Frank and Bert: The One Where Bert Learns to Ride a Bike – Chris Naylor-Ballesteros

Frank and Bert’s friendship is everything! I first met these best friends when they were playing hide-and-seek. Bert wasn’t brilliant at it but he sure was enthusiastic. 

In this new adventure, Frank and Bert trade in their scarves for bike helmets. Bert wants to be as good at bike riding as Frank but he “wibble-wobbles all over the place.”

This series is teamwork, perseverance and friendship goals. In this story, it becomes clear how important it is to have each other’s backs. A friend who is supportive and encouraging can give us the confidence we need to keep trying.

I absolutely love the illustrations in this series. All of the animals are very expressive, which adds to the humour of Bert’s oops moments. Bert’s wobbly tire tracks brought to mind the windy path his scarf’s loose thread weaved through the first book.

Some details are consistent in both books. Frank wears blue. Bert wears pink. The hills and trees are the same. This familiarity allowed me to focus more on what the characters were doing and feeling throughout this book. 

Be on the lookout for the character who’s fishing. Handy hint: see if you notice anything relevant to the first time you see them when they show up later in the story.

I’ve read this book three times already and plan to buy a copy when it’s released. Naturally I had reread the first book and am delighted to report that I loved it just as much as I did when I first met Frank and Bert.

I need Frank and Bert to keep sharing their adventures with me. I adore these friends!

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Nosy Crow for the opportunity to fall in love with this picture book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The hilarious fox and bear double act from bestseller Chris Naylor-Ballesteros is back for a second adventure.

Bert is CERTAIN he can ride his bike as well as Frank, but he is very wobbly! And even when they BOTH try riding Frank’s bike … it still goes very wrong! Will the best friends make it all the way down from the big hill? Of course! All they need is a little bit of confidence and trust in each other!

This warm and entertaining story about friendship is guaranteed to get children giggling!

When Animals Attack: The 70 Best Horror Movies with Killer Animals – Vanessa Morgan (editor)

Movies where animals attack are some of my favourites, particularly when they’re so bad they’re hilarious. This book takes on the good, the bad and the how did this even get made?!

The killers in these movies include ants, sharks, rats, snakes, dogs and spiders. Each of the seventy essays focuses on one movie. The essays varied in the level of detail about the movie but be aware that some include major spoilers.

I was surprised to discover I’d only seen twelve of the movies discussed:

My favourite, Mega Piranha, didn’t find its way into the book. It’s ridiculous, it’s made by The Asylum and its stars include Greg Brady and Tiffany (who sings one of the songs on the soundtrack).

The bicycle kick scene is priceless:

Here’s the trailer:

Oh, and it has an IMDb score of 2.4. Obsessed yet?

Anyway, back to the book. I enjoyed seeing that some of my favourites were included and I now have a huge list of movies to binge.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Moonlight Creek Publishing for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The definitive horror movie guide for fans of killer animals and “revenge of nature” films.

When Animals Attack: The 70 Best Horror Movies with Killer Animals provides a fascinating and entertaining insight into the cinematographic world of animals on the rampage. From well-known predators such as sharks and lions to unusual killing machines like turkeys, elephants, frogs, cats, and rabbits, there is no shortage of the species on display in this book.

Leading horror writers and filmmakers present their favourite “animals attack” films through in-depth essays. Some of the films are touching, some are repulsive, and some are just plain silly. Not all of these horror movies line up with the critical consensus, yet they have one thing in common: they have made the heart of the writer beat faster with excitement.

Letters to the Lost – Brigid Kemmerer

Don’t you think it’s funny how people say “lost” as if they were just misplaced? But maybe it’s a different meaning of “lost,” in that you don’t know where they went.

Juliet has written letters to her mother for years, first when she was overseas photographing war zones and now when she’s much closer to home but can no longer write back.

We just thought on paper to each other.

Declan is doing community service when he finds one of Juliet’s letters at her mother’s grave. Most people think they know the type of person Declan is because of his arrest.

