Square3 – Mira Grant

One moment, nature had laws and generally followed them, unenforced and unpoliced. One moment, everything was normal. The next, physics and mathematics were negotiable things, and the supposed laws that had always governed biology were shattered beyond all repair.

Seventeen year old Katharine and her fourteen year old sister, Susan, are almost close enough to one another when the incursion happens. Almost.

Now an adult, Susan works in “rift physics”, the world she knew as a child changed in ways her and other scientists are still trying to come to grips with. Katharine, meanwhile, is on the other side of the rift. Susan doesn’t even know if her sister is still alive. That side of the rift is where the monsters came from, after all.

“Sometimes you have to be inside a thing to understand it”

I preordered this book in May 2021 and may have accidentally burned the cover image into my brain since then. It had me expecting more monsters per page than I actually encountered but the monsters I met were well worth the anticipation. 

I loved Katharine and Susan and the ways they looked after one another as kids. I loved the science and how easily I believed all of this was not only possible but potentially imminent. 

Just in case this novella winds up in the non fiction section, it’s been really nice knowing you. No matter which side of the rift I end up on, it’s practically a certainty that I’m a goner. Maybe I’ll be too mesmerised by the impossible colours to notice the monsters. Maybe I’ll be too curious about the possibilities of the other side of the rift. Maybe I’ll irritate the wrong kid. 

“Should I be alarmed?”

”It won’t change anything if you are, so I wouldn’t bother wasting the time if I were you.”

Bonus points for the delightfully appropriate chapter numbering and Susan’s Project title. 

Now, if someone would please commission a companion novella written from Katharine’s point of view or a sequel, I’d be a really happy soon to be squished, melted or otherwise mangled rift casualty. And if that could happen some time in the next, oh, 130 days, that’d be awesome.

Heads up: the incursion happens on 16 May 2022. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

“This is a safety light!”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

We think we understand the laws of physics. We think reality is an immutable monolith, consistent from one end of the universe to the next. We think the square/cube law has actual relevance.

We think a lot of things. It was perhaps inevitable that some of them would turn out to be wrong. 

When the great incursion occurred, no one was prepared.  How could they have been?  Of all the things physicists had predicted, “the fabric of reality might rip open and giant monsters could come pouring through” had not made the list. But somehow, on a fine morning in May, that was precisely what happened.

For sisters Susan and Katharine Black, the day of the incursion was the day they lost everything. Their home, their parents, their sense of normalcy … and each other, because when the rift opened, Susan was on one side and Katharine was on the other, and each sister was stranded in a separate form of reality. For Susan, it was science and study and the struggle to solve the mystery of the altered physics inside the zones transformed by the incursion. For Katharine, it was monsters and mayhem and the fight to stay alive in a world unlike the world of her birth.

The world has changed. The laws of physics have changed. The girls have changed. And the one universal truth of all states of changed matter is that nothing can be completely restored to what it was originally, no matter how much you might wish it could be.

Nothing goes back.

House of Hollow – Krystal Sutherland

Three little girls fell through a crack in the world. 

When Iris Hollow was seven, she and her two older sisters, Grey and Vivi, were missing for a month. When they returned, they couldn’t remember where they’d been or what happened to them. Now, a decade later, the past is intruding on their present and their lives will never be the same. 

Dark, dangerous things happened around the Hollow sisters. 

I’ve been obsessed with this cover for months and now I’m equally obsessed with the Hollow sisters. This story is dark but somehow still gorgeous. I both loved and was wary of the intense bond between these sisters. 

It was a compulsive read and the imagery was almost tangible. I don’t think I’ve ever been more relieved that a book didn’t come with Smell-O-Pages.

I absolutely adored this book and want to gush about each of the sisters, their history, the imagery, the horror and the beauty. However, this is one of those books where the less you know going in the better. 

Get to know the Hollows and let their world unfurl around you. Just be prepared for them to get under your skin, whichever way you choose to interpret that. 

I am the thing in the dark.” 

Content warnings include mention of death by suicide (including method used), self harm and sexual assault. Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with some scenes.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Iris Hollow and her two older sisters are unquestionably strange.

Ever since they disappeared on a suburban street in Scotland as children only to return a month a later with no memory of what happened to them, odd, eerie occurrences seem to follow in their wake. And they’re changing. First, their dark hair turned white. Then, their blue eyes slowly turned black. People find them disturbingly intoxicating, unbearably beautiful and inexplicably dangerous. 

