Survivor Song – Paul Tremblay

Have you ever given any thought to pre-exposure rabies vaccination? As you travel at a safe distance alongside Ramola and Natalie it may very well cross your mind, probably more than once. You see, this timeline is pretty bitey.

Natalie is having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. She’s 38 weeks pregnant. Her husband has just been murdered. By a zombie. She’s been bitten by the zombie. And that’s just the beginning of her story.

Natalie, A.K.A., Nats, A.K.A., Rabies Yoda

Strengths:

  • Has read all YA novels featuring an apocalypse, so she’s probably absorbed some useful survival tips
  • Fluent in sarcasm

Weaknesses:

  • Was very recently bitten by an infected person
  • Grieving the death of her husband, so there’s potential for distraction

Pre-apocalypse attitude to apocalyptic scenarios: the system will definitely fail.

Now Ramola, a paediatrician and Natalie’s friend, is in a race against time to seek medical treatment for Natalie and her unborn child before it’s too late. If it’s not already.

Ramola, A.K.A, Rams, A.K.A., Doctor Who

Strengths:

  • Doctor
  • Loyal to her friends

Weaknesses:

  • Bad liar
  • She’s consistently within biting range of someone who is infected

Pre-apocalypse attitude to apocalyptic scenarios: “Life finds a way.”

With the story more The Walking Dead than Zombieland, you know early on that you’re not here for the laughs. There’s going to be blood, gore and frothing at the mouth.

The first kill happens early; props to the author for killing off their namesake! Poor Paul never had a chance (not a spoiler – it’s in the blurb) and “from here on out, anything can and will happen.”

This is a stressful read. The kind of stressful where, whenever Natalie wanted to check her temperature I wanted to check my blood pressure. What can I say? Paul Tremblay books are stressful.

Okay, so maybe this is only the second one I’ve read but the first one I read was The Cabin at the End of the World and I own the rest, so that counts as somewhere adjacent to being an authority on the subject, doesn’t it? It’s like how I intuitively know that John Marrs is going to bring terrifying women into my life and Courtney Summers is going to devastate me with the ugliest of ugly cries.

These zombies –

“There are no zombies! This is not the apocalypse! You must stop saying that. It’s not helping.”

Okay, technically not zombies. Even though that’s what they’re called for most of the story. They’re infected with rabies, but not your garden variety rabies. This strain has seriously levelled up!

All of the biting aside, this is a story about friendship. Doctor Who struggles to maintain her confidence in her ability to save her friend but she’s going to do everything in her power to ensure Rabies Yoda survives the worst day of her life. Rabies Yoda trusts Doctor Who with her life (literally) and that of her soon to be born child.

I found it interesting to observe, from far enough away that I couldn’t be bitten, the different ways characters coped with what may or may not be the apocalypse. Some were determined and focused on their goal and some were more emotional. Conspiracy theorists came out to play while others tried to sort through misinformation for snippets of facts that could mean the difference between life and death. Then there was this stellar coping mechanism …

It would be easier to pretend they are in a zombie movie. He will still pretend.

I’m with denial guy! Even though there’s a lot of ‘everything’s going to hell in a hand basket’ going on, there’s still enough time left to discuss the important things in life. Like what movie everyone loved but you and what Disney’s problem is with mothers.

I found Josh and Luis fairly interchangeable but really warmed to them, despite their insistence on annoying me with their constant companion, the catchphrase “You are the bad.” I actually became more emotionally invested in their lives than with Doctor Who and Rabies Yoda’s.

I absolutely loved the inclusion of an asexual character; this was never going to be the focus of the story but its mere mention made my heart happy.

For those who need to know ahead of time, rabid animals were most definitely harmed within the pages of this story. So were rabid humans. It was bound to happen and although I usually avoid stories where animals die, this story wouldn’t have been believable if it wasn’t included.

On reading about a potential apocalypse during our own apocalypse pandemic: It’s weird. Some passages are so prescient that they could easily be written about our current reality. If I’d read this book in 2019 I would have had an entirely different reading experience:

  • I would have had to Google what an N95 was. Pre-COVID I was blissfully unaware of both their name and importance.
  • I wouldn’t have nodded at some of the scenarios that now feel familiar rather than fiction.
  • I wouldn’t have been wondering if the people I met here also encountered toilet paper hoarders.

