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 Primal Animals by Julia Lynn Rubin. Thank you so much to Sarah Bonamino at St. Martin’s Publishing Group for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Arlee Gold is anxious about spending the summer at the college prep Camp Rockaway—the same camp her mother attended years ago, which her mother insists will help give Arlee a “fresh start” and will “change her life.” Little does Arlee know that, once she steps foot on the manicured grounds, this will prove to be true in horrifying ways.
Even though the girls in her cabin are awesome—and she’s developing a major crush on the girl who sleeps in the bunk above her—the other campers seem to be wary of Arlee, unwilling to talk to her or be near her, which only ramps up her paranoia. When she’s tapped to join a strange secret society, Arlee thinks this will be her shot at fitting in…until her new “sisters” ask her to do the unthinkable, putting her life, and the life of her new crush, in perilous danger.
Publication Date: 24th May
TW: racism, homophobia, sexism, violence, animal death, gore, anxiety/panic attacks, fear of bugs, blood, self harm, hazing, parental abuse, cheating, murder, sexism, sexual assault/harassment, arson, graphic descriptions of dead animals, emetophobia, body shaming
Primal Animals is one of those books that really is not afraid to go there. This is a blood-drenched, gut-wrenching type of YA horror book that holds no prisoners and offers no easy answers.
I discovered Julia Lynn Rubin last year, when I read and loved Trouble Girls. That dark and unrelenting exploration of issues is something that appears characteristic of Rubin’s work, with Primal Animals going even further. This is a book that I would recommend going into pretty blind, in order to fully appreciate the unhinged mayhem that ensues. That being said, please be aware of the trigger warnings, as this is a book that gets pretty mucky at times. Rubin throws some gruesome and graphic descriptions at times, showing the messy reality of these situations. It gets elbow-deep in all the mire and darkness encircling.
Yet again, I found Rubin’s writing style so addictive. I did not put this book down, racing through the pages. The tension was so immaculately pushing down on you at all times. Arlee’s headspace can be pretty suffocating at times, with her vivid anxiety and the way she really puts every fibre of her being into everything. Right from the start, you get a sense of the fragility of the veneer of this idyllic setting. There’s something there that sends a shiver down your spine, something unspeakably sinister and unsettling. I love the type of horror that sinks into your bones and this is one of those types of books. The dread and suspense just gets woven around you, building to a crescendo of absolute chaos.
Primal Animals is a book that does not pull its punches. It surrounds you with its creeping dread, pulling you into the grotesque and dubious world it inhabits.
Next up, I’d like to delve into The Butterfly Assassin by Finn Longman. Thank you so much to Eve Wersocki Morris at Simon and Schuster Children’s UK for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Innocent by day, killer by night: a dark, twisting thriller about a teen assassin’s attempt to live a normal life.
Trained and traumatised by a secret assassin programme for minors, Isabel Ryans wants nothing more than to be a normal civilian. After running away from home, she has a new name, a new life and a new friend, Emma, and for the first time, things are looking up.
But old habits die hard, and it’s not long until she blows her cover, drawing the attention of the guilds – the two rival organisations who control the city of Espera. An unaffiliated killer like Isabel is either a potential asset . . . or a threat to be eliminated.
Will the blood on her hands cost her everything?
Publication Date: 26th May
TW: physical abuse, emotional abuse, experimenting on a child, torture, blood, death, murder, violence, trauma, PTSD, traumatic flashbacks, medical trauma
The Butterfly Assassin is one of those books that I will be throwing at everyone I know. This is a unique, memorable and brilliantly complex book that shatters every expectation.
Longman’s world-building was exquisite, with a detailed hierarchy of Guilds, spies and assassins. It felt so fleshed out and immersive, allowing me to sit back and be pulled into this layered world. The plotting was also spot-on, with a constant increase of tension and suspense. Longman throws in some emotionally devastating plot twists and really does not pull their punches. They do not hold make on making you fall in love with these characters, only to throw you for a spin in the next breath. That emotional core and focus provides the shining star of the book for me in the exploration of guilt, trauma and abuse. Longman really goes in deep here with a thoughtful, nuanced and empathetic portrayal. You can feel how much heart and soul has gone into this, as it always feels delicately and carefully presented. The real horror and impact it has on Isabel is unrelenting and truthful.