Now, ten years later, seventeen-year-old Iris Hollow is doing all she can to fit in and graduate high school – something her two famously glamorous globe-trotting older sisters, Grey and Vivi, never managed to do. But when Grey goes missing, leaving behind only bizarre clues, Iris and Vivi are left to trace her last few days. They aren’t the only ones looking for her. As they brush against the supernatural, they realise that the story they’ve been told about their past is unravelling and the world that returned them seemingly unharmed ten years ago, might just be calling them home.

Krystal Sutherland’s latest novel is a dark and twisty modern-day fairytale that expertly melds the fantastical with the real as the Hollow sisters discover just how much horror can lie beneath the surface. 

The Phantom of the Opera – Cavan Scott (Adapter)

Illustrations – José María Beroy

This graphic novel is an adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, itself based on Gaston Leroux’s novel. While I would have loved to have been able to indulge in a scene by scene replication of the entire musical, that would have been a much larger volume. The scenes that were adapted still clearly told the story that I know so well, and I sang along (in my head, of course, so I didn’t frighten the neighbours) with all of the song excerpts. 

The illustrations were gorgeous, evoking the feel of the scenes, from the bright, colourful masquerade to the leaching of colour when the Phantom appears in Christine’s mirror. 

description

I spent much of the 90’s obsessed with this musical, having travelled to Melbourne for the best school excursion ever. I’d never imagined that a musical could be so immersive; we gasped and pointed each time we saw the Phantom appear off stage and I’m not embarrassed to admit that I really thought that chandelier was going to hurt someone. 

It was even more exhilarating the second time I witnessed the chandelier fall, in Sydney many years later, as our seats were directly beneath its arc. I also got to watch the conductor do their thing and all of the musicians warming up prior to the performance. It was like being able to sneak a peek behind the scenes and it was breathtaking.

My Nan and I listened to the double cassette tape (back in the 90’s here) so many times I’m surprised we didn’t destroy it; we’d get up and dance, with much abandon but little rhythm, around the room each time a new song began. We became so familiar with the entire musical that we’d recite it to each other as it was playing.

While not many of my childhood belongings followed me into adulthood, I still have two Phantom keyrings, the coffee mug where the Phantom’s face glows when you add hot water (it still works!) and the program I bought in Melbourne in the 90’s. I also have all of the piano sheet music and yes, I do intend to finally get around to mastering at least one of the songs one day.

I’m always going to be biased where the Phantom is concerned but I absolutely adored this adaptation. It made me wish I could walk out the door and straight into a performance of the musical. Since that’s not currently possible, I’m going to do the next best thing … reread this graphic novel and indulge in some nostalgia.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Titan Comics for the opportunity to fall in love with this graphic novel.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

From the original libretto of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s world-famous, multi-award-winning musical that has been playing continuously around the world for over 33 years comes this fully authorised graphic novel adaptation.

In 1881 the cast and crew of a new production, Hannibal, are terrorised by the Phantom of the Opera, a mysterious, hideously disfigured man who lives beneath the Paris Opera House. Hopelessly in love and obsessed with one of the chorus singers, the Phantom will stop at nothing to make her the star of the show, even if that means murder.

The Secret Garden Part One – Maud Begon (Adapter)

Translators – Joseph Laredo & Maud Begon

I can’t help myself. You produce an adaptation of The Secret Garden, one of my favourite childhood books and movies, and I’ll be there for it. Even though this is only Part One, I had to read this graphic novel.

Mostly staying true to the story I know and love but also taking a bit of license here and there, this is the adaptation where cholera isn’t the distant concern it was to me as a child. No, this cholera is personified and sending out some creepy vibes.

description

Mistress Mary, quite contrary gave me an unintended giggle when she sconed herself on a table. [For those of you who don’t live in Australia, to scone yourself is to hit your head. I don’t know if people still say this but it was a phrase from my childhood and as you can probably guess, having the opportunity to relive a childhood favourite has had the effect of regressing me just a tad.] I remember running under my Nan’s dining room table, not realising I’d grown since the last time I’d done it and sconed myself. Good times.

description

I loved Mary’s death stare but didn’t love her saying to Mrs Medlock, “I have no interest in your old crap”. We’re still in 1910 here and no matter how surly Mary is, I’m certain that word is not part of her vocabulary.

description

The colour palette changes with the seasons and, of course, Mary’s mood. Mary gets pretty chipper a lot earlier in the story than I remember and her loneliness and isolation are less pointed here. 

description

It was frustrating finishing this story partway through and, given this graphic novel was less than 100 pages, I wondered why it had to be split in two in the first place. I’m really looking forward to seeing what the garden looks like in full bloom so will be continuing this blast from my past.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Europe Comics for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When Mary’s parents die, she moves to England, where she is sent to a strange mansion in the middle of the Yorkshire moors, belonging to her uncle. It is here that she discovers the comfort of friendship … and a wonderful secret that she soon shares with her new companions: a garden forgotten by everyone, whose key, as if by magic, also opens the doors to broken hearts. This is a two-part graphic adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1912 classic of children’s literature.