To add to the ambience of my reading experience today, the sounds outside (or lack thereof) were eerily appropriate. The birds that usually chatter and chase one another through the neighbourhood almost entirely disappeared. It was hard not to wonder if they might know something I don’t. Hopefully they’ll come back tomorrow and their behaviour today isn’t actually a harbinger of doom.

Sassafras and lullabies.

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

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In a matter of weeks, Massachusetts has been overrun by an insidious rabies-like virus that is spread by saliva. But unlike rabies, the disease has a terrifyingly short incubation period of an hour or less. Those infected quickly lose their minds and are driven to bite and infect as many others as they can before they inevitably succumb. Hospitals are inundated with the sick and dying, and hysteria has taken hold. To try to limit its spread, the commonwealth is under quarantine and curfew. But society is breaking down and the government’s emergency protocols are faltering.

Dr. Ramola “Rams” Sherman, a soft-spoken pediatrician in her mid-thirties, receives a frantic phone call from Natalie, a friend who is eight months pregnant. Natalie’s husband has been killed – viciously attacked by an infected neighbour – and in a failed attempt to save him, Natalie, too, was bitten. Natalie’s only chance of survival is to get to a hospital as quickly as possible to receive a rabies vaccine. The clock is ticking for her and for her unborn child.

Natalie’s fight for life becomes a desperate odyssey as she and Rams make their way through a hostile landscape filled with dangers beyond their worst nightmares – terrifying, strange, and sometimes deadly challenges that push them to the brink. 

Paul Tremblay once again demonstrates his mastery in this chilling and all-too-plausible novel that will leave readers racing through the pages … and shake them to their core.

Book Haul – 26 June to 2 July 2020

This week I reviewed:

My book hauling activities have been limited this week by the antithesis to book buying paradise – bills. Ugh! Next week is a big bill week as well so, unless something I’ve needed for a very long time has an unmissable sale, I’m going to have to restrain myself.

When I haven’t been reading this week I’ve been bingeing some TV series I have on loan from the library. I’ve fallen in love with Atypical and Doom Patrol.

I’ve also been for a few walks on the beach and managed to see some whales! They’re migrating north up the coast at the moment and one of the ones I saw a couple of days ago was closer to the shore than I’d ever seen before. I watched it do a fin slap and a whole pile of tail slaps. Now I want to visit the beach each day until the last whale has passed my part of the coastline.

Word of the Week: cognoscenti. I found this in the Ghostbusters book I read this week and loved it even before I knew what it meant – “People who are considered to be especially well informed about a particular subject.“ (from lexico.com)

Bookish Highlight of the Week: I found Joe Hill’s NOS4A2 on a one day sale so I broke my ‘I can’t buy any books this week’ pact with myself. If you’re going to break a promise to yourself, it might as well be for a good cause. 😃

Until next time, happy reading!


Kindle Black Hole of Good Intentions

Victoria McQueen has a secret gift for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. On her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike, she makes her way to a rickety covered bridge that, within moments, takes her wherever she needs to go, whether it’s across Massachusetts or across the country.

Charles Talent Manx has a way with children. He likes to take them for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the NOS4A2 vanity plate. With his old car, he can slip right out of the everyday world, and onto the hidden roads that transport them to an astonishing – and terrifying – playground of amusements he calls “Christmasland.”

Then, one day, Vic goes looking for trouble – and finds Manx. That was a lifetime ago. Now Vic, the only kid to ever escape Manx’s unmitigated evil, is all grown up and desperate to forget. But Charlie Manx never stopped thinking about Victoria McQueen. He’s on the road again and he’s picked up a new passenger: Vic’s own son.


Berlin is Never Berlin by Marko Kloos

Khan only had one job: chauffeur and guard an American wealthy socialite and her friends. When his client Natalie Scuderi gets nabbed by the Georgian mafia, this joker-ace has no choice but to go underground and rescue her. “Losing the man’s daughter on the job would be a fatal black mark on his professional resume. Khan had never lost a client, and he wasn’t about to start a habit.”

Benjamin 2073 by Rjurik Davidson

In the year 2073, humanity is making progress toward restoring the environment and fixing the mistakes of the past. Ellie has spent the last ten years going even further by working to resurrect the thylacine, extinct since 1936. But with no results and increasingly impatient bureaucrats threatening to pull their funding, the thylacine’s future – and Ellie’s – is in danger of reaching the point of no return.

Beyond the Dragon’s Gate by Yoon Ha Lee

Former Academician Anna Kim’s research into AI cost her everything. Now, years later, the military has need of her expertise in order to prevent the destruction of their AI-powered fleet.

