Today’s Monday Minis are back in full swing with three books I enjoyed very much. Massive thanks to the respective publicists for sending me eARCs of these books, all opinions are my own, as usual.
Belladonna by Adalyn Grace is a delightfully dark YA fantasy. It is a new take on the old trope of Death and the Maiden – and we quite literally have Death appear as a character, which thanks to Terry Pratchett’s iconic character has become one of my favourite things. Belladonna is fast-paced, hooks the reader quickly and is full of not all-together unforseen twists. Signa, the main character, just won’t die. In a backstory reminiscent of A Series of Unfortunate Events, her guardians, however, keep dying. And now she’s sent to the last relatives she knows of – an aunt. Her aunt has passed away in the meantime, though, so she’s staying with the uncle and his two children, a son and a sickly daughter in their haunted mansion. Hitting on every Gothic trope in the book, this is just a wonderful escapist story that I couldn’t stop compulsively reading. It never felt like it went in a particularly unexpected direction or re-invented anything major, but it doesn’t need to. It does exactly what it says on the tin, and does so very well.
I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston took me a while to get into. From the blurb I wasn’t quite sure whether this was going to be a contemporary rom-com or one with a supernatural twist – Shara Wheeler disappears after kissing three people on the same night, nemesis Chloe, neighbour Rory and boyfriend Smith, leaving behind only a series of pink envelopes. When I realised that this was in fact a purely human-based story, and one set in the deep South of Alabama, my enthusiasm started to wane a bit – McQuiston’s One Last Stop was one of my absolute favourite books of 2021, largely because of its time-slip element and NYC setting. However, once I really got stuck into the story and started to get to know this cast of characters, they evolved from superficial high school stereotypes to multi-faceted, loveable people, and into a host of queer kids just coming into their own – which felt very intentional. I couldn’t put the book down, and kept sneaking chapters during work (which meant I ended up working very late that day…). I Kissed Shara Wheeler is basically the movie John Hughes would make in 2022, aimed at the queer and diverse audience of teens today. Highly recommended if you’re looking for a fun read now that it’s warmer outside and you can take a book to the park.
Someone in Time edited by Jonathan Strahan is a solid anthology of stories centred around time-travel and romance. It has a brilliant line-up, featuring authors such as Alix E. Harrow, Zen Cho, Theodora Goss, Sarah Gailey and many more, which made me run towards my review copy. As with most anthologies, not all stories worked equally well for me, and with this one especially I noticed the bookending with the strongest stories. I found that the first few were strong, then it had a – for me – weaker middle, and then the last few stories were really strong again, ending on what was the absolute strongest story of the collection, Ellen Klages’ tale of female physicist and lesbian culture in the 1950s. And really, it made me a bit sad that apart from Klages’ story, those that resonated most strongly with me were those by authors I was already familiar with and whose work I knew I enjoyed. Part of why I love anthologies so much is because it gives me the opportunity to encounter new authors, find new favourites, and it felt like I missed out on that with Someone in Time. But as a whole, I really enjoyed it – and those stories that worked for me worked really well. So it’s a definite yes from me!