Isabel was the absolute highlight of the book for me. Longman’s portrayal of an ace, disabled woman was something that really struck a chord with me. The disability representation rang so true in the way Isabel deals with pain. She was such a complex protagonist, messed up in so many ways and a killer to boot. That being said, I loved her anyway. Her fractured, flawed viewpoint was fascinating and your heart aches for the child that was warped and broken time after time after time. Longman’s character development was exquisite. This was accentuated by the ticking clock and impending sense of doom that hovers over the entire book. Combined with the emotional investment you have in Isabel’s attempts to forge a new life for herself, you have an extremely fast-paced, inventive and emotionally intuitive book.
The Butterfly Assassin stunned me with its compassionate, brutally honest and dark heart, though there are glimpses of hope woven into this bleak tale. This is going to be a book that everyone talks about.
Finally, I’d like to talk about Murder for the Modern Girl by Kendall Kulper. Thank you so much to Rob Richardson at Melia for getting me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
A ravishing young mind reader stalks the streets at night in kitten heels, prowling for men to murder.
A soft-spoken genius toils away in the city morgue, desperate to unearth the science behind his gift for shapeshifting.
It’s a match made in 1928 Chicago, where gangsters run City Hall, jazz fills the air, and every good girl’s purse conceals a flask.
Until now, eighteen-year-old Ruby’s penchant for poison has been a secret. No one knows that she uses her mind-reading abilities to target men who prey on vulnerable women, men who escape the clutches of Chicago “justice.” When she meets a brilliant boy working at the morgue, his knack for forensic detail threatens to uncover her dark hobby. Even more unfortunately: sharp, independent Ruby has fallen in love with him.
Waltzing between a supernaturally enhanced romance, the battle to take down a gentleman’s club, and loyal friendships worth their weight in diamonds, Ruby brings defiant charm to every spectacular page of Murder for the Modern Girl—not to mention killer fashion.
Publication Date: 31st May
TW: blood, death, murder, violence, gore, drugging, sexual assault, blackmail
Murder for the Modern Girl is a darkly glamorous book that fully immerses you in the peek behind the curtain of the 1920s period.
The setting hums with the energy and fervent nature of the period. Kulper infuses it with such life and character, really weaving that atmosphere and style around you. There’s always a touch of seediness and exploitation lurking behind the glitzy facade though and Kulper really delves into this for the basis of her mystery. Ruby epitomises this dualism, with her motivations behind her murders being to protect others and punish those who the law would not. There’s an ongoing dialogue around justice and the types of victims that would be listened to and those who would be silenced. From the very first page, you are thrust into Ruby’s tangled web of death and destruction, which is a fascinating and complex place to sit. Throughout the book, Kulper makes you grapple with the ethical concerns surrounding Ruby’s actions. By putting you in her headspace, Kulper makes you complicit, in order to understand her reasonings and also to leave you questioning your position.
This is enhanced by Ruby’s ability, as she can see the unspoken truth hidden within people’s darkest thoughts. I loved the way Kulper explored this ability and overall, how she blended these touches of the fantastical into this period mystery. The end result is a thrilling smorgasbord of genres that keeps the best aspects from each and blends them into something fantastically new. Ruby’s counterpart in narration is also endlessly intriguing, with his shape-shifting ability explored in a way that felt realistic and seamlessly integrated. The way the relationship between the two of them grows felt effortless and really investable. Kulper does not make it easy though, with plenty of emotionally charged twists and turns. These correlate to the shifting plot, which is also packed with surprises. Every time Kulper really amps up the tension and stakes, making this a truly bingeable read.
Murder for the Modern Girl is a fast-paced, thoroughly entertaining and thought-provoking read that really transported me into the seedy glitz of the 1920s.