Her story and growth is wondrous to watch over the course of the book. Wes is so loyal to his family and though his impulsiveness lands them in some tricky spots, it comes from a place of love and wanting to protect those around him.
A Far Wilder Magic is an achingly emotive and romantic story, entwined with a Gothic narrative of family and monstrous beings.