ARC review, blog tour, book review, fancast, young adult

S.T.A.G.S. by M.A. Bennett (Blog Tour: Review, Fancast & Excerpt)

Title: S.T.A.G.S.
M.A. Bennett
YA, Contemporary, Mystery, Thriller
Penguin Teen
Penguin Random House
January 30, 2018

A physical copy of this book was kindly provided by the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Seventeen-year-old Greer, a scholarship girl at a prestigious private school, St Aidan the Great School (known as STAGS), soon realizes that the school is full of snobs and spoilt rich brats, many of whom come from aristocratic families who have attended the institute throughout the centuries. She’s immediately ignored by her classmates. All the teachers are referred to as Friars (even the female ones), but the real driving force behind the school is a group of prefects known as the Medievals, whose leader, Henry de Warlencourt, Greer finds both strangely intriguing as well as attractive. The Medievals are all good-looking, clever and everyone wants to be among their circle of friends. Greer is therefore surprised when she receives an invitation from Henry to spend a long weekend with him and his friends at his family house in the Lake District, especially when she learns that two other “outsiders” have also been invited: Shafeen and Chanel. As the weekend unfolds, Greer comes to the chilling realization that she and two other “losers” were invited only because they were chosen to become prey in a mad game of manhunt.

– Tour Stops –

I would firstly like to thank Penguin Random House (Penguin Teen Canada) for including me in this blog tour, and for sending me a copy of this book to read and review!

January 22: Flavia @ Flavia the Bibliophile
January 23: Trang @ Bookidote
January 24: Sabrina @ Hiver et Cafe
January 25: Zoë @ Writing Whimsy
January 26: Ryley @ Ryley Reads
January 29: Laurie @ Books and Chinooks
January 30: Victoria @ The Contented Reader
January 31: Ashley @ Said the Story

– My Review –

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This book was so intense! I devoured it in 24-48 hours (and would have gotten through it a lot quicker if I didn’t need sleep to get through the day, haha). As you will see when you read the excerpt (unless you read that first, and I don’t blame you if you did), the story kind of hooks you from the very first line (or it hooked me, anyway). From the moment that Greer says that she might be a murderer, but doesn’t come right and says what she means by that, I knew that I had to get to the end of the book ASAP, just to see what happened. Also, before I go into more detail about the interior, can I just take a moment to gush over the exterior? I absolutely love the colour, it is simple and yet very very striking because of what is included in the image. I think that this will turn out being one of my most favourite covers of 2018!

Bennett provided a lot of information about the settings in the book, to the point where they were very easy to picture even though they had been made up by the author. I can picture the settings even now, some days after finishing the book. For example, I pictured the school to look a little like The King’s School in England, since in the book, it’s described as being the oldest school in England. Bennett also did a great job at making the school feel very isolated, which is important for projecting some of the suspense in the book.

Clothing was also described very effectively, and I especially liked the uniform that Bennett picked out for the S.T.A.G.S. students. I actually didn’t think that those kind of uniforms existed in real life, until I looked up “tudor cape school uniforms” and discovered Christ’s Hospital Independent boarding school. But that was after I finished the book, and I pictured the S.T.A.G.S. uniforms to look a little differently from that. But it sort of gives one an idea, I suppose? As you can tell, this book really stuck with me, if I’m still thinking about settings and clothing days after reading the last page! And I think that it will definitely stick in the minds of many readers, not only because it was quite the thrilling thriller, but also because of some of the subject matter that it addresses.

The entire story in S.T.A.G.S. was told from Greer’s perspective, in the first person, and I’m glad that I got to know Greer pretty well. But some of the other characters grew on me as well, and I kind of wish that we’d gotten some chapters from their perspectives as well. But I would be even happier if this turns into a series, and I get to spend more time with my favourite characters! There was definitely character development, and I liked learning more about each character as the story progressed (especially Shafeen! He was my favourite, followed by Henry de Warlencourt). Every character interacting with Greer was as fleshed out and well-described as is possible from Greer’s perspective rather than an omnipresent narrator telling the story in the third person.

I enjoyed the writing as well. It was written as if told by Greer after everything had already taken place, and I found the tone to be very engaging. I find that the manner in which Greer “spoke,” would feel very familiar and approachable to teen readers, as well as some adult readers. I definitely recommend this book to those age ranges, and especially to those who enjoy contemporary YA thrillers!

– Fancast –

Since I heard rumours that there is a possibility that S.T.A.G.S. might get turned into a movie, I thought that I would do something that I’ve never done before here on the blog; I wanted to post a fancast! Alright, let’s do this!