I say I don’t care what people think of me, but that’s a lie. You’d care, too, if everyone thought you were nothing more than a ticking time bomb.

Declan understands Juliet’s pain and writes back to her. Those two words change both of their lives.

Soon Juliet and Declan are writing to each other regularly. Their anonymity makes them feel safe enough to reveal parts of themselves that they usually keep hidden.

I don’t even know you, but I feel like I understand you.

I feel like you understand me.

And that’s what I like so much about it.

They don’t realise that their paths have already crossed.

I’m all mushy about this book. And I’m not a mushy person.

Part of my love of this book came from the pain the main characters experienced. As they began to connect, I was torn. I wanted them to find one another and connect in person but I loved their vulnerability on the page and didn’t want that to end. Mostly I needed them to know that someone understood what they were going through.

I’m not into romances. At all. But I spent this entire book wanting the senior class reject and cemetery girl to finally get together, dammit! I mean, how can you not get all melty when you read a sentence like this:

She’s the fiercest girl I’ve ever met, but I want to sit in the dark and hold her hand to show her she’s not alone.

Because I read these books out of order, I’d already met Juliet in passing. However, when I read More Than We Can Tell, I didn’t realise the significance of her casually taking photos in the school cafeteria, as if it wasn’t a huge accomplishment.

I’m so glad Rev gets his story told in the next book and that we find out why he only eats sugared cereal as a treat instead of for breakfast.

I loved the parts of the story that focused on photography. Its ability to tell an entire story in a single image… The walk down memory lane to the days of film, when we had no idea whether the magic we saw in the moment was captured until days or weeks later when we got the film developed…

While I adored the main characters, my favourites were those who supported them when it would have been easier to ignore their pain. Frank, Mrs Hillard and Mr Gerardi cared enough to look beneath the surface.

“Every moment is meaningful.”

Because I’m me, I checked each of the email addresses mentioned in this book. None of them currently exist.

Content warnings include alcoholism, death by suicide, foster care, mental health, physical abuse, suicidal ideation and suicide attempt. Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with some scenes.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Juliet is drowning in grief after her mother’s death.

Declan is trying to escape the demons of his past.

Leaving handwritten letters on her mother’s grave is the only way Juliet can process her loss. When Declan finds a letter and answers it anonymously, they continue writing back and forth, not knowing who is on the other side. Juliet is instantly intrigued by this stranger who understands the loss she feels. Declan discovers someone who finally sees the good in him.

Such an immediate and intense connection with a perfect stranger is astonishing and wonderful, and soon they are baring their souls to each other. But this secret world can only sustain Juliet and Declan for so long … as the reality surrounding them threatens to shatter everything they’ve created.

Meredith, alone – Claire Alexander

For better or for worse, life can change in a matter of seconds. People take their first and last breaths. Cars crash, planes plunge into oceans. The healing process after decades of hurt can begin with a simple gesture.

Or a question: ‘Are you all right?’

When we meet Meredith, she hasn’t left her home for 1,214 days. Fred, her cat, is her constant companion. Her only visitors are the Tesco delivery man, Sadie (her best friend) and Sadie’s kids, James and Matilda. Meredith spends a lot of her time working on jigsaw puzzles.

I’ve been collecting boxes filled with places I’ll never go – works of art I’ll never see.

Meredith doesn’t have any contact with her mother or Fiona (Fee), her older sister. It’s complicated.

On day 1,215, Meredith meets Tom from Holding Hands.

On day 1,219, Meredith meets Celeste, AKA, CATLADY29.

My life is divided into before and after, and the before remains out of my grasp.

Over the course of just over 300 days, the puzzle pieces of how Meredith’s before became her after come together.

I binged this book in a day and enjoyed getting to know Meredith and the people who found their way to her front door. What struck me most was how vital the people around Meredith were to her, giving her the connections she needed and the safety to both confront her past and grow beyond her limitations.

A lot of social issues are explored in this book, many of which have the potential to be quite confronting. While their inclusion made sense in the context of the story and individual characters, some deserved more page time.