Wings Over Water – Wings for Wetlands

Approximately seven out of ten birds that migrate over North America rely on prairie wetlands during part of their life cycle 

This book was my introduction to America’s prairie wetlands, which span “parts of five states – Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa – and three Canadian provinces – Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.” 

This book and the IMAX 3D movie Wings Over Water are aimed at awakening the continent and the world to the need to protect the prairie wetlands, North America’s greatest ecological asset. The prairies are key to abundant birds, clean water, and sufficient grasslands to keep our continent healthy. Without them, we face a future of depleted water resources, decreased water quality, ruinous flooding, and a greatly diminished ability to sequester carbon. The implications for the continent’s bird populations are even more bleak. 

The film runs for 44 minutes, a fraction of the over 220 hours of footage that was shot. Although a number of birds are included in this book, the film focuses on three: mallards, sandhill cranes and yellow warblers. It doesn’t hurt that it’s being narrated by Michael Keaton.

I’ve done this backwards, reading the companion book prior to seeing the film. I expect I will appreciate the behind the scenes information more once I’ve watched the film. 

I’m hoping the facts about the birds and their life cycles that I was keen to learn from this book will be presented on screen. There were a few, just not as many as I would have liked. My favourite fun fact was that yellow warblers weigh “less than three sheets of paper”.

I adored the photos in this book and had trouble choosing a favourite, so instead I’ll share one each of the three stars of the film.

description
description
description

When I was growing up, the only times I experienced IMAX was at the IMAX Theatre at Dreamworld in Queensland when my family did the theme park hop while we were on holiday. I was always mesmerised by them and still remember one scene where my stomach did the first drop of a rollercoaster lurch as the camera suddenly dipped into a gaping canyon. I couldn’t get enough. 

I haven’t seen an IMAX film for years but definitely want to find a way to watch Wings Over Water. If this book is any indication, the cinematography is going to be breathtaking. Don’t believe me? Check out the trailer!

You may also want to have a wander around the film’s website

Marvel at the richness of this northern kingdom for wildlife. Then find your own place in the movement to save the stunning prairie wetlands of North America. 

Thank you so much to NetGalley, Girl Friday Productions and Flashpoint for the opportunity to read this book. 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A beautiful, photo-rich companion book to the internationally distributed IMAX film of the same name, Wings Over Water celebrates the prairie wetlands of North America and the birds that live and breed in this critical habitat.

Covering 300,000 square miles stretching from Canada through Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa, the prairie wetlands are one of Earth’s most important, yet little-known, ecosystems. More than half of all North American migratory waterfowl and 96 species of songbirds breed and nest there, and more than 60 percent of the continent’s ducks are hatched there. Wings Over Water immerses readers in this awe-inspiring, essential place, using more than 300 breathtaking photos and inspiring essays from some of the North America’s foremost conservationists to shine a spotlight on these critical breeding grounds and the necessity of preserving these threatened environments.

Wings Over Water is a joint venture of the Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation, which works to secure the future of hunting, fishing, and land management; Ducks Unlimited Inc. and Ducks Unlimited Canada, the world’s largest nonprofit organisations dedicated to conserving North America’s disappearing wetland and waterfowl habitats; and the National Audubon Society, the world’s oldest nonprofit environmental organisations dedicated to bird conservation.

The Bad Mood – Moritz Petz

Illustrations – Amélie Jackowski

When Badger gets up on the wrong side of the bed, he decides to share the love misery. 

What was the point of being in a bad mood if nobody noticed? Everyone ought to know how miserable I feel, he thought. 

Aiming for maximum rudeness and hostility, Badger manages to alienate all of his friends. Once he’s successfully spread his bad mood to everyone he comes across, Badger goes home.

As moods will do, Badger’s changes once he focuses on something other than how bad his mood is. But now all of his friends are in bad moods when he’s ready to play.