Taylor Lashae as Greer MacDonald
Suraj Sharma as Shafeen Jajeda
Marina Laswick as Chanel


Steven Chevrin as Henry de Warlencourt
Louis Hofmann as Henry Cookson
Simon Van Meervenne as Piers

Erin Heatherton as Esme
Candice Swanepoel as Charlotte
Rosie Huntington as Lara

– Excerpts from Chapter 1 –

I think I might be a murderer.

Although, as I didn’t mean to kill, I suppose it was manslaughter, so technically I would be a “manslaughterer,” although I don’t think that’s a word. When I got my scholarship to STAGS, my old headmistress told me, “You’ll be the cleverest student in that school, Greer MacDonald.” I might be; I might not. But I’m clever enough to know that “manslaughterer” is not a word.

I should make it clear here, before you lose all sympathy for me, that I didn’t kill with my own hands. There were a few of us. I helped to cause death, but not alone. I’m a murderer in the way that foxhunters are murderers—they are each responsible for the fox’s death, even though they hunt in a pack. No one ever knows which dog tore the fox apart, but all dogs, and all those riders in their smart red coats, are part of it.

I just gave myself away. Did you spot it? Those coats—the coats that posh people wear out foxhunting—they are pink, not red; hunting pink. And the dogs are not dogs; they are hounds.

Every time I open my mouth, I give myself away; Greer MacDonald, the Girl Who Doesn’t Fit In. It’s my northern accent, you see. I was born and raised in Manchester and went to Bewley Park Comprehensive School until this summer. In both those places I fitted in just fine. When I won my scholarship to STAGS, I stopped fitting in.

I ought to tell you a bit about STAGS, because I now realize how connected the school is to the murder. “STAGS” stands for “St. Aidan the Great School,” and it is literally the oldest school in England. Not a single building in my comprehensive school, Bewley Park, was built before 1980. The earliest bit of STAGS, the chapel, was built back in 683, and it is covered in frescoes. Frescoes. Bewley Park was covered in graffiti.

STAGS was founded in the seventh century by the man himself. Saint Aidan the Great, I mean. Before the Church decided he was great, he was just a plain old monk, and he wandered around northern England telling anyone who would listen about Christianity. Then, presumably so he could stop wandering, he founded a school, where he told his pupils all about Christianity instead. You might assume that he was made a saint for all that telling people about Christianity, but apparently tha’s not how it works. In order to become a saint, you have to perform a miracle. Aidan’s miracle was that he saved a stag from the hung by turning him invisible. So the stag became Aidan’s emblem, and the school’s too. When I got my litter inviting me for an interview, the stag’s antlers were the first thing I noticed, right at the top of the letter, like two little jagged black ears in the paper.

The first time I saw St. Aidan the Great School was when I went for my interview. It was one of those sunny mid-winter days, all glittering frosty fields and long, low shadows. Dad drove me through the gates and up this long driveaway through lush green grounds in his ten-year-old Mini Cooper. At the of the drive, we got out and just stared and stared. We’d seen some pretty amazing scenery on the long trip from Yorkshire to Northumberland, but this was the best of all. It was a beautiful, vast medieval manor house, with a sort of moat and a little bridge to the entrance. It didn’t look at all like the headquarters of a disturbing cult, which is what it actually is. The only clue, if I’d been looking for it, might have been the pair of antlers over the great door.

Another Country,” I said shakily.

Dad didn’t nod, or murmur, You can say that again. He said, “If…”

My dad is a wildlife cameraman, and he loves films of all kinds, not just the nature documentaries that he mostly works on. We watch loads of films together, from obscured subtitled films to the stupidest brand-new blockbusters. I’m even named after Greer Garson, a film star from the black-and-white days. When Dad’s traveling, or on night shoots, I watch films on my own, just to make up for the thirty-year head start he has on me. We have this game that we play; when something we see reminds us of a film, we say it out loud, and the other person has to name another film on the same theme. Now we were doing films featuring private schools. “And,” he said “Zéro de Conduite.”

Ooh la la,” I said, “a French film. The gloves are off.” I thought hard. “Harry Potter, films one to eight,” I said, a bit shakily. “That’s eight points.”

Dad could obviously hear the nerves in my voice. He knows so many films that he could have beaten me easily, but he must have decided that today wasn’t the day. “All right,” he said, giving me his lopsided grin. “You win.” HE looked up the grand entrance and the antlers over the door. “Let’s get this over with.”

And we did. I had the interview, I did the exam, I got in. And eight months later, at the beginning of autumn term, I was walking through the entrance of the school, under the antlers, as sixth-form student.


