She is a thing on fire: Reviewing Bunny by Mona Awad

Hi everyone! I hope everything is going well and you are enjoying life as it is, even though you sometimes wish it were something different. I’m not going to lie to you all: this was yet another “Book Tok” read. I can be rather easily influenced at times. I do get tired of the “you liked it because it was popular” discourse at times. Most things that get popular do so for a reason, you know? Also, I am really getting into the “unhinged woman” genre. You really can’t go wrong with female rage. Now, if you are so inclined, let’s discuss Bunny.

Content Warning: Violence and Gore, Disturbing Imagery, Harsh Language, Mentions of Sexual Assault, Drug Use, Animal Death

Samantha Heather Mackey is a scholarship student who has created her own dark little corner for herself in her cohort. Her writing is often criticized for being too off-putting or dark by her fellow students at the elite Warren University. In particular, Samantha is tired of dealing with a group of rich, cutesy girls who call themselves and each other Bunny. They are so similar and so different, seemingly existing as one entity. One day, out of nowhere, one of the Bunnies invites her to their “Smut Salon.” Samantha finds herself strangely compelled to join them, despite the warnings of her friend Ava. The Bunnies lead Samantha into a strange world where they partake in strange rituals to create their dream man. Samantha finds herself in over her head as reality begins to shift and she must find a way to escape the Bunnies’ sinister world of blood and glitter.

The best way I can describe this book is as a combination of Mean Girls and The Secret History. Mona Awad certainly doesn’t hold back on the disturbing aspects of this novel and, honestly, I thought it was going to get more disturbing than it ended up being. With dark academia becoming a little oversaturated, it was nice to see a shakeup in the genre. It also definitely gave me similar vibes to My Year of Rest and Relaxation with the narration. Samantha as the narrator is still sarcastic and blunt while also being a sympathetic character. I liked the overall complexity that Mona Award imbues in her novel. I am going to go ahead and give this my stamp of approval but I would especially recommend this one for a group read or book club as there is plenty to discuss within Bunny.

Maybe I know a fellow monster when I see one: Reviewing Hellbent (Book 2 of the Alex Stern Series) by Leigh Bardugo

Hey everyone! I hope you have been reading lots of good books lately. It has been a little weird trying to remember what happened in the previous book, Ninth House, that came out four years ago. You will have to forgive me for forgetting details from the first book. As with movies, I tend to be wary of late sequels but I do enjoy dark academia with magic. Without further ado, let’s talk about the long-awaited sequel, Hellbent.

Content Warning: Violence, Some Graphic Depictions of Death, Harsh Language

Galaxy “Alex” Stern has not given up on the idea that she can rescue her mentor from the depths of hell. The Ninth House, though, has forbidden her from attempting such a dangerous feat. Alex is far from deterred, though. With the help of friends, she will have to navigate all sorts of dangerous forces and perform rituals to retrieve a soul from hell. When members of the Yale faculty begin to die by supernatural means, Alex begins to suspect that someone is trying to interfere with her plans. The closer Alex gets to her goal, the more monsters appear to stop her and destroy everything she holds dear.

Because I only sort of remembered what happened in Ninth House, I had to really try to remember why I liked that book in the first place. Honestly, this sequel was rather underwhelming and had more style than substance. The first book was really intense and rather gratuitous with its depictions of violence whereas this one lacked any crucial lore or well-thought-out meaning. I realized, though, that these books took me back to my middle school/high school days when I loved books like The Vampire Diaries or The Mortal Instruments. They were these big, flashy supernatural sagas that dazzled my young mind with so many cool magic elements. As an adult, though, I realize that those books were kind of hollow. That takes me back to this particular book. I had a hard time absorbing anything that happened that wasn’t some big, magical spectacle. The characters and plot points are good in theory, but I felt the execution was kind of flat. I know Leigh Bardugo has become very popular rather recently and I’m always willing to try popular and lesser-known authors alike. I just think that Bardugo may not be the author for me. This is a long-winded way of me saying that this book suffers from “sequel-itis” and I don’t think this was worth the wait.

Knowledge is Carnage: Reviewing The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake

Hello everyone! It is a beautiful day to stay inside and read some book that the internet told you to read. While I’m happy to have access to such wonderful recommendations, I also feel that “Book Tok” is getting out of hand. Recently, I purchased a book that had a “Seen on Book Tok” (or something like that) sticker on it and I honestly wanted to gag. Ok, that’s the end of my tangent. Let’s get into The Atlas Six.

The Society only recruits the most powerful magic users into its mysterious and elite depths. Every decade, six of the most talented individuals are selected to join the Society. In order to do so, they must pass a series of tests to prove that they are worthy. The six newest recruits quickly find themselves making allies, or enemies, in order to get to the top. The stakes are even higher when they realize that one among them will not survive the initiation into the Society.

I went in wanting to like this book as I was given the impression it was like The Secret History but with magic. Despite Olivie Blake having a fully fleshed out magical world, there really wasn’t a lot of magic actually being done in the book. If I’m being honest, I was rather bored at times as there were long stretches of the book that were just characters having drawn out conversations, or having long internal monologues. As much as I enjoy introspection, when you promise me magic then I want some magic. I am not going to tell anyone to not read this book. I will be nice and say that I did enjoy the characters quite a bit. I also liked how well Blake captures the spirit of dark academia in the book. There is still plenty to like, but it just didn’t transcend my expectations or thrill me in the way other magic – based novels have.

Bloody, Bold, and Resolute: Reviewing If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

Hello everyone! I have officially survived my final semester of grad school and tomorrow I will have officially have a Masters degree. Needless to say, I am equal parts exhausted and excited. I am mostly looking forward to being able to read what I want for the foreseeable future. In all my excitement, I am going to give you my review of If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio. (Side note: Many of the books I’m reading I found on the book side of Tik Tok or Book Tok).

Oliver Marks is one of seven eager Shakespearean actors attending the prestigious Dellecher Classical Conservatory. Their days are filled with friendly, but fierce competition as they rise above the ranks and get the leading roles. Each member, though, plays their own role in the group that reflects the characters they play on stage. As tensions begin to rise and the competition turns fierce, a mysterious tragedy strike the group. Now, Oliver and his fellow thespians must uncover what happened and use their skills as actors to convince everyone else of their innocence.

As a fan of Shakespeare (and theater in general) and dark academia, this book had my name written all over it. I also loved a good whodunnit mystery. If We Were Villains is a perfect combination of all of those elements. Rio does an excellent job combining the prose and play narrative structures while also emphasizing the richness of theater and the sketchy reality of prestigious university. You all may know that I am a huge fan of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and this novel is very much in the vein of that genre. Overall, I thoroughly enjoy the way this novel unfolds and I would consider it essential for any fan of dark academia novels.