The Tourist by Alex Sherman

A young academic has been granted permission to travel to a mining outpost on a small planetoid far from the sun to study the culture of a small squatter population that lives in total darkness.

We’re Here, We’re Here by K.M. Szpara

Joining a boyband gave Tyler everything he ever dreamed of. A close-knit group of friends, the chance to model a beautiful masculinity, and a vocal implant that lets him sing even better than he did before transitioning. But deep on tour, Tyler realises he wants more from one of his bandmates, yearns for a love that would never fit the image that has been carefully crafted for him. His manager wants him to be the heartthrob: available, wholesome, and pure. And since his manager gave Tyler his voice, he can always take it away again.

Two Truths and a Lie by Sarah Pinsker

Stella thought she’d made up a lie on the spot, asking her childhood friend if he remembered the strange public broadcast TV show with the unsettling host she and all the neighborhood kids appeared on years ago. But he does remember. And so does her mum. Why doesn’t Stella? The more she investigates the show and the grip it has on her hometown, the eerier the mystery grows.

The Night Soil Salvagers by Gregory Norman Bossert

The Night Soil Salvagers no longer need to perform the service they have provided for longer than memory can account for. Instead, they pass the nights in playful and profound acts of artistry, music, trickery, gardening, and honoring the city they know and belong to more so than anyone. Uncover the heart of this mysterious community through the tales they tell each other, the tales that others tell of them, and the scores of their Dadaesque nocturnes, as they strive to lessen the burden of the city on the Earth.


Where the Veil is Thin – Cerece Rennie Murphy & Alana Joli Abbott (editors)

So, here I am again, having read an entire anthology just because there’s a contribution from Seanan McGuire. I always think this is a brilliant idea when I first stumble across the book but my excitement generally turns to dread when I remember that short stories and I have a love-hate relationship. I love some and I hate some. Sometimes the love outweighs the hate but more times than I can count it’s the other way around.

Taking on faeries (“Yes, but we don’t like to use that word.”) are fourteen authors. Included in the mix are stories of love and betrayal, a unicorn named Kevin, changelings and a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure that knows when you’re cheating.

The Tooth Fairies: Quest for Tear Haven by Glenn Parris

Night always invited wayward blood thirst in one form or another.

Glamour by Grey Yuen

“The door! We saw the door. I swear it! It had a mouth and it screamed!”

See a Fine Lady by Seanan McGuire

“It’s always so much easier to do our shopping when someone can see us.”

Or Perhaps Up by C.S.E. Cooney

“Family does not pull family under. We pull each other out.”

Don’t Let Go by Alana Joli Abbott

“You shouldn’t have seen that.”

The Loophole by L. Penelope

“Seems like my last meal isn’t agreeing with me.”

The Last Home of Master Tranquil Cloud by Minsoo Kang

“Even as we speak, the fate of the man who has done me wrong is being sealed.”

Your Two Better Halves by Carlos Hernandez

“Your choices are your opportunities.”

Take Only Photos by Shanna Swendson

“What else that’s supposed to be imaginary is actually real?”

Old Twelvey Night by Gwendolyn N. Nix

It happened the same way every time.

The Seal-Woman’s Tale by Alethea Kontis

Ah, humans. My guilty pleasure, my fatal flaw. They were always just so … fun.

The Storyteller by David Bowles

“Would you like to hear a story?”

Summer Skin by Zin E. Rocklyn

It would be nice to be noticed.

Colt’s Tooth by Linda Robertson

“You’re not going anywhere ‘til I get those teeth!”

All of the anthologies that came before this one are now collectively pointing at me and sneering, ‘Have we taught you nothing about yourself?’ While this book already boasts multiple five star reviews, I wandered through it underwhelmed. I’d encourage you to read some of these five star reviews before deciding whether or not this is the book for you.

I loved Anna Dittmann’s cover illustration but unfortunately I didn’t come away with any favourite stories.

Content warnings include mention of assault, murder, self harm, sexual assault and torture.

Thank you to NetGalley and Outland Entertainment for the opportunity to read this anthology.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

These are not your daughter’s faerie stories …

Around the world, there are tales of creatures that live in mist or shadow, hidden from humans by only the slightest veil. In Where the Veil Is Thin, these creatures step into the light. Some are small and harmless. Some are bizarre mirrors of this world. Some have hidden motives, while others seek justice against humans who have wronged them.