I was soon to learn that antlers are, appropriately, a big thing at STAGS. Antlers bristle from every wall. There is also a stag on the school emblem, with the swords “Festina Lente” embroidered underneath. (No, I didn’t know either; it’s Latin and it means “Make Haste Slowly.”) In the chapel those frescoes that I mentioned show scenes from the “miraculous” stag hunt, when Saint Aidan turned the stag invisible. There is also a really old stained-glass window in the chapel, of him holding one finger up in front of the face of a nervous-looking stag, as if he were trying to shush it. I’ve stared at those frescoes and that window a lot, because we have to go to chapel every morning, which is pretty boring.

As well as being boring, chapel is freezing cold. It’s the only time I am glad to be wearing the STAGS uniform. The uniform consists of a long black Tudor coat of thick felt, all the way down to our knees, with gilt buttons down the front. At the neck we wear a white clerical tie, and at the waist a slim deer-leather belt that has to be knotted in a particular way. Under the coat we wear bright red stockings, the color of arterial blood. It is pretty dumb as outfits go, but at least is keeps you warm on the borders of Northumberland.

STAGS, as you might imagine, is pretty religious. Me and my dad are not religious at all, but we kind of left that fact off the application form. In fact, we may have given the distinct impression that we were churchgoers. That was back when I actually wanted to go to the school. Dad was going to be mostly abroad for two years, making a wildlife documentary for the BBC, and if I hadn’t come to STAGS, I would have had to go to live with my aunt Karen, and believe me, I didn’t want to do that. My headmistress at Bewley thought I had the brains to get a scholarship to STAGS, and it turned out she was right. I also happen to have photographic memory, which didn’t hurt either. I can’t tell you how useful it was when I was sitting the entrance exam. But if I’d known what was going to happen that autumn half term, I wouldn’t have been such a try-hard. I would have gone to aunty Karen’s without a word.


… the sad truth was that no one talked to me much in that first half term. Teachers asked me questions in lessons; the dinnerbags would say things like, “Fries or mash, hinny?” (Their accents would make me homesick.) And Shafeen, this kid in my study group, would occasionally murmur things at me like, “The thermal stability of the nitrates follows the same trend as that of the carbonates.”

… I now think that if I’d made more friends—or any friends—in that first half term, I never would have accepted the Invitation. Maybe I accepted it because I was lonely. Or maybe, if I’m being honest, I accepted it because it came from the best-looking boy in the school.

– The Author –


M. A. Bennett is half Venetian and was born in Manchester, England, and raised in the Yorkshire Dales. She is a history graduate of Oxford University and the University of Venice, where she specialized in the study of Shakespeare’s plays as a historical source. After university she studied art and has since worked as an illustrator, an actress, and a film reviewer. She also designed tour visuals for rock bands, including U2 and the Rolling Stones. She was married on the Grand Canal in Venice and lives in north London with her husband, son, and daughter.

– Pre-order –

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15 thoughts on “S.T.A.G.S. by M.A. Bennett (Blog Tour: Review, Fancast & Excerpt)

  1. I have not read the book, but it does sound interesting. I wish I had more time to read. Also, you jump to the end of a book? Don’t you want to be surprised? lol, it’s like knowing what you’re going to get for Christmas before you unwrap it.

    1. I hope that you get more time to read very soon! And nooooo I never jump to the end! I actually have this deep fear of accidentally reading the endings of books hahaha. What made you think that I did though? I hope I didn’t have a mistake in my post somewhere haha. Thanks for reading!

      1. Ugh, me too! Thanks, Haha. I need to go back and look, I swear you said you jumped to the end but maybe I took it wrong. LOL, a deep fear. I know what you mean, hate when things are ruined.

        1. Haha sorry I worded that funny! My fingers were scrambling over the keyboard as I tried to write out my thoughts hahaha. And YES! I hate spoilers! I actually bought the 7th Harry Potter book the day that it came out, but have not read it to this day because someone spoiled all of the deaths before I could get home from work that day and even read the 1st page. SIGH.

            1. Hahaha nooooo I tend to word things funny cause English is my 3rd language, and my fingers can’t keep up with my train of thought hahaha. Don’t worry about it.

              And yeahhhh I’m still super salty like YEARS later LOL

  2. Loved your review + Fancast Flavia! I had this one on my radar but wasn’t too sure about it, now I’m hella curious about this “manslaughterer” lately I’ve been coming across some really good YA Thrillers & the cover for this one is as you said simple & beautiful! <3 <3 <3

    1. Yaaaay I’m glad that you pictured them like (or similarly) to how I did! 😀 I’m glad that you enjoyed the book too, and I’m finding that I’m reading a lot more YA thrillers lately and it’s been more hit than miss! Thanks so much for reading and commenting! 🙂

    1. It was definitely a fun and intense read! Hehe. Thanks so much, and thanks for reading! I hope that you enjoy the book if/when you pick it up 😀

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