While I spent the book cheering Meredith on, sometimes her wins felt like they came too easy. Yes, she did work hard to achieve everything she did. Considering what her life looked like when we met her, though, I would have expected her recovery to be more two steps forward, one step back than it was, over a longer period of time.

Meredith can cook for me anytime she’d like.

I love when books teach me new concepts. Oubaitori comes from kanji for four trees that bloom in spring: cherry blossoms, plum, peach, and apricot.

桜梅桃李

While each blossom looks similar, they bloom differently, with varying shapes and smells. Oubaitori applies this concept to people.

In Japanese philosophy it’s the art of never comparing yourself to others, but recognizing value in your own unique character.

Content warnings include attempted suicide, domestic abuse, eating disorder, mental health, miscarriage, self harm, sexual assault, stillbirth and suicidal ideation.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Meredith Maggs hasn’t left her house in 1,214 days. But she insists she isn’t alone… 

She has her cat Fred. Her friend Sadie visits when she can. There’s her online support group, StrengthInNumbers. She has her jigsaws, favourite recipes, her beloved Emily Dickinson, the internet, the Tesco delivery man and her treacherous memories for company. 

But something’s about to change.

Whether Meredith likes it or not, the world is coming to her door… Does she have the courage to overcome what’s been keeping her inside all this time? 

Letters to the Lost #2: More Than We Can Tell – Brigid Kemmerer

I’m so late to the party with this book and it had already well and truly sucked me in before I realised it was a sequel to a book I haven’t read. Thankfully this didn’t matter.

I fell for Rev and Emma straight away. I can’t go past an outcast, troubled teen story, especially when the characters are dealing with so many huge things on top of simply surviving adolescence.

“Thank you.”

“For what?”

“Seeing me.”

Rev was fostered and eventually adopted by Geoff and Kristin after he was removed from his preacher father’s care. Rev’s father has made contact with him for the first time in ten years and it’s bringing back all of the emotions and memories he’s tried so hard to bury. Rev hides beneath his hoodie.

Emma’s mother is critical of her and her father, who she adores, is too busy with technology to be aware of anything that’s happening in her life. Emma is really proud of the game she designed but online isn’t the safe space it used to be. Emma hides behind her computer.

“I think I need someone real, too”

Rev and Emma worked so well together. I am a tad obsessed with the scene where they sit back to back texting because it’s easier than sitting face to face talking.

“I’m not good at this.”

“Not good at what?”

He gestures between us. “This. I’m not – I’m not good with people.”

“I’m not either.”

Their awkwardness endeared them to me. Their courage to face their past and present encouraged me. The fact that they retained some softness rather than being made up entirely of sharp edges inspired me. I love underdog stories!

Where Emma’s arc led her was predictable and we never found out for sure who N1ghtmare was, although I suspect they were the person she was in the car with when she sent Rev her location.

I would step in front of a speeding train for Texas, Emma’s Labrador. She can have as many chicken nuggets as she wants.

I hurt for Matthew. The secrets he’s been carrying are absolutely heartbreaking. I need to know what his life looks like in the years after this book.

I spent most of the book wanting to know more about Declan, wishing I could read his story. Lo and behold, the author has already worked their magic. Dec is one of the stars of the first book, which I bought as soon as I finished reading this one. It’ll be my next read. Because Dec and Rev are best friends, I’ll also get to hang out with Rev some more.

My main niggle was with Cait’s character. She had so much potential, yet she was pushed to the background for most of the story. I need her to teach me how to do makeup.

Once she made her face look like she was unzipping her skin

I’ll be her guinea pig whenever she wants to experiment with new weird and wonderful makeup ideas.

As usual, I sent a test email to Robert and Rev’s email addresses. Neither of them wanted to talk to me; both emails were undeliverable.

Favourite no context quote:

“We all push sometimes, just to make sure someone is on the other side, pushing back.”