In these pages, you will meet blood-sucking tooth fairies and gentle boo hags, souls who find new shapes after death and changelings seeking a way to fit into either world. You will cross the veil – but be careful that you remember the way back. 

Ghostbusters: The Inside Story – Matt McAllister

If you want to wander around Spook Central for a while, this book is a fun introduction, showcasing why its magic hasn’t dulled in over thirty-five years. It boasts new interviews with some of the cast and crew, which sit alongside a number of quotes from the books that came before it.

You get to find out a little bit about everything you remember from Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II. From the household names to the actors who are still recognised for the character they played during a single scene. The people who worked behind the scenes to bring the script to life: the artists,

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lighting department, special effects, sound. The ghosts. Ecto-1.

There are a few scattered mentions of the 2016 movie (no, it didn’t ruin my childhood. I really enjoyed it!), but the focus always remains on the first two movies. I would love to see some of the deleted scenes that were mentioned.

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Along the way you’ll learn some fun facts:

👻 The ghost on the logo is called Mooglie.
👻 Stay Puft was 112.5 feet tall.
👻 100,000 gallons of slime were produced for the second movie.
👻 The sound of Ecto-1’s siren was a modified leopard cry.

You’ll also find out which actor’s initial thought when they saw the movie for the first time was, “Eh, it’s alright.” and find the blooper in a Stay Puft scene. I was introduced to the frog ghost that didn’t make it into the second movie.

If you’ve known me longer than a few weeks, you’ll know that Ghostbusters is my favourite movie of all time. It has been one of the constants in my life. The library ghost terrified me during my first viewing at six years old and I continued to ‘watch’ that scene through my fingers during subsequent viewings until my brave grew in.

My first and favourite childhood video game was the Commodore 64 Ghostbusters game, where it was hit and miss whether I could time that final dash past Mr Stay Puft.

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Screenshot of the Commodore 64 game. Not pictured in this book.

Decades later, I still revisit the Ghostbusters every month, more often if I’m having a bad week. Whenever there was a storm when I was growing up I’d check out the sky and determine whether they were Ghostbuster clouds or not, and it’s quite possible I still do.

Then there’s the merchandise that’s managed to part me with my money: the t-shirt, the pyjamas, the Lego, the diecast model Ecto-1 with bonus Slimer, the books. So many books. Over the years I’ve owned the soundtrack on both cassette and CD, and the original movie on Beta, VHS, DVD and Blu-ray. I can still tell you which elements in each scene you are now able to see on widescreen that were missing on the VHS viewings of my childhood.

I may have been known to talk in Ghostbusters quotes at times the uninitiated deem inappropriate. There really is a quote for every occasion.

On hobbies. “I collect spores, moulds and fungus.”

When you’re starting your own business. “The franchise rights alone will make us rich beyond our wildest dreams.”

Need directions? “Hey, where do these stairs go?” “They go up.”

How to make an important decision. “Ray, when someone asks you if you’re a god, you say yes!”

How to: customer service edition. “Whaddya want?”

On winning. “We came. We saw. We kicked its ass!”

If you’ve been a Ghostbusters fan for any length of time you probably already know a lot of the fun facts you’ll read in this book. New fans will find plenty to love, as will readers who enjoy knowing a little bit about everything.

Some of the information is repetitive, especially the captions for the images, which basically restate what you’ve just read. The fire hydrant spurting sand instead of water when it’s kicked by Stay Puft was mentioned three separate times that I noticed. Several other tidbits were mentioned at least twice.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that everything was sunshine and roses on the set as so many interviews mention how wonderful everyone was to work with. There were a couple of interviews where someone would say that they had originally wanted things done differently or what they had spent so much time working on was suddenly changed at the last minute, but even these interviewees backtracked, saying that it all worked out even better than it would have if the plans hadn’t changed. It felt a bit disingenuous at times, although fangirl me maintains the hope that love, joy and peace flavoured the air during production.

There were plenty of stills from the movies and behind the scenes photos of the cast and crew, some of which I’d seen previously. The layout was quite consistent throughout the book and there were some really interesting pictures, especially those that showed the concept art

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and the way the ghosts were made. I found the process involved in making the painting come to life in the second movie particularly interesting.

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I doubt any Ghostbusters book will ever surpass Ghostbusters: The Ultimate Visual History for me but I still enjoyed this read. It definitely made me want to see Dan Akroyd’s original Ghost Smashers script made into a movie and ‘research’ was a great excuse to rewatch the first two movies – again!