Badger learns that it’s not okay to take your bad mood out on others. Ultimately he takes responsibility for his actions and apologises to his friends. 

If I was reading this book to a child I’d be taking the opportunity to talk to them about anger and the different ways it can be managed without hurting others.

I enjoyed the illustrations but the layout could have been improved by making the text larger.

description

Thank you so much to NetGalley and NorthSouth Books for the opportunity to read this picture book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Sometimes a bad mood can be contagious!

Badger got up one morning feeling very grumpy. “Humph!” Badger said to himself. What was the point of being in a bad mood if nobody noticed? he thought. So Badger headed out, slamming the door behind him. Badger spreads his bad mood far and wide, greeting all his friends with angry, rude remarks that put them in bad moods, too. A comical, cautionary tale for anyone who has ever gotten up on the wrong side of the bed.

Mort the Meek #2: Mort the Meek and the Monstrous Quest – Rachel Delahaye

Illustrations – George Ermos

You survived your first trip to Brutalia, an island that’s just as brutal as its name advertises. There are Grot Bears, who are as likely to squeeze you to death as they are to rip you to shreds. There are hungry ravens, who are always on the lookout for some tasty eyeballs. There’s the stench. And if all of that isn’t punishment enough for you, make sure you stick around for Punishment of the Day. 

Now that you’ve been reminded of what a terrible place Brutalia is, why would you voluntarily return? 

Is it because of Mort, the loveable pacifist who is so good at recruitment that the Pacifist Society of Brutalia has recently increased its membership by 50%? (There are now 1.5 members.)

Is it your fascination with the Queen’s fashion sense? Tarantula leg eyelashes are not for the faint-hearted, that’s for sure.

Is it the promise of a gigantic sea monster? It’s the sea monster, isn’t it.

Mort has an excuse to escape the confines of his horrid island home so it’s no surprise that he takes it. It’s time to set sail for the Salty Sea. We’re going on a treasure hunt. 

Bonus points for Mort if he finds his father and siblings, Gosh and Gee, who have been missing at sea for two weeks.

I missed Ono, who I’d hoped would be joining Mort for this adventure. However, I quickly grew to love Punky, the daughter of a rock crusher who is as tough as nails. Like the ones that make up her face piercings. 

This is a “story riddled with suckers”, with so many whys it could rival a toddler on a good day. Oh, and it’s prodadly important to rememder that d’s and b’s are interchangeadle. 

Taking over from the chatty ravens who introduced each chapter of the first book are Larry and Bruce, lobsters who have somehow managed to avoid the dinner table thus far. I initially missed the ravens but Larry and Bruce are also entertaining, mishearing and misinterpreting all manner of topics. 

“Bored, bored, bored.”

“To pass the time, shall we have a go at some good insults?”

“Okay, I’ll start: chips.”

“What do you mean, chips?”

“Good in salt.”

“Forget it.” 

George Ermos’ illustrations once again highlight the danger and drudgery, as well as the humour and hope. Wait. Hope? Are you sure that belongs in this book?

I particularly loved the expressive lobsters and the fearsome sea monster.

description

Does it sound like a threat if I say that if there’s not a third book in this series I will be having conversations with the Queen about a suitable Punishment of the Day? I must have spent too much time in Brutalia; I’m starting to sound like a local.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Stripes Publishing, an imprint of Little Tiger Group, for the opportunity to read this book.

P.S. Readers with emetophobia, beware. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Around the unfriendly, rocky island of Brutalia, the waves are awash with brave sea-farers, on a treasure hunt for their demanding queen. Among them is Mort, but rather than hunt for treasure, he’s more interested in looking for his family who are lost at sea. Unfortunately, his shipmate Punky has her eyes firmly on the prize.
But when the pair find the tentacle of a mythical sea creature, their adventure takes a dramatic turn. Is this the prize-winning treasure Punky and the queen seek? Or could it be a monstrous twist in Mort’s rescue mission?

Soul Lanterns – Shaw Kuzki

Translator – Emily Balistrieri

“There are still so many people looking for someone in Hiroshima.” 

I’ve heard so many stories told by people who survived the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945. The physical and mental impacts of surviving something so unimaginable. Stories of loved ones who vanished that day. Many accounts I’ve come across have been from adults who were children in 1945. 