Content warnings include emotional abuse, foster care, miscarriage, online harassment, physical abuse, religious abuse, sexual assault and stalking. Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with one scene.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Bloomsbury Children’s Books, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Every day Rev struggles with the memories and demons of the time before he was adopted. He’s always managed just fine, until a letter from his birth father brings hellfire, fear and danger back into his life.

Emma escapes her life in an online game she built herself. Virtual reality is so much easier than real life. But then another player joins the game and suddenly ultra-violent threats start to stream in…

When Rev and Emma meet, they are fighting a darkness they can’t put into words. But somehow they hear each other and together they might be able to find a way out…

Unfamiliar Volume 1 – Haley Newsome

Planchette and her familiar, a rabbit called Winston, have just moved to a new town, one where she’s not the only witch. She hopes to meet new witchy friends.

It isn’t long before she realises why her new home was such a bargain; it turns out it’s haunted.

description

Really haunted.

In her quest to exorcise her home, Planchette meets some new friends: Pinyon and Ari the pigeon, Babs and Marlow the cat, and Sun and Petra the lizard.

description

The witches all have their own insecurities and backstories. Planchette can only do magic related to food. Pinyon has only just found her magic. Babs is an introverted siren. Sun is cursed.

They may not have all known each other for very long but they’re already demonstrating that their friendship is going to be supportive and caring, with each witch using their strengths to help the others.

I enjoyed meeting some of the ghosts haunting Planchette’s new home. I particularly liked how the witches are helping the ghosts move on, although I hope some stay. What’s a haunted house without the haunts?!

I didn’t realise this was Volume 1 until the story stopped quite abruptly. This series has a lot of potential. I’ll definitely be reading Volume 2.

I would very much like the instructions for pizza potion.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Andrews McMeel Publishing for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Based on the wildly popular webcomic from Tapas, Unfamiliar is an endearing and whimsical story full of magical mayhem, offbeat outsiders, and the power of friendships and found family. 

Young kitchen witch Planchette gets an incredible deal on a new house in a magical town. Turns out, there’s a reason: it’s haunted! After unsuccessfully attempting to get these unwanted ghosts to leave, she realises the only thing to do is to help them with their problems. Along the way, she befriends a shy siren who hates being popular, a girl battling a curse, and a magically-challenged witch from a powerful coven.

The Witch Haven – Sasha Peyton Smith

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

“Something bad is coming”

Frances Hallowell is mourning the recent death of her brother. Her life gets a lot more complicated when her super slimy boss attacks her after hours and she sorta kinda accidentally kills him. Oops!

When it looks certain that Frances is going to be convicted as a murderer, salvation comes to her by way of an ambulance. She’s told she’s very unwell and is promptly taken to Haxahaven Sanitarium to be ‘treated’. Only Haxahaven isn’t what it’s advertised to be. It’s actually a school for witches…

The premise of this book hooked me: secret witchy school, murder mystery, underdog battling the Big Bad. The reality of the book surprised me, and I’m still conflicted.

I was entirely engaged until I learned that the witchcraft that was being taught at Haxahaven was limited to producing good little wives and domestic help. I switched off a little at that point and was even able to put the book aside for a few weeks without any trouble.

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to finish reading but figured I’d give it another try. I found it easy to get back into. I hadn’t forgotten who the characters were or what was happening for each of them when I pressed pause. It didn’t take me long to get into the rest of the story, the parts that didn’t involve magical bread-kneading.

While I wasn’t the hugest fan of Frances, I absolutely adored Maxine and Lena. I wanted to get to know Oliver better.

I think perhaps this is how we survive in the world. Passing little bits of our magic back and forth to each other when the world takes it from us. It’s survival. It’s love. It’s family.

Content warnings include attempted sexual assault including suffocation, domestic abuse, mental health and a character who was removed from her home and taken to a residential school. Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with some scenes.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In 1911 New York City, seventeen year old Frances Hallowell spends her days as a seamstress, mourning the mysterious death of her brother months prior. Everything changes when she’s attacked and a man ends up dead at her feet – her scissors in his neck, and she can’t explain how they got there.