Thank you to Edelweiss and Hero Collector Books for the opportunity read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The essential guide to Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II! Exploring everything from the pioneering special effects to the set design and the unforgettable soundtrack. This authorised book tells the exhaustive behind-the-scenes story of how Dan Aykroyd’s original concept evolved into a movie phenomenon.

The guide is packed with hundreds of fascinating production photos, concept art and rare behind-the-scenes images, while new interviews with the cast and crew, including Dan Aykroyd, Ivan Reitman, Annie Potts, Richard Edlund and many more, reveal how they overcame numerous challenges to create one of the best-loved movie franchises of the 1980’s.

A Cosmology of Monsters – Shaun Hamill

Spoilers Ahead!

skritch-skritch-skritch

This book is a difficult one for me to review. It’s been on my radar for nearly a year and I loved the writing style and how well I felt I knew many of the characters, but it also had some problematic moments for me.

I loved hearing all about the history of this family, tragedy and all. I liked getting a feel for the dynamics between its members and the ways they individually coped with the pain that they’d experienced. The more I learned about their complexities as individuals and as a whole, the more I wanted to delve deeper. The unlikeable parts of certain characters made them even more real to me.

“How often do I get a chance to live out a true-life nightmare?”

I couldn’t get enough information about the Tomb and The Wandering Dark. I could easily visualise each room and I was eager to experience them for myself. I was even plotting new rooms that I could add to those the family had created and wondered how I could get involved behind the scenes to bring the scares to life.

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I even loved it when the monster was introduced. I love monster stories so I was looking forward to getting to know this one but certain aspects of the monster’s behaviour didn’t work for me at all. Now, this is where my review becomes a spoilery rant, so you may want to skip the next four paragraphs. Sorry, my rants get kinda wordy.

Okay, if you’re still with me, I’ll assume you have either read the book already or spoilers don’t bother you. So, the monster. As Noah started spending more time with the monster I wondered about its why, how and what. When some vital information about the monster was revealed my curiosity quickly turned to ‘I no longer want to read this book’ and I would have DNF’ed at this point if I hadn’t committed to reviewing it.

The monster had been grooming Noah since he was six years old. This meant that when they eventually began having sex (apparently fairly regularly), my brain immediately went to ‘ewww!’ and I felt decidedly icky reading about it. If these scenes had involved a female child and male monster/adult, there would likely be an uproar and I don’t see why it should be any less abhorrent because the genders have been switched here. Thankfully, this is eventually called out for what it was by a minor character. Briefly.

Then there was Sydney, who thought she was having a relationship with a man, but there was a huge power imbalance as he was her teacher. Depending on where you live, legally this may or may not be called statutory rape, but even if it isn’t the power balance alone is enough to make alarm bells echo in my head. This whole thing is effectively silenced. Noah keeps the secret. Sydney gets put out that her ‘relationship’ is over. It’s never called out for what is really is. Even near the end of the book it’s described as a man who fell in love with a teenager.

I acknowledge that my experience of sexual assault could be colouring my perceptions of both Noah and Sydney’s experiences to a certain degree, but I still can’t imagine ever being okay with either situation. I do need to say that the minor character naming Noah’s experience redeemed that part of the narrative for me to an extent, although it will never be anything but icky to me. Sydney didn’t have anyone dismantling the truth she’d lived with and that wound up tainting some of my enjoyment of the book as a whole.

“It’s seen us. It has our scent.”

While I don’t generally have a problem with endings where the bows aren’t all tied, I did want to know more about the City and the history of the monsters. I was fine with not knowing exactly what was next for some of the human characters, although I could see the way the story resolved for Noah a mile off.

Loss, grief and the experiences that haunt us are central to this book. In exploring those through Noah’s story, the horror in part becomes about the parts of yourself that you hide and those that feed on your pain. I didn’t have to work at all to get into this book and the characters became real almost immediately. It wasn’t the horror I was expecting but I was sucked in and am interested in reading more books by this author.

“Noah, there is no such thing as a happy ending. There are only good stopping places.”

Content warnings include mention of abortion, cancer, death of loved ones, grooming and sexual assault, homophobia, mental health, suicidal ideation, attempted suicide and death by suicide.

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

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Noah Turner’s family are haunted by monsters that are all too real, strange creatures that visit them all: His bookish mother Margaret; Lovecraft-obsessed father Harry; eldest sister Sydney, born for the spotlight; the brilliant but awkward Eunice, a gifted writer and storyteller – the Turners each face their demons alone.

