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Mina and the Undead by Amy McCaw #BookReview

New Orleans Fang Fest, 1995.
Mina’s having a summer to die for.

17-year-old Mina, from England, arrives in New Orleans to visit her estranged sister, Libby. After growing up in Whitby, the town that inspired Dracula, Mina loves nothing more than a creepy horror movie. She can’t wait to explore the city’s darkest secrets – vampire tours, seedy bars, spooky cemeteries, disturbing local myths…

And it gets even better when Mina lands a part-time job at a horror movie mansion and meets Jared, Libby’s gorgeous housemate, co-worker and fellow horror enthusiast.

But the perfect summer bliss is broken when, while exploring the mansion, Mina stumbles upon the body of a girl with puncture marks on her neck, clutching a lock of hair that suspiciously resembles Libby’s… Someone is replicating New Orleans’ most brutal supernatural killings. Mina must discover the truth and prove her sister’s innocence before she becomes the victim of another myth.

Title: Mina and the Undead | Author: Amy McCaw | Publisher: UCLan Publishing | Pub. Date: 01-04-2021 | Pages: 300 | ISBN13: 9781912979479 | Genre: Horror | Language: English | Source: Publisher | Starred

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Mina and the Undead Review

I can’t say I have read a lot of YA books but Amy McCaw has convinced me that I’m missing out with her debut novel, Mina and the Undead.

Following a seventeen-year-old girl (Mina) who grew up in Whitby (a coastal town in England where Draculas’ ship crashes in the 1897 Stoker novel) but is relocating to New Orleans for the summer to stay with her older sister. The pair share a tragic past, with an absent father and a mother who disappeared under mysterious circumstances. What promises to be a fun visit and a chance for the two to reconnect soon devolves into a murder mystery with a decidedly supernatural bent.

There was a lot I really enjoyed about Mina and the Undead, not least the numerous 80s and 90s horror references set throughout the novel. The story is set in the early 90s and Mina’s older sister works in a movie-inspired haunted house attraction, with rooms dedicated to Pennywise, Freddy Kruger, and Leatherface. I was absolutely in my element with all these fun nods to ‘my’ horror classics and as someone who grew up in the 1990s, I got a big kick out of them. Having said that, many of the references are broad enough so that the target audience of the book will hardly be lost.

By far the biggest touchstone, however, is the novels of Anne Rice. The books get a lot of mentions (as does the 1994 Interview With A Vampire movie, which would have been around one year old when this book was set). There are Vampire references aplenty (Kristy Swanson’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer also gets a lot of love) but fans of Anne Rice, in particular, will be right at home here. This is a book about vampires after all.

Enough fanboying over movie references though. How about the book itself?

Mina and the Undead has everything you would expect from a YA horror. There is plenty of bloodshed and mayhem, a very intriguing murder mystery plot, and more than a little teenage romance. Purely in terms of horror, the book is a big success. The story takes a little time to get going, spending some time introducing and fleshing out its characters, but once it does serve up its first victim, there are plenty more where they came from, and McCaw certainly doesn’t shy away from the violence. I also thought the romantic subplot was very well done, happening gradually and organically as the story played out, and it felt very genuine and realistic.

If there is a weak link, it is the murder mystery element, which was incredibly effective at building up tension and offering up red herrings to throw the reader off the trail, but the final act doesn’t offer up any major surprises and ends up being rather obvious. Ultimately, it didn’t really distract from my enjoyment of the book because I was very much invested in the characters and found I was more concerned about their fates than I was about being surprised by the big reveal of the murderer.

As the main protagonist, Mina was a very complex and well-rounded character. McCaw deftly avoids broad characterisations and makes her lead rich and complex. She is brave without being reckless, stands up for herself but knows when to pick her battles, and is intelligent and empathetic. Her decisions aren’t always the right ones, but they are always made with the best of intentions. Her relationship with her sister (Libby) is strong but strained and I also very much related to her. Libby and Mina are very alike, but both react to the events of the book in very different ways, Libby closing up and becoming increasingly unwilling to engage in confrontation, whereas Mina is far more open to talking things out and being proactive. As someone with siblings, I thought this was an excellent depiction of a genuine family relationship.

There is a much wider cast of characters, some of which make a big impact with limited page time (I’m looking at you Della) but it is the location of the story that makes the biggest impression. The author has been very vocal about her love for New Orleans when promoting the book, and that affection shines through on the page. It is such an atmospheric presence throughout, equal parts alluring and dangerous, and I can’t help but feel that the setting plays a major role in how well the book works.

Mina and the Undead takes its time in introducing the reader to a memorable cast of characters before throwing them headfirst into a chaotic and unpredictable story with a big heart and an even bigger body count. Fans of YA horror will no doubt be delighted to read such well-rounded characters embroiled in such a blook-soaked story, but I can’t imagine any horror reader, regardless of age, not having a ton of fun reading this book.

4 Stars

  You can purchase a copy of this book via your normal retailer, but please consider purchasing it from a local indie bookshop instead. It may be found here at Indiebound or at BookShop.  Please note the Bookshop link is an affiliate link and each purchase you make through it helps to support Sci-Fi & Scary and keep the site running.

Published inHorror Book Reviews

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