Before she can be condemned as a murderess, two cape-wearing nurses arrive to inform her she is deathly ill and ordered to report to Haxahaven Sanitarium. But Frances finds Haxahaven isn’t a sanitarium at all: it’s a school for witches. Within Haxahaven’s glittering walls, Frances finds the sisterhood she craves, but the headmistress warns Frances that magic is dangerous. Frances has no interest in the small, safe magic of her school, and is instead enchanted by Finn, a boy with magic himself who appears in her dreams and tells her he can teach her all she’s been craving to learn, lessons that may bring her closer to discovering what truly happened to her brother.

Frances’s newfound power attracts the attention of the leader of an ancient order who yearns for magical control of Manhattan. And who will stop at nothing to have Frances by his side. Frances must ultimately choose what matters more, justice for her murdered brother and her growing feelings for Finn, or the safety of her city and fellow witches. What price would she pay for power, and what if the truth is more terrible than she ever imagined?

Worst Week Ever! #3: Wednesday – Eva Amores & Matt Cosgrove

When we join Justin on his wacky Wednesday, he’s stranded with his arch-nemesis, Marvin. Marvin adds the arch to nemesis quite well. He’s always perfectly put together even when the situation calls for being covered in mud and he doesn’t fight fair. It’s not beneath him to pull out the dreaded, “I know you are, but what am I?” and he’s a “finders keepers” type of person.

Unfortunately, he’s also Justin’s only company right now, except for the bunch of fins coming closer and closer to their precarious inflatable raft. Wait, did I just say fins? Don’t tell me our intrepid accidental adventurers are on the menu!

I’m quite partial to the biggest audience possible witnessing Justin’s most embarrassing moments so this wasn’t my favourite day of the week so far, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the ride.

There are some Indiana Jones adjacent moments, a chatty parrot and some ghastly, ghostly pirates to contend with. Arr!

While Nan doesn’t have much page time today, her crocheting lessons came in handy in an unexpected way.

Keep an eye out for Justin’s mermaid impression and a sneak peek of Captain Fluffykins. That cat’s pure evil, I tell you.

I absolutely loved the rubber ducky paddle boat, probably in part because it reminded me of the Penguin’s mode of transportation.

I need to commission Mia to draw something for me. Here’s her unicorn-shark hybrid:

description

Today’s deleted scenes feature goats, cows, ducklings and pandas. While I was quite partial to top hat duckling and flower kid, the cow in a onesie won my heart.

description

The original Wednesday plan was postponed to Thursday because of our almost stepbrothers’ impromptu detour. However, if I know this series like I think I do, the 11:56pm door knock seems to indicate that Thursday’s plans will be thwarted. I’m looking forward to finding out how thorny Thursday turns out to be.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Have YOU ever had a BAD WEEK?

Justin Chase sure has, and THIS is it!

Monday really socked, Tuesday blew up, but now it’s … WEDNESDAY!

His cat is still mysteriously missing. He’s an unintentional internet sensation. And right now sharks are circling as he’s stranded in a heart-stopping, skin-crawling, jaw-dropping, seriously shocking S.O.S situation with his unbelievably annoying arch-enemy!

Arc of a Scythe #3.5: Gleanings – Neal Shusterman

I love the scythedom and couldn’t wait to spend more time in Citra and Rowan’s world. This anthology contains twelve short stories and one poem. There’s a bonus story in the Barnes & Noble Exclusive Edition, which I’ll be reading as soon as it finishes its journey across the ocean to meet me.

There are backstories and glimpses of what happened after The Toll for some characters we already know, as well as introductions to some robes whose colours we haven’t seen before. Some stories are written by Neal Shusterman, while others are collaborations with other authors. The poem is written by Neal’s daughter, Joelle.

After a bit of a shaky start, I began to find stories that enriched what I already know of this world. Of the thirteen gleanings in this collection, I found six favourites, one short of an octave.

In Formidable, Scythe Curie has recently finished her apprenticeship and has not yet become the self assured legend she is when Citra gets to know her after her own apprenticeship.

“The future is unfettered. Long live us all!”

A Death of Many Colours sees scythe deniers being confronted with a little bit too much reality.

“Let’s give you a new perspective.”

Kohl Whitlock’s sister’s reaction to his gleaning takes us to Unsavory Row.

But giving an unsavory parameters was just a dare to break them.

In A Martian Minute, we learn Carson Lusk’s backstory.

Sometimes, when your life is wheels within wheels, you can take a wrong step and get ground up in the slow churn of the gears.

The Mortal Canvas (co-authored by David Yoon) introduces four students who create art under exceptional circumstances.

“From this moment on, no one will ever know what it feels like to be complete.”

I loved learning what became of Citra’s brother, Ben, in Anastasia’s Shadow.

It was hard enough being the brother of Scythe Anastasia. He was constantly being compared to her, and constantly being reminded that he did not compare.

I will always welcome new stories from the scythedom.

Thank you so much to Walker Books Australia for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

There are still countless tales of the Scythedom to tell. Centuries passed between the Thunderhead cradling humanity and Scythe Goddard trying to turn it upside down. For years humans lived in a world without hunger, disease, or death with Scythes as the living instruments of population control.

Neal Shusterman – along with collaborators David Yoon, Jarrod Shusterman, Sofía Lapuente, Michael H. Payne, Michelle Knowlden, and Joelle Shusterman – returns to the world throughout the timeline of the Arc of a Scythe series. Discover secrets and histories of characters you’ve followed for three volumes and meet new heroes, new foes, and some figures in between.

Gleanings shows just how expansive, terrifying, and thrilling the world that began with the Printz Honor–winning Scythe truly is.

Arc of a Scythe #3: The Toll – Neal Shusterman

“Can we … do that?” Nietzsche asked.

“We’re scythes; we can do anything we please.”

Scythe is one of my favourite books of all time and I was hooked for the entire series. I love the characters. I can’t get enough of the history, mythology and practices of all of the scythes, both those I love and those I love to hate. I’ve probably spent too much time deliberating about what colour my robe would be, who I’d choose as my Patron Historic and what my gleaning MO would be.

I had so many questions going into this book and I got answers, even when they didn’t look anything like I’d expected them to. I’m satisfied with most of them, with the exception of probably the biggest of them all, where we left Rowan and Citra.

This book was well written, like the rest of the series, and I couldn’t put it down. So why aren’t I absolutely thrilled right now?

I think part of it was that for much of the book I like like I was treading water, waiting for the big finish. Characters who I absolutely adore barely spent any time together when I’d looked forward to them bantering their way through the pages.

I hurt for Faraday and, like Munira, I couldn’t make it better; the Faraday in this book didn’t feel like the Faraday that made me fall in love with the scythedom. I couldn’t spend time with one of my favourite scythes because of the events of the second book.

Greyson, who wowed me in the second book, seemed more like a puppet going through the motions for most of this one and I missed the Greyson I thought I was going to hang out with here. I desperately wanted a huge showdown with the Big Bad.

Okay, so it’s starting to sound like I hated this book, but I didn’t. It was still a four star read for me, so pretty impressive. I think it’s just a case of my expectations being so unreasonably high and, as a result, reality had no hope of growing tall enough to reach them. Even though I’ve only recently reread it, I want to read Scythe again to renew my first love.

Yes, of course I sent a test email to Loriana’s email address. No, it didn’t work.

Favourite no context quote:

And what was that old mortal-age saying? Curiosity was a cat killer?

Content warnings include death by suicide and mention of self harm.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In a world that’s conquered death, will humanity finally be torn asunder by the immortal beings it created?

Citra and Rowan have disappeared. Endura is gone. It seems like nothing stands between Scythe Goddard and absolute dominion over the world scythedom. With the silence of the Thunderhead and the reverberations of the Great Resonance still shaking the earth to its core, the question remains: Is there anyone left who can stop him?

The answer lies in the Tone, the Toll, and the Thunder.