When his terminally-ill father becomes obsessed with the construction of an elaborate haunted house – the Wandering Dark – the family grant his last wish, creating themselves a legacy, and a new family business in their grief. But families don’t talk about the important things, and they try to shield baby Noah from horrors, both staged and real.

As the family falls apart, fighting demons of poverty, loss and sickness, the real monsters grow ever closer. Unbeknownst to them, Noah is being visited by a wolfish beast with glowing orange eyes. Noah is not the first of the Turners to meet the monster, but he is the first to let it into his room …

Book Haul – 19 to 25 June 2020

This week I reviewed:

Word of the Week: Weltschmerz, a German word literally meaning ‘world pain’. “Sadness or melancholy at the evils of the world; world-weariness.” (Collins English Dictionary)

Bookish Highlight of the Week: After dragging myself through a highly anticipated read last week, I managed to get my reading joy back this week. I smiled my way through Gabby Hutchinson Crouch’s second book in the Darkwood series, Such Big Teeth.

Until next time, happy reading!


Edelweiss

The essential guide to Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II! Exploring everything from the pioneering special effects to the set design and the unforgettable soundtrack. This authorised book tells the exhaustive behind-the-scenes story of how Dan Aykroyd’s original concept evolved into a movie phenomenon.

The guide is packed with hundreds of fascinating production photos, concept art and rare behind-the-scenes images, while new interviews with the cast and crew, including Dan Aykroyd, Ivan Reitman, Annie Potts, Richard Edlund and many more, reveal how they overcame numerous challenges to create one of the best-loved movie franchises of the 1980s.


NetGalley

In a matter of weeks, Massachusetts has been overrun by an insidious rabies-like virus that is spread by saliva. But unlike rabies, the disease has a terrifyingly short incubation period of an hour or less. Those infected quickly lose their minds and are driven to bite and infect as many others as they can before they inevitably succumb. Hospitals are inundated with the sick and dying, and hysteria has taken hold. To try to limit its spread, the commonwealth is under quarantine and curfew. But society is breaking down and the government’s emergency protocols are faltering.

Dr. Ramola “Rams” Sherman, a soft-spoken pediatrician in her mid-thirties, receives a frantic phone call from Natalie, a friend who is eight months pregnant. Natalie’s husband has been killed – viciously attacked by an infected neighbour – and in a failed attempt to save him, Natalie, too, was bitten. Natalie’s only chance of survival is to get to a hospital as quickly as possible to receive a rabies vaccine. The clock is ticking for her and for her unborn child.

Natalie’s fight for life becomes a desperate odyssey as she and Rams make their way through a hostile landscape filled with dangers beyond their worst nightmares – terrifying, strange, and sometimes deadly challenges that push them to the brink. 

Paul Tremblay once again demonstrates his mastery in this chilling and all-too-plausible novel that will leave readers racing through the pages … and shake them to their core.


Boo Loves Books – Kaye Baillie

Illustrations – Tracie Grimwood

‘Every place is a place to read books,’ said Miss Spinelli.

Phoebe is a reluctant reader and is anxious about making mistakes when she reads aloud. When her teacher tells the class they will not be reading at school tomorrow, Phoebe is relieved – until she finds out they will be reading somewhere else instead.

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Magic happens when this young girl who is scared of reading meets Big Boo, a dog who is so used to people leaving him that he doesn’t expect anyone to stay.

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It’s such a lovely story but, because I could easily imagine Big Boo not trusting that any human will stay with him, I’ve found myself tearing up each time I’ve read this book. I loved that by accepting each other as they are, Phoebe and Big Boo are able to face and ultimately overcome their fears.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Phoebe is nervous about reading. She is embarrassed that she will say things wrong, so she just doesn’t read at all. When Miss Spinelli’s class goes on a field trip to the animal shelter to practice reading there, Phoebe is paired with Big Boo, who is scared of her like she’s scared of reading. When she starts reading, Big Boo and Phoebe warm up to each other and the two turn their fears into a positive experience.

Stress Reading and Book Hugs

Reading has been a source of comfort for me for as long as I can remember. I use it to explore worlds I know and those I was first introduced to within the pages of someone else’s imagination. Through books I learn new things and gain insight into the lives of people who experience the world differently than I do. I escape my reality and confirm I’m not alone in whatever I am currently facing.

