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 You Can Trust Me by Gina Blaxill. Thank you so much to Kiran Khanom at Scholastic for sending me a finished copy in exchange for an honest review.
Tragedy hits a teenage New Year’s party…
When Alana’s best friend is found drowned in a pool, the forensic reports discover date-rape drug GHB in her blood. GHB from a drink Alana knows was meant for her. Despite the swirling rumours, the suspected group of boys seem untouchable. To investigate, Alana allows herself to be pulled into their glittering orbit. But among shifting alliances, changing alibis and buried secrets, can she pinpoint which of the boys is responsible before she becomes their next target?
Perfect for fans of Holly Jackson, Karen McManus and Chelsea Pitcher, a bold feminist read with a pacy thriller plot that YA fans will love. Carnegie-nominated author Gina Blaxill looks head-on at privilege, bias and sexual assault in a way that will resonate with young adults today.
Publication Date: 7th April
TW: drugging, attempted sexual assault, murder, violence, death, sexism, rape
You Can Trust Me is the type of book you cannot disentangle yourself from. It just burrows under your skin and into your heart with its intense, timely and emotive power.
Blaxill’s writing style was so incredibly immersive and pulled me in straight away. She has this addictive writing style that had me racing through the pages. The pacing was spectacular, starting with a bang and never relenting from that moment on. Even when you think you are in a safer moment, some ominous sign appears, foretelling doom. This creates such an intense atmosphere of distrust and paranoia. You really never know who you can trust, with allegiances shifting and intentions left murky. Every character here has something to hide. There is a complex web of lies and secrets underpinning the entire story and that truly sent shivers up my spine.
This is really an excellent book. Blaxill is unrelenting in her portrayal of darkness and guilt festering in this claustrophobic atmosphere. The true horror of this book is on full display in its searing takedown of rape culture, privlege and toxic masculinity. This is not an easy book to read at all, with stomach churning moments aplenty. Blaxill initiates a much needed conversation surrounding consent and sexual assault. This is a nuanced and layered book that really gives voice to the victims and interrogates our own complicity in this insidious culture. As horrendous as the attackers are, Blaxill rightfully also shines a spotlight on the passive bystanders that allow this culture to fester, grow and ultimately hurt more people. The way this intersects with her examination of privilege and toxic masculinity is masterful to watch and will hopefully ignite some conversations and change.
You Can Trust Me is one of those books that just imprints itself on your brain and makes damn sure that you will never forget it.
Next up, I’d like to talk about Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Li. Thank you to Coronet Books and Hodder & Stoughton for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Will Chen, a Chinese American art history student at Harvard, has spent most of his life learning about the West – its art, its culture, all that it has taken and called its own. He believes art belongs with its creators, so when a Chinese corporation offers him a (highly illegal) chance to reclaim five priceless sculptures, it’s surprisingly easy to say yes.
Will’s crew, fellow students chosen out of his boundless optimism for their skills and loyalty, aren’t exactly experienced criminals. Irene is a public policy major at Duke who can talk her way out of anything; Daniel is pre-med with steady hands and dreams of being a surgeon. Lily is an engineering student who races cars in her spare time; and Will is relying on Alex, an MIT dropout turned software engineer, to hack her way in and out of each museum they must rob.
Each student has their own complicated relationship with China and the identities they’ve cultivated as Chinese Americans, but one thing soon becomes certain: they won’t say no.
Because if they succeed? They earn an unfathomable ten million each, and a chance to make history. If they fail, they lose everything… and the West wins again.
Publication Date: 14th April
TW: racism, past parent illness, hospitalisation, colonialism
Portrait of a Thief had me hooked from that thrilling concept and Li expanded it to beyond my wildest dreams. This book combines the slick glamour of the heists with a literary analysis of diasporic identities in a way that is impossible to forget.
I loved the exploration of the intersection of colonialism, art and theft. Li wastes no time getting into it. I am a sucker for a good secret society and the inclusion of that note adds that vibe, as well as the exclusive heist club. A central theme of the book is dealing with diasporic identity, particularly micro aggressions, racism and Chinese-American identity. Li’s writing style has this innate beauty and style to it that adds an extra dimension to the story. While it is fast-paced and utterly captivating, I also really appreciated these moments of discussion and pulling apart the intricacies of these topics.
Li explores identity through the perspectives of five very different characters and their individual experiences of diaspora and intergenerational expectations. I loved how their differing perspectives were described through their passions or professions. For example, Will sees the world in broad, sweeping brush strokes and Li often wove in art references to his narratives. Conversely, Daniel is more detail-driven and has the intricacies of the human body and anatomy woven into his voice. I loved how much individuality and character Li brought to each of their voices. Considering the page count and how often we switch perspectives, it is a true testament to her skill at how much I was drawn to these people. Often it was only in a few lines that I got a sense of their depth and how I could emotionally connect with each of them.
Portrait of a Thief deftly tackles colonial legacy, diasporic identity and the art heists to end all art heists in a quietly stunning style.
Finally, I’d like to delve into Elektra by Jennifer Saint. Thank you to Caitlin Raynor at Headline for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
The House of Atreus is cursed. A bloodline tainted by a generational cycle of violence and vengeance. This is the story of three women, their fates inextricably tied to this curse, and the fickle nature of men and gods.
The sister of Helen, wife of Agamemnon – her hopes of averting the curse are dashed when her sister is taken to Troy by the feckless Paris. Her husband raises a great army against them, and determines to win, whatever the cost.
Princess of Troy, and cursed by Apollo to see the future but never to be believed when she speaks of it. She is powerless in her knowledge that the city will fall.
The youngest daughter of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon, Elektra is horrified by the bloodletting of her kin. But, can she escape the curse, or is her own destiny also bound by violence?
Publication Date: 28th April
TW: death, murder, violence, war, rape, suicide, child death, sacrifice, gore
Elektra is another brilliant reexamination of a familiar tale and mythology, through the lens of the women often marginalised and pushed into the shadows.
I absolutely adored Ariadne when I read it last year. It was a fascinating, beautifully written re-imagining of classical mythology with a feminist edge that systematically exposes and destroys the toxic masculinity embedded at the heart of Greek myth. What I’ve discovered from Elektra is that this was no outlier for Saint’s writing, as Elektra delivers this once again.
I am endlessly fascinated by the unwritten sides of classic stories, especially those that promise to show a hidden and unspoken aspect. Saint’s brand of this type of feminist reclamation of culturally embedded narrative is endlessly fascinating for me and I know I will be needing any other stories she creates in this vein. In particular, I love the way she handles the gods. They add this extra element of danger and the cruel embodiment of fate, but remain distant from the consequences of their actions and most of the narrative itself.
Right from the opening of Elektra, you are once more set inside the familiar tale but from a wholly new perspective. This is a layered tale that combines three prominent voices: those of Clytemnestra, Cassandra and the titular Elektra. Each of their tales is woven with suffering and woe, highlighting the unwritten costs of war so often forgotten by history. Saint ensures to bring this to light, adding a real sense of heart and soul to each of these women. Her writing is just so captivating and illuminating. The way their narratives all captivated me so completely is a testament to Saint’s skill. This is a book that conveys every last drop of blood spilt and every tear shed, every unheard cry and scream at the numerous forgotten injustices.
Elektra wrenched my heart straight out of my chest in this emotional examination of family and the forgotten cost of war.