Have You Seen Me? by Alexandrea Weis started out as the exact kind of book I’ve been craving as part of my dark academia binge. I mean, girls disappearing at an elite boarding school outside of New Orleans, mixing cold cases with new tragedy, a young, atttractive teacher and a hardened cop turned small-town sheriff? Sounds pretty good, right? The combination of late-twenties Audrey and her teen students as narrating points of view mean that the book is interesting to both YA and adult audiences, as well as catnip for potential adaptation. However, the book didn’t manage to live up to its potential. Much of the adults’ behaviour did not follow any sort of logic, especially not when considered from a perspective of an educators responsibility to keep their students safe. The somehow insta-love between sheriff and teacher didn’t manifest in any kind of flirting, which would have been odd enough while her students kept dying, but in him constantly expressing worry about HER safety while not being worried about the students at all. WHO KEPT DYING. And then, around the middle of the story, Native Americans were brought in as a red herring. It was very clear that it was supposed to be a red herring – we never actually encounter one of them, their only purpose in the story is that they keep getting mentioned as some sort of barbarian people who perform rituals on the school grounds and thus are suspects in the girls’ disappearances. Which, no thank you. There is no reason why this is necessary – and no benefit to the plot of this specific book. The only reason I did not rage-quit when this was brought up, is because I needed to know exactly how angry I needed to be. Do not recommend.
The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling is a fun romance centred around Vivi, witch, lecturer and chaotic young woman. A decade ago she accidentally hexed her ex, hot Welsh witch Rhys, which they only just found out as he’s in town for a big ritual. This is basically one big comedy of errors as the two bicker and eventually fall back in love as they try to save the town and undo the curse. The Ex Hex is lighthearted and entertaining, with charming characters, though it lacked substance for my taste. I felt like it was just this tad too easy of a read and wished there was a bit more of an underlying issue. Part of it was probably also that this was a cishet romance, which is not something I pick up often – I was drawn in my the witchy aspect, and it was definitely more romance than witchy novel. So I think this is exactly what it says on the tin, and if that’s what you crave, go for it! Just don’t ask it to be anything that it’s not trying to be.
These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong made my favourite books of 2020 list. I adored the book and thought it combined so many things seemingly effortlessly, so I was very excited for Our Violent Ends, the sequel and end to the duology. However, it didn’t manage to get anywhere close to the magic of the first book and I ended up very frustrated with it despite all my efforts to try and love it as much as I did the first book. It felt like it needed a lot more editing (and it might well be that some of the issues I noticed will be resolved in the finished copies). Much of the plot seemed to be stuck in endless loops of the same over and over again rather than propelling itself forward, which to me was a less than ideal reading experience, combined with a lot of artificial pining between Roma and Juliette. I did enjoy the development of some of the minor characters, though partially that was more on principle than because their storylines felt natural. Ultimately the story did come to a somewhat satisfying conclusion, but the book as a whole did not come close to the magic I felt reading the first book. I’ll still be following what Chloe Gong does next, but Our Violent Ends was more miss than hit for me.