Lately I’ve been thinking more about my reading habits when I’m stressed out and wondering what stress reading looks like for other readers. It seems like my approach to stress reading boils down to either compulsively reading anything I can get my hands on, hopelessly staring at the page or reverting back to childhood.

These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.

Matilda by Roald Dahl

My first approach is easy to figure out: if I can lose myself in a story that is not my own, even if that story mirrors mine to a degree, I can pretend that whatever is taking up space in the anxious/depressed/sad/scared/angry part of my mind doesn’t exist for a little while. It’s respite from reality and that’s something we all need from time to time.

The second approach is not so much an approach but a reader’s nightmare. You desperately want to be reading and may even be nearing a deadline for finishing that particular book, but your brain simply won’t cooperate. You have the best of intentions, yet when you look at a page the words lose all meaning. You might read the same paragraph over and over, not taking in anything you’ve read.

Maybe you are able to comprehend what you’ve read but your life outside the page intrudes and you find yourself bored or unable to connect with the characters. Yesterday you were loving this book and you couldn’t wait to book evangelise to everyone who you can find. The book hasn’t changed; your experience of it has, and it’s not the book’s fault. When this happens to me I usually default to my final approach: children’s books.

Growing up I was always eager to be seen to be reading above my age group. I don’t know what I thought I was proving to anyone. I still had some age appropriate reads along the way but because I tended to wander aimlessly through different genres even then, I’d wind up with some pretty strange combinations. One of my weirdest reading combos that readily comes to mind happened when I was about twelve – whatever number the The Baby-Sitters Club was up to at the time collided with Flowers in the Attic.

In my rush to jump ahead to books written with adult audiences in mind (yes, I do partially blame my love of Matilda for planting the seed of this idea), I became a book snob. My book snobbery, which had been bubbling along privately, became more entrenched and seemingly socially acceptable (it wasn’t!) when I became friends with someone whose monthly reading mostly consisted of whatever their book club was currently reading.

While I wasn’t a member of their book club, I wanted to read and discuss each book my friend was reading. Connection through shared experiences and all that. For whatever reason, the books that were selected each month became more and more hoity toity and I began convincing myself that if you couldn’t have important, philosophical discussions about a book after reading it then it was not real literature. Ugh! I’m embarrassed to admit that the book snob from a couple of decades ago and who I am today are the same person. I renounce this snob and everything they stood for!

Which brings me to what I was actually trying to say … One of my defaults now when I’m stressed is to snuggle up in the warm hug that is children’s books. I only figured out how comforting they could be, even sans child, a couple of years ago when I rediscovered my local library. Now I scour through their acquisitions lists seeking out new board books and picture books, and I’ve found some absolute gems along the way. I read many more than you will ever hear about but whenever I find a new one in a series I’m following or a particular story has had an impact on me, you’re going to hear all about it.

I’ve grown to love almost every genre but you’ll probably see more reviews for books written with your children or grandchildren in mind here than on other blogs. Sometimes it will mean that a bunch of them are almost due back at the library and if I don’t review them now I know I probably never will. However, there will also be times that, for whatever reason, life has lost some of its spark and I’m doing what I can to recapture some of the wide eyed wonder of childhood, the joy of discovery and the hope that tomorrow will be a better day.

What do you read when you need the book equivalent of a hug?

That’s Not My Bus … – Fiona Watt

Illustrations – Rachel Wells

The latest cutie patootie animal that’s getting the That’s Not My … treatment is, um, not an animal. Sure, I’ve read about our white mouse’s preferences regarding planes, trains and automobiles cars before but I prefer it when mousie’s rejects are cute and cuddly.

Having found so many of their animals already, mousie probably needs more options for transporting them. So, buses … Before finding their specific bus, mousie rejects those that are either too smooth, shiny, rough, squashy or bumpy. I guess, under the universal law of finders keepers, that means I’m now the proud owner of five buses. This will be super handy for transporting mousie’s rejected animals I’ve previously claimed.

I found this one a bit boring, especially since the buses were all the same colour. I’m sure the target audience will love this addition to the series though, particularly if it comes with a rendition of The Wheels on the Bus.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

All aboard this exciting addition to the much-loved That’s not my … series. Babies and toddlers will love touching the textured patches as they look at buses with shiny doors, squashy bumpers and sparkly lights. The bright pictures and textures to stroke are designed to help develop sensory and language awareness.