Written by a second generation survivor, this middle grade book takes place 25 years later. Nozomi, a twelve year old second generation survivor, attends the annual lantern floating ceremony, honouring loved ones who died as a result of the atomic bomb. Nozomi realises that one of the lanterns her mother releases each year doesn’t have a name written on it.

Between beginning to investigate who the person behind the nameless lantern is and a special art project, Nozomi and her friends discover that “even when you think you know someone, there are tons of things you have no idea about”.

This is a story of loss, grief and regret. It reminded me how important it is to truly appreciate our loved ones and to live in a way that minimises regret about the things we did and didn’t do or say. 

I didn’t really connect with Nozomi and the story felt disjointed at times. Young readers may ask some tricky questions after finishing this book about war, death and the images, not over the top graphic but obviously still disturbing, of what happens to people’s bodies when they’re exposed to such catastrophic levels of radiation. 

“So many people’s fates were changed by the flash. Many of those who survived physically were dead inside.” 

I would hesitate recommending this book too widely. I’d be reading this one first so I could decide whether it was appropriate for my specific kid. It probably would have been too confronting for me and I wouldn’t have known how to manage the images that would have implanted themselves into my brain if I’d read this book when I was too young.

Although this book held such sadness, it also managed to hold beauty and hope, and I’m so glad I found it.

Content warnings include death by suicide, descriptions of what happened to people and buildings when the bomb was dropped, and the long term physical and psychological impacts of war.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The haunting and poignant story of a how a young Japanese girl’s understanding of the historic and tragic bombing of Hiroshima is transformed by a memorial lantern-floating ceremony.

Twelve-year-old Nozomi lives in the Japanese city of Hiroshima. She wasn’t even born when the bombing of Hiroshima took place. Every year Nozomi joins her family at the lantern-floating ceremony to honour those lost in the bombing. People write the names of their deceased loved ones along with messages of peace, on paper lanterns and set them afloat on the river. This year Nozomi realises that her mother always releases one lantern with no name. She begins to ask questions, and when complicated stories of loss and loneliness unfold, Nozomi and her friends come up with a creative way to share their loved ones’ experiences. By opening people’s eyes to the struggles they all keep hidden, the project teaches the entire community new ways to show compassion.

Soul Lanterns is an honest exploration of what happened on 6 August, 1945, and offers readers a glimpse not only into the rich cultural history of Japan but also into the intimate lives of those who recognise – better than most – the urgent need for peace. 

My Body Keeps Your Secrets – Lucia Osborne-Crowley

It’s been a week since I finished reading this book and I’m still no closer to being able to figure out what I want to say about it. Writing about trauma and shame and the way they show up in the body, the author details her own experiences as well as telling the stories of some of the people she interviewed for this book.

A lot of the content is very difficult to read and at times it felt like I was being intrusive, as though I was sneaking a peek into the author’s journal.

I feel like I’m phoning it in here but rather than waffle on when I really don’t know what to say, I’m going to share some of the quotes I highlighted.

On shame: 

Shame is the emotion that compels us to keep secrets. It comes from the outside, but it lives within. 

What I learned from the interviews I did for this book is that to know you are one thing and be told you are another is a singular form of shame transmission. It is the same thing I keep coming back to, again and again, in these interviews: it is the horror of not knowing what is real and what isn’t, of being taught not to trust yourself, of never knowing who to believe, of knowing that your own reality won’t be trusted if you dare to speak it aloud. 

The false self, Dr Joseph Burgo tells us in Shame, is about escape. When shame is transmitted to us, we become convinced that our authentic self is somehow not good enough, somehow worthy of whatever shameless acts we endured. So then our instinct is to escape that self. To hide from ourselves, to lie to ourselves, to erase the person we were when the first bad thing happened. 

On self destructive behaviours: 

The thing with habits meant to punish is that each time we become accustomed to them, they become normal and no longer bring us enough discomfort to fit the brief. 

On declining conviction rates: 

Some would say that as rape is being spotlit for the rich and famous, it’s being slowly decriminalised for the rest of us. 

On chronic pain: 

So here’s the kicker: ignoring women’s pain not only inhibits the process of healing, it actually makes it more likely that the pain will become permanent. 

I keep coming back to one statistic: that 70 per cent of all sufferers of chronic pain are women. That chronic pain is a disease born when acute pain is ignored. Could our illness be, in part, a product of our society’s belief that we ought to care for others instead of ourselves? 

