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BookTok worth it or not: The final review

I’m not going to lie, it is pretty hard for me to admit this is the end of my column. What started as a way for me to cope with my feelings by reading more has turned into one of my greatest joys of the week. It has been great to be able to call reading “for the paper” instead of “procrastinating my school work.” Writing this column has helped me document my reading journey and helped me reach my 2022 book goal of 50 books. 

So I knew with this article I would have to go out with a bang. Luckily for you, I’ve been reading a lot to provide you some content. As promised last week, we are taking a break from romance book reviews—though I did just finish “Things You Save in a Fire” by Katherine Center. Instead, this week we will be focusing on books from the dark academia genre which I just know you guys will love. 

Here’s my deal if you’re new here. I’m Victoria and I like to read. I usually find my book recommendations from social media. Though, contrary to what the title of this article would make you believe, I get my recommendations from Instagram, not TikTok—I actually don’t have TikTok. I then try and get a hold of the books people are praising—or shaming—and I decide whether they deserve the commentary they are receiving from the masses. 

This week we will be reviewing “Hell Bent” by Leigh Bardugo and “The Maidens” by Alex Michaelides.

“Hell Bent” by Leigh Bardugo

Now a warning before I start this review. This book is a sequel and the series is still ongoing. It cannot be read as a standalone and it does have an open ending—but not a huge huge cliffhanger like the last book. The first book in the series is called “Ninth House” and the books are a part of Bardugo’s Alex Stern series. A third book is lined up, though a release day has yet to be announced. 

You should know that I absolutely loved “Ninth House.” It clocked in as one of my top reads for 2022 with a number 3 ranking only topped by “The Immortalists” by Chloe Benjamin and “Anxious People” by Fredrick Backman. It isn’t my typical genre of choice but it really stood out to me. I also hadn’t loved Bardugo’s previous work “Six of Crows.” I ended up not finishing it twice, which is like a sin in the book community. But I really felt Bardugo did such a great job with the world building in “Ninth House” and it had enough of a magical element to hook you in while also keeping a foot in the real world. I will mention here that a lot of people did not like Bardugo’s work “Ninth House” because it strayed too much from her style in the “Shadow and Bone” trilogy. But I would like to point out this book is not geared for young adults, it is filed under New Adult which will obviously have content differences. 

Now, onto actually reviewing “Hell Bent” now that you have that background. I will say I really liked “Hell Bent.” I think it kept you on the edge of your seat just like “Ninth House.” The plot took twists and turns that you didn’t always see coming. Was the vampire bit a little off kilter—yes. However, I’m hoping she included this bit as a way to build up the rest of the series down the line so I’m willing to forgive it. A big complaint that people online have with the book is that they said it was not worth the three-year wait. I read “Ninth House” only last October, so the wait really wasn’t terrible for me. But taking that into consideration, I have to agree the sequel was perhaps not worth THAT long of a wait. I will for sure be mad if I have to wait another three years for the next book. 

Spoilers for “Ninth House”: I love the trip to hell and back to try and rescue Darlington—which, yes, is a stupid name. Though it was a bit drawn out, I appreciated the journey you go on nonetheless. I have to say that I think Alex gains a lot more agency in this book. Also Pamela Dawes—the current Oculus at Lethe—and Turner—a detective of the New Haven Police Department—also take more prominent roles in this plot line. I think it’s great to see characters get more attention and develop from their plot in the first book. 

Overall a 10/10 read, though I don’t think it will be making it into the top three reads of 2023 with competition like “The Midnight Library” by Matt Haig and “The Dutch House” by Ann Patchett. 

“The Maidens” by Alex Michaelides

This was one of my $7 book purchases from Pangobooks, which is a second-hand book seller. What a steal! I have to say every book I got from Pangobooks was a hit and I regret none of my purchases. 

“The Maidens,” like “Hell Bent,” falls into dark academia and while “Hell Bent” is based in Yale, “The Maidens” is set at Cambridge University. We follow a group psychiatrist—Mariana Andros—who is coping with the loss of her husband when she gets a call from her niece that her best friend has been murdered. Dun dun dun. We then spend the rest of the book trying to piece together the murders to catch the killer.

I will say this book definitely has some out there plot points, but I am willing to overlook it because the rest of the book was pretty grand and I had fun reading it. 

Mariana goes to be with her grieving niece and she learns of a group on campus called The Maidens—cue the title recognition. It’s kind of like a little cult on campus composed of nine girls. The group is led by one of their professors and they are also theater kids—I feel like this is an important factor to consider. 

The twists that this book takes you on are out there. I mean this in a good way because it makes it really fun to read. You are always second-guessing yourself on who the murderer is and I love that I wasn’t able to guess who it was right away. There have been some murder mystery books where you can guess who the killer is right away. And while you may think you know who it is in this book, I can assure you that you do not. 

Without a doubt you should give this book a read if you happen upon it. 

To anyone who manages to pick up a copy of The Brandeis Hoot and find this article and wants to continue this column, please do. Reach out to vmorrongiello@brandeis.edu and we can get the ball rolling on that. Thank you to those who read this passion project of mine, it has been a blast.

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