Darkwood #2: Such Big Teeth – Gabby Hutchinson Crouch

If you are courageous enough to venture into the Darkwood today, you’ll find witches and beasties. The people of Myrsina have been terrified of its inhabitants for a very long time. The huntsmen have encouraged this fear, as well as ensuring the list of abominations that keep the non-magical folk of Myrsina on a short leash continues to grow. Gretel used to fear the Darkwood as well, until she was banished there for being a witch.

Having now lived amongst Darkwood’s witches and beasties, she realises they’re not all as scary as she was led to believe. Although, to be fair, Bin Night is actually pretty scary. Gretel has been welcomed into a sort of functional/dysfunctional found family and they’re about to brave the north to try to recruit help for their upcoming battle against the masked huntsmen.

Witches live in this house. With a spider. Oh, and it’s haunted.

Travelling from their partially edible home in the woods are:

  • Gretel, who I’ve already mentioned. She’s the Mudd witch (not actually a witch).
  • Buttercup, who cakeifies inanimate objects when she touches them, usually accidentally.
  • Jack: botanist extraordinaire.
  • Snow, an axe-wielding, armour wearing princess.
  • Dwarves. “Yummy!”. No, they’re not edible. You need to read the book to understand why they’re so yummy.
  • Patience, who once upon a time was a huntsman, but is now a ghost.
  • Trevor: talking spider, spy and all round master of disguises. We love Trevor!

‘And then there’ll be a masked ball and I’ll go in disguise and all the ladies will be like “who is that dashing man?” And I’ll be all “ha ha! It’s me! Trevor the spider and not a man at all!”’

Meanwhile, Hansel, Gretel’s twin brother, and Daisy, Gretel’s friend, are on their own journey. Hansel didn’t have a great deal of page time in the first book and it was really fun getting to know him.

Holding up a mirror to the world both inside and outside of Myrsina (oh, there’s also a character called Mirror, who is … a mirror), this sequel uses humour to address divisiveness and discrimination in society, highlighting ways that social and legal frameworks attempt to demonise anyone that’s considered ‘other’. It also gives voice to those who aren’t in positions of power, while encouraging magical and non-magical folk alike to fight back against injustice and change the system.

‘We have to stop listening to the stories telling us to fear what’s in the Darkwood. We are the Darkwood.’

As soon as I opened this book my brain delighted in shouting, “Bin Night!” Yes, I know we’ve established that Bin Night isn’t exactly something to be delighted about, but it was one of my takeaway phrases from Darkwood. Like so many elements in that story, including fairytale characters that I thought I knew well enough that they couldn’t possibly have the capacity to surprise me, Bin Night was not what I imagined when I first learned of its existence. It had humour, some danger and what I thought I knew before I began reading was turned on its head.

Although I hadn’t heard that it was on its way, as soon as I spotted David Wardle’s cover image I knew it could only be heralding the Darkwood sequel I had been waiting for. While I met plenty of new characters in both the north and the Citadel, they strode into my imagination almost fully formed. I didn’t have to work to get to know them or to visualise the new locations I travelled to.

Although the north was not what I’d been expecting, that wasn’t a bad thing and it was certainly worth the wait. I’m already anticipating learning more about the Glass Witch, who I’ll need to cross the river and travel to the eastern woods to meet. Trousers! This wait is going to be a “pain in the gooseberries.”

I definitely recommend reading this series in order, lest you unknowingly wander into spoiler territory. You really need the foundations that Darkwood provides for a lot of the humour in this book to work best and for the ways the characters interact with one another to make sense.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Farrago, an imprint of Duckworth Books, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

If you go down to the woods today, be sure of a big surprise.

The Battle of Nearby Village is over, and deep in the Darkwood, Gretel and her friends journey into the hostile mountains of the north, seeking new allies in their fight against the huntsmen. There they find Gilde the Bear Witch, along with a Werewolf named Scarlett and a winged man named Hex. Meanwhile, Hansel and Daisy set off on a dangerous trip of their own to the Citadel, where they end up in the middle of a political battle for the future of the whole country.

Can Gretel and her friends persuade Gilde to join forces, or at least stop fighting them at every step? Can Hansel find a way to heal the land’s divisions and make the huntsmen change their ways before disaster strikes them all? And how did Trevor the spider get hold of a wig? Discover the answers to all these questions and more in Such Big Teeth. Venture into the Darkwood in this modern fairy tale that will bewitch adults and younger readers alike.