Content warnings include mention of abortion, domestic abuse, eating disorders and disordered eating, mental health, miscarriage, self harm, sexual assault, suicidal ideation and suicide attempt. Readers with emetophobia may want to bypass pages 129 to 131.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

It occurred to me that the thing that made me the sickest, the thing that made me suffer most, was the fact that I felt so compelled to hide what had been done to me. Because I believed it was all my fault.

Lucia Osborne-Crowley didn’t tell a soul when she was raped aged fifteen. Then, eighteen months after she was attacked, her body began to turn on her – and what followed were sudden bouts of searing, unbearable pain that saw her in and out of hospital for the next ten years.

At twenty-five, Lucia for the first time told the truth about her rape. This disclosure triggered an endless series of appointments with doctors, trauma specialists and therapists. Meanwhile, Lucia threw herself into researching the shadowy intricacies of abuse, trauma and shame.

In My Body Keeps Your Secrets, Lucia shares the voices of women and trans and non-binary people around the world, as well as her own deeply moving testimony. She writes of vulnerability, acceptance and the reclaiming of our selves, all in defiance of a world where atrocities are committed and survivors are repeatedly told to carry the weight of that shame.

Widely researched and boldly argued, this book reveals the secrets our bodies bury deep within them, the way trauma can rewrite our biology, and how our complicated relationships with sex affect our connection with others. Crafted in a daring and immersive literary form, My Body Keeps Your Secrets is a necessary, elegant and empathetic work that further establishes Lucia’s credentials as a key intersectional feminist thinker for a new generation.

Mind Like a Diamond – Amanda Pavlov

You had me at pirate witches. 

It definitely helped that this book took place on Halloween and the book’s victims characters were tasked with making it through a series of elaborate haunted house escape rooms. But, pirate witches, people!

There’s a $10,000 prize if you make it through all thirteen realms, something Lisette desperately needs. It sounds too good to be true and when Lisette begins her journey through the realms she begins to wonder if they are as real as they seem.

It’s a shame I found Lisette so deplorable; she’ll happily throw anyone under the bus if she thinks it will benefit her, even the person she claims is her best friend. As such, I wasn’t exactly cheering her on. I probably would have felt an evil laugh trying to escape if she’d met an appropriately grisly end. 

However, someone who had even some of the qualities I’d hope to find in this underdog would likely have failed one of the early levels and this would have been a much shorter book. Lisette’s catchphrase (“Holy tamales”) irritated me no end but, in hindsight, it probably wouldn’t have bothered me at all if I’d liked her. 

“This place has a way of making monsters out of ordinary people.” 

Although I was originally mostly here for the pirate witches, that part of the story wasn’t as developed as I would have liked. I’m pretty certain it could have been removed entirely and I wouldn’t have enjoyed the book any less. The four covens and most of the things that happened after the final realm seemed unnecessary, as though those elements belonged in a different story.

The realms, though? They were so much fun. I loved exploring each one and anticipating how the people who failed each realm would exit the story. It was easy to visualise the dangers the characters were facing and I kept thinking I’d love to see a movie adaptation of this book.

While the cover was what originally drew my attention to this book (I still really like the design), it didn’t really fit the story. I thought the cover had a fantasy feel, maybe with a dash of romance thrown in. Sure, there were some fantasy elements here, but with its characters trying to survive hellish landscapes with creepy dolls, animals eager to devour them and a floor that literally is lava, this book had more of a horror vibe.

Readers who enjoy this book may also like Kate Alice Marshall’s Rules for Vanishing and M.C. Atwood’s The Devils You Know.

I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for the author’s next book. 

“You’ll never finish the final realm! No one does!”

Content warnings include sexual assault. Readers with emetophobia may have some trouble. A derogatory term for physical disability is used by one of the characters (a comeuppance does come their way).

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Sword and Silk Books for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

You don’t have to believe in magic for it to kill you.

Seventeen-year-old gymnast, Lisette Colbert, is skeptical of her criminal mother’s claim that they are descendants of pirate witches. But on Halloween night, Lisette will come face to face with indisputable proof.

Lured by a $10,000 prize, Lisette recruits her best friend Xavier and together they enter The 13th Realm of Hell – an escape-room style Haunted House run by a mysterious coven. Xavier has his reservations, especially after reading the fine print on the waiver to enter.

Lisette is too focused on proving herself to consider the risks. With him or without him, she is determined to complete all thirteen realms. If she wins the prize money, she’ll avoid eviction from her beloved French Quarter apartment. But the witches who run the show don